Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prevenient Grace and the Solas

Husband and I are learning a lot about Methodist tradition and theology lately, since our family recently joined the United Methodist church, and we're loving every bit of this process. I love the fact that some of my favorite parts of the Wesleyan theological tradition are so compatible, and even complementary, with those parts of Reformed theology that I cherish. Take, for example, the Wesleyan understanding of Grace. Grace, in this tradition, comes in three principal varieties- Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying. Prevenient grace is, to me, a beautiful balance of Divine involvement and free will, and is very compatible with my understanding of the foreknowledge of God. (as opposed to Predestination; it may seem at times like a semantic argument, but the existence of free will is essential to a God-glorifying choice in both corporeal behavior and in the invitation to Divine relationship; therefore, I cannot claim a belief in Predestination.)

Then there are the five Solas, which are the principal parts of reformed theology which I hold especially dear. The five Solas are, in English:

In Christ alone
By grace alone
Through faith alone
By the scripture alone
Glory to God alone

These five are by no means exclusive to a Calvinist view of the gospel, scripture, salvation, or systematic theology. Divine relationship with Christ is an essential element of salvation, and we need nothing but that relationship for our salvation. That salvation is by the unmerited favor, liberally bestowed on whosoever will, by our Creator. We have it through our faith in our savior, not through any work of ours, and it cannot be earned or lost by any action we might accomplish. We need no priest or other person to spoon-feed us the Truth of scripture; scripture itself is accessible to all and is the only Word of God given with Divine authority and inspiration. While this Truth is divine, any one man's interpretation is not. While the Christian life and faith is a communal one, our imitation of Christ and our obedience to Him is our responsibility and ours alone.

I do not need to believe in Limited Atonement to believe that the power of Christ's blood shed for us is without limit, either in scope or in efficacy. It is possible for the Creator and Sustainer of all to give us a choice; a choice to accept the gifts God offers us or a choice to reject that faith and relationship. Because a giver offers a gift freely does not mean that its rejection by the recipient renders the giver impotent. It is possible to have the power to sway human choice, and yet disdain to use it.

I do not need to believe in Total Depravity to recognize my need for a Savior and my dependence upon Christ. I believe that there must exist some ability to hunger for Divine Relationship, and to choose it, even before we are made new in Christ. Otherwise regeneration happens at divine agency alone; we have no part in this initial phase of sanctification, nor are we capable of choosing it. I firmly believe that the path to Divine Relationship is a voluntary one, taken from love and the recognition of overwhelming love, and not a forced march or a sedated journey in an ambulance. I believe, too, that while we are tainted and flawed in our human condition, we still touch God's heart. We still bear God's image. Scripture teaches us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father's knowledge; are not we, all, more valuable than a sparrow to our Creator? God sees, and God cares, and God interacts with us in Grace. Whether we place our faith in Him or choose to reject the relationship that would redeem us, we are still of value and worth as His creation. No, not all will come to the saving knowledge of Christ. But whosoever will, can.

Plead we thus for faith alone,
Faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
Only faith the grace applies,
Active faith that lives within,
Conquers earth, and hell, and sin,
Sanctifies, and makes us whole,
Forms the Saviour in the soul.
(Charles Wesley)

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