Prevenient Grace

I’ve been talking with a friend about my own modified understanding of prevenient grace, which, in the gospel stories, is depicted by what might be called the magnetism people felt in Jesus’ presence.  There was something in his demeanor and “body language” that attracted people in a way that was rare if not unique.  But more than mere attraction, there was also something that encouraged those in great need to anticipate, perhaps with fear and trembling, his welcome, so that they were emboldened to present themselves and their need under circumstances that would have otherwise sent them farther into exile or even death.  Consider the woman who had been bleeding for years, the woman who was a well known sinner in the city, the ten lepers, the centurion whose slave was ill, the synagogue leader with a sick daughter, the widow of Nain, or the many others who were deaf, blind or lame. 

Each of them was either caught in or dared to come into social situations in which they were not welcome and possibly subject to physical harm, and yet they had the anxious courage to present themselves to Jesus in expectation of welcome, love and maybe healing.

That sort of welcoming magnetism is, I think, strong but not compelling.  There is plenty of room for free will to work.  Perhaps not everyone can feel that magnetism, but I’m convinced that those who do are not compelled to be drawn in.  Rather they experience the drawing power of God’s loving welcome that invites them to approach yet permits the free exercise of their own will to accept or decline.

Now the question is, what is the source of that welcoming magnetism in our day?  It’s facile to say that it’s the work of the Holy Spirit and let it go at that.  There has to be some material manifestation, and that has to come from you and me.  We have to be the physical agents of that power, and I think, that for the most part, we are really lousy at dong that.  That, more than anything else, is what I think is meant when we pray that we be sent out to do the work that God has given us to do. 

I might add some more later on if there is any interest in this by way of telling about a little game we used to play on the streets of New York before I was ordained. 

4 thoughts on “Prevenient Grace”

  1. Your post reminded me of what a youth said to me once — he wished more adults smiled, especially when with youth. Welcoming magnetism may be as simple as smiling. Peace to you.

  2. Prevenient grace is the knowledge that I now realize that I can receive the courage to accept the counter intuitive offer of grace- forgiveness for my calousness toward the image of God in all humanity. Then I suppose I can channel this magnatic presence in ministry. This idea is more of a Lutheren culture than Anglican. Just making nice doesn\’t cut it.This part of paul I like.

  3. Old G,I got a private e-mail yesterday in response to this post and here is a slightly edited version of my response to him.I believe there is nothing in Scripture, taken by itself, about prevenient grace. It has to be imputed as a way of describing how it is that fallen human beings can become open to God\’s grace if it is assumed that they are inherently incapable of it. Luther, following Augustine, was convinced that humans have no free will in this regard, whereas Erasmus was equally convinced that humans did have free will but perhaps needed a Godly kick in the butt to exercise it in the right way. I agree with Erasmus. As to the anxious courage it took for some of the people mentioned to approach Jesus, just put yourself in their shoes. You are a known sinner and have been exiled from polite company. If you show your face you will be scorned, thrown out or maybe stoned. You\’ve heard about this Jesus and hopefully believe he can do something for you, but there he is in the midst of the very people who most despise you. His welcoming gaze beckons you, but what about those other people? It takes some courage to forge ahead. I think we sanitize these stories too much. We need to get down and dirty in the reality of the situations described in order to more fully appreciate the true awesomeness of these events.

  4. You are right! Saul was surprised by grace on the road of trying to eradicate the Jesus people. I need new ways of thinking but it feels so good to be self rightious!

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