THE BREADTH OF THE HAIR: A Review

Brian Shelton, Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity. Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2014. xi + 283 pp., n.p., pbk.

John Wesley famously cracked that Calvinism was “within a hair’s breadth of the truth.”  One would not get any such impression from listening to either contemporary Calvinists or Arminians, who have been practicing polarization with great diligence ever since the passing of their respective masters. Toccoa Falls College VP for Academic Affairs Brian Shelton makes Wesley’s pronouncement plausible again with a much-needed study of Wesley’s doctrine of Prevenient Grace.  Strangely neglected by contemporary Wesleyans, this doctrine is actually their strongest response to Calvinist critiques of their theology.  Shelton treats it exegetically, historically, and theologically in a winsome book that deserves attention from people on both sides of the controversy.  The book concludes with a very useful FAQ section called a “Synthesis of a Case for Prevenient Grace.”

John Wesley
John Wesley

Prevenient Grace is the proverbial hair’s breadth from the corresponding Calvinist doctrine of “Effectual Calling.”  Both deal with the problem that in the Gospel faith and repentance are demanded of people who are incapable of rendering any such response, because they are dead in their trespasses and sins and the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit.  It will be news to many Calvinists that there is an Arminian theology that takes this problem as seriously as they do and offers a similar solution: the enablement of the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite to that response.  The breadth of the hair lies here:  Does the Spirit give that enablement to all men and women who hear the Gospel, or only to those who actually respond?  Does He overcome all men’s sinful indisposition to the truth just enough so that they are able to make a free choice, or does He “call” those whom God foreknows so effectually that we can say that “whom He foreknew . . . He justified . . . and glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30)?

John Calvin
John Calvin

The exegetical section is the key.  There are of course passages that can be taken as supporting either view (I’ve given one I think is on the Calvinist side above).  Shelton shows what a responsible Arminian reading of them looks like.  I think that in several of them the words can be taken either way, depending on the assumptions we bring to the text.  In the end my own moderate reformed view remained intact.  But I think Shelton has shown that constructive dialog between Evangelical Arminians and Gospel Calvinists needs to continue, and that both sides will profit from making this doctrine—and Shelton’s fine treatment of it—central in that discussion.

Bigger on the Inside . . .
Bigger on the Inside . . .

Scripture, as I said, seems to say (or at least imply) both Prevenient Grace and Effectual Calling.  That is a sign that we need to live inside the hair.  If that seems a rather narrow and constricted space, remember: Like the Tardis and a certain Narnian stable, it is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

For more writing by Dr. Williams, visit https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, or Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of  Letters, all from Lantern Hollow Press:  poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

“YOU NEVER ENJOY THE WORLD ARIGHT UNTIL . . .” The Argument from Desire Revisited

One of C. S. Lewis’s most interesting contributions to Christian apologetics is the Argument from Desire:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”  (Mere Christianity 120).

enterpriseinorbit

What “other world” would you like to have been made for? Hint: an even better one than this!

I was interested to discover a respondent on an internet forum who denied having any unsatisfiable desires. He admitted that certain desires had never been satisfied perfectly, but maintained that they could be in theory, or that the satisfactions he could find in this life were good enough. How does one respond to this line of argument?  It’s rather like trying to convince the dwarfs in The Last Battle that they aren’t in a stable!

One conclusion might be that the argument from desire just doesn’t work with a certain type of person. Some of us are just too emotionally undeveloped- -or jaded–to be susceptible. But I would suggest that we make a mistake by taking such people’s statements at face value. Solomon tells us that “God has set eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Either Scripture is wrong or the denial of transcendent desire is a smokescreen, a defense mechanism designed to protect dwarfish atheists from reality.

tolkien-secretgate

A person who is still human is not in fact satisfied by the temporal and physical, however hard he tries to convince himself that he is. But you probably can’t argue him out of his position. You can only try to arouse the desire, to fan it to the point where he cannot ignore it any more. And the best way to do that might be to talk about the foretastes of fulfillment we have already been granted in Christ, or just to live a life of transcendent openness to Joy before him.

If you can get him to read Thomas Traherne’s Five Centuries of Meditation, it wouldn’t hurt. “Things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the center of the earth unseen violently attract it.  We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. . . . Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation of some Great Thing? . . . You never enjoy the world aright till you see how a [grain of] sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God. . . . You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . . Infinite wants satisfied produce infinite joys. . . . You must want like a God that you may be satisfied like God.  Were you not made in his image?”

ballynoecountydownireland

Now, I desire to be here! But it’s only a sign and a symbol for something that lies down an even more enticing path.

Lewis learned the argument from desire from Augustine’s Trinity-shaped vacuum and his heart that was “restless until it rest in Thee,” as developed by Traherne, Herbert, and MacDonald. The argument will have a certain logical cogency for those in whose hearts Desire has been sufficiently aroused. The best service those earlier writers–and Lewis himself–may do us is to fan that flame. In it, let us burn.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Order Dr. Williams’ books Stars through the Clouds, Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00 each + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

“YOU NEVER ENJOY THE WORLD ARIGHT UNTIL . . .” The Argument from Desire Revisited

Here’s my first contribution to our “Summer Re-Run” series, originally posted o a couple of years ago:

One of C. S. Lewis’s most interesting contributions to Christian apologetics is the Argument from Desire:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”  (Mere Christianity 120).

enterpriseinorbitWhat “other world” would you like to have been made for? Hint: an even better one than this!

I was interested to discover a respondent on an internet forum who denied having any unsatisfiable desires. He admitted that certain desires had never been satisfied perfectly, but maintained that they could be in theory, or that the satisfactions he could find in this life were good enough. How does one respond to this line of argument?  It’s rather like trying to convince the dwarfs in The Last Battle that they aren’t in a stable!

One conclusion might be that the argument from desire just doesn’t work with a certain type of person. Some of us are just too emotionally undeveloped- -or jaded–to be susceptible. But I would suggest that we make a mistake by taking such people’s statements at face value. Solomon tells us that “God has set eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Either Scripture is wrong or the denial of transcendent desire is a smokescreen, a defense mechanism designed to protect dwarfish atheists from reality.

tolkien-secretgate

A person who is still human is not in fact satisfied by the temporal and physical, however hard he tries to convince himself that he is. But you probably can’t argue him out of his position. You can only try to arouse the desire, to fan it to the point where he cannot ignore it any more. And the best way to do that might be to talk about the foretastes of fulfillment we have already been granted in Christ, or just to live a life of transcendent openness to Joy before him.

If you can get him to read Thomas Traherne’s Five Centuries of Meditation, it wouldn’t hurt. “Things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the center of the earth unseen violently attract it.  We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. . . . Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation of some Great Thing? . . . You never enjoy the world aright till you see how a [grain of] sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God. . . . You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . . Infinite wants satisfied produce infinite joys. . . . You must want like a God that you may be satisfied like God.  Were you not made in his image?”

ballynoecountydownirelandNow, I desire to be here! But it’s only a sign and a symbol for something that lies down an even more enticing path.

Lewis learned the argument from desire from Augustine’s Trinity-shaped vacuum and his heart that was “restless until it rest in Thee,” as developed by Traherne, Herbert, and MacDonald. The argument will have a certain logical cogency for those in whose hearts Desire has been sufficiently aroused. The best service those earlier writers–and Lewis himself–may do us is to fan that flame.

In it, let us burn.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Order Dr. Williams’ books Stars through the Clouds, Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00 each + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Inklings of Reality 2nd Edition

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Further up and further in!

This month LHP is highlighting some of our readers’ favorite previous posts from our authors.  We hope you enjoy them!

___________

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

__________

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!
–Jewel the Unicorn, The Last Battle

It is amazing how much of the human experience (and the promise of Christianity) is summed up in these few words.  It encapsulates both the finite, mortal nature of humanity, and it screams out the promise offered to those to whom Christ will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To nearly everyone who has taken the time to think about it, the experience of life is summed up by constant motion and perpetual change.  As each moment fades imperceptibly into the next, we learn that nothing remains the same for long.  Bound by the law of entropy as surely as the smallest particle of physical reality, our lives can go only one of two directions:  forward or backward.  We either grow and blossom into something new and different or we degenerate into wasted potential.  In it’s ideal form, the Christian life is a perfect picture of this.  There are always new trails to explore, new knowledge to acquire, new experiences to have, and each is unique from the last.

The problem is that everything in the universe tends toward decay.  In fact, we have to pursue constant and intentional forward motion to prevent it.  The older I get, the more apparent this becomes as my body slows down and begins the tiring process of degeneration.  It is also clear in the lives of anyone who, for one reason for another, cannot or does not attempt to better themselves.  To stand still is the surest way to see ourselves slump into sloth, destitution, disease, and want.

Worse, we are born into a reality where this is a losing battle from the very beginning.  From the moment our first cries echo through a harsh, cold world, we are living on borrowed time.  When we are young, we tend not to notice, but as we age the truth becomes inescapable; we say with Frodo (though for very different reasons), “Will I ever look down into that valley again?”  Will I ever hold my loved one in my arms again?  Will this be the last time I cuddle on the couch with my child before she is “too old” for that sort of thing?  How much longer can I perform at this level?  The end, of course, comes eventually.  We die, our bodies broken and wracked with pain, our treasured experiences spent, and the world moves on without us giving hardly a blink.

And that leads us to one of the truly amazing promises upon which Christians stand:  Our story, short as it is, is not over with death.  We will be translated into a new world that has no end.  There will be time to truly understand, to experience, to love, to build, to create…and we will do so basking in the light of the One “by whom all things were made” and the One who loves us enough that He suffered and died to ensure that we have the chance to experience mortal life and what lies beyond it.

Further up and further in, indeed!

  __________

Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

“YOU NEVER ENJOY THE WORLD ARIGHT UNTIL . . .” The Argument from Desire Revisited

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“YOU NEVER ENJOY THE WORLD ARIGHT UNTIL . . .”

The Argument from Desire Revisited

 One of C. S. Lewis’s most interesting contributions to Christian apologetics is the Argument from Desire:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  (Mere Christianity 120)

EnterpriseInOrbit
What “other world” would you like to have been made for? Hint: an even better one than this!

 

I was interested to discover a respondent on an internet forum who denied having any unsatisfiable desires. He admitted that certain desires had never been satisfied perfectly, but maintained that they could be in theory, or that the satisfactions he could find in this life were good enough. How does one respond to this line of argument?  It’s rather like trying to convince the dwarfs in The Last Battle that they aren’t in a stable!

One conclusion might be that the argument from desire just doesn’t work with a certain type of person. Some of us are just too emotionally undeveloped- -or jaded–to be susceptible. But I would suggest that we make a mistake by taking such people’s statements at face value. Solomon tells us that “God has set eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Either Scripture is wrong or the denial of transcendent desire is a smokescreen, a defense mechanism designed to protect dwarfish atheists from reality.

Tolkien-SecretGate

 A person who is still human is not in fact satisfied by the temporal and physical, however hard he tries to convince himself that he is. But you probably can’t argue him out of his position. You can only try to arouse the desire, to fan it to the point where he cannot ignore it any more. And the best way to do that might be to talk about the foretastes of fulfillment we have already been granted in Christ, or just to live a life of transcendent openness to Joy before him.


            If you can get him to read Thomas Traherne’s Five Centuries of Meditation, it wouldn’t hurt. “Things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the center of the earth unseen violently attract it.  We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. . . . Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation of some Great Thing? . . . You never enjoy the world aright till you see how a [grain of] sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God. . . . You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . . Infinite wants satisfied produce infinite joys. . . . You must want like a God that you may be satisfied like God.  Were you not made in his image?”

BallynoeCountyDownIreland
Now, I desire to be here! But it’s only a sign and a symbol for something that lies down an even more enticing path.

Lewis learned the argument from desire from Augustine’s Trinity-shaped vacuum and his heart that was “restless until it rest in Thee,” as developed by Traherne, Herbert, and MacDonald. The argument will have a certain logical cogency for those in whose hearts Desire has been sufficiently aroused. The best service those earlier writers–and Lewis himself–may do us is to fan that flame. In it, let us burn.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Order Dr. Williams’ books Stars through the Clouds, Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00 each + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.