Steven has some questions about prevenient grace. Namely, he can't see how we could consider a choice free in any sense if the noetic effects of sin are still acting on the mind, even if prevenient grace has been given. He also wonders how one could actually reject this grace.
His post starts off badly by not defining his terms. He uses "sufficient" it seems in a few different ways. When distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions, a sufficient condition is speaking of a condition that, if satisfied, will definitely bring about what the statement asserts. For instance, in the statement, "If God decrees something it will be done," God's decreeing something is a sufficient condition for its being done. If He decrees it, it will happen.
When Arminians speak of God giving sufficient grace to everyone to come to Him, they are speaking of sufficient as it is normally understood; as being as much as needed to accomplish something. In my house, for instance, I have a sufficient amount of sugar to bake some cookies. I have as much sugar as I need, but it's obvious the sugar does not imply cookies. It would be helpful to avoid this ambiguity if one is going to correctly portray his opponent's position.
Steven asks, "What exactly would grace sufficient to make a truly free choice to accept or reject God’s salvation look like? That is, what would the effects of a truly liberating grace be?"
If Steven is speaking of a sufficient condition to accept God's grace, this seems to be presupposing that there has to be a P that implies Q, or a grace that will bring about repentance. But the Arminian holds that grace is necessary, but not sufficient for repentance. This grace that enables the will of man to repent could look like a lot of different things, and is probably different for every individual. For some in Paul's day, it was enough for them to hear of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). But for Paul himself, it took more grace to bring Him into relationship with the Savior (Acts 9:3-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18).
Steven then begins to stack the deck, making bold assertions such as, "If the sin-inclining effects of the flesh are not entirely removed from the agent upon making the decision, then the agent’s choice will not have been truly free–it would have been unfairly more probable that it would be a choice for evil."
Here's the issue, Steven has no grounds to back this assertion. It's actually quite strange, considering no Calvinist thinks that anyone is completely free from sin in the flesh. The Calvinist teaches that man must be regenerated before exercising faith in Christ, but that says nothing of a complete escape from the noetic effects of sin. Most continue to hold that the dulling effects of sin still remain on the mind until we are glorified (see any Calvinist commentary on Romans 7).
So I suppose that Steven is saying that regeneration must happen, a washing clean of the spirit of man, making the spirit alive instead of dead. Not to point out the circular reasoning here, but what reason is there to accept this as the case?
The Arminian is quite happy stating that something must be done to man before he can accept Christ. Steven is correct that "grace must be truly liberating because it is clear that the sinful flesh, absent divine grace or assistance, necessarily tends towards evil, and man, in terms of his natural abilities, lacks power to do good of his own." But the Arminian says that this enabling grace precedes faith and regeneration. This is a grace that God gives that enables man in a sufficient manner to be able to accept God's grace. The Arminian also holds that this is a grace that is universally distributed (Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2). It is a necessary condition to lead to salvation, but not sufficient, as there are some who thrust this grace from themselves.
What seems to be the crux of the issue for Steven is, "[W]hy would anyone who has been so freed, and who can judge things properly, and so on, still choose to refuse salvation?" In other words, what makes one person respond to God's grace and the other not? JC Thibodaux has shown the fallacious nature of this objection. It's assuming that there must be something other than the individual that determines which way the will goes. But that's just assuming causal determinism, and is begging the question.
The Arminian has no problem shrugging his shoulders here. We can't know the hearts of other men, and so can't know ultimately why they don't repent. There may be influences that impact the decision made, but ultimately the will of the individual is what chooses to repent or not. There may be some people who no matter how much grace God gave would stubbornly refuse to repent.
Steven then voices an implication he sees coming from Arminian theology:
someone who was aware of their sinfulness, aware of their need to trust in God, aware of the fact that God is their only hope in saving themselves and that this requires a surrendering of the will, and able to properly judge reasons for acting (that is, isn’t given to misjudge the value of reasons like “sin feels better than holiness” when considering what to do), would still be able to choose to reject God and embrace the hell he sees coming for himself.Steven has stacked the deck and is begging the question here. He is presupposing that a prevenient grace would undo all effects of sin on people to enable them to come. As I will continue to state, it hasn't been shown why this needs to be the case, as I think it's clear God could grace someone such that they would be able to choose Him even while being under some sinful influence, since that is what is consistent with our experience. Further, he thinks that true freedom requires being only swayed by the grace of God in this case, but I would argue that to have a truly free choice, both options should be on the table. Also, even if Steven is correct about these other aspects, it still doesn't follow that if completely free from any noetic effect of sin and enabled to accept God that one would necessarily choose him.
Steven ends with two points, which I will address quickly, even at the risk of repeating myself.
1) "such a radical freedom of indifference, absolute ability to do otherwise, seems to not be very valuable, so it isn’t clear why someone would say it is required for a choice to be truly free, responsible, etc."
The only value the Arminian would ascribe to libertarian free will is in its use to come to a freely chosen relationship with Christ. As Walls and Dongell write in Why I'm Not a Calvinist, "The same freedom that makes it possible to enter a genuinely trusting and obedient relationship with God also makes it possible for us to go our own way and disobey him. God allows the latter in order to enable the former." A genuine relationship must be a freely chosen one. I think that is a fairly strong and indisputable axiom. We know that a relationship between a volitional creature and something that cannot choose is not real. This is where the puppet analogy pops up. God wants people to freely come to Him. This is why He allows the ability to choose not to come to Him. Even though God graces someone with the knowledge and ability to escape sin, they can actually choose against that.
2) "an agent who fulfills the above criteria in terms of knowledge and ability and yet still does otherwise than what he knows to be the right thing, and his choice is somehow supposed to be free, seems like an impossibility–inconceivable."
Not only is it not clear why this would be the case, but it again seems to be begging the question for determinism. He's basically saying that if someone receives this prevenient grace from God, they should necessarily come to Him. But that hasn't even begun to have been established. Given the Biblical testimony it is hard to see, on Calvinism, why all are not saved. But on Arminianism, the explanation of why some aren't saved is fairly simple; some simply choose not to repent despite God's gracious, merciful, and loving drawing.