Prevenient Grace, generally speaking, refers to grace that is given to a sinner prior to conversation and salvation. By this definition, both Calvinists and Arminians believe in prevenient grace.
However, prevenient grace is most commonly referred to within the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, and within this debate, prevenient grace has a more specific definition that distinguishes Arminianism from Calvinism.
The Arminian definition of prevenient grace is that it is grace given to a sinner that gives the sinner the ability to freely choose to convert and be saved. According to the Arminian view of prevenient grace, God granting this grace to a sinner, or "drawing" a sinner, does not necessarily result in the sinner converting and being saved.
Or, in other words, according to the Arminian view, faith always precedes regeneration, or, the free choice to have faith results in regeneration, or a person being born again.
In contrast, the Calvinist view is that regeneration always precedes faith, or, saving faith is the result of God taking the initiative to regenerate a person.
Although there are three different views of prevenient grace within Arminianism, the similar theme between all of these views is that faith precedes regeneration, and that salvation is ultimately the result of the sinner's free choice, or the result of the sinner generating his own faith apart from any kind of necessity that God causes.
Iin contrast, the Calvinist would say that faith is not generated by the sinner's free will, but is rather a result of God taking the initiative in regenerating a sinner. In other words, faith is a gift from God.
That being said, here are the three primary views of prevenient grace in Arminianism:
Here, we will respond to an Arminian argument for its view of prevenient grace and explain why the Calvinist position is the correct, biblical position.
Arminians argue that John 12:32
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
Calvinists have two primary responses to the Arminian's use of John 12:32
Scripture clearly teaches that everyone who is "drawn" or "called" by God definitely will be saved, and that regeneration precedes faith.
As mentioned above, John 6:44
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This verse is commonly referred to as the "Golden Chain of Salvation," since every step necessarily occurs if the previous one occurs. So, everyone who is predestined will definitely be called, everyone who is called will definitely be justified, and everyone who is justified will definitely be glorified, or saved. There is no possibility of a break in this chain.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If one cannot see the kingdom of God without being born again, then one cannot convert, have faith, or be saved without being born again.
1 John 5:1
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
This verses says that everyone who believes "has been" born of God, not that everyone who believes "will be" born of God. In other words, being born again, or regenerated, precedes saving faith.
The Arminian view of prevenient grace is simply not taught by Scripture. Rather, Scripture is clear that everyone who is "drawn" or "called" by God definitely will be saved, and that faith is not generated by human free will, but is rather the result of regeneration, or being "born again" by God.