Can Human Acts like Prayers and Childrearing Really Affect Someone’s Salvation?

Both Calvinists and Extensivists (non-Calvinists) speak as though things such as prayers, trials, miracles, preaching, testimonies, child rearing, education, and other influences play a vital part in salvation; these, along with a host of other influences may be categorized as events. It seems as though we all really mean these kinds of events play a similar role in God’s salvation plan. However, such is not the case. The only similarity is that Calvinists and Extensivists use the same words, but the way Calvinists use these words are essentially dissimilar to the way they are normally used and used by Extensivists. Calvinists themselves tend to obscure the real differences.

These events may be classified as either indefinite or definite. By indefinite, I refer to events in which human involvement can actually affect the outcome. This is in contrast to definite events in which God has predetermined that human involvement does not affect the outcome. Extensivism recognizes Scripture includes both definite and indefinite events, whereas Calvinism recognizes only definite events-determined. The difference between these two viewpoints is Extensivism actually believes these indefinite events really do play a part in God’s salvation plan.[1] While it is quite common for Calvinists to speak libertarianly, Calvinism utterly rejects man having libertarian moral freedom. Speaking libertarianly is especially misrepresentative of Calvinism’s determinism.

Keep in mind, Extensivist believe in Libertarian moral freedom, which says man was created with the ability to exercise otherwise choice in some scenarios, indefinite events. Calvinism believes in compatible moral freedom, which says determinism and moral freedom are compatible. Man is considered to make a free choice so long as he chooses according to his greatest desire; however, given his past, he could not have chosen differently than he did in the moral moment of decision. The determinism of compatibilism is equally as deterministic as what is known as hard determinism, definite events only.

Calvinism’s belief in unconditional election and compatibilism, wherein everything is micro-determined, necessitates a different meaning than is normally understood when speaking of the correlation between events and a person’s salvation.[2] It requires understanding that while such events may be a part of the process of God’s predetermined elective plan to bring his unconditionally elect into redemption, these events do not, in any way, play a role that includes the idea they could have been different or resulted in a different outcome. That is to say, all direct or suggestive talk by Calvinists of how pivotal events, someone’s prayers, or a person’s involvement in an individual’s life played a non-determined role in someone’s salvation is misleading. It misrepresents the true meaning of Calvinism. Unfortunately, and quite confusingly, that is how they are most often portrayed.

In contrast, according to Extensivism God comprehends libertarian freedom in his salvation plan so that these indefinite events can play an undetermined part; they can even play a part that actually affects the outcome. I refer to the relationship of these events as being constitutionally, organically, and substantially related. This is in contrast to Calvinism’s determinism in which nothing actually matters in an effective way but unconditional election and its partner, selective irresistible grace.

Here is the way I define the relationship of indefinite events in God’s salvation plan:

Constitutionally related: Constitutionally related speaks to the nature of God’s salvation plan wherein grace enablements are essentially, sequentially, and operationally incorporated into the structure of God’s plan.[3] Since God’s work of salvation is a grace work, every aspect of the plan exists and functions according to his grace; therefore, such things as prayer, witnessing, listening with understanding of the gospel, other indefinite events, and exercising faith are not reducible to purely human works or virtues. For them to be merely human works, they would need to exist outside of God’s grace work of salvation. That is to say, they would need to be unconstitutionally related to his salvation plan. Since they do not so exist, they are grace components in God’s redemptive plan (Rom 3:28; 4:1–5).

Organically related: Something being organically related speaks to the complex relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s pre-conversion grace enablements that work according to his salvific plan of grace so that the choices of a libertarian free being really do matter in a person’s salvation. They have a systemic arrangement and interaction with other parts of God’s plan. To wit, they play an actual non-determined and non-meritorious role in one’s salvation. The outcome of this organic relationship is that many factors can actually be involved in the salvation of a person, salvation is available to every person, and man is saved by non-determined and non-meritorious faith (John 4:39–42; 11:42, 45; Eph 2:8–9).

For example, we may say the prayers of a grandmother were instrumental in a person’s salvation; by this we mean if the grandmother had not prayed, which she could have chosen to do, the person may not have been saved at that time. The influence of the grandmother’s prayers in the gospel encounter is solely because God included such non-determined components in his salvation plan. These components have an organic relationship to other aspects of God’s salvation plan; they do in fact matter (John 17:20–21; Rom 2:4; Titus 2:1–11; 3:1–8; 1 John 2:2).

An example of such a constitutional and organic relationship may be illustrated by considering a flower. We give the name flower to a particular plant that includes certain and various components in its structure; being organic means there is a systemic arrangement and interaction between the various components. Included in these components are things such as roots, stem, bud, petals, sepal, stamen, and pistil. Some of these are substantially related so that if they did not exist, the flower would not exist.

Substantially (substantively) and insubstantially related: Substantially and insubstantially related speaks to the relationship between things, people, personal experiences, and other events as part of the process and the process’s final product. Something substantially related indicates if it were not present in the process, the product would be different, or at least would likely be different. In contrast, components that are insubstantially related would not change the product by their absence. Given libertarian freedom, some events (indefinite events) may or may not be present because these relationships are not predeterminately fixed. In Extensivism some events are substantially related to salvation, but in Calvinism, all events are determined (there are no indefinite events but only definite) and can only be insubstantially related because they cannot change, nor can they change the process or the product.

In other words, even though strictly impossible in a compatibly free world, if some events were not there, the product, such as unconditional election, would still take place in precisely the same way. It is unconditional. If Calvinism accepts that indefinite events exist and are substantially related to one’s salvation, then things like unconditional election are really organically related to them so that election incorporates these grace contributors in the production of the end product. This means the abandonment of compatibilism and transforming unconditional election into conditional election.

In Extensivism, given libertarian freedom, some events are substantially related because if they were not a part of the process in the way they are (and that could have been the case), something different would be happening; therefore, the result could be different in various scenarios (Matt 11:20–24).

Calvinists and Extensivists may speak similarly about salvation, but this is because Calvinists are constantly speaking libertarianly about people being saved, praying, witnessing, and events substantially affecting one’s life. I can only ask my Calvinist brothers and sisters to be as resolutely committed to speaking determinatively (so that all understand, including the Calvinist speaking) as they are in pedestaling compatibilism and denouncing libertarian freedom for depending on something other than grace.

Then, we can have meaningful discussions about the merits of Calvinism and Extensivism. And people listening can make a clear and informed decision about what label they wear.


[1] Indefinite does not mean they are unknown to God, but only that these events are contingencies; they are not determined, and therefore, did not have to happen.
[2] One may also add the other elements of Calvinism’s decretal theology.
[3] By grace enablements I mean things which God has to do in order to make salvation available to all. See an explanation of some of these enablements  in my article Grace Enablements, at  https://ronniewrogers.com/?s=grace+enablements.