Preparationism is the view in Christian theology that unregenerate people can take steps in preparation for conversion, and should be exhorted to do so. Preparationism advocates a series of things that people need to do before they come to believe in Jesus Christ, such as reading the Bible, attending worship, listening to sermons, and praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. By making use of these means of grace, a "person seeking conversion might dispose himself toward receiving God's grace."
Adherents and critics
Many Puritans held to this view, especially in New England. These include Thomas Hooker (the founder of Connecticut Colony), Thomas Shepard, and Solomon Stoddard. Later preparationists include William Shedd. Preparationism originated within Calvinism, although its views were criticised for being Arminian.
Martyn McGeown identifies William Perkins, William Ames, and Richard Sibbes as preparationists. Sibbes, however, warned against excessive preparationism on the basis that some spirits "may die under the wound and burthen, before they be raised up again." In New England, Giles Firmin suggested that preparationists had "misdirected attention from the solace of Christ and had become obsessed with the inadequacy of self."
John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson regarded preparationism as a covenant of works, a criticism that was one of the causes of the Antinomian Controversy, which led to Hutchinson being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. Historians have debated the factors in Hutchinson's downfall, including issues of politics and gender; but intellectual historians have focused on theological factors, including preparationism, antinomianism, mortalism, and the idea of sanctification being evidence of justification. Harvard University historian Perry Miller views the incident as a "dispute over the place of unregenerate human activity, or 'natural ability', preparatory to saving conversion." Similarly, Rhys Bezzant sees the Antinomian crisis as pitting Hutchinson and others against "the defenders of preparationist piety." Bezzant goes on to argue that Jonathan Edwards distanced himself from his grandfather Solomon Stoddard's "preparationist model of conversion."
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all;
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.
Michael McClymond suggests that preparationism "balanced out the stress on God's sovereignty by insisting that there was something that human beings could and should do while they were waiting on God to grant his converting grace." Emory Elliott argues that it "eventually became a central tenet in the evolving system of spiritual nourishment and social control in the pioneer communities of Puritan New England." Martyn McGeown suggests that "it is surprising that the notion of preparatory grace became so popular among the Puritans, since many of them helped frame the Westminster Confession, which teaches that 'natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto' (9:3)."
- Kang, Paul Chulhong (2006). Justification: The Imputation of Christ's Righteousness from Reformation Theology to the American Great Awakening And the Korean Revivals. Peter Lang. p. 20. ISBN 9780820486055.
- McClymond, Michael J.; McDermott, Gerald R. (2012). The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Oxford University Press. p. 678. ISBN 9780199791606.
- Elliott, Emory (1997). "The Dream of a Christian Utopia". The Cambridge History of American Literature, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780521585712.
- McGeown, Martyn. "The Notion of Preparatory Grace in the Puritans". Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- Lim, Paul Chang-Ha (2004). In Pursuit of Purity, Unity, and Liberty: Richard Baxter's Puritan Ecclesiology in Its Seventeenth-Century Context. Brill. p. 35. ISBN 9004138129.
- Delbanco, Andrew (1991). The Puritan Ordeal. Harvard University Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780674740563.
- Westerkamp, Marilyn J. (1990). "Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order". Church History. 59 (4): 483.
- Stoever, William K. B. (1975). "Nature, Grace and John Cotton: The Theological Dimension in the New England Antinomian Controversy". Church History. 44 (1): 22–23.
- Bezzant, Rhys Stewart. "Orderly but Not Ordinary: Jonathan Edwards's Evangelical Ecclesiology" (PDF). Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- Horn, Robert M. (1976). "Thomas Hooker – The Soul's Preparation for Christ". The Puritan Experiment in the New World. The Westminster Conference. p. 36.
- Hart, Joseph. "Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched". The Cyber Hymnal. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
- McClymond, Michael J. (2008). "Theology of Revival". The Encyclopedia Of Christianity, Volume 5. Eerdmans. p. 434. ISBN 9780802824172.