This blog is having an
existential crisis

While I tinker with a new design, I’m also pondering how, what, and why I write here. I don’t know how long that will take, but you’re welcome to email me and see how things are progressing.

Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


presentations
The purpose of regeneration revisited

Was I mistaken about the purpose of regeneration? A response to Ben at Arminian Perspectives, defending my position and refuting his objections.

⇐ continued from ‘What purpose does regeneration serve?’

In reply to my exposition of the purpose of regeneration in Calvinism—which in turn was a reply to a general question from Ben atArminian Perspectives—Ben has written ‘Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism’. I encourage you to read it in full to understand the larger context, as I will only quote enough here to provide a platform for response. I also apologize for the brevity of this reply; I am not blessed with as much free time as I used to be.

Ben:

I admit to being confused by this and I certainly disagree with his “definition” of faith (i.e. the simple faith that receives Christ) as requiring the indwelling Spirit. It seems that he is saying that God can turn the will to belief but that belief doesn’t constitute faith. And I am still left to wonder what these “propositions” entail.

That is exactly what I’m saying; and I defended this claim quite adequately. I was also fairly clear that the propositions in question are the propositions of the Christian faith: namely, to start with, that Christ died for our sins; and all the truths which relate to this.

Faith, as pertains to receiving the truth of the gospel and the gift of salvation, is simple trust in the work of Christ, and does not require intimate knowledge of all of the “things of God” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

This is true, but doesn’t speak to whether or not a person can have faith apart from the indwelling Spirit. Nothing in Romans 4 speaks to this question—what is under consideration there is the means of justification, namely through faith in God’s promise. Of course, I affirm that; but it doesn’t speak to the nature of faith (whether for or against my position). It’s hard to see why you would appeal to Romans 4 here; it doesn’t seem to be relevant at all.

Oh! So God can turn the heart to a false faith but not a real faith.

Again, I explained this in my original response. God can turn the heart to either; but man is not capable, in and of himself, of attaining a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths. Therefore, since faith is a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths, a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him. Subsequently, without giving his Spirit, God can only turn the heart of man to false faith. True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.

If the unregenerate can muster it on their own, then why the need for God to turn the will towards this false faith? How is false faith any different than unbelief?

Re the first question, this seems to be trading on a view of God’s sovereignty which is alien to Calvinism, wherein man’s actions are implicitly autonomous, and God merely directs them. Naturally, reading an Arminian view of action theory into a Calvinist exposition will result in the appearance of incongruity. I need merely point out that, under the Calvinist view, the fact of the unregenerate sinner mustering a false faith is not distinct from the fact of God turning the will of the unregenerate sinner to a false faith. Whatever occurs in reality is instantiated by God; refer to my recent post on this matter: ‘A simple argument for divine determinism’.

Re the second question, its answer should be readily apparent given a moment’s reflection. False faith is a kind of unbelief; but it is an unbelief disguised as belief. Presumably you accept that false faith does exist; it is certainly referred to many times in Scripture. Warnings against false teachers, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (ie, unbelievers pretending to be believers) are common. And James refers to those who are “hearers only, deceiving themselves” (1:22). Plainly, it is possible to believe—not merely making the pretence of belief—and yet to not be saved.

And is he suggesting that one needs to be “good” before he can believe? So the message of salvation is not for sinners but for those that God has made good enough to receive it by faith? Only the good can receive Christ by faith?

I’m having trouble seeing where I could be even remotely construed as saying this. You will need to explain your reasoning further; suffice to say this representation bears no resemblance to the position I explicated.

Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. “solid food” of 3:2).

This isn’t so; you’re relying on a simplistic bifurcation of the passage to come to this conclusion. 1 Corinthians 2 begins with Paul’s recollection of his evangelizing the Corinthian Christians: namely, that he “decided to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v 2). The faith of the Corinthians rested not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v 5). Now, Paul does go on to speak of wisdom imparted to the mature; but this does not exclude the previous comments regarding the cross itself; rather, it builds on them. Consider verse 12: “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” What is the foremost of the things freely given to us by God—indeed, the very foundation of those things? Surely it is “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7–8). Note also how that passage continues: “making known to us the mystery of his will”. In chapter 2 of Ephesians, during his reiteration of what God has done, Paul refers to this event as how God “made us alive together with Christ” (v 5). All of this describes quite plainly the action taken by God, and excludes human action as the cause of our apprehension of spiritual truth.

In fact, as you yourself note, the structure of Ephesians 1 corresponds well to 1 Corinthians 2: Paul reminds his audience of how they received Christ by the power of the Spirit, and then goes on to speak of the greater wisdom imparted by the Spirit to those mature in the faith. But as you failed to note, in both cases this is not a separate gift to faith, which requires the Spirit where faith does not. It is the same gift, extended: a knowledge which builds upon the initial faith of the believer: the “wisdom of the cross” which can only be understood via the indwelling of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 1:18 intimates, and 2:14 explicitly says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Now, unless you are going to argue that the message of the cross is not a spiritual truth, a “thing of the Spirit of God”, your objection is baseless—relying as it does on an unnatural bifurcation of the first half of the chapter from the second. Furthermore, I am of course not appealing solely to 1 Corinthians 2 to make my case. This is the passage I chose as best to make my point, because it is lengthy and clear; but as I noted, it’s merely a verbose explanation of John 3:3. Or of 1 Corinthians 12:3—“no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”. What does faith entail if not the statement that Jesus is Lord? Yet no one can say this except in the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus himself said to Peter upon his profession of faith: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17); and Peter himself acknowledged, saying “he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3).

The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, 5,

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? (emphasis mine)

Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?“(emphasis mine)

You continue to appeal to verses which are not actually dealing with the issue at hand. I think this is telling. Just as with Romans 4, Galatians 3 is concerned with the means of justification—not with the nature of faith, or the ordo salutis. Nothing in Galatians 3 contradicts my position on the nature and prerequisites of faith; nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith. The same is true of your appeal to Ephesians 3:16 and 17.

To summarize, that spiritual rebirth must precede faith is amply evidenced in Scripture. It has always been necessary for faith, as Jesus expected Nicodemus to know (John 3:10)—though under the Old Covenant the Spirit was not given in such measure. The opposite view, that regeneration is the consequence of faith, simply isn’t evidenced at all—you have had to appeal to passages which don’t pertain to regeneration in order to make your case, while ignoring the numerous passages which do. This seems quite decisive to me, and stands in isolation to the other biblical arguments against libertarian action theory—which are themselves equally decisive.

Continued in ‘On the distinction between saving and non-saving faith’ ⇒

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