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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
What purpose does regeneration serve?

What is the purpose of regeneration, if God can direct the will of man in any direction he chooses? Why must God regenerate a sinner to create faith in him—could he not just control his will so that he believes? A question from Ben at Arminian Perspectives, answered.

Ben at Arminian Perspectives has recently posted a brief article asking, ‘What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?’ Briefly put, since “God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants […] why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him? Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?” I think that’s a fair, reasonable question on the surface of it, Ben, so let me respond as a Calvinist.

The answer to your question isn’t so difficult if you consider what faith is. Faith is not merely an abstract awareness of some or other facts about God and Christ. It is an intimate knowledge about these things, communicated directly by the Spirit. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 2, where he ends with that remarkable statement, “But we have the mind of Christ” (v 16b). What does that mean? Why is it that we have—that we need—the mind of Christ? Because “who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (v 11) And what is it that we know? “A secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v 7) which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (v 9). If the heart of man has not imagined these things, then how can we know about them? Because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v 10). We have knowledge of them precisely because we have “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

This is the mind of Christ; and this is why the natural person, the person who has not received the Spirit of God, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God”—why they are “folly” to him, and why “he is not able to understand them”: because “they are spiritually discerned” (v 14). If one does not have the Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God, because these things require direct communication by the Spirit to the believer. They are things of God’s own mind, which (whether by his decree or by their very nature) cannot be grasped by anyone not availed of that mind. Thus we must be indwelled by the Spirit, having “the mind of Christ”, in order to understand the spiritual truths which comprise Christianity. Without the mind of Christ, according to Paul, faith is impossible.

Now, certainly God may incline a spiritually dead person to believe certain Christian propositions for a time—but since faith entails a knowledge which can only be communicated by the indwelling Spirit, and can only be understood by someone with that Spirit, it remains that if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith. Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly—but that belief does not constitute faith. It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension. It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths—and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.

It really goes without saying that this renders Arminianism untenable. In your previous post, ‘The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study’, you listed prevenient grace as the only item prior to faith. In your view, prevenient grace is required for totally depraved man to be able to libertarianly choose to have faith—but only prevenient grace. Then, following logically on from that faith, you would say that the person is then joined with Christ, justified, and only then regenerated. But according to 1 Corinthians 2, prevenient grace would have to entail nothing less than the full indwelling of the Spirit of God in order to make faith possible. Nothing less than that suffices to convince the “natural man” of spiritual truths. Nothing less than the mind of Christ is needed for a person to understand Christianity so as to have faith at all. As John puts it, a man must be reborn of the Spirit before he can “see” the kingdom of God (John 3:3,8).

But this being the case, it is evident that once a man has the mind of Christ, he will be convinced of and understand the truths of Christianity (not in a flash, of course; not all at once—but inevitably). Once a man is reborn of the Spirit, he will see the kingdom of God. So if the Arminian wishes to go so far as to say that prevenient grace does indeed entail the indwelling of the Spirit in some sense, then he goes too far because either prevenient grace is not given to everyone (in which case, it’s hard to see the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism here); or everyone is a Christian and is saved (which is plainly false on both scriptural and merely empirical grounds). Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?

The only theological system which accommodates Paul’s teachings regarding the nature and requirements of spiritual belief is Calvinism. Those teachings are accurately reflected in the monogerstic view which Calvinism takes of regeneration, wherein God must sovereingly work by giving his Spirit to those whom he has elected to salvation. He knows who will believe because he knows to whom he will give his Spirit. By contrast, the Arminian scheme renders 1 Corinthians 2 incoherent, since God’s knowledge of whom he will save is based on those people’s own choosing—yet they cannot choose without God first having given them his Spirit.

Continued in ‘The purpose of regeneration revisited’ ⇒

5 comments

  1. Ben H (kangaroodort)

    Dominic,

    I was going to respond here in your combox but decided instead to respond at my blog. Check it out when you get the chance.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  2. a helmet

    Hi,

    Your conception of faith sounds very gnostic:

    if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith. Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly—but that belief does not constitute faith. It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension. It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths—and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.

    rather than christian. How do you know, whether you have “saving faith” istead of just faith? By own opinion? By self-introspection? By comparison with fellows?
    What is the teaching imparted by God according to John 6:45? What is the message transported there?

    Very esoteric conception of christianity indeed.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I’m not sure what your purpose is in quoting John 6:45. It’s just another example of precisely the state of affairs I have explicated in my article, which must obtain for Christian faith. Faith is qualitatively different to mere belief. A person who actually has the Spirit of God knows that he has the Spirit of God, because it is something directly experienced and communicated. That doesn’t exclude non-believers from thinking that they have the Spirit, but everyone who does have the Spirit can hardly fail to know it. The existence of self-deceived individuals doesn’t cast doubt on the faith of genuine believers. There’s nothing gnostic or esoteric about this—although it’s interesting that you think there is.

  4. a helmet

    Hello Dominic,

    Thanks for your response.

    I’m not sure what your purpose is in quoting John 6:45. It’s just another example of precisely the state of affairs I have explicated in my article, which must obtain for Christian faith.

    The reason for my using this verse is that all who come to Christ have been taught something by the Father. Since ALL who have thus been taught come, it is absolutely crucial to share that knowledge. If you share this knowledge, that is, the content of this teaching, then others will come to Christ as well.

    Faith is qualitatively different to mere belief.

    No. There is no such distinction between faith and mere belief. Faith is always thinking that a certain proposition is true. It means to assent to a certain statement. Nothing more. The gospel of John, which speaks more about the necessity to believe than any other scripture, doesn’t use the noun “faith” at all, but constantly the verb “to believe”. If faith is something qualitatively different to mere belief, then you are required to show this faith. Show just what it is! (James 2:18)

    A person who actually has the Spirit of God knows that he has the Spirit of God, because it is something directly experienced and communicated.

    Communicated? Well, that’s the point. The spirit imparts knowledge (John 6:45). However, this knowledge must be communicable to others. That’s why you must be able to tell, what the content of the teaching of John 6:45 actually is. John 6:63 informs us just how the spirit is transported: by the Word of God, the Logos.

    God reveals only through the Logos. Logos means “word” (John 1:1). However, the meaning isn’t just “word”, but also “reason”, “articulation”, “clarity” and “rationality”. This is were the word “logics” comes from and it is the origin of the suffix -logy of various sciences (eg. bio -logy, psycho -logy, theo -logy). If you have the logos (the word) in you, then you can express, communicate, the truth in you. You’ll be able to share the knowledge in you. You can communicate the light (=spirit) in you to others, making known the light in you. But note God reveals only via the logos. All truth coming from God is imparted in accordance with reason and common sense. All truth originates with God, and all truth that is ever revealed is transported via the logos, the Word. Now if you cannot articulate the truth that you claim is in you, cannot express, communicate, share the spirit in any reasonable way, then the logos is not in you.

    But note, the Logos is Jesus Christ (John 1:1). If the logos isn’t in you then Christ isn’t in you in the first place and you’re found a liar.
    Everyone who claims to know God must be able to express this knowledge in clarity. You mustn’t councel others to find their knowledge for themselves by doing this or that, rather you must be able to express the light in you that you’ve already reaped.

    everyone who does have the Spirit can hardly fail to know it.

    If you claim to know that you have the spirit then you MUST be able to share the spirit, as explained above, or else you don’t have the logos-word in you. If you don’t have the logos, you don’t have Christ. If you don’t have Christ, you are deluded. This is how we can know whether someone has the spirit of God. If you claim to know God but cannot subsequently communicate that knowledge, we know that you don’t have the word in you and hence, cannot have the spirit.
    (Note also 1 John 2:4).


    The existence of self-deceived individuals doesn’t cast doubt on the faith of genuine believers.

    There are tests for “genuine” believes. For instance in James 2:14-18. If you say you have “faith” (as opposed to mere belief) then everybody would be interested to know just what this is. If your faith saves you, shouldn’t everybody have just that faith? Therefore, you must be able to show the faith to others, so that they receive it as well. If you have the logos in you (Christ in you) then you’ll be able to do that. Save your fellows!


    There’s nothing gnostic or esoteric about this—although it’s interesting that you think there is.

    Unless you can explain rationally what the mysterious “faith” you talk about actually is, you prove that the logos, the Word of God, doesn’t live in you and you don’t know what you’re talking about. This “faith” cannot save you. If you aren’t able to show the faith to others, your faith is useless. Because Jesus Christ isn’t in you. That’s the test.

    Excuse my harsh tone, but it just doesn’t work that way. You give people advice like “I have faith — if you want this too, I can’t help you”. This only shows that you don’t possess any spiritual light yourself (1 John 2:4).

    Greetings
    -a helmet

  5. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    The reason for my using this verse is that all who come to Christ have been taught something by the Father. Since ALL who have thus been taught come, it is absolutely crucial to share that knowledge. If you share this knowledge, that is, the content of this teaching, then others will come to Christ as well.

    Only if they, in turn, are taught by the Father. Since all who come to Christ have been taught by the Father, our sharing of that teaching with them is not sufficient for them to come to Christ. They, too, must be taught by the Father. And how is that achieved? By the indwelling of the Spirit. This is the precise argument I have been making—you don’t seem to be disagreeing with me except inasmuch as you don’t understand what I am saying.

    No. There is no such distinction between faith and mere belief.

    You are trying to refute an ontological statement by making an epistemological argument. You’re subsequently failing to interact with my position at all.

    Communicated? Well, that’s the point. The spirit imparts knowledge (John 6:45). However, this knowledge must be communicable to others. → All truth originates with God, and all truth that is ever revealed is transported via the logos, the Word. Now if you cannot articulate the truth that you claim is in you, cannot express, communicate, share the spirit in any reasonable way, then the logos is not in you → Everyone who claims to know God must be able to express this knowledge in clarity. You mustn’t councel others to find their knowledge for themselves by doing this or that, rather you must be able to express the light in you that you’ve already reaped.

    None of which I disagree with.

    If you claim to know God but cannot subsequently communicate that knowledge, we know that you don’t have the word in you and hence, cannot have the spirit.

    No doubt.

    If you have the logos in you (Christ in you) then you’ll be able to do that. Save your fellows!

    You’re confused. You continually seem to be treating my statements about faith as epistemological in some way; as if my faith is more than a belief and a trust in the promise of Christ. But I’ve never said that—what I have been commenting on is the ontological mechanism which is necessary to that belief and trust in Christ. You’re equivocating between my ontological comments, and the epistemological conditions of faith—which is causing you to be rather confused in your objections.

    Unless you can explain rationally what the mysterious “faith” you talk about actually is, you prove that the logos, the Word of God, doesn’t live in you and you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    The fact that you think I am referring to something mysterious and esoteric merely indicates that you haven’t understood my position. Please go back and carefully re-read what I’ve said before you comment again. The failure of communication is not at my end.

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