Many beliefs today are popular because they appeal to our weakness rather than because they are biblical. Such beliefs include spiritual justifications for materialism, theological exemptions from suffering tribulation, and even justifications for not sharing our faith with others. The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false.
I don’t think…particularly I don’t think that regeneration precedes anything except the fruit of regeneration which is a righteous life. I do not think that regeneration precedes saving faith.
Now I know that that’s becoming a…that’s a strongly Calvinistic…I shouldn’t even say Calvinistic, it’s a bit of a hard line Calvinistic viewpoint, I’m hearing it quite a bit nowadays. I had a two and a half hour discussion last week with a man who tried to convince me that regeneration occurs first and after you’re regenerate, then you can believe. So I said to him, “Show me the verse….just show it to me.” Well, he wanted to argue logic but he couldn’t find a verse. I do not find anywhere in the Scripture that the Bible says you will be saved and somewhere along the line you’ll come to realize it. When you separate saving faith from the regenerating act of God, you have put yourself in a non-biblical frame of reference and you have also created a new kind of dynamic in salvation where God is saving people completely independent of anything they do and then they’re just waking up to realize it and putting faith which they’re given by Him in regeneration into action.
Here is a good post that looks at some of the major difficulties in Calvinist accounting of free will and choice (below), It also does a good job concisely pointing out how Irresistible Grace is indeed coercive, even on some Calvinist definitions:
The Coercion Problem
First, the Sproul-Edwards account of choice implies that God’s giving irresistible grace to the elect is coercive. To be sure, Sproul does say that it is a “misconception of irresistible grace” (122) to think it involves people being coerced “kicking and screaming against their wills.” Rather, they desire Christ because God “plants a desire for Christ” (123) in them.
Unfortunately, that’s not Sproul’s definition of ‘coercion’. For him, coercion involves “imposing choices upon people that, if left to themselves, they would not choose” (57). And in fact God does that to the elect. For God imposes an irresistible desire on the elect (for Christ), and as Sproul says “our choices are determined by our desires” (54). Therefore, God imposes choices on the elect by imposing irresistible desires on them. Moreover, these choices are ones they wouldn’t otherwise have made, since apart from irresistible grace no one can choose Christ.
So both the elect and non-elect are coerced in their “decisions.” And if we know anything at all about free choices, it’s this: they’re not coerced. Caused, perhaps; but a free coerced choice is a contradiction in terms.
Of course, the main translation issue has to do with the translation of tetagmenoi, which the NIV translates (together with esan) as “were appointed”. This is such an important text theologically because it gives the impression that the people referred to believed because God first appointed them to eternal life. Some consider this a slam dunk proof for Calvinism/unconditional election. Indeed, some consider this to be the most powerful text in favor of Calvinism.
The pluperfect construction places the disposing prior to the belief of the subjects of the verbs in Acts 13:48, which means that it could have happened any time before they believed. But strikingly, White does not contest this point, which shows a concrete error on his part, but sidesteps it by attacking my suggestion that the people in view could have been disposed to eternal life by various means, including the preaching of the gospel the previous week, and he does so on the basis of Calvinist theology as opposed to exegetical points drawn from the context of Acts 13. Ironically, he accuses me of eisegesis at this very point when his reply is a vivid display of it.
Regrets are problematic in determinism as they often presuppose belief in free will (though that is not necessarily true of all regrets). I touched on this same topic long ago in this post: Struggling With Regrets. Another related post I hope to expound on in more detail sometime soon is Sacrifice and the Nature of Human Freedom. A great article that touches on some of these issues and many others with regards to the presuppositions inherent in a coherent reading of Scripture is Glen Shellrude’s Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts, Or Why I Am Not A Calvinist.
So really, White’s argument is very weak. Sometimes it seems that some are convinced by arguments like these because an author gives concrete reasons and mentions Greek, but that they do not necessarily think through the arguments well enough. In the midst of White talking about the mysterious sounding Greek pluperfect, he says it would have to apply to such and such a point in the narrative, though without any foundation for doing so, and his following naturally believe it. But the argument is not sound.
Related: Acts 13:48: Two Non-Calvinist Views