Responding To Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith

Below is my response to Dominic’s follow-up rebuttal of my post concerning the purpose of regeneration in Calvinism.   You can read my response to his first reply here. It is quite lengthy because the discussion primarily turns on issues of exegesis, and exegesis requires careful attention to language and context.  If Dominic replies again I will just focus on a general reply to his main points without interacting with all that he says (though I felt such interaction was necessary in this response).  As in my last response, Dominic’s comments are blocked in yellow quotes while my responses appear in between.

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.

Dominic: 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.

Well, I am confused again.  I guess Dominic is saying that God can turn ones will to believe certain facts about Christianity (the basic truths of the gospel) and yet that belief does not constitute saving faith.  So one can believe the gospel message but not have saving faith?  Is that correct?  Or is Dominic saying one can have knowledge of certain Christian teachings without believing them?  To have knowledge of something is not the same as believing it, so I am not sure how this can be what Dominic is saying.  And faith is just the noun form of believe (the verb form), so again, I am having trouble grasping the distinction here.

Ben: 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)

Dominic: 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.

It is relevant in that there is a distinction between receiving the simple gospel message (through trust in Christ) and having intimate knowledge of God’s thoughts, etc.  Dominic claims that Paul is describing saving faith in 1 Cor. 2 and that one can only attain to saving faith by having a deep and intimate knowledge of the things of God.  I deny that, and referenced Rom. 4 to show that the faith that saves is a simple trust in Christ, as opposed to the deep intimate knowledge of things of God described by Paul in 1 Cor. 2.  In other words, Paul is not describing simple saving faith in 1 Cor. 2, which undermines Dominic’s entire argument.

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

Dominic: 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.

This gets back to the original question and I still don’t see that it has been answered.  Dominic holds to exhaustive determinism.  He believes that our every thought, desire, and action is caused by God.  Our wills are meticulously controlled by God.  So why can’t God, in accordance with Dominic’s concept of sovereignty = exhaustive determinism, simply create spiritual understanding in the mind of the sinner and turn his will towards faith in Christ?  It is not a matter of how God has determined to go about such things, but whether or not He needs to do it that way.

Calvinists typically speak of regeneration preceding faith in the language of necessity (e.g. Dominic’s statement, “True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.”).  God must regenerate a sinner in order for them to produce faith.  God can’t produce faith in the unregenerate.  But why?  So I understand that in Calvinism, God doesn’t turn the will apart from regeneration, but surely He can, can’t He?  Dominic writes, “a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him.”  But why can’t God just give that person such knowledge in accordance with His exhaustive control of the mind?  Why the need for the Spirit to dwell within and communicate these truths?  Why can’t God just implant these truths in the sinners mind and turn the will towards faith?  I still don’t see anything in Dominic’s reply that would answer this question.

Ben: 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?

Dominic: 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’.

Here Dominic again espouses God’s exhaustive control over the mind, thoughts, and will of man.  So again, why cannot God control the mind, thoughts, and will of man towards the acceptance of spiritual truths and faith in Christ?  What prevents this sovereign God from doing so?  Even the “depraved” mind is controlled by God towards unbelief and depravity according to Dominic, so why can’t he just turn it from one direction (unbelief and sin) to another (faith and righteousness)?  In all situations God controls the mind and will and creates our every thought.  Dominic fully affirms this.  Yet God must regenerate the sinner and fill him with his Holy Spirit before He can turn the will towards faith and before He can create spiritual understanding in that person?

It is not a matter of the person learning from the Spirit and freely submitting to those truths.  That doesn’t comport with Dominic’s view (though it does comport with the Arminian view).  Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit communicating spiritual truth, the sinner (sinner who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit no less!) cannot turn his own will toward faith, and cannot create spiritual understanding in himself (i.e. cannot receive instruction on his own).  All this must still be done by God (God must still turn the will and create spiritual understanding in the person).  So what purpose does regeneration, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the communication of spiritual truths, serve in such a scenario?

Dominic: 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.

Good.  So he admits that false faith is just unbelief.  So God is capable of turning the will from one sort of unbelief to another (and in the C scheme God would be cruelly creating the impression of saving faith in a person who is merely exercising false faith- a false faith that God Himself caused), but cannot turn the will towards true faith.  This he asserts, but has yet to prove.

Ben: 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?

Dominic: 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.

I construed it from the following comment you made in your last post, “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.” (emphasis mine)

Now, apparently I was mistaken, but this seemed to imply that belief in God is contingent on something “good” in us (i.e. “down there”).  Since the unregenerate has nothing “good” in its depths to “muster from” then he cannot believe the gospel.  This led to my statements above.  I apologize if I misunderstood Dominic on this, but I hope he can see how I was able to construe those conclusions from what he wrote.

Ben: 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).

Dominic: 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).

I agree, and said as much in my initial response.  And may I suggest that I am not the one relying on a “simplistic bifurcation” of the passage, since Dominic is divorcing his proof text from context to make his point (it is not “bifurcation” to recognize, contextually, that Paul is not speaking of saving faith in these passages).

Dominic: The faith of the Corinthians rested not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v 5).

I agree again.

Dominic: 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).

I agree again.  The message to the mature is a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the gospel, especially concerning the riches and inheritance we have in Christ, which can only be received by those who are already in a relationship with Christ (i.e. those who have already received the gospel by simple faith).  So the message to the mature is for those who are already believers.  This only serves to undermine his position and further support mine.

Dominic: 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.

It excludes it in verse 5, but includes it in verse 8, where all of the salvation benefits (including regeneration- being “made alive” in Christ) described in verses 4-7 are said to be “through faith”.  This completely undermines Dominic’s understanding of this passage.

Dominic: 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.

Not at all.  No one is denying that these spiritual things described in 1 Cor. 2 are intended for believers who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  My entire point is that all of what Paul says in verses 6-14 is directed toward believers who have already received the gospel message (2:5).  It is even true of those who Paul describes as “worldly” and unable to receive these truths because they do not have the “Spirit”, which simply means that they are not yielding to that Spirit so as to attain to these deeper spiritual truths.  This is plainly the case based on how Paul concludes the discourse in 1 Cor. 3:1-4,

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-15) but as worldly– mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men [without the Spirit]?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (emphasis mine)

These verses render Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  Paul is applying all that he just said directly to these believers and their behavior.  They are “infants in Christ” (and in Pauline usage no one is “in Christ” without being saved).  And yet Paul calls them “worldly” and “mere men” and says he cannot address them as “spiritual”.  All of this is in the context of Paul describing the man with and without the Spirit in 1 Cor. 2:13-15 (Dominic’s primary proof text).

So it becomes clear that in the context of this passage Paul is not saying that one cannot come to faith in Christ unto salvation without being first indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  He is saying that those believers who are “worldly” and “unspiritual” cannot move on to a fuller understanding of all that they have in Christ, “what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2:8), cf. “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18), due to their unwillingness to yield to the Spirit and their clinging to the things of the world (e.g. quarreling, favoritism, etc.).

It is this obvious context which proves Dominic’s proof texting of this passage to be inappropriate misapplication (and notice how Paul moves from “acting like mere men” to the absolute, “are you not mere men?”  This is basic to a proper understanding of what Paul is saying here.  Those “without the Spirit” are those who are “acting” like they do not have the Spirit (i.e. are not yielding to the Spirit), when in fact they do have the Spirit).

Dominic wants us to ignore the context so he can make these passages work in defending his view of saving faith being dependent on regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This is obvious in his comment about “spiritual truths”.  Just look at how he focuses on verse 14 and divorces it from the context that defines its meaning.  Yes, the simple gospel constitutes a spiritual truth, but Paul is not using “spiritual truth” in this passage to describe the simple gospel message.  In this context “spiritual truths” as defined by Paul, have reference to the deeper things of God available only for mature and “spiritual” believers (in contrast to immature and “unspiritual” believers). This simple contextual consideration undermines Dominic’s entire argument from this passage.  Dominic is trying to get something out of this passage that it simply does not provide.

Dominic: 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.

But Dominic has misunderstood John 3:3 as well.  In both cases Dominic has read his theology into the passage without allowing the inspired writers to finish their thoughts or define their terms (he does the same thing above with regards to Eph. 2:5, rather than understanding it according to how Paul concludes the matter in verse 8).  I made this same point in the post I wrote on John 3:3, 6 that I referred Dominic to in my last post,

“Rather than allowing Jesus to explain His own teaching, the Calvinist wants to “explain” what Jesus meant before He does. If we want to understand what Jesus meant by His comments in John 3:3, 6, we only need to keep reading. If we can resist the temptation to read our theology into his comments we will soon discover that one is born again by believing in Christ and thereby appropriating the benefits of His atonement. Only after the blood of the “lifted up” Messiah is applied through faith can one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.” (taken from my post, Does Jesus Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?)

Dominic: 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).

1 Cor. 12:3 can just as easily be translated “by the Holy Spirit”.  In fact, the vast majority of translations prefer “by” to “in” in this passage (translating en as instrumental).  This then would speak to the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than to the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  This fits the context well, since Paul was just speaking about their prior pagan state in which they were “influenced” to follow after false gods (NIV).  Other translations speak of going astray even as they were “led”.  So the passage has reference to the leading of the Spirit in confessing Christ as Lord.   No one can turn to Christ nor confess Him as Lord apart from the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit.  That is basic to prevenient grace, but does not speak to the need for the indwelling Spirit in order to put faith in Christ for salvation.

You are either led by the Spirit (even to faith in Christ), or you are led astray by ungodly influences, and those who are led astray cannot (and would not) say, “Jesus is Lord.”

As far as Peter, it is quite true that his confession resulted from a revelation from the Father, but there is no indication that this revelation came by way of direct communication of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is especially true since Scripture is very clear that the disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit at this point.  If anything, Peter’s confession argues strongly against Dominic’s position, and supports the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace (notice also that Jesus says “my Father who is in heaven” has revealed this to Peter, and not “the Holy Spirit that is within you” has revealed this…).

Ben: 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)

Dominic: You continue to appeal to verses which are not actually dealing with the issue at hand.

This is a remarkable statement.  The issue has to do with the need for regeneration prior to faith and Dominic answers the question by pointing us to a passage that has nothing to do with regeneration or saving faith, but the spiritual maturity of believers and their corresponding ability, or inability, to receive deeper spiritual truths.  Yet Dominic asserts that 1 Cor. 2 proves that one can only believe by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  But this is nothing more than mere assertion based on what he believes the passage implies (without regards to context).  Then, in the face of explicit statements by Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith, he complains that I am appealing to verses that are not actually dealing with the issue!

Dominic: I think this is telling.

Ditto.

Dominic: 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.

Again, these assertions are hard to even take seriously.  I already explained above why I mentioned Rom. 4, and Galatians speaks directly to the issue of how we receive the Holy Spirit.  We receive the Spirit by faith.  That kills his argument completely.  Dominic asserts that initial saving faith is impossible prior to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and Paul flatly contradicts him by saying the Holy Spirit is received by faith!  Let me spell this out as clearly as possible so as to avoid any confusion,

Dominic (paraphrased): “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit must precede faith, and causes faith”

The apostle Paul (paraphrased): “We receive the Holy Spirit by faith (i.e. reception of the Holy Spirit results from faith and does not cause it).”

Yet, Dominic can somehow assert, in the face of such plain statements by Paul, that “nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith”.  Again, his whole argument is based on what he believes 1 Cor. 2 implies, yet the explicit statements of Paul on the subject are, for some reason, inadmissible! (?)

Ephesians 3:17, despite Dominic’s protest, is extremely relevant to his assertions concerning 1 Cor. 2.  Dominic insisted that one must possess the mind of Christ prior to being able to believe the simple gospel unto salvation.  Yet, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts “through faith”, and verses 14-19 correspond perfectly to the deeper knowledge and revelation of God (and His love), available to believers, but not necessarily received by them, as described in 1 Cor. 2.

Dominic: To summarize, that spiritual rebirth must precede faith is amply evidenced in Scripture.

If it is, Dominic has yet to furnish us with any such evidence.  He has, however, treated us to numerous unfounded assertions.  Let’s focus briefly on his dismissal of Galatians as relevant to the discussion, and this statement here about the new birth preceding faith.  The new birth would certainly be the point at which we become a child of God, would it not?  Well, it just so happens that Paul has something to say about how we become children of God in Galatians,

“You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…Because you are Sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father’. (Gal. 3:26, 4: 6)

We become children of God through faith, and becoming God’s child is directly linked to receiving the Holy Spirit.  For this reason we are “heirs according to the promise”, which Paul had previously described as “the promise of the Spirit” received “by faith”. (Gal. 3:14).  Now perhaps Dominic wants to claim that becoming “Sons of God” through faith is somehow only a reference to justification.  This would, however, only serve to further undermine his assertion as the indwelling of the Spirit in verse 6 would then be consequent to justification.  In that case, since justification is “by faith”, faith would still logically precede the reception of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, according to his claims on regeneration, faith would precede regeneration as well (and this just happens to be in perfect accord with the Arminian ordo).

Dominic: 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.

Dominic finishes his rebuttal with more assertions regarding the priority of regeneration and more dismissive statements regarding the explicit testimony of Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith.  Thankfully, such hand waving will not suffice to overturn the clear Scriptural testimony that the Holy Spirit is received by faith; and this testimony, while undermining Dominic’s argument, fully supports the Arminian ordo.

I would still welcome Dominic to address what I called “theological absurdities” with regards to the Calvinistic ordo salutis in my initial post.

Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism

Below is an answer offered by “Dominic” to my post on the purpose of regeneration in the Calvinist scheme, with my response to his answer interspersed.  He also touches on my post concerning the Arminian ordo.  I was originally going to leave my response in his combox, but since it became very long, and since it deals with a primary Calvinist proof text for the priority of regeneration, I decided to make a post out of it instead.  You can read his response at his site here.  His post is blocked in yellow quotes and my response appears in between.

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).

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)

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.”

Note “that we might understand…”  See below for more on that.

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.

I will address Dominic’s understanding of 1 Cor. 2 below.

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.

I believe this is false as explained below and according to the simple definition of faith as it pertains to receiving the gospel cited above in Rom. 4.  Paul makes this clear again in 1 Cor. 2:1-5, where he reminds them that the message he preached was the simple message of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.  He moves from this simple declaration received by faith (vs. 4) to speaking of “a message of wisdom among the mature”.  More on that below.  So Dominic admits that God could turn the will to believe “certain Christian propositions for a time” but does not include the simple gospel message in those “propositions”.

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.

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.

It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension.

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

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.

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?  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?

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 onlyprevenient 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.

This is simply false based on a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 2 (which seems to be the source of all of Dominic’s confusion on the issue).  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).  Paul is addressing the Corinthians as immature Christians who cannot receive the deep things of God because they are still infants in Christ.  They are not without the Spirit in that they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them.  Rather, they are not yielding to the Spirit.  They are letting their carnal passions get the best of them so that they cannot move forward to spiritual maturity.

He is comparing the world’s lack of understanding with their own lack of spiritual discernment (vs. 14) since they are acting “worldly”.  Basically, he is telling them that they are acting like those who do not have the Spirit since they refuse to yield to the Spirit in  moving on to maturity and a stronger knowledge of God, though they do in fact have the Spirit, being infants in Christ.  It is a “message of wisdom among the mature” that they cannot receive due to their spiritual immaturity.  Paul is not saying that those without the indwelling Spirit cannot receive the truth of the gospel (see my comments above concerning 1 Cor. 2:1-5).  If the truth of the gospel were the subject then Paul would be saying that only mature Christians could receive the truth of the gospel (vs. 6), which is plainly absurd.

Their jealousy and quarreling proves that they are not mature enough to receive “the message of wisdom among the mature” (2:6, cf. 3:3, 4).  It proves that they are not ready for solid food (“the message of wisdom” that Paul wants to share with them) since they are still “worldly”.  But Paul still acknowledges that they are babes in Christ, though worldly, which makes Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  It is the difference between spiritual (mature) Christians and unspiritual (immature) Christians (2:14, 15).  It is the difference between those with spiritual discernment (mature) and those without it (immature).

The spiritual man (in this context) is the believer who does not allow his fleshly passions to prevent him from maturing in Christ and gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  The unspiritual man is the believer who has received the gospel but has allowed his fleshy passions (e.g. jealousy and quarreling) to prevent him from gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  While he has the Spirit, he is not allowing the Spirit to control his mind that he “might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Compare what Paul says in 1 Cor. 2 with Eph. 1: 15-17,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (emphasis mine)

So Paul envisions believers who can be without the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”  Does this mean that they do not have the Spirit dwelling within them?  Of course not.  Paul is speaking of a deeper level of spiritual wisdom.  This deeper level is what the Corinthians could not attain due to their yielding to worldly passions (see also Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9).  Rather, they had allowed their favoritism, jealousy, and quarreling to render them “ineffective” and “unproductive” in the “knowledge of …Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

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)

Paul is plainly telling the Galatians that the Holy Spirit is received by faith (also see Gal. 3:14).  So it is really the Calvinist that must explain how one can be regenerated prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, and Dominic’s statement that, “Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first givinghim that Spirit” is seen to be at odds with Paul, who says that the Spirit is received by faith.  And regarding the supposed need for the indwelling mind of Christ to believe, I wonder what Dominic makes of the fact that Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ dwells in their hearts “through faith”? (Eph. 3:16, 17)

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 willsee 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).

For a treatment of John 3:3 and why I find that it actually supports the Arminian contention that faith precedes regeneration, see here.

Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?

Regeneration is the beginning of new life in Christ.  It is the commencement of eternal life.  It is the moment one becomes a child of God (born of God).

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.

Actually, the Arminian view understands 1 Cor. 2 in its proper context, dealing with spiritual discernment and maturity in believers, rather than the subject of receiving the gospel in simple faith.  And it needs to be noted again that Dominic’s view of 1 Cor. 2 would render Galatians 3:3, 5, and 14  incoherent.

While I disagree with Dominic, I appreciate his criticism of the Arminian ordo from his own perspective and the gracious tone by which he leveled that criticism.  I would be interested to hear his take on what I described in my post as theologically absurd features of the Calvinist ordo with regards to the priority of regeneration.

Go to the follow-up post: “Responding to Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith”

What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?

Calvinists make a big deal out of the need for regeneration before one can believe.  For them this is the primary function of regeneration.  Regeneration irresistibly causes a faith response, and without this regeneration, faith would be impossible.  I have explained in numerous posts why I disagree with this Calvinist ordo salutis, but I am wondering why, if God controls the will, that regeneration would even be needed before one could turn to God in faith?

Calvinists like to cite Prov. 21:1,  “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will”, as a proof text for God’s exhaustive control over the human will.  God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants, according to the Calvinist use of this passage.  So 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?  And isn’t God controlling the will to unbelief prior to regeneration?  If not, does this mean that God is not “sovereign” over unbelief according to the Calvinist accounting of sovereignty?

I am not suggesting that I have found a fatal flaw in Calvinism.  I am just expressing confusion.  I welcome any Calvinists to explain this to me.

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

The ordo salutis is the “order of salvation.”  It focuses on the process of salvation and the logical order of that process.  The main difference between the Arminian and Calvinist ordo concerns faith and regeneration.  Strictly speaking, faith is not part of salvation in the Arminian ordo since it is the condition that is met prior to God’s act of saving.  All that follows faith is salvation in the Arminian ordo while in the Calvinist ordo faith is the result of salvation in some sense.  What follows is how I see the Arminian ordo compared to the Calvinist ordo along with why I find the Calvinist ordo theologically problematic.

Arminian ordo salutis:

Prevenient grace

Faith

[Union with Christ]

Justification

Regeneration

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Arminian ordo:

Again, it is important to note that strictly speaking prevenient grace and faith are not part of salvation but are necessary to salvation.  Prevenient grace makes the faith response possible and faith is the God ordained condition that must be met before God will save.  Faith is synergistic in that it is a genuine response that is made possible by God’s enabling grace.  All that follows (the various aspects of salvation) are a monergistic work of God.  While salvation results from faith, faith does not cause salvation.  God causes salvation in response to faith according to His promise to save believers.

There are other aspects or expressions of salvation that are not explicitly included in the above ordo.  Adoption, for instance, would probably be included under both regeneration and glorification.  Regeneration would include the commencement of adoption while glorification would include the culmination of adoption.  Election would be tied to union with Christ.  We would become the elect of God upon our union with Christ (the elect One) as we would come to share in His election through union and identification with Him.  Faith joins us to Christ (Eph. 1:13) and all of the spiritual blessings that reside in Christ become the believer’s upon union with Him (Eph. 1:3-12).

Temporally, these blessings would become ours simultaneously, but logically it is important to place justification prior to regeneration and all that follows, since one must first receive forgiveness and have sin removed prior to the reception of new life and the attaining of holiness (sanctification).  One cannot have life while still under the condemnation of sin and the wrath of God for “the wages of sin is death”.  And one cannot be made holy apart from justification.  So the moment we are joined to Christ we are cleansed by His blood and new life and holiness immediately result from that cleansing.

Predestination would have reference to the predetermined destiny of believers through union with Christ.  Believers have been predestinated to ultimate adoption and conformity to the image of Christ (glorification).  Predestination does not have reference to God’s predetermination of certain sinners to become believers and be ultimately saved.

Calvinist ordo salutis:

Election/Predestination (unconditional)

Regeneration

Faith

Justification

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Calvinist ordo salutis:

The Calvinist ordo begins with an unconditional divine selection of certain individuals for salvation.  This divine selection of those to be saved would fall under election and predestination.  God would then regenerate those pre-selected individuals in time (usually upon the hearing of the gospel).  Regeneration would cause a faith response.  Most Calvinists would say that the faith response would be automatic and immediate.  The moment one is regenerated by God that person believes.  Calvinists tend to speak of faith as an unconditional and irresistible gift from God rather than the condition for receiving salvation.  It is part of the salvation package as it arises from a primary aspect of salvation- regeneration.  Calvinists will often say that faith is monergistic, but it is hard to see how faith could be monergistic unless God does the believing for the individual.  But most Calvinists deny that God believes for the person while maintaining that faith is an unconditional monergistic work of God along with every other aspect of salvation.

The difficulty with the Calvinist ordo has to do with the priority of regeneration (the new birth).  Logically, the new birth (regeneration- the beginning of spiritual life) precedes justification in the Calvinist ordo just as it precedes faith (and the Bible is clear that justification is by faith).  So logically speaking we have people receiving new life prior to justification.  Since justification includes forgiveness and the removal of God’s wrath, the Calvinist ordo results in the receiving of life logically prior to being forgiven and prior to the wrath of God being removed.

A further difficulty comes from trying to place adoption in the Calvinist ordo.  Do we place it at the new birth (regeneration)?  If we place it at the new birth then we also have the person becoming a child of God (which I think must be part of regeneration) logically prior to being forgiven and justified.

And still another difficulty comes from trying to place sanctification in the ordo.  I think most Calvinists would agree with where I have placed it here.  Yet I have heard (and read) many Calvinists claim that regeneration is the beginning of sanctification.  If that is the case then the Calvinist also needs to explain how one can be sanctified (made holy) prior to being justified.

It is also hard to place union with Christ in the Calvinist ordo.  When do we become united with Christ?  Do we become united to Christ in regeneration logically prior to a faith response?  This would lead to the conclusion that one can be in union with Christ logically prior to believing in Christ.  If union with Christ is placed after regeneration and faith in the ordo we run into the difficulty of sinners receiving new spiritual life logically prior to being joined to the source of life- Christ.

The Calvinist ordo has much to account for and seems to be hopelessly problematic.  In placing regeneration prior to faith the Calvinist ordo salutis involves itself in numerous theological absurdities while the Arminian ordo avoids them all.

Related posts:

 John Piper Tweets Out and Already Refuted Calvinist Argument on 1 John 5:1

Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

What Can the Dead in Sin Do?

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?

Is the New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Sanctification by Works?

Examining Inconsistencies in Calvinistic Monergism Part 2: Sanctification

Parallel Passages on Regeneration

Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

Examining A Rather Strange Proof Text For Irresistible Regeneration

Quick Questions for my Calvinist Friends

Paul Washer’s -“Doctrine” of Election: An Arminian Critique

“Saved by Grace”-Through Faith

Soteriology and Marriage

Someone found my site by typing in a question about whether or not an Arminian should marry a Calvinist.  On one level it seems that it might be a trivial detail to consider in a spouse, but on another level it seems very important as it could certainly cause unnecessary stress in the relationship, especially if both parties see their soteriological view point as very important.  What are your thoughts?

Time Magazine Identifies “The New Calvinism” as Number 3 of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now

See the response from the Society of Evangelical Arminians here.

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 3: Who’s Really Holding the Daisy?

We will now begin to explore chapter 2 in Craig Brown’s book which he titles The Tulip and the Daisy.  In this chapter we will be treated to many mischaracterizations of Arminian theology in order to paint it as unbiblical heresy while holding up Calvinism as pure gospel truth.  Mr. Brown states his goals for the chapter as follows:

In order to show what Reformed Christians believe and why, this chapter will compare and contrast the doctrinal systems of Calvinism and Arminianism, and provide Scripture references that support the truth [i.e. the “truth” being Calvinism].  We will look at each of the five points of Calvinism, which are summarized by the acronym TULIP, and the Arminian response. (Arminians also have a flower, the daisy, because their doctrinal system says, in effect, “He loves me, He loves me not.”)  (pp. 23, 24)

So we are immediately off to a bad start with the title of the chapter being The Tulip and the Daisy and the snide remark, “Arminians also have a flower, the daisy, because their doctrinal system says, in effect, ‘He loves me, He loves me not.'”  This is extremely unfortunate for a book whose stated goal is to clear up misunderstandings concerning the doctrinal system of Calvinism.  Apparently, Mr. Brown couldn’t figure out a way to clear up misunderstanding concerning Calvinism without grossly misrepresenting Arminianism.  His statement about the Arminian flower being the daisy comes on the heels of the complaint,

The doctrinal system known as Arminianism has totally or partially taken over most protestant denominations.  This is due not to a latent superiority in Arminianism but mainly to a misunderstanding of Calvinism.  For instance, it is sometimes said that Calvinism denies man’s responsibility, makes man God’s puppet, or removes God’s love from the Bible.  These statements are not true.  (pg. 23 emphasis mine)

Neither is it true that Arminianism has a flower called the daisy because their doctrinal system amounts to “He loves me, He loves me not.”  Does Mr. Brown believe that  Arminians will gladly accept such statements concerning their system of belief as accurately reflecting that system?  I can’t image that he does.  So why on earth does he feel the need to take such childish cheap shots right after complaining about how Calvinism is so often misunderstood and misrepresented?

But I think it would do us well to examine the claim that the Arminian flower is the daisy for the reasons that Mr. Brown sets forth and see if perhaps the daisy better represents Calvinism than Arminianism.  Does the Arminian really hold to a system of belief that says, in effect, “He loves me, He loves me not.”?  Hardly.  Maybe Mr. Brown has forgotten that it is the Arminian that insists that John 3:16 means exactly what it says when it tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Perhaps he forgot that Calvinists have traditionally tried to limit God’s love expressed in John 3:16 and other universal passages to the elect alone.  

So according to Arminianism God loves everyone, and so it would be rather strange for an Arminian to say, “He loves me, He loves me not” since only the Arminian, even in the face of doubts and spiritual struggles, can cling to the Biblical promise that God loves him and truly desires his salvation.  This is not the case for the Calvinist as the Calvinist cannot be sure in the face of such struggles that God is indeed on his side since these doubts and struggles may, in fact, be revealing the true nature of the Calvinist as a reprobate exercising nothing more than a false faith, as Walls and Dongell point out with regards to the practical difficulties involved in pastoral counseling for Calvinists,

Calvinism deprives those struggling with their faith of the single most important resource available: the confidence that God loves all of us with every kind of love we need to enable and encourage our eternal flourishing and well being.  Again, Calvinists cannot honestly assure people that God loves them in this way without claiming to know more about God’s secret counsels than any human being can know. (Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 201)

But Mr. Brown seems to particularly have perseverance in mind while making this statement (though he never bothers to clarify what is meant by his reference to the daisy) since most Arminians believe that true believers can yet forfeit salvation by later abandoning the faith.  But this doesn’t bode well for Calvinism either since in Calvinism the only true test of genuine faith is its endurance (perseverance) to the end.  So one can never be sure, in Calvinism, if his or her present faith and relationship with God is genuine, until the moment of final endurance (dying in the faith).  The Calvinist’s faith may yet fail and prove that he was never really saved in the first place and his entire Christian experience was little more than a futile fleshly endeavor that he falsely believed was real.  The Arminian, then, actually has a stronger doctrinal foundation for salvation assurance than the Calvinist as I have argued previously in my post, Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance.  I concluded that post with the following observation,

Despite the claims by Calvinists that their doctrine of inevitable perseverance gives them a more solid footing than the Arminian with regards to salvation assurance, we have seen that Arminian salvation assurance better comports with the Biblical data and avoids the need to construct strange doctrines like that of Calvin’s “evanescent grace.”  In the final analysis the Arminian doctrine of perseverance supports the Biblical reality that one can have present assurance of salvation while the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance falls alarmingly short in the same area.

I think we can safely conclude that Mr. Brown has misrepresented and misunderstood the Arminian doctrinal system and his statement that the daisy fairly represents Arminianism as a system of “He loves me, He loves me not” is simply false.  We have also seen that the daisy might, ironically, fit comfortably in the hand of the Calvinist based on the doctrinal teachings of Calvinism as a whole.

Go to Part 2

Go to Part 4