Some Basic Thoughts on “Decisional Regeneration” From An Arminian Perspective

Someone asked a while back in a comments thread what I thought of “Decisional Regeneration”. Since this is a rather new label being thrown around mostly by Calvinists in a seeming attempt to mock a view of salvation conditioned by faith, it is important to address.  Rather than write a new post I will just quote my initial response to the question below:

I think “decisional regeneration” is a hard phrase to pin down and is just thrown around as a slander by Calvinists towards those who do not believe that regeneration precedes faith or that regeneration is irresistibly and unconditionally given to the “elect” alone. But there can be much more to it and so I wanted to be clear as to what your specific concern was.

One side would seem to be challenging the idea that one can be regenerated based on a decision. Well, I think that is false. It is certainly a decision to put faith in Christ and faith in Christ will certainly result in regeneration. So in that way, I do not have a problem with “decisional regeneration” since it is Biblical (though the phrase is not, and, again, seemingly intentionally phrased in such a way as to try to paint as negative the view that faith precedes regeneration, or that salvation can be conditioned on faith in Christ).

I also do not really have a problem with people being challenged to “accept Christ”. Again, the phrase may not be perfectly Biblical, but I do not see much of a difference between accepting Christ and receiving Him by faith (John 1:12, 13, which BTW is an excellent text showing that faith precedes regeneration). Truly, the Jews that Peter preached to in Acts 2 and 3 were being challenged to “accept” Jesus as their long awaited Messiah and repent on the basis that He was who Peter claimed Him to be, though Peter never used the phrase “accept Christ”. The Bible plainly condemns those who reject Christ and the truth of His gospel, so why would we have a problem with challenging people to accept Christ and His gospel?

The broader concern is with churches who simply ask for decisions and ask people to sign decision cards and assume that such people are necessarily saved or will remain saved based on a one time “decision”. I do think it needs to be emphasized that our initial act of faith in Christ is just the beginning and this should be followed up by strong discipleship. Christ told us to make disciples and not just get “decisions”. So I agree that the form of evangelism in many churches and among many Christians is woefully inadequate and as a result largely ineffective. I think the church needs to make changes in this area and the cost of following Christ should be emphasized and discipleship must be strongly practiced. But it is not at all unbiblical to believe that the decision of faith results in regeneration and salvation, nor is it unbiblical to entreat unbelievers to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, etc.

What is strange is that Calvinists make such a big deal out of this. Can a faulty presentation of the gospel prevent the elect from becoming regenerated unto faith? Why should we be concerned with “false conversions” if Calvinism is true? If such people are reprobates, no amount of perfect gospel presentations can bring them to salvation and if they are elect then no amount of false teaching or less than perfect gospel presentations can prevent them from coming to salvation. Calvinists often boast that, unlike the Arminian, they do not need to be concerned with the “presentation” or worry themselves that they might not be convincing, since God will work regeneration in His elect despite such imperfections or short comings on the part of the one sharing the gospel. But then they turn around and criticize those whose gospel presentation they believe to be less than perfect as if damage can be done to the church as a result. But God’s church is made up of the unconditionally elect in Calvinism and that number of elect can never change. So what damage can possibly be done to the church in such a view? Everything is proceeding according to plan and God cannot fail to save all of His elect (as if the “elect” were ever in any real danger of anything anyway since they were chosen for salvation unconditionally before the creation of the world; i.e. what are they “saved” from really?).

Every faulty gospel presentation has been decreed by God to be presented just as it is and could not have possibly proceeded in any other way. Our every thought and action is predetermined so why should we be upset about what God irresistibly causes people to do in perfect accordance with His irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree? But then again the Calvinists getting upset and sounding the “alarm” is equally decreed and they do such things in accordance with God’s irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree as well. So God is always fighting with Himself and arguing with Himself and giving Himself a hard time through us. Such are the absurdities of Calvinist theology.

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17 Responses

  1. If the calvinists are so convinced that human factors have absolutely nothing to do with someone’s coming to Christ then they should have the least humanly qualified people in their churches as their preachers. This way the truth of their position would be clearly seen since any conversions that take place could only be due to having been wrought by the power of God and not the talents of men. However, I don’t see any of their pulpit stars stepping aside anytime soon.

  2. Good article! Again, more contradictions in which we see in Calvinism.

  3. Nice article, well reasoned and thoughtout.

    Blessings,
    Steve

  4. Hello Ben,

    This notion of “decisional regeneration” appears to be solely developed as an attack on so-called “synergistic” non-Calvinist views. In my own experience I have only come across it on the internet and the term is always used by Calvinists. I think they developed it as a corollary to their “what makes you to differ” argument (i.e. they start with this argument then switch to “but if your **decision** to trust is what saves you then you save yourself, you believe in self-salvation, in salvation by your own works . . . .”). My problem with all of this is to ask some simple questions about the nature of “salvation”. By salvation I mean the actions of God alone: so by definition for me what saves us is always and only God’s actions, not our actions.

    And what does salvation involve? It includes being justified (Does God justify us or do we justify ourselves?) receiving the Holy Spirit so that we can live the Christian life (Do we give ourselves the Spirit?) being rescued from sin, the world, the devil and death (Can we rescue ourselves from any of these things?) being glorified/resurrected at the end (Does our decision to trust the Lord alone for salvation raise us/glorify us at the end?). My point is that if we ask the right questions we see immediately that when it comes to God’s saving actions, God alone does them, and our decisions are not involved in them at all, do not cause them, they are unilateral acts of God.

    Regarding regeneration I continue to maintain that two errors must be carefully avoided for us to be biblical: (1) our faith does not cause or bring about regeneration (i.e. faith does not cause regeneration, so our decision to trust the Lord does not cause or bring about regeneration); (2) regeneration does not cause or bring about faith (God regenerates people and this is his unilateral action, but his action of regenerating us does not cause our faith and does not precede our having saving faith).

    Robert

  5. Hello again Ben,

    Something that you said at the end brings up an issue that I have with Calvinism. Here is your statement:

    “Every faulty gospel presentation has been decreed by God to be presented just as it is and could not have possibly proceeded in any other way. Our every thought and action is predetermined so why should we be upset about what God irresistibly causes people to do in perfect accordance with His irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree? But then again the Calvinists getting upset and sounding the “alarm” is equally decreed and they do such things in accordance with God’s irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree as well. So God is always fighting with Himself and arguing with Himself and giving Himself a hard time through us.”

    Jesus said when accused by the Pharisees of working by Satan’s power rather than the Holy Spirit’s power that a Kingdom that works against itself cannot stand. Put another way, in logic we talk about the law of contradiction, something cannot both be (A) and at the same time and in the same sense be (not-A). Jesus was appealing to this principle saying that it was absurd of the Pharisees to be thinking that Satan would on the one hand be possessing people and then on the other hand be doing exorcisms of the same persons! That just does not make sense,that would be Satan working against himself. Well the converse must also be true: that God also does not work against himself. And what your words remind me of again is that under the exhaustive determinism of Calvinists, we end up with exactly that: God working against Himself (“So God is always fighting with Himself and arguing with Himself and giving Himself a hard time through us.”).

    On the one hand God wants people to believe the truth and be on guard against false teachers: on the other hand if all is predetermined and predecided by God, then every false teacher is teaching exactly the false things that God wants him/her to be teaching (cf. your statement that “Our every thought and action is predetermined” would apply to the false teachers that God had predetermined would deceive people and teach what is false; or take another example “closer to home” here, if Calvinism were true and everything is predetermined by God then why does God predetermine for most people not to be Calvinists and to reject Calvinism?). On the one hand God wants us to preserve life and defend the weak and the oppressed: on the other hand if all is predetermined and predecided by God, then every murder is exactly what God wanted to occur.

    The examples could be multiplied but I think you get the point: the very thing that Jesus condemns as logical foolishness and absurdity is exactly what results in the case of God himself if He has exhaustively predetermined and predecided all events that occur. Since I don’t believe God to be irrational and I take Jesus’ point about Kingdoms being divided against themselves very seriously, I conclude that any theological system that results in, that logically entails that, God goes against Himself in his own doings, must be false and unbiblical. Ben your words reminded me of this principle: a Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

    Robert

  6. Re: “regeneration” (Greek paliggenesia)

    Robert and Ben,

    It appears from your remarks that the language of Calvinism is evolving in response to certain recent emphases of non-Calvinists. Would “particular redemption” instead of “limited atonement” and “compatibalism” be other such examples, which, btw, appear more winsome-sounding? (I assume they are examples, since I haven’t come across these terms in older Calvinist works.) Of course, I think both sides of various arguments (not just the Calvinism debate) in every generation seems to undergo some change in linguistics to explain concepts already explained by previously existing nomenclature. It’s a curious thing to observe.

    The main reason I’m writing is to mention something I recently read in Thayer’s lexical entry (at BlueLetterBible.com) http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3824&t=KJV regarding the Greek noun paliggenesia, Englished as “regeneration” in Mt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5. Thayer notes that Josephus uses this word when he speaks of the Jews’ restoration to the land after the Exile; also of Cicero in that man’s restoration to rank and fortune after his exile; of the recovery of knowledge by recollection; of the renewal of the earth after destruction by fire according to Stoic teaching, etc.

    My point in all this is to show that, where persons are involved in the restoration/ renewal process, nothing of irresistibility is implied in the Gr. noun paliggenesia. Rather, much the opposite. The Jews who returned from exile cooperated with the return; Cicero consented to have his rank and fortune returned; and a knowledge recovered, even if prompted by the Lord, must be recognized by the person himself as idea.

    (continued)

  7. (part 2 of 2)

    Similar to how Calvinists treat the Greek verb helko (to pull), in which they take an example of the irresistible pulling of some material thing (e.g., the bodies of fishes in nets, the bodies of Jason and certain brethren unto the city rulers), and then apply it improperly to the immaterial (human choice), Calvinists have done the same thing with the Greek noun paliggenesi. That is, while paliggenesi may in certain contexts be understood as the result of some irresistible cause, e.g. God irresistibly directing the earth’s material form to renewal, Calvinists have applied it improperly to immaterial cases (ones they allege involves a person’s irresistible consent). This is because the Calvinist will not admit (by definition, unqualifyingly admit) that man predicates. Only God predicates; He alone is God, that is the Calvinist view. Of course, this is not their speech, which assigns to man “secondary cause,” which in the case of immaterial spirit is irrational. Indeed, no one chooses the choices of another; if he did, we could not speak of there being an “another.”

    And so I think we may expect the Calvinist to claim that God is not God unless he decrees all human choices (e.g., the immaterial), whether the Jews to their ‘cooperation,’ to Cicero in his ‘consent,’ etc. ad nauseam. No, for the Calvinist, God decrees all the choices that we read of in the newspapers. How does one argue with such foolishness which refuses the basic, historical meaning of words, along with the assumption of separate personhood which demands separate will? I get nervous every time I hear some radio preacher say, “This word, when used in the New Testament, means….”, as though the word in question were not subject to its historical-grammatical use in the 1st century Mediterranean secular culture. No easier way can be found to subvert N.T. words. I personally think that Calvinists have gotten a lot of mileage out of “regeneration,” because it occurs but twice in the N.T. (the only lexical source they seem to appeal to), and so find it easy to impose on Scripture their own invented meaning.

  8. Hello Daniel,

    “The main reason I’m writing is to mention something I recently read in Thayer’s lexical entry (. . . .regarding the Greek noun paliggenesia, Englished as “regeneration” in Mt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5. Thayer notes that Josephus uses this word when he speaks of the Jews’ restoration to the land after the Exile; also of Cicero in that man’s restoration to rank and fortune after his exile; of the recovery of knowledge by recollection; of the renewal of the earth after destruction by fire according to Stoic teaching, etc.
    My point in all this is to show that, where persons are involved in the restoration/ renewal process, nothing of irresistibility is implied in the Gr. noun paliggenesia.
    Rather, much the opposite. The Jews who returned from exile cooperated with the return; Cicero consented to have his rank and fortune returned; and a knowledge recovered, even if prompted by the Lord, must be recognized by the person himself as idea.”

    Daniel I believe you are referring to one possible meaning of the term (i.e. “restoration”). I also believe that in the New Testament the references are not pointing to “restoration” but to God making new or making alive. It also seems that regeneration is a direct and unilateral act of God nothing that we can do, or even do to ourselves, or be involved with.

    “I personally think that Calvinists have gotten a lot of mileage out of “regeneration,” because it occurs but twice in the N.T. (the only lexical source they seem to appeal to), and so find it easy to impose on Scripture their own invented meaning.”

    You are right about this, they have gotten a lot of mileage out of a term that only explicitly is referred to a couple of times. They have built up and invented a theology on regeneration that is not derived from these sparse scripture references but is derived from their imaginations. In their theology, regeneration is something that God does to a pre-selected few and which in turn then **causes** them to have faith. But there are no bible verses saying any of this. There are no bible verses saying that regeneration precedes or causes, brings about, faith. It is all invented in the minds of calvinists and then read into biblical texts. And as you know this is not the first time they engage in eisegesis/reading in meanings into biblical texts driven by their theology rather than vice versa.

    Robert

  9. Hi Robert,

    First of all, it’s great to hear from you!

    As for “regeneration,” and other words which the standard lexicons define, (to be frank) I have become very suspicious of so-called New Testament meanings if they do not seem to coincide with “lexical control groups” outside New Testament sources. Furthermore, I no longer necessarily regard the Septuagint as a reliable outside source for doublechecking lexical meanings, since it (for example) reduces three Hebrew words, all very distinct from each other in their etymological roots and lexical meanings, to just one Greek word, Englished as “hardened” in the Pharaohic natrrative. This was an incredible mistake by the Septuagint, though presumably done knowingly, and apparently then copycatted by the KJV and so on, to the NASB. Just amazing—all these scholars getting wrong so fundamental a thing. I think it shows the influence of tradition upon translations. And I think credentialism needs to answer for it.

    Of course, since I’m a non-specialist in the Greek language, I cannot do the outside lexical work myself. But when the extra-biblical examples which I do understand in, say, a lexicon like Thayer’s, all seem to mean something different than what is claimed for the so-called New Testament meaning(s), then I have to wonder whether an improper theological assumption is driving that so-called New Testament meaning. Of the extra-biblical examples I was able to understand, i.e., Josephus, of Cicero, and of Stoic teaching, none supported the alleged New Testament meaning of “make new,” “make alive.” (A problem arises, I think, because within renewal things are made alive. But that does not mean that “renewal” means “make alive.”) In fact, such assumptions by theologians can influence exegesis and interpretation until the ‘biblical meaning’ becomes institutionalized within a particular school of theological thought, and so ultimately finds its way into a lexicon whose publisher is sympathetic (or at least not antipathetic) to that school of theology. I’ll admit this is the particular bee in my bonnet. Anyway, I have discussed this problem of improper theological assumption about a word’s definition elsewhere at length, regarding especially e.g. the Greek verb dunamai, which in fact acts as the verb “can” in INFORMAL, not FORMAL, English, something lexicons seem to omit, or mostly omit, not to mention people like R.C. Sproul when they discuss John 6:44. The consequences of Sproul’s mistake in this regard creates tremendous problems for proper biblical interpretation.

    So, yes, Thayer lists for “regeneration” what he believes is a New Testament meaning of “make alive,” etc. But so far as I can tell, I do not think there is evidence for this definition in extra-biblical sources (although, if such examples do exist, I would like to know about them). In fact, Mt. 19:28 itself indicates restoration, not a “making new”, of Christ’s kingdom. (I believe that Christ ruled the creation and its creatures before the fall of Satan.) That leaves Titus 3:5. At any rate, I have come to accept what Carl Conrad (Prof. Emeritus of Washington U. in St. Louis) of B-Greek online says in general about many Greek passive verbs. He suspects many are in fact middle-passive. I think if you Google his name and “middle-passive” you might come across his remarks. In a nutshell, he believes that many Greek passives imply the consent of the object acted upon, and so should be thought of as middle-passive. I’m not sure if “regeneration” is one of these passives, but it seems that most theologians treat it as such.

    I do think, at least, God acts unilaterally in his declarative judgments, both upon the righteous and the unrighteous, and that none can stay His hand. By this I mean, only God can keep His end of His promises, e.g. to save the one who trusts in Him, or condemn the unbeliever to hell.

    Anyhow, I’ll study Thayer’s a little more to see if “making new” is a part of the extra-biblical examples. As I recall it was not, at least not insofar as the examples I could understand. If you know of some, please forward them to me here or through my email.

    Hope you are well,

  10. […] has already made all decisions from the foundation of the world by an unchangeable Absolute Decree. Arminians attack God’s Absolute Sovereignty which is evil in and of itself but it is even more evil to attack the Absolute Sovereignty of […]

  11. How does one answer the argument that 1 John 5:1 shows that “regeneration precedes faith,” AND that the syntactically parallel 2:29 confirms this? (Otherwise, 2:29 has regeneration *consequent* to righteous works.)

  12. Thank you!

    Does it matter that in 5:1 and 2:29, the participal is in the passive voice, while in 5:10 it is in the active voice? (At least according to the “tense-voice-mood” software I’m using.)

  13. Wayne asked: “Does it matter that in 5:1 and 2:29, the participal is in the passive voice, while in 5:10 it is in the active voice? (At least according to the “tense-voice-mood” software I’m using.)”

    **** No because the claim being made by (some) Calvinists is that the perfect tense of the main verb places the action of the main verb prior to the action of the participle. But this is clearly an erroneous claim, easily demonstrated from standard Greek grammars. The voice of the verb has nothing to do with the claim being made.

    An additional note: the citation of 5:10 is a simple way of demonstrating the falsity of the claim made by (some) Calvinists about grammar. But its falsity could be easily established apart from 5:10 by appeal to standard Greek grammar. The Calvinists who make this argument are committing a freshman mistake with respect to Greek grammar that would be embarrassing for a scholar to make.

  14. Hello Ben-
    There is no need for you to respond to my previous comments as they were addressing the problem of de facto regeneration in modern theology and your comments were addressing the problem of irresistible grace in Calvinism – two different conversations. In your ordo salutis section, you wrote, “I do think it needs to be emphasized that our initial act of faith in Christ is just the beginning and this should be followed up by strong discipleship … But it is not at all unbiblical to believe that the decision of faith results in regeneration and salvation.” Could you tell me how long after “saving faith” does regeneration typically takes place? Do you attribute the 80% of American Christians that “fall away” from Christian commitment while attending college to a lack of discipleship (modern idea) or a lack of disciples (Biblical idea)? What percentage of this 80% (if they do not repent) do you think will make it to heaven? Do you think this 80% would be considered “saved” 100 years ago by the typical Calvinist and Arminian minister? Do you think this 80% would be considered “saved” by any of the Apostles? I am researching modern ideas of salvation and covet your perspective. God bless you.

  15. Could you tell me how long after “saving faith” regeneration typically takes place?

    Immediately. There is probably no time lapse whatsoever. While faith comes first in logical order, they happen simultaneously in time.

    Do you attribute the 80% of American Christians that “fall away” from Christian commitment while attending college to a lack of discipleship (modern idea) or a lack of disciples (Biblical idea)?

    I am not really interested in speculating on any of this. I really do not know.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  16. Within calvinism, self-caused actions are non-existent, & God’s Immutable Decree is always & continuesly being fulfilled unconditionally & irresistibly using different MEANS He alone has also, Immutably Decreed.

    Consistent, unadulterated Calvinism would claim that their slandering, complaining, scrutiny, mocking, and arguments against Arminianism are all just the MEANS to bringing forth Gods Immutable Decree to saving the Elect & further damning the Reprobate, for the “Good Pleasure of His Will” to “Glorify Himself.”

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