Calvinism’s New Birth Analogy is Unconvincing!

October 20, 2014

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

This article seeks to address the question: does physical birth demonstrate the Calvinist idea that faith precedes spiritual birth? Calvinists argue that the new birth (regeneration) precedes and provisions faith,[1] whereas I contend that faith precedes and provisions the new birth. Calvinists frequently seek to demonstrate their belief by employing an argument based on the analogy between physical and spiritual birth. They thusly claim that just as man did not contribute to his physical birth, he does not contribute to his new birth; hence, regeneration precedes faith. I find the Calvinist analogy to be both unnecessary with regard to the creation of life and dis-analogous to the relationship of faith to the new birth, which is the point of the analogy.

I find it to be unnecessary with regard to the creation of life, new or otherwise. Here I gladly agree with my Calvinist brothers and sisters that man did not contribute to his human birth (creation), and therefore, analogically, he does not contribute to the new birth, the creation of his new spiritual life. The analogy at this point is cogent, and I agree because only God can create life, whether natural or spiritual. Accordingly, the point of disagreement is not whether God alone creates life, of course He does, no one contributes one whit to that creation— God is the creator, and we are the created. The disagreement is concerning the reception of the new birth (life), and most particularly the relationship of faith to the new birth. I find the analogy to be  dis-analogous with regard to addressing the relationship of faith to the new birth.

We may all agree that the act of faith did not exist prior to physical birth since man, the one exercising faith, did not exist prior to his conception; consequently, faith’s existence, or man’s exercise of such, was absolutely impossible prior to his physical birth. This is not the case with his new spiritual birth, where man and the possibility of faith do exist, which is not only self-evident, but is also evidenced by the repeated calls for man to exercise that faith; one never finds a call for the humanly preborn to exercise faith or do anything for that matter.

Again, the question is not whether one contributes to the creation of the second birth (no one does), but rather how one receives the new life. The human birth does not provide an answer since everyone agrees that it is an impossibility for man to have believed anything prior to his existence. In unambiguous contrast, man, a moral agent, must exist prior to being born again.

To demonstrate the incongruity of this analogy, one needs only to think how absurd it would be for Christ to call on the non-existent to exercise faith. Christ would never ask the non-existent to act, but that is precisely what He called for and commanded, with severe denunciations for resisting, with regard to spiritual birth. Such is never even intimated regarding the first birth because it is impossible.

Therefore, it seems one cannot, and should not, argue for bolstering the existence of a theological position in the actual world based upon an analogy incorporating the non-existent world. To put it another way, one cannot use an impossibility (an act of faith before existence) to evidence the sequential relationship of faith and the new birth in the actual world.

Interestingly, John 3:1-21 provided a first-class opportunity for Jesus to introduce and utilize the human birth as illustrative of the second but He did not do so. Rather, He chose to use the wind (vs. 8) and the historical example of the brass serpent (vss. 14-15; Numbers 21:1-9). A few things worth considering; first, both mentions of the new birth (vss. 3, 5) speak only to the necessity of the new birth and not to the sequential relationship of faith and the new birth as Calvinists are prone to conclude;[2] second, only the second of Christ’s two illustrations (wind and the serpent incident) speaks to the issue of the sequential relationship of faith[3] and the reception of new life, and it explicitly places faith prior to and the provisioner of new life. This is true both in the sequential and consequential relationship of vss. 14-15 and the historical example of Numbers 21:4-9; third, Jesus’ illustration of the serpent serves as His chosen illuminative clarifier of the God-glorifying revelation of John 3:16, which clearly follows the same sequential pattern of faith preceding and provisioning life. Maybe He did not choose such a readily available example as the supposed parallel between the first and second birth because it was not only logically impotent but biblically invalid as well.

Since the Calvinist’s analogy can only demonstrate God is the sole creator of life, about which we all agree, and it neither demonstrates nor even suggests that faith results from spiritual birth, I for one believe we should put it to rest. To allow the perpetuation of such a disparate example is to grant Calvinism an undeserved proof every time since it is an undeniable foregone conclusion that faith did not precede the first birth since it did not exist even as a hypothetical possibility. Moreover, since the verses of the passage explicitly place faith prior to the reception of new life, I would recommend submitting to the sequential relationship set forth by Jesus.

 

[1] The view that regeneration precedes faith seems to be the dominant view among Baptist Calvinists and is significantly prevalently throughout the Calvinistic spectrum, but not all Calvinists endorse that view.
[2] In regard to vs. 3, the Calvinist William Hendriksen notes, “When Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God, it is clear that the expression is equivalent to having everlasting life….changing a person into a child of God precedes conversion and faith.” William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, vol. 1, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 133.
He is correct to recognize that “see” (vs. 3) means, “enter” (vs. 4) and “equivalent to having everlasting life.” However, his conclusion that “changing a person into a child of God precedes conversion and faith” is not based upon evidence from this verse nor the entire passage for that matter, but rather is simply a conclusion drawn from his Calvinistic presupposition. This seems clear since this verse does not mention faith nor speak to the sequential relationship of faith and the new birth. This is true regardless of a person’s position in this matter. It only speaks to the necessity of God performing a creative act before one can enter.
[3] The context of discussion is salvific faith.

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Rick Mang

“Christ would never ask the non-existent to act, but that is precisely what He called for and commanded, with severe denunciations for resisting, with regard to spiritual birth. ”

Where does Christ ASK us to ACT regarding spiritual birth (regeneration)? Regeneration is not the same thing as eternal life. We are commanded to exercise faith for eternal life, not regeneration.

Rick

    michael White

    Rick,
    That quote was Pastor Ronnie Rogers take on what Calvinism teaches.
    It is not what Calvinism teaches but I can understand why he thinks it is. Calvinism is not just one set of tenets but various people hold various tenets within the framework of the 5 points.
    And there are those who teach similar things to what he is saying.

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Hello Rick
    You quoted me, “Christ would never ask the non-existent to act, but that is precisely what He called for and commanded, with severe denunciations for resisting, with regard to spiritual birth.” You said,“Where does Christ ASK us to ACT regarding spiritual birth (regeneration)? Regeneration is not the same thing as eternal life. We are commanded to exercise faith for eternal life, not regeneration”

    First, let me give the full quote, which may help, “To demonstrate the incongruity of this analogy, one needs only to think how absurd it would be for Christ to call on the non-existent to exercise faith. Christ would never ask the non-existent to act, but that is precisely what He called for and commanded, with severe denunciations for resisting, with regard to spiritual birth.” The antecedent to “act” is “exercise faith”. Thus, the point is that Christ did call on people to act, exercise faith, believe, repent, which is the call of the gospel, prior to being born again. To similarly call on a pre-physically born person to act (regardless of the act) is absurd.

    Second, am I to understand your position is that the command, the call of the gospel, to exercise faith does not precede the new birth, surely not? Since it obviously does, then as I demonstrated, the example is disanalogous and therefore invalid. This is regardless of what one may believe the sequential relationship of faith and the new birth is unless you believe every call to repent and believe follows the new birth.

    One simply cannot argue that the lack of acting prior to physical birth helps in any way in determining whether someone can or must act prior to spiritual birth.

Michael White

The analogy, right or wrong, isn’t that faith must precede physical birth. The analogy is that like physical birth, where the unborn has no say in her conception, or the timing of her birth, still receives life in this world, so we see in the spiritual world that the unbelieving sinner has no say in their spiritual birth and still receives spiritual life.

Faith isn’t an act of the will. We act because of faith.
Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith we understand, by faith we obey, by faith we live as aliens in this world, by faith we choose to identify with God’s people and refuse the passing pleasures of sin.
By faith we will and act in accordance with God’s desire.

Most Calvinists believe that the new birth precedes faith owing to the depravity of man. And most Traditionalists, although holding to the depravity of man, believe that new birth is received by faith. Many of them [maybe all?] believe in what is generally called prevenient grace or what some call, the pre conversion work of the Spirit, so that the depravity of man is overcome enabling a person to exercise faith and be born again.

One of the objections they have against the Calvinistic belief is that they object to it because it does not consider a person’s free will choice in salvation. Thus they might say something like the C belief ‘forces’ a person to be saved against their will. And that the C belief also does not leave room for the will to willfully reject salvation.

Do I have the Traditionalist position right or what have I missed or left out?

    Robert

    Michael White presents one of the most ridiculous claims here that I have ever seen (whether by Calvinist, cultist or whoever) when he claims:

    “Faith isn’t an act of the will. We act because of faith.”

    Whoa, what?

    Faith is not an act of the will??????

    Where in the world does White gets this false idea?

    Faith is synonymous with trust, we have faith in something or someone when we place our confidence in them, when we place our trust in them. And how do we place our confidence in someone or something: by an act of the will. It is always a choice. It is always up to us, it is always our choice. We cannot have faith without an act of the will. I regularly stand before a few hundred people and exhort them and urge them to choose to place their trust in Christ alone for salvation. When I do this, I am challenging them to, by an act of their will to trust/have faith in Christ. There is no such thing as faith without an act of the will. It is absolutely incredible to see White make this false claim here. Does he really expect any of us here to believe such nonsense???

    Robert

      Max

      “Faith is not an act of the will??????”

      Robert,

      As with most teachings and traditions of men, Calvinism is based on cherry-picking verses which will fit a theological grid. I’ve heard other reformed brethren make such statements regarding the origin of faith. An oft-quoted verse they use is “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In a grammatical and contextual mistake, they interpret “that” in the passage as faith; they argue faith is a gift from God. But, what does “gift” really refer to here … faith or salvation? Applying sentence structure to the passage, it’s clear that saved/salvation is the subject here not faith. Indeed, the overall context of the first three chapters of Ephesians is man’s salvation as found in Christ, where Ephesians 2:8-9 flows naturally and contextually. Since Calvinists like to also camp out in Romans, Paul sheds further light on faith in Romans 10:17 ““faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Whoa, now wait a minute, you mean I have to do something?! Yep … hear the Word and believe … that is a faith which saves. Whosoever will may come.

      Of course, Calvinists have a knack of spinning what I just said … so you will just have to let the Spirit lead you on this one.

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Hello Michael.
    You said, “The analogy, right or wrong, isn’t that faith must precede physical birth.”

    Please note the point of the article, “This article seeks to address the question: does physical birth demonstrate the Calvinist idea that faith precedes spiritual birth?” This is the only point of the article. I am addressing the claims of some Calvinists (see ft. note 1).

    You said, “The analogy is that like physical birth, where the unborn has no say in her conception, or the timing of her birth, still receives life in this world, so we see in the spiritual world that the unbelieving sinner has no say in their spiritual birth and still receives spiritual life.”

    First, you appear to have assumed Calvinism in your answer, which means that rather than deriving any support for your position from the analogy, you have read Calvinism into the analogy, which further demonstrates the impotency of the example. Rewording the analogy does nothing to rectify the disanalogousness of the example.

    The essential dissimilarities between the physical birth and spiritual birth mean that the two events are hopelessly disanalogous and therefore the example is invalid. Again, of course no one does anything prior to physical birth (non-existent cannot do existent acts), but that is not true with the spiritual birth—this is an undeniable self-evident truth regardless of your sequential understanding of faith and the new birth. With the spiritual birth, all agree that the person exists prior to faith and that the call to believe, repent etc., precedes the spiritual birth regardless of their sequential relationship. This is not true in physical birth.

    Consequently, your view regarding the sequential relationship of faith and the new birth is not, and cannot be demonstrated by this analogy. Changing the wording from “faith” to “has no say…”does nothing to change the disanalogousness of the example. Please note that I expanded from considering “faith” to “They (Calvinists) thusly claim that just as man did not contribute to his physical birth, he does not contribute to his new birth; hence, regeneration precedes faith.” For the sake of argument, your Calvinism may be right or wrong, but this example is unredeemably flawed and should therefore be abandoned. It does not help your case and misleads the uninformed to believe that it does.

Allen M Rea

Ronnie,

Like your excellent book, this post is spot on. You have unmasked their charade of being more devoted to a theology than the text itself.

rhutchin

Pastor Rogers writes, “Since the Calvinist’s analogy can only demonstrate God is the sole creator of life, about which we all agree, and it neither demonstrates nor even suggests that faith results from spiritual birth, I for one believe we should put it to rest.”

The issue is whether the new birth is the same as the “quickening” of Ephesians 2. If yes, then faith follows the new birth – spiritually dead people do not exercise faith until after being quickened. If no, then there is the need to distinguish what the new birth is relative to the quickening of Ephesians 2 and then introduce faith into it proper place.

    Doug Sayers

    rh, Colossians 2:13 is very helpful here. The quickening is shown to be brought about by the forgiveness of sins. Also Titus 3:5 shows regeneration to be a “washing” not an irresistible conception/germination.

      Johnathan Pritchett

      Yup. Moreover, they are two different illustrations pointing to two different emphases.

      Paul made up the word in Col. 2:13/Eph. 3:5 to point to new life, not necessarily “new birth.” The “new birth” illustration is to point to our new fictive kinship and familial pedigree as opposed to the natural one. When people go about mashing them up in reductionist fashion for misguided “theological” purposes as meaning basically the same thing, important things get lost. Of course, I think such things are Bible-abuse anyway.

      Hence, the flaw in rhutchin’s question: “…then there is the need to distinguish what the new birth is relative to the quickening of Ephesians 2 and then introduce faith into it proper place” as if these passages only exist as some jigsaw puzzle for eisegetical systematic musings…Once one gets proper categories understood, by, you know, by basic reading and comprehension of the words, then there is no need for these shenanigans. So, with respect to the “proper place” for faith, that was given already in chapter 1, verse 13 of the same book.

      As for Titus 3:5, that, like its other usage in Matthew 19:28, carries with it the sense of renewal, recreation, restoration, not “respawning” like in a video game or something…That isn’t Paul’s point. Paul is talking to his audience about having been delivered and the processes and outcomes of that salvation, broadly considered, and how the believing community is to in light of it contrasted with how life was lived prior to it, rather than talking about the mechanics of an individual’s conversion in any case.

        Norm

        JP wrote, in citation of rhutchin:
        Hence, the flaw in rhutchin’s question: “…then there is the need to distinguish what the new birth is relative to the quickening of Ephesians 2 and then introduce faith into it proper place” as if these passages only exist as some jigsaw puzzle for eisegetical systematic musings…

        Well thought, JP. Well said.

        rhutchin

        Johnathan Pritchett writes, “…as if these passages only exist as some jigsaw puzzle for eisegetical systematic musings…”

        These verses provide us with true statements. We then take these true statements and try to make sense of them knowing that they are consistent with each other and do not contradict each other. Every commentary takes true statements and seeks to place them in some order to gain a more complete truth that preserves the truth of each of the parts.

        So, I see no reason why we cannot ask whether the quickening of Ephesians 2 is related to the new birth of John 3 (and then the “born of God” statements of 1 John). Are such efforts “shenanigans”? I don’t see that they are.

      rhutchin

      Doug Sayers writes, “Colossians 2:13 is very helpful here. The quickening is shown to be brought about by the forgiveness of sins.’

      This is a good citation. Greater context helps our understanding.

      “[God] delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:…And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, [God] quickened together with [Christ], having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (Col 1:13-14;2:13-14)

      Paul here describes the actions God has taken to bring His elect to salvation. God nailed our sins to Christ on the cross thereby providing forgiveness as the foundation for Him to deliver us, His elect, from darkness. God is the active agent in our salvation. All that God has done then provides the foundation on which His elect are then able to exercise faith which is brought about through the preaching of the gospel. Good citation; we need to be reminded of these things.

      Titus 3 expands on Colossians – “we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior;” (v3-6) All that God is said to do here also precedes our ability to exercise faith.

Robert

Thanks for the analysis Ronnie.

Your post indicates a much, much more severe problem with Calvinism. It is this. If we have biblical support for a doctrine (i.e. actual bible verses teaching or presenting the doctrine in question) we can simply present these verses.

But Calvinism has **no verses** teaching or presenting the idea that regeneration precedes faith. Hence if you have no verses you have to resort to arguments, you have to create arguments to support your idea. Because Calvinism has no such verses, they have to resort to arguments like this one. But if you had the verse you wouldn’t need these arguments from analogy.

Robert

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Robert
    You are precisely right.

      volfan007

      Robert,

      Bingo!

      David

    rhutchin

    Robert writes, “But Calvinism has **no verses** teaching or presenting the idea that regeneration precedes faith.”

    And there are no verses teaching or presenting the idea that faith precedes regeneration. That is why the two positions exist. Neither side has the firepower to make their case.

Andrew Barker

Michael White: “The analogy, right or wrong, isn’t that faith must precede physical birth. The analogy is that like physical birth, where the unborn has no say in her conception, or the timing of her birth, still receives life in this world, so we see in the spiritual world that the unbelieving sinner has no say in their spiritual birth and still receives spiritual life.”

There are a number of things which are wrong about this analogy but when it comes down to it, the main reason I reject this type of teaching (and there’s plenty of it around and not just in Calvinism) is that it is not firmly based on scripture. There is no analogy like this in scripture.

John 1:12-13 is where I take my cue: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

People are born physically as a result of human (free) will and interestingly God appears to have ceded us the authority to do this!
How are we born again? Whoever receives Him and ….. to those who believe in His name ……. he gives the right to be born of God.
You have to ‘be’ to be born again!

Dennis Lee Dabney

Great post Pastor,

The key is “born” from above. The simularity Christ stated is you must be born again. The sequential order regarding the new birth from above is not taught from our nature birth here below. That’s where Bro. Nick in verse 4 ran into the theological ditch when he tried to apply the new birth to the first birth.

Preach!

Ron F. Hale

Ronnie,

You being a former Reformed pastor, you have done a great job laying this out, thanks!

Over and over the Scriptures teach there is only one condition for receiving God’s gift of salvation – that is by faith. We are saved “through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9) and (Romans 5:1) teaches that we are justified by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Grace is God’s part and faith (believing, trusting) is what God requires of sinners to be saved. While there are no clear Scriptures that teach regeneration prior to faith—there are many, many verses that teach that faith is logically prior to regeneration/salvation.

Blessings — I always enjoy your articles!

Ronnie W Rogers

Ron,
Thank you for your kindness and your point is well said!

Doug Sayers

Thanks Ronnie, you have exposed one of the key inferences of the Calvinistic system. Just as there are no biblical texts which teach that Jesus did not die for some people, there are no texts which teach, explicitly, (or by good and necessary inference) that we must be born again before we can repent and believe the Truth.

In true historical Calvinism God would be making people born again… who don’t want to be born again. Those people would then be irresistibly compelled to believe the Truth, as they could do no other. In their attempts to protect grace from works, Calvinists over-correct and emasculate contrite faith as a meaningful condition of salvation. It is a kind of “Christian” fatalism.

I am sorry I ever believed and taught the 5 inferences.

rhutchin

Doug Sayers writes, “…Calvinists over-correct and emasculate contrite faith as a meaningful condition of salvation. It is a kind of “Christian” fatalism.”

It is interesting that those who oppose Calvinism will say that having God in control of salvation rather than man amounts to fatalism. Who better to be in charge of our salvation than God and why would some then call it fatalism?

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