Calvinism’s New Birth Analogy is Unconvincing!

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.