Dr. David L. Allen, 2013 John 3:16 Presentation, Part 3/3

Below is a portion of a March 21-22, 2013 John 3:16 Conference presentation.

Read the Baptist Press article about the conference here: http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=39992

A free e-book containing the 2013 John 3:16 Conference presentations is scheduled to be released at SBC Today on May 30, 2013.

Passages in the Bible which Indicate Faith Logically Precedes Regeneration[1]

L. S. Chafer noted there are about 115 passages that condition salvation on believing alone, and about 35 that condition it simply on faith.[2] Consider the following out of many that could be presented:[3]

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . . .” (Acts 16:30-31)

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Rom 10:13)

So then faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation — in Him when you believed —- were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13).[4]

 

Problematic Issues

1. If we say regeneration precedes faith, then what about the issue of understanding the gospel? Are we regenerated and given faith without understanding the gospel? How can we believe without knowing what we believe in? God saves (regenerates) those who believe. He does not cause them to believe after already having been regenerated.

2. If we say regeneration precedes faith, then what is the role of the Word of God in regeneration? The preparatory work on God’s part necessary for anyone to be saved is found in God’s call through the preaching of the gospel which involves either 1) some concept of enabling grace, or 2) the notion of a sufficient calling. If regeneration precedes faith, then what of Romans 10:17 – “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

3. The Calvinist suggests that regeneration precedes faith because a sinner cannot have faith apart from regeneration. This suggests that the Spirit’s conviction, revelation of truth about Christ, and the Word itself, is not powerful enough to enable a faith response. What about the Spirit convicting the world of sin and judgment? Whenever the Word of God is preached, the Spirit is at work.

4.  If faith is not a work (meritorious) after regeneration, why is it a work before regeneration? It is still man’s faith either way. Faith is never a work in Scripture. “This is the work of God that you believe . . . .” John 6:29. John 12:36 states that “while you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light.” Notice here one becomes a son of light after one believes.

5. According to Calvinists, the external call of the gospel can be rejected but it cannot be accepted by the non-elect and the effectual call cannot be rejected but it must be accepted by the elect. But this is nowhere stated in Scripture. It would be better to speak about the preaching of the gospel as a “sufficient” call. God’s sufficient call brings people to a place where they can make a choice. When they believe, God’s sufficient call becomes God’s effectual call. “The efficacious call is the consummation of salvation for all who believe rather than the initiation in order for some to believe.”[5]

6. There is a difference in saying that faith is forced upon a person against his will and that regeneration is forced on a person either apart from or against his will. Calvinism denies the former but it appears must affirm the latter. The elect are regenerated by God in contradiction to their fallen nature and apart from their will. Once regenerated, the person has no more option not to believe than he had not to be regenerated. He had no choice in being regenerated and after regeneration has no choice not to exercise faith.

Spurgeon said that Arminianism marries Christ to a bride he did not choose.[6] I say Calvinism marries Christ in a shotgun wedding to a bride who did not have the choice to turn down his proposal. As Ken Keathley rightly noted: “God’s call may not be irresistible, but it is unavoidable (Acts 17:30-31).”[7]

 

Historical Considerations

            Prior to the Reformation, it seems no one in church history advocated regeneration preceding faith, including Augustine,[8] the Council of Orange,[9] and Aquinas.[10] Most 16th century reformers did not affirm the concept of regeneration preceding faith, including Luther,[11] Calvin,[12] and Beza.[13] In the 17th century, Canon III-12 of the Synod of Dort appears to support the concept of regeneration causing faith.[14] But even many Calvinists in the 18th and 19th centuries rejected this notion, such as Jonathan Edwards,[15] and Spurgeon.[16] J. I. Packer noted “many seventeenth century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling and conversion with regeneration. . . ; later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the ‘seed’ from which faith and repentance spring (1 John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling.”[17]

One of the theological issues that is driving the regeneration precedes faith issue is the position of many Paedobaptists who deny the necessity of the use of the means of the Word or preaching in regeneration. The operative word here is “necessity.” These men don’t deny the use of means, but they do deny its necessity. One sees this expressed in the writings of W. G. T. Shedd and Berkhof, and more recently in the writings of Sproul. Shedd, Berkhof and Sproul attempt to justify their view of the regeneration of infant children of believing parents to whom the covenant blessings have been given. Obviously, if infants are in some sense regenerated, this must take place apart from the instrumentality of the Word of God and preaching.[18]

Many Reformed Baptists bought into this error as is evidenced by the anti-evangelism and anti-missionary stance of the “Primitive” or “Hardshell” Baptists of the 19th and 20th centuries. What is of interest here is that the Reformed Confession of Dort appears to deny the possibility of regeneration apart from the use of the means of the Word of God through preaching, but Westminster affirms that children of elect parents can be saved without hearing the gospel and that “other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” can be regenerated.[19] But even so, Westminster does not describe any work of the Holy Spirit prior to faith as “regeneration.” Even more interesting is the fact that the Baptist Second London Confession of 1689 (Article X) does not affirm regeneration preceding faith and expressly insists that the new birth is effected by the instrumental cause of the Word of God coupled with the Spirit of God as the efficient cause.[20]

The great puritan Stephen Charnock wrote prodigiously on the subject of the use of the Word of God as an instrument of regeneration.[21] Charnock did not advocate regeneration preceding faith, and strongly affirmed “that the gospel is the instrument whereby God brings the soul forth in new birth.”

Daniel Fiske may have summed it up the best when he wrote:

In regenerating men, God in some respects acts directly and immediately on the soul, and in some respects He acts in connection with and by means of the truth. He does not regenerate them by the truth alone, and he does not regenerate them without the truth. His mediate and His immediate influences cannot be distinguished by consciousness, nor can their respective spheres be accurately determined by reason.[22]

The historical record indicates that even early Southern Baptist Calvinist theologians were not in agreement on the issue of regeneration preceding faith. For example, observe the difference between James P. Boyce and John L. Dagg on the subject. Boyce stated:

Regeneration precedes faith. Logically the enabling act of God must, in a creature, precede the act of the creature thus enabled. But this logical antecedence involves actual antecedence, or the best conceptions of our mind deceive us and are not reliable.  For this logical antecedence exists only because the mind observes plainly a perceived dependence of the existence of the one on the other. But such dependence demands, if not causal, at least antecedent existence. Here it is only antecedent. . . . There is not only antecedence, but in some cases an appreciable interval. This must be true of all infants. There is no reason why it should not be true of some heathen.”[23]

John L. Dagg stated:

Faith is necessary to the Christian character; and must therefore precede regeneration, when this is understood in its widest sense. Even in the restricted sense, in which it denotes the beginning of the spiritual life, faith, in the sense in which James [2:17] uses the term, may precede.[24]

Boyce affirms both a logical and a temporal antecedence of regeneration before faith. Dagg asserts at the very least a logical antecedence of faith before regeneration, and probably a temporal antecedence as well.

 

Conclusion

Three conclusions are in order:

1) There is no Biblical text that connects faith and regeneration in a grammatical structure that prescribes an order that supports regeneration preceding faith. Nor is there any statement in Scripture which precludes faith preceding regeneration.

2) There are biblical texts connecting faith and regeneration that support faith preceding regeneration.

3) There are texts that would seem to preclude the possibility of regeneration preceding faith.

There is no scripture anywhere that directly says regeneration precedes faith. That is a theological deduction made by some Calvinists that is driven more by their system than it is by Scripture. The Scripture says things like “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,” as Paul said to the Philippian jailor in Acts 16.

Many Reformed theologians have attempted to place regeneration before faith in an effort to safeguard the notion that totally depraved sinners cannot come to God by faith apart from divine initiative. As Demarest rightly noted, the power that brings sinners to salvation “inheres in the Spirit’s effectual call rather than in the new birth itself. . . . Logically speaking, the called according to God’s purposes convert, and so are regenerated. Not only is this position biblical, but we avoid the difficulty of positing, logically at least, that regeneration precedes personal belief in the Gospel, repentance from sin, and wholehearted trust in Christ.”[25]

Methodist theologian Thomas Oden gets the final word: “God’s love and grace are the originating causes of salvation. The atoning death of Christ is the meritorious cause. The Spirit of God is the efficient cause. The Word of God is the instrumental cause.  Faith is the conditional cause. The glory of God is the final cause.”[26] Regeneration does not precede faith.

Soli Deo Gloria!

David L. Allen
Dean, School of Theology and Professor of Preaching
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas



                  [1]Faith and regeneration, for practical purposes, may be considered to be essentially simultaneous when viewed chronologically.

                  [2]L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1949), 7:273-74.

                  [3]Texts are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

                  [4]The order here is clearly first, hearing the word of truth, believing, and then being sealed. There is no evidence that the sealing of the Holy Spirit or regeneration precedes faith.

                  [5]Ronnie Rogers, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist, 72.

                  [6]Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6 (Pasadena: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 305.

                  [7]Ken Keathley, “The Doctrine of Salvation,” In A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2007), 727.

                  [8]See Augustine’s sermon on John 6:60-72 in P. Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996 reprint), 501-04.

                  [9]The Council of Orange in A.D. 529 condemned Semi-Pelagianism. In spite of the Council of Orange’s argument in favor of infant baptism, the Council also takes the position that regeneration is a result of faith and not vice versa (see Canon 5).

                  [10]Aquinas argued that God provided prevenient grace for all and that all were capable of exercising faith. He did not affirm regeneration prior to faith. See Nicholas Healey, Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 116.

                  [11]In Luther’s “Preface to the Letter of Paul to the Romans” he stated: “Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God.” Luther, Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1954), xvii. In his commentary on Galatians, Luther affirms Paul as teaching that regeneration comes by means of faith where faith is prior to regeneration: “Faith in Christ regenerates us into the children of God” (Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. by Theodore Graebner (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1949), 144.

                  [12]Calvin himself did not affirm the notion that regeneration precedes faith. Calvin identified regeneration with repentance and, for him, repentance always included faith. See his Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, 512-15. In his comment on 1 Cor 13:13, Calvin stated: “In fine, it is by faith that we are born again, that we become the sons of God – that we obtain eternal life, and that Christ dwells in us.” Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, ed. by T. F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 283. In Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 2:8-9, he states: “gift” is not restricted to faith alone. Paul is only repeating his earlier statement in other words. He does not mean that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or that we obtain it by the gift of God. (145). In Calvin’s sermon on Eph 2:1-10 he stated:  “Moreover, let us note along with this that if we are to be partakers of the salvation that God offers us, we must bring nothing with us but faith alone. . . . even so must faith get rid of all the pride we have in ourselves that we may receive whatever God offers us, so that the praise of it is reserved to him” (159-60). Likewise, Calvin noted: “Wherefore, to be brief, let us not well this word ‘faith’, so that the pleasures and ease of this world may not keep us back from lifting up our hearts to our God. And that is the very way to fasten our anchor in heaven” (160). These clear statements by Calvin may assist in interpreting his somewhat more ambiguous statement in his commentary on John 1:13:

Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God. . .  . It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23) by which we are born again to a new and divine life (John Calvin, Calvin Commentaries, ed. by T. F. Torrance [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961], 18-19).

                  [13]Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva, likewise did not affirm the notion of regeneration preceding faith:

Now, the effects which Jesus Christ produces in us, when we have taken hold of Him by faith, are two. In the first place, there is the testimony which the Holy Spirit gives to our spirit that we are children of God, and enables us to cry with assurance, “Abba, Father”. (Rom 8:16; Gal 4:6). In the second place, we must understand that when we apply to ourselves Jesus Christ by faith, this is not by some silly and vain fancy and imagining, but really and in fact, though spiritually (Rom 6:14; 1 John 1:6; 2:5; 3:7). In the same way as the soul produces its effects when it is naturally united to the body, so, when, by faith, Jesus Christ dwells in us in a spiritual manner, His power produces there and reveals there His graces. These are described in Scripture by the words ‘regeneration’ and ‘sanctification’, and they make us new creatures with regard to the qualities that we can have (John 3:3; Eph 4:21-24).  See http://www.apuritansmind.com/justification/faith-justification-by-dr-theodore-beza/.

                  [14]See http://www.prca.org/cd_text3.html#a12. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:592. Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, rev. and edited by Ernst Bizer, translated by G. T. Thomson (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1950), 518-42, provides a summary look at what early Reformed theologians and confessional statements said about regeneration, conversion, and faith.

                  [15]Jonathan Edwards understood the terms “regeneration” and “conversion” to refer to one simultaneous act of salvation. Though these and other biblical terms for salvation emphasis distinct concepts, for Edwards, they all appear to describe the one salvation experience. See, for example, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. by Tryon Edwards, 2:109-113. See also John Gerstner who confirms this understanding of Edwards in The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Powhatan, VA: Berea Publications/Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1993), 149.

                  [16]See, for example, Spurgeon’s sermon on James 1:18 on January 5, 1868 (Sermon #3275); his sermon “Warrant of Faith,” #531, p. 532; and his sermon “Faith Essential to Pleasing God,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1889 reprint), 35:446.

                  [17]“Regeneration,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 925.

                  [18]Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:402. Shedd attributes the distinction between regeneration and conversion to Turretin in the 17th century (492-94), and Berkhof follows suit (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 470-76).

                  [19]See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:588-91 for the Canons of Dort and 3:624-25; 630, for Westminster (Chapter X, Article III).

                  [20]John Peck, in an article entitled “Baptists of the Mississippi Valley,” The Christian Review, LXX (October 1852), 486, spoke of how some Regular Baptists of Kentucky in the 19th century so overemphasized speculative notions such as regeneration preceding faith that it ultimately led “to a ruinous extent among the churches of the Mississippi Valley.”

                  [21]Stephen Charnock, A Discourse of the Word, the Instrument of Regeneration. This work can be accessed online at

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/charnock/instr_regen/files/instr_regen.html.

                  [22]Daniel Fiske, “New England Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. XXII (July, 1865), 577.

                  [23]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, 381.

                  [24]John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1859), 279.

                  [25]Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 227.

                  [26]Thomas Oden, Life in the Spirit, 3:118.

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