Does regeneration precede salvation?

RC Sproul writes:

Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent?

This is an excellent example of the problem in viewing faith as a work under the law. You see, if Sproul is right and faith is a work under the law then it certainly does mean the debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is one of synergism vs monergism. However since it is impossible to show how faith is a work under the law (because it isn’t) raising the issue of monergism vs synergism is simply a red herring thrown out to merely obscure the real issue, which is what we mean when we say that man exercises his faith and that God does not “believe for us”.

And here is where we also get to see the double-speak employed by Calvinists like Sproul.

The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we can- not. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.

That is very interesting, mostly because if people are dead in the way Sproul seems to think they are, then they can do _neither_ good nor evil. If God were to punish such a person, we would have to accuse him of literally beating a dead horse, that is, something that can do nothing other than lay there.

However the language of the whole of Scripture simply doesn’t support such a notion and Sproul knows it, that’s why he stated at the outset that:

“Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised.”

Well if Sproul says that at the outset and yet by the end comes to the conclusion that we are totally dead without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, what is he doing in the interim to alleviate the apparently logical paradox he has created?

The answer: He fundamentally redefines what faith is.

In the reformed view faith is simply a mechanistic system predicated on a chain of causes that eventually rests on God. Where faith is traditionally and commonly accepted to mean an act of the will (albeit not a directly volitional act).

Therefore Sproul’s assessment that faith is evidence of regeneration preceding salvation is only valid if we add in a hidden premise that faith is merely a mechanistic output of a predefined set of inputs. The trouble with that view is that if the will is reduced to a machine where faith is nothing more than a product of a series of causal inputs (regeneration being one of them) then the very words used such as “will” and “faith” loose their meaning.

Moreover, on this view of faith, we end up begging the ugly question of why God does not choose to regenerate all men so that they will automatically choose to place their faith in Christ and be saved. Then again, this butts up against another ugly reformed doctrine which is that God does not really love all men nor does he want them to all be saved.

In the end, however, I would agree with Sproul’s assessment that regeneration precedes faith. That the Holy Spirit’s prior operation is a necessary precondition to one’s placing their faith in Christ. however it is far from certain that such regeneration is a sufficient condition for one’s placing their faith in Christ. Indeed, Scripture indicates in many places that it is not sufficient as we have many accounts of people freely spurning the love and drawing of Christ. In other words, regeneration may precede faith, but it by no means causes faith.

So while a positive contribution can not be made in regards to one’s salvation, a negative contribution (ie. choosing to reject the drawing of the Holy Spirit unto salvation) is certainly possible.

Some may point out, however, that Sproul thinks that people are dead such that they only do evil. And that “it would, perhaps, be “double-speak” if he didn’t believe other things in lieu of those two.”

This is where the double speak comes in. You see, if I were to ask whether sinful man sins of his own free volition then you would undoubtedly say “yes”. However, if I asked if man knew he were sinning you would either have to say no in order to remain logically consistent within your own system or you would have to say yes if you wish to affirm what the Bible says on the matter. You see, throughout Scripture we are entreated with language that makes it appear (that is, if we do not presuppose a doctrine that claims otherwise) that man knows he is sinning (in spite of knowing what good is) and yet chooses to forgo God’s will thereby making himself, of his own free will, a rebel just like Satan, the rebellious angel and Adam and Eve, the rebellious progenitors of our race.

However, men like Sproul seem to think that if they redefine “faith” and “will” to mean something which is slavishly enslaved to some other causal entity (ultimately controlled by God, so the number of gears in the causal machine is really irrelevant) they can use the same words the Bible does without doing fundamental damage to language itself. Faith or belief, while not a volitional action, is still an action taken by a will that must be free in some capacity or else the word is emptied of its meaning.

So when men like Sproul, who are smart guys that know better, equivocate on the meanings of the words they are using, they are being deceptive and dishonest. They are practicing double-speak in the classic Orwellian sense by attempting to subvert the very words being used. They would be more honest and respectable if they were to say what they plainly mean in language everyone can understand. But then, they would have to resort to mechanistic language wherein we would have to take great pains to avoid words like “puppet” and “robot” which, while derided by Calvinists far and wide, continue to provide an apt description of the epistemic bankruptcy of Reformed epistemology.

Consequently, this equivocation or redefining of words is one of the reasons that it is so hard to have a productive discussion with Calvinists. Then again, for a system of doctrine that ended up burning many men at the stake merely for disagreeing with it, I suppose being intellectually dishonest is but a small price to pay.

For an extended treatment of this topic I highly recommend this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Also, if you are interested in what I consider to be a more credible alternative to irresistible grace, I suggest overcoming grace.

Share/Bookmark

29 responses to “Does regeneration precede salvation?

  1. I think we can also say that regeneration precedes faith because at the get go, men are depraved and I think we can all agree on that. Sin and moral action is man's choice; man can be moral without believing in God. However, like I heard Bill Craig say in a RF podcast, the moral actions performed by the atheist/agnostic are not moral duties.
    In order for man to put faith in God, I think the Holy Spirit has to regenerate the heart and then he can put his faith in God because without that regeneration, man will never put faith in God because of man's innate hatred for God. Middle knowledge grounds this well. God did not roll dice, he chose to save, without violating human freedom. Before God saved me, I would feel conviction for my sins in church (my parents made me attend Church) and I know that was the Holy Spirit because He convicts the world, but the regeneration I felt when God saved me was much different. I felt conviction, yet liberated at the same time. It was very different. I don't base my beliefs on sensational events, but I'm sure all of us that are saved felt that regeneration moment from the Holy Spirit.
    I apologize for the lengthy post! lol

  2. "However since it is impossible to show how faith is a work under the law (because it isn’t) raising the issue of monergism vs synergism is simply a red herring thrown out to merely obscure the real issue, which is what we mean when we say that man exercises his faith and that God does not “believe for us”."

    It's exactly the Calvinist's point that faith isn't a work under the law. This is the conclusion of a reductio ad absurdum. It's like this: if faith is originated in a man, then God owes him His grace. If it's by God's paying what He owes to us for something, then it's not grace, it is work. It wouldn't be a reductio ad absurdum if we thought that faith was actually a work.

  3. I view you're article as being on the money

  4. Just as we cannot assist in our physical birth, we likewise are unable to assist in our spiritual birth. Being born physically is not in our control, and we have no say in whether we are born physically or spiritually.

Leave a Reply