Tag Archives: belief

Defending Your Beliefs with Scott Klusendorf

[HT Crossway]

SFLA 2011 Scott Klusendorf from Alliance Defense Fund on Vimeo.

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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.

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Is unbelief a sin?

I received the following question from a friend of mine on Facebook during the course of a conversation regarding salvation and whether or not all men are given the opportunity to be saved.

If unbelief is a sin and Christ died for the sins of all then wouldn’t all be saved?

The question of unbelief being a sin is a rather common one so I decided to address it here for the benefit of all. I imagine like several of my posts, I’ll end up referencing it a lot.

Unbelief is not sin, otherwise we are faced with a dilemma of charging to one’s account something they had no control over. Rather, what is a sin is all the actions we commit that are against the law of God. I believe it is critically important to reject the premise that what we are talking about is a person’s beliefs as if the person is heading to heaven if but for one thing, their intellectual acceptance of a set of facts.

No, the real picture I believe best fits the Biblical model is one of a slave who has no hope of escaping on their own. And then someone come in, beats down all the guards, sets the prisoner free, and opens the door.

All we have to do is walk through that door and we are free. In fact we all have the potential to be free and have done nothing whatsoever to contribute positively to our being free. The only thing we can contribute to our freedom is a negative contribution in the form of rejecting it all in favor of remaining in prison.

As Ken Keathley so eloquently put it in “Whosoever Will” (HT: Wardrobe Door):

Imagine you wake up and discover that you are in an ambulance being transported to the emergency room. You clearly require serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express his concern, warn you of the consequences, but he will abide by your wishes. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, you receive all the blame for getting out.

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Are Christians crazy or do they have a rational basis for their beliefs?

A common refrain from non-religious people is that belief in God is akin to a mental disorder. Well here are a few resources which should help put things into perspective and show how a theist is comfortably warranted in their religious beliefs:

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Wordy Wednesday: Philosophical presuppositions

Philosophical presuppositions are ideas and beliefs we hold, consciously or unconsciously, which affect the way we interpret facts and evidence. In short, our philosophical presuppositions affect how we reason.

Many people are completely unaware of their philosophical presuppositions which is unfortunate since awareness of our philosophical presuppositions helps us better understand the arguments made by others who are often approaching a topic or subject from a completely different philosophical presupposition. Being aware of our presuppositions also helps us address the root of our differences with others rather than the outlying branches or surface issues.

Without addressing the fundamental differences in our world views what we end up managing to produce is more confusion and hard feelings than meaningful communication with others who hold fundamentally different presuppositions than we do.

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What it means to place your faith in something, and why you can’t do it

I love the field of study known as epistemology or the study of knowledge. Basically answering the question, “How do you know what you think you know?” Especially in a culture that tends to deny objective reality, particularly as it pertains to non-material objects/ideas, I find it helpful to be able to answer the skeptic’s critique of faith in metaphysical realities as being intellectually vacuous or as many like to claim, a “leap of faith”.

What is faith?

In Bruce Little’s lecture What is faith? Does belief require Warrant?, he asserts that faith is, in a nutshell, a conclusion one makes based on reason and evidence. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Notice this verse tells us that faith is the certainty of things we do not see, not the things not known. The difference between the two is a rather large leap. Consequently we are told in Romans 10:14-15:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Faith, then, requires knowledge. Or, to put it the way Paul did in the preceding verse: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

How are beliefs formed?

One of the most common misconceptions today is the notion that we can directly and causally will ourselves to believe something. A favorite thought experiment I like to use is this: Imagine I offered you a suitcase with a million dollars if you would believe that the moon were made of cheese. You would certainly have the incentive and desire to believe that the moon is made of cheese but until you were able to amass enough evidence1 you would not be able to form the belief that the moon were made of cheese.

The point is this: We can’t directly control our beliefs.

So then, how are beliefs actually formed?

Drawing sources

In another lecture by Bruce Little titled The Formation of Belief, he argues that beliefs, while not formed directly as we’ve seen above, are formed indirectly by what we choose to accept as credible evidence. This lends itself to the wisdom found in Proverbs where we read that wisdom is gained through a plurality of counselors2. While we cannot directly control our beliefs, we can choose what we will and won’t allow ourselves to be persuaded by. What we allow ourselves to be persuaded by indirectly determines what we place our faith in and shows what we value the most.

This also lends itself to the repeated assertion in Scripture that what one feeds on (that is, information and influences) is what one will eventually start resembling. This is also why Proverbs again warns us that those around us have a profound influence on us either for good or for ill.

Conclusion: The nature of faith

Faith is built on evidence, real or imagined.

Faith is not an object, it is a conclusion drawn given evidence.

Faith is only as strong as the evidence it is built on.

Faith is only valid insofar as the conclusion is true.

In short, everyone has faith.  And while we cannot directly will ourselves to believe anything, we can choose what we will and won’t accept as evidence which indirectly determines what we will and won’t have a foundation to place future beliefs on.

Consequently, most people are afraid of questioning certain central beliefs they hold out of fear that if their prior beliefs are shown to be invalid their subsequent beliefs will change. Regardless of this danger, if we are honest in our pursuit of truth we ought to be willing to objectively3 examine all forms of evidence, both physical as well as metaphysical. We also ought to fight to maintain consistency among the beliefs we hold as we grow which means we must constantly be willing to re-examine our beliefs from time to time.

Further reading

For more resources regarding the epistomoligical warrant for belief in God in general and the God of the Hebrew Scriptures in particular, I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s lecture on Religious epistemology and Alvin Plantinga‘s 3-volume “Warrant” set which includes: Warrant: the Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief.

  1. Notice that the evidence here does not necessarily have to be valid and true in order for the belief to be formed. []
  2. Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 11:14 []
  3. That is, use the same high standard of measurement for all evidences that present themselves. []
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