Ben Henshaw, “Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism”

, posted by SEA

Below is an answer offered by “Dominic” to my post on the purpose of regeneration in the Calvinist scheme, with my response to his answer interspersed.  He also touches on my post concerning the Arminian ordo.  I was originally going to leave my response in his combox, but since it became very long, and since it deals with a primary Calvinist proof text for the priority of regeneration, I decided to make a post out of it instead.  You can read his response at his site here.  His post is blocked in yellow quotes and my response appears in between.

Ben at Arminian Perspectives has recently posted a brief article asking, ‘What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?’ Briefly put, since “God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants […] why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him? Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?” I think that’s a fair, reasonable question on the surface of it, Ben, so let me respond as a Calvinist.

The answer to your question isn’t so difficult if you consider what faith is. Faith is not merely an abstract awareness of some or other facts about God and Christ. It is an intimate knowledge about these things, communicated directly by the Spirit. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 2, where he ends with that remarkable statement, “But we have the mind of Christ” (v 16b).

Faith, as pertains to receiving the truth of the gospel and the gift of salvation, is simple trust in the work of Christ, and does not require intimate knowledge of all of the “things of God” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

What does that mean? Why is it that we have-that we need-the mind of Christ? Because “who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (v 11) And what is it that we know? “A secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v 7) which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (v 9). If the heart of man has not imagined these things, then how can we know about them? Because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v 10). We have knowledge of them precisely because we have “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Note “that we might understand…”  See below for more on that.

This is the mind of Christ; and this is why the natural person, the person who has not received the Spirit of God, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God”-why they are “folly” to him, and why “he is not able to understand them”: because “they are spiritually discerned” (v 14). If one does not have the Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God, because these things require direct communication by the Spirit to the believer. They are things of God’s own mind, which (whether by his decree or by their very nature) cannot be grasped by anyone not availed of that mind. Thus we must be indwelled by the Spirit, having “the mind of Christ”, in order to understand the spiritual truths which comprise Christianity. Without the mind of Christ, according to Paul, faith is impossible.

I will address Dominic’s understanding of 1 Cor. 2 below.

Now, certainly God may incline a spiritually dead person to believe certain Christian propositions for a time-but since faith entails a knowledge which can only be communicated by the indwelling Spirit, and can only be understood by someone with that Spirit, it remains that if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith.

I believe this is false as explained below and according to the simple definition of faith as it pertains to receiving the gospel cited above in Rom. 4.  Paul makes this clear again in 1 Cor. 2:1-5, where he reminds them that the message he preached was the simple message of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.  He moves from this simple declaration received by faith (vs. 4) to speaking of “a message of wisdom among the mature”.  More on that below.  So Dominic admits that God could turn the will to believe “certain Christian propositions for a time” but does not include the simple gospel message in those “propositions”.

Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly-but that belief does not constitute faith.

I admit to being confused by this and I certainly disagree with his “definition” of faith (i.e. the simple faith that receives Christ) as requiring the indwelling Spirit.  It seems that he is saying that God can turn the will to belief but that belief doesn’t constitute faith.  And I am still left to wonder what these “propositions” entail.

It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension.

Oh!  So God can turn the heart to a false faith but not a real faith.

It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths-and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.

If the unregenerate can muster it on their own, then why the need for God to turn the will towards this false faith?  How is false faith any different than unbelief?  And is he suggesting that one needs to be “good” before he can believe?  So the message of salvation is not for sinners but for those that God has made good enough to receive it by faith?  Only the good can receive Christ by faith?

It really goes without saying that this renders Arminianism untenable. In your previous post, ‘The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study’, you listed prevenient grace as the only item prior to faith. In your view, prevenient grace is required for totally depraved man to be able to libertarianly choose to have faith-but onlyprevenient grace. Then, following logically on from that faith, you would say that the person is then joined with Christ, justified, and only then regenerated. But according to 1 Corinthians 2, prevenient grace would have to entail nothing less than the full indwelling of the Spirit of God in order to make faith possible. Nothing less than that suffices to convince the “natural man” of spiritual truths. Nothing less than the mind of Christ is needed for a person to understand Christianity so as to have faith at all.

This is simply false based on a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 2 (which seems to be the source of all of Dominic’s confusion on the issue).  Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. “solid food” of 3:2).  Paul is addressing the Corinthians as immature Christians who cannot receive the deep things of God because they are still infants in Christ.  They are not without the Spirit in that they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them.  Rather, they are not yielding to the Spirit.  They are letting their carnal passions get the best of them so that they cannot move forward to spiritual maturity.

He is comparing the world’s lack of understanding with their own lack of spiritual discernment (vs. 14) since they are acting “worldly”.  Basically, he is telling them that they are acting like those who do not have the Spirit since they refuse to yield to the Spirit in  moving on to maturity and a stronger knowledge of God, though they do in fact have the Spirit, being infants in Christ.  It is a “message of wisdom among the mature” that they cannot receive due to their spiritual immaturity.  Paul is not saying that those without the indwelling Spirit cannot receive the truth of the gospel (see my comments above concerning 1 Cor. 2:1-5).  If the truth of the gospel were the subject then Paul would be saying that only mature Christians could receive the truth of the gospel (vs. 6), which is plainly absurd.

Their jealousy and quarreling proves that they are not mature enough to receive “the message of wisdom among the mature” (2:6, cf. 3:3, 4).  It proves that they are not ready for solid food (“the message of wisdom” that Paul wants to share with them) since they are still “worldly”.  But Paul still acknowledges that they are babes in Christ, though worldly, which makes Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  It is the difference between spiritual (mature) Christians and unspiritual (immature) Christians (2:14, 15).  It is the difference between those with spiritual discernment (mature) and those without it (immature).

The spiritual man (in this context) is the believer who does not allow his fleshly passions to prevent him from maturing in Christ and gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  The unspiritual man is the believer who has received the gospel but has allowed his fleshy passions (e.g. jealousy and quarreling) to prevent him from gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  While he has the Spirit, he is not allowing the Spirit to control his mind that he “might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Compare what Paul says in 1 Cor. 2 with Eph. 1: 15-17,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (emphasis mine)

So Paul envisions believers who can be without the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”  Does this mean that they do not have the Spirit dwelling within them?  Of course not.  Paul is speaking of a deeper level of spiritual wisdom.  This deeper level is what the Corinthians could not attain due to their yielding to worldly passions (see also Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9).  Rather, they had allowed their favoritism, jealousy, and quarreling to render them “ineffective” and “unproductive” in the “knowledge of …Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, 5,

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? (emphasis mine)

Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?“(emphasis mine)

Paul is plainly telling the Galatians that the Holy Spirit is received by faith (also see Gal. 3:14).  So it is really the Calvinist that must explain how one can be regenerated prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, and Dominic’s statement that, “Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first givinghim that Spirit” is seen to be at odds with Paul, who says that the Spirit is received by faith.  And regarding the supposed need for the indwelling mind of Christ to believe, I wonder what Dominic makes of the fact that Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ dwells in their hearts “through faith”? (Eph. 3:16, 17)

As John puts it, a man must be reborn of the Spirit before he can “see” the kingdom of God (John 3:3,8).

But this being the case, it is evident that once a man has the mind of Christ, he will be convinced of and understand the truths of Christianity (not in a flash, of course; not all at once-but inevitably). Once a man is reborn of the Spirit, he willsee the kingdom of God. So if the Arminian wishes to go so far as to say that prevenient grace does indeed entail the indwelling of the Spirit in some sense, then he goes too far because either prevenient grace is not given to everyone (in which case, it’s hard to see the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism here); or everyone is a Christian and is saved (which is plainly false on both scriptural and merely empirical grounds).

For a treatment of John 3:3 and why I find that it actually supports the Arminian contention that faith precedes regeneration, see here.

Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?

Regeneration is the beginning of new life in Christ.  It is the commencement of eternal life.  It is the moment one becomes a child of God (born of God).

The only theological system which accommodates Paul’s teachings regarding the nature and requirements of spiritual belief is Calvinism. Those teachings are accurately reflected in the monogerstic view which Calvinism takes of regeneration, wherein God must sovereingly work by giving his Spirit to those whom he has elected to salvation. He knows who will believe because he knows to whom he will give his Spirit. By contrast, the Arminian scheme renders 1 Corinthians 2 incoherent, since God’s knowledge of whom he will save is based on those people’s own choosing-yet they cannot choose without God first having given them his Spirit.

Actually, the Arminian view understands 1 Cor. 2 in its proper context, dealing with spiritual discernment and maturity in believers, rather than the subject of receiving the gospel in simple faith.  And it needs to be noted again that Dominic’s view of 1 Cor. 2 would render Galatians 3:3, 5, and 14  incoherent.

While I disagree with Dominic, I appreciate his criticism of the Arminian ordo from his own perspective and the gracious tone by which he leveled that criticism.  I would be interested to hear his take on what I described in my post as theologically absurd features of the Calvinist ordo with regards to the priority of regeneration.