Ben Henshaw, “Responding To Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith”

, posted by SEA

Below is my response to Dominic’s follow-up rebuttal of my post concerning the purpose of regeneration in Calvinism.   You can read my response to his first reply here. It is quite lengthy because the discussion primarily turns on issues of exegesis, and exegesis requires careful attention to language and context.  If Dominic replies again I will just focus on a general reply to his main points without interacting with all that he says (though I felt such interaction was necessary in this response).  As in my last response, Dominic’s comments are blocked in yellow quotes while my responses appear in between.

Ben: 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.

Dominic: That is exactly what I’m saying; and I defended this claim quite adequately. I was also fairly clear that the propositions in question are the propositions of the Christian faith: namely, to start with, that Christ died for our sins; and all the truths which relate to this.

Well, I am confused again.  I guess Dominic is saying that God can turn ones will to believe certain facts about Christianity (the basic truths of the gospel) and yet that belief does not constitute saving faith.  So one can believe the gospel message but not have saving faith?  Is that correct?  Or is Dominic saying one can have knowledge of certain Christian teachings without believing them?  To have knowledge of something is not the same as believing it, so I am not sure how this can be what Dominic is saying.  And faith is just the noun form of believe (the verb form), so again, I am having trouble grasping the distinction here.

Ben: 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. 4:45)

Dominic: This is true, but doesn’t speak to whether or not a person can have faith apart from the indwelling Spirit. Nothing in Romans 4 speaks to this question-what is under consideration there is the means of justification, namely through faith in God’s promise. Of course, I affirm that; but it doesn’t speak to the nature of faith (whether for or against my position). It’s hard to see why you would appeal to Romans 4 here; it doesn’t seem to be relevant at all.

It is relevant in that there is a distinction between receiving the simple gospel message (through trust in Christ) and having intimate knowledge of God’s thoughts, etc.  Dominic claims that Paul is describing saving faith in 1 Cor. 2 and that one can only attain to saving faith by having a deep and intimate knowledge of the things of God.  I deny that, and referenced Rom. 4 to show that the faith that saves is a simple trust in Christ, as opposed to the deep intimate knowledge of things of God described by Paul in 1 Cor. 2.  In other words, Paul is not describing simple saving faith in 1 Cor. 2, which undermines Dominic’s entire argument.

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

Dominic: Again, I explained this in my original response. God can turn the heart to either; but man is not capable, in and of himself, of attaining a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths. Therefore, since faith is a genuine apprehension of spiritual truths, a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him. Subsequently, without giving his Spirit, God can only turn the heart of man to false faith. True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.

This gets back to the original question and I still don’t see that it has been answered.  Dominic holds to exhaustive determinism.  He believes that our every thought, desire, and action is caused by God.  Our wills are meticulously controlled by God.  So why can’t God, in accordance with Dominic’s concept of sovereignty = exhaustive determinism, simply create spiritual understanding in the mind of the sinner and turn his will towards faith in Christ?  It is not a matter of how God has determined to go about such things, but whether or not He needs to do it that way.

Calvinists typically speak of regeneration preceding faith in the language of necessity (e.g. Dominic’s statement, “True faith necessitates being born again of the Spirit.”).  God must regenerate a sinner in order for them to produce faith.  God can’t produce faith in the unregenerate.  But why?  So I understand that in Calvinism, God doesn’t turn the will apart from regeneration, but surely He can, can’t He?  Dominic writes, “a man can only attain faith when indwelt by the Spirit, who communicates those truths to him.”  But why can’t God just give that person such knowledge in accordance with His exhaustive control of the mind?  Why the need for the Spirit to dwell within and communicate these truths?  Why can’t God just implant these truths in the sinners mind and turn the will towards faith?  I still don’t see anything in Dominic’s reply that would answer this question.

Ben: 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?

Dominic: Re the first question, this seems to be trading on a view of God’s sovereignty which is alien to Calvinism, wherein man’s actions are implicitly autonomous, and God merely directs them. Naturally, reading an Arminian view of action theory into a Calvinist exposition will result in the appearance of incongruity. I need merely point out that, under the Calvinist view, the fact of the unregenerate sinner mustering a false faith is not distinct from the fact of God turning the will of the unregenerate sinner to a false faith. Whatever occurs in reality is instantiated by God; refer to my recent post on this matter: ‘A simple argument for divine determinism’.

Here Dominic again espouses God’s exhaustive control over the mind, thoughts, and will of man.  So again, why cannot God control the mind, thoughts, and will of man towards the acceptance of spiritual truths and faith in Christ?  What prevents this sovereign God from doing so?  Even the “depraved” mind is controlled by God towards unbelief and depravity according to Dominic, so why can’t he just turn it from one direction (unbelief and sin) to another (faith and righteousness)?  In all situations God controls the mind and will and creates our every thought.  Dominic fully affirms this.  Yet God must regenerate the sinner and fill him with his Holy Spirit before He can turn the will towards faith and before He can create spiritual understanding in that person?

It is not a matter of the person learning from the Spirit and freely submitting to those truths.  That doesn’t comport with Dominic’s view (though it does comport with the Arminian view).  Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit communicating spiritual truth, the sinner (sinner who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit no less!) cannot turn his own will toward faith, and cannot create spiritual understanding in himself (i.e. cannot receive instruction on his own).  All this must still be done by God (God must still turn the will and create spiritual understanding in the person).  So what purpose does regeneration, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the communication of spiritual truths, serve in such a scenario?

Dominic: Re the second question, its answer should be readily apparent given a moment’s reflection. False faith is a kind of unbelief; but it is an unbelief disguised as belief. Presumably you accept that false faith does exist; it is certainly referred to many times in Scripture. Warnings against false teachers, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (ie, unbelievers pretending to be believers) are common. And James refers to those who are “hearers only, deceiving themselves” (1:22). Plainly, it is possible to believe-not merely making the pretence of belief-and yet to not be saved.

Good.  So he admits that false faith is just unbelief.  So God is capable of turning the will from one sort of unbelief to another (and in the C scheme God would be cruelly creating the impression of saving faith in a person who is merely exercising false faith- a false faith that God Himself caused), but cannot turn the will towards true faith.  This he asserts, but has yet to prove.

Ben: 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?

Dominic: I’m having trouble seeing where I could be even remotely construed as saying this. You will need to explain your reasoning further; suffice to say this representation bears no resemblance to the position I explicated.

I construed it from the following comment you made in your last post, “It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths-and there is nothing goodnothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.” (emphasis mine)

Now, apparently I was mistaken, but this seemed to imply that belief in God is contingent on something “good” in us (i.e. “down there”).  Since the unregenerate has nothing “good” in its depths to “muster from” then he cannot believe the gospel.  This led to my statements above.  I apologize if I misunderstood Dominic on this, but I hope he can see how I was able to construe those conclusions from what he wrote.

Ben: 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).

Dominic: This isn’t so; you’re relying on a simplistic bifurcation of the passage to come to this conclusion. 1 Corinthians 2 begins with Paul’s recollection of his evangelizing the Corinthian Christians: namely, that he “decided to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v 2).

I agree, and said as much in my initial response.  And may I suggest that I am not the one relying on a “simplistic bifurcation” of the passage, since Dominic is divorcing his proof text from context to make his point (it is not “bifurcation” to recognize, contextually, that Paul is not speaking of saving faith in these passages).

Dominic: The faith of the Corinthians rested not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (v 5).

I agree again.

Dominic: Now, Paul does go on to speak of wisdom imparted to the mature; but this does not exclude the previous comments regarding the cross itself; rather, it builds on them. Consider verse 12: “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” What is the foremost of the things freely given to us by God-indeed, the very foundation of those things? Surely it is “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

I agree again.  The message to the mature is a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the gospel, especially concerning the riches and inheritance we have in Christ, which can only be received by those who are already in a relationship with Christ (i.e. those who have already received the gospel by simple faith).  So the message to the mature is for those who are already believers.  This only serves to undermine his position and further support mine.

Dominic: Note also how that passage continues: “making known to us the mystery of his will”. In chapter 2 of Ephesians, during his reiteration of what God has done, Paul refers to this event as how God “made us alive together with Christ” (v 5). All of this describes quite plainly the action taken by God, and excludes human action as the cause of our apprehension of spiritual truth.

It excludes it in verse 5, but includes it in verse 8, where all of the salvation benefits (including regeneration- being “made alive” in Christ) described in verses 4-7 are said to be “through faith”.  This completely undermines Dominic’s understanding of this passage.

Dominic: In fact, as you yourself note, the structure of Ephesians 1 corresponds well to 1 Corinthians 2: Paul reminds his audience of how they received Christ by the power of the Spirit, and then goes on to speak of the greater wisdom imparted by the Spirit to those mature in the faith. But as you failed to note, in both cases this is not a separate gift to faith, which requires the Spirit where faith does not. It is the same gift, extended: a knowledge which builds upon the initial faith of the believer: the “wisdom of the cross” which can only be understood via the indwelling of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 1:18 intimates, and 2:14 explicitly says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Now, unless you are going to argue that the message of the cross is not a spiritual truth, a “thing of the Spirit of God”, your objection is baseless-relying as it does on an unnatural bifurcation of the first half of the chapter from the second.

Not at all.  No one is denying that these spiritual things described in 1 Cor. 2 are intended for believers who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  My entire point is that all of what Paul says in verses 6-14 is directed toward believers who have already received the gospel message (2:5).  It is even true of those who Paul describes as “worldly” and unable to receive these truths because they do not have the “Spirit”, which simply means that they are not yielding to that Spirit so as to attain to these deeper spiritual truths.  This is plainly the case based on how Paul concludes the discourse in 1 Cor. 3:1-4,

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-15) but as worldly– mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men [without the Spirit]?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (emphasis mine)

These verses render Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  Paul is applying all that he just said directly to these believers and their behavior.  They are “infants in Christ” (and in Pauline usage no one is “in Christ” without being saved).  And yet Paul calls them “worldly” and “mere men” and says he cannot address them as “spiritual”.  All of this is in the context of Paul describing the man with and without the Spirit in 1 Cor. 2:13-15 (Dominic’s primary proof text).

So it becomes clear that in the context of this passage Paul is not saying that one cannot come to faith in Christ unto salvation without being first indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  He is saying that those believers who are “worldly” and “unspiritual” cannot move on to a fuller understanding of all that they have in Christ, “what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2:8), cf. “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18), due to their unwillingness to yield to the Spirit and their clinging to the things of the world (e.g. quarreling, favoritism, etc.).

It is this obvious context which proves Dominic’s proof texting of this passage to be inappropriate misapplication (and notice how Paul moves from “acting like mere men” to the absolute, “are you not mere men?”  This is basic to a proper understanding of what Paul is saying here.  Those “without the Spirit” are those who are “acting” like they do not have the Spirit (i.e. are not yielding to the Spirit), when in fact they do have the Spirit).

Dominic wants us to ignore the context so he can make these passages work in defending his view of saving faith being dependent on regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This is obvious in his comment about “spiritual truths”.  Just look at how he focuses on verse 14 and divorces it from the context that defines its meaning.  Yes, the simple gospel constitutes a spiritual truth, but Paul is not using “spiritual truth” in this passage to describe the simple gospel message.  In this context “spiritual truths” as defined by Paul, have reference to the deeper things of God available only for mature and “spiritual” believers (in contrast to immature and “unspiritual” believers). This simple contextual consideration undermines Dominic’s entire argument from this passage.  Dominic is trying to get something out of this passage that it simply does not provide.

Dominic: Furthermore, I am of course not appealing solely to 1 Corinthians 2 to make my case. This is the passage I chose as best to make my point, because it is lengthy and clear; but as I noted, it’s merely a verbose explanation of John 3:3.

But Dominic has misunderstood John 3:3 as well.  In both cases Dominic has read his theology into the passage without allowing the inspired writers to finish their thoughts or define their terms (he does the same thing above with regards to Eph. 2:5, rather than understanding it according to how Paul concludes the matter in verse 8).  I made this same point in the post I wrote on John 3:3, 6 that I referred Dominic to in my last post,

“Rather than allowing Jesus to explain His own teaching, the Calvinist wants to “explain” what Jesus meant before He does. If we want to understand what Jesus meant by His comments in John 3:3, 6, we only need to keep reading. If we can resist the temptation to read our theology into his comments we will soon discover that one is born again by believing in Christ and thereby appropriating the benefits of His atonement. Only after the blood of the “lifted up” Messiah is applied through faith can one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.” (taken from my post, Does Jesus Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?)

Dominic: Or of 1 Corinthians 12:3-“no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit“. What does faith entail if not the statement that Jesus is Lord? Yet no one can say this except in the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus himself said to Peter upon his profession of faith: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17); and Peter himself acknowledged, saying “he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3).

1 Cor. 12:3 can just as easily be translated “by the Holy Spirit”.  In fact, the vast majority of translations prefer “by” to “in” in this passage (translating en as instrumental).  This then would speak to the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than to the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  This fits the context well, since Paul was just speaking about their prior pagan state in which they were “influenced” to follow after false gods (NIV).  Other translations speak of going astray even as they were “led”.  So the passage has reference to the leading of the Spirit in confessing Christ as Lord.   No one can turn to Christ nor confess Him as Lord apart from the influence and leading of the Holy Spirit.  That is basic to prevenient grace, but does not speak to the need for the indwelling Spirit in order to put faith in Christ for salvation.

You are either led by the Spirit (even to faith in Christ), or you are led astray by ungodly influences, and those who are led astray cannot (and would not) say, “Jesus is Lord.”

As far as Peter, it is quite true that his confession resulted from a revelation from the Father, but there is no indication that this revelation came by way of direct communication of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is especially true since Scripture is very clear that the disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit at this point.  If anything, Peter’s confession argues strongly against Dominic’s position, and supports the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace (notice also that Jesus says “my Father who is in heaven” has revealed this to Peter, and not “the Holy Spirit that is within you” has revealed this…).

Ben: The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:35,

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)

Dominic: You continue to appeal to verses which are not actually dealing with the issue at hand.

This is a remarkable statement.  The issue has to do with the need for regeneration prior to faith and Dominic answers the question by pointing us to a passage that has nothing to do with regeneration or saving faith, but the spiritual maturity of believers and their corresponding ability, or inability, to receive deeper spiritual truths.  Yet Dominic asserts that 1 Cor. 2 proves that one can only believe by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  But this is nothing more than mere assertion based on what he believes the passage implies (without regards to context).  Then, in the face of explicit statements by Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith, he complains that I am appealing to verses that are not actually dealing with the issue!

Dominic: I think this is telling.


Dominic: Just as with Romans 4, Galatians 3 is concerned with the means of justification-not with the nature of faith, or the ordo salutis. Nothing in Galatians 3 contradicts my position on the nature and prerequisites of faith; nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith. The same is true of your appeal to Ephesians 3:16 and 17.

Again, these assertions are hard to even take seriously.  I already explained above why I mentioned Rom. 4, and Galatians speaks directly to the issue of how we receive the Holy Spirit.  We receive the Spirit by faith.  That kills his argument completely.  Dominic asserts that initial saving faith is impossible prior to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and Paul flatly contradicts him by saying the Holy Spirit is received by faith!  Let me spell this out as clearly as possible so as to avoid any confusion,

Dominic (paraphrased): “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit must precede faith, and causes faith”

The apostle Paul (paraphrased): “We receive the Holy Spirit by faith (i.e. reception of the Holy Spirit results from faith and does not cause it).”

Yet, Dominic can somehow assert, in the face of such plain statements by Paul, that “nothing in Galatians 3 speaks to the nature and prerequisites of faith”.  Again, his whole argument is based on what he believes 1 Cor. 2 implies, yet the explicitstatements of Paul on the subject are, for some reason, inadmissible! (?)

Ephesians 3:17, despite Dominic’s protest, is extremely relevant to his assertions concerning 1 Cor. 2.  Dominic insisted that one must possess the mind of Christ prior to being able to believe the simple gospel unto salvation.  Yet, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts “through faith”, and verses 14-19 correspond perfectly to the deeper knowledge and revelation of God (and His love), available to believers, but not necessarily received by them, as described in 1 Cor. 2.

Dominic: To summarize, that spiritual rebirth must precede faith is amply evidenced in Scripture.

If it is, Dominic has yet to furnish us with any such evidence.  He has, however, treated us to numerous unfounded assertions.  Let’s focus briefly on his dismissal of Galatians as relevant to the discussion, and this statement here about the new birth preceding faith.  The new birth would certainly be the point at which we become a child of God, would it not?  Well, it just so happens that Paul has something to say about how we become children of God in Galatians,

“You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…Because you are Sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father’. (Gal. 3:26, 4: 6)

We become children of God through faith, and becoming God’s child is directly linked to receiving the Holy Spirit.  For this reason we are “heirs according to the promise”, which Paul had previously described as “the promise of the Spirit” received “by faith”. (Gal. 3:14).  Now perhaps Dominic wants to claim that becoming “Sons of God” through faith is somehow only a reference to justification.  This would, however, only serve to further undermine his assertion as the indwelling of the Spirit in verse 6 would then be consequent to justification.  In that case, since justification is “by faith”, faith would still logically precede the reception of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, according to his claims on regeneration, faith would precede regeneration as well (and this just happens to be in perfect accord with the Arminian ordo).

Dominic: It has always been necessary for faith, as Jesus expected Nicodemus to know (John 3:10)-though under the Old Covenant the Spirit was not given in such measure. The opposite view, that regeneration is the consequence of faith, simply isn’t evidenced at all-you have had to appeal to passages which don’t pertain to regeneration in order to make your case, while ignoring the numerous passages which do. This seems quite decisive to me, and stands in isolation to the other biblical arguments against libertarian action theory-which are themselves equally decisive.

Dominic finishes his rebuttal with more assertions regarding the priority of regeneration and more dismissive statements regarding the explicit testimony of Paul that the Holy Spirit is received by faith.  Thankfully, such hand waving will not suffice to overturn the clear Scriptural testimony that the Holy Spirit is received by faith; and this testimony, while undermining Dominic’s argument, fully supports the Arminian ordo.

I would still welcome Dominic to address what I called “theological absurdities” with regards to the Calvinistic ordo salutis in my initial post.

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