Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jockeying for the Most Spiritually Dead or Most Spiritually Unable Position

When I present the gospel, I tell people that they are dead spiritually (Ephesians 2:1, 5).  It's true.  And I also believe that spiritual deadness is spiritual inability (Romans 3:10-12).   Men don't seek after God.  Men, who are in the flesh, cannot please God (Romans 8:8).  However, those two truths must be understood in light of everything that the Bible teaches.  God won't contradict Himself, because He can't deny Himself.  And it is these two points among others, man's spiritual deadness and his inability, that Calvinists take past what the Bible says about them, confusing people on the doctrine of salvation.

Calvinists claim a high view of God.  I'm happy to think they have a high view of God.  Having a high view of God is no problem with me.  However, we can only have as high a view of God as God is High.  We can't get higher than the Highest, and the Highest would be how God describes Himself to be the Highest.  We can't get God Higher by saying things that He didn't even say.  Calvinists seem to think that they can make God seem even higher by making men look even lower.  And their way to "improve" upon the sovereignty of God seems to be their diminishing men even further than what the Bible describes them to be.

Man is low.  No doubt.  But he's only as low as God says he's low.  For instance, man is still in the image of God, even if he's lost.  So if you murder someone, you are still striking at the image of God, just like God said in Genesis 9.  An unsaved man has a level of value that doesn't pin the needle on lowness.

Is man so low that his deadness means that nothing within his will will allow him to respond to God's Word, when his soul interacts with it?  Of course, many Calvinists would say, no, but that is how many of them both write and talk.   The entrance of the light and life of God's powerful Word is still not enough.  This is why John Piper says that "salvation is not a decision."  This is also at the root of those who say "regeneration precedes faith," rather than "faith precedes regeneration."  They say man's spiritual deadness affects him to the degree that he cannot believe without regeneration.  Ligon Duncan, one of the Together for the Gospel guys, writes:

. . .  the inability of man and the sovereign grace of God in salvation. These biblical doctrines are compromised by the assertion that faith precedes regeneration.

He continues to write in contradiction to faith preceding regeneration:

Though he is at enmity with God and a slave to sin, and morally and spiritually blind, this view says he is not so dead in sin that he cannot believe in God for salvation. That is, this view says that all men are capable of ordinary initial saving faith, and they do not need to be regenerated to exercise it.

I've followed the teaching of John MacArthur since I listened to him on radio in the early 1980s while I was in college, but it was only recently that he began saying the same thing as Piper and others about regeneration.  In this message in 2005, he spends almost the entire sermon attempting to prove that regeneration precedes faith.  Before that, in 1997 when his study Bible came out, he clearly writes in his doctrinal statement that faith precedes regeneration.  Something changed between 1997 and 2005 on that subject of which I had not heard.

The above idea is that man is so, so bad that he can't believe without being first regenerated.  I gladly agree that man is very bad, but not so bad that he cannot believe without God's arbitrary, predetermined regeneration of a relative few out of the pool of all mankind.  Man is so low that he can be said to have any involvement in his regeneration, which explains salvation testimonies with no perceivable conversion experience.  Do these guys really believe this?  They say they do, but it's a doctrine so inconceivable, that some of them who hold it are found slipping out with what the Bible actually teaches, as is the following case with R. C. Sproul, well-known Calvinist (The Holiness of God, 1993 edition, p. 144):

Once Luther grasped the teaching of Paul in Romans, he was reborn.

Oops!  Wow.  How did Luther grasp the teaching of Paul before he was reborn?  Oh well.

So much of Scripture reads differently than "regeneration precedes faith."  It isn't because they haven't been reborn that they don't receive Christ, but because of hard, thorny, or stony hearts.  A particular kind of heart wouldn't be an issue to a regeneration that will produce saving faith no matter what the circumstances.  It isn't because they haven't been reborn, but because when they "knew God"---how did they know Him if they were dead?---they didn't glorify Him as God (Rom 1:18-25).  "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12).  Receive Him (believe on His name) and then become sons of God.  They've got to have some discombobulated explanation to undo that plain meaning.  If ability to respond is at zero until regeneration and then it is inevitable, why would sowing and watering (1 Cor 3) relate at all to God giving the increase?  If nothing precedes man being born spiritually, then how is he begotten by the Word of Truth (James 1:18)?   He would have to hear the Word of God before he was begotten and therefore hearing would precede new birth.  Why would anyone already regenerated spend any time counting the cost before coming to Christ? There are so many contradictions like these, if man is so bad that only regeneration would allow him to believe.

I would be fine if Calvinists would just think man was bad enough that they ceased using his carnal musical styles as worship to God or stopped wearing his immodest and worldly apparel.  I think it would be very good if these Calvinists would quit using fleshly techniques to lure in visitors, instead of depending upon the sovereignty of God.   I would be better persuaded by these Calvinists of their low view of man if they applied the same truths to their own contextualization of the gospel.  Those would help convince me that they really do believe how bad men actually are.


Bill Hardecker said...

How can I missionally reach out to you? You aren't demonstrating any felt needs in this article. Apparently, you aren't interested in redeeming the culture. I can see you aren't young, restless and reformed. You aren't liberated, culturally and contextually speaking, of course. I am going to find an app on the market for folks like you, I think there is one already, "Bible doctrine application deletor" - that way, you can join us who strive together, or are Friends(TM), or are together 4G (and that isn't Android talk neither), or are sharper, or are just doing all we can to win the entire world because after that there are parallel worlds that we can win if we promote Blue Ray or subscribe them to Cable or something, at least give them some sno-cones. You, though, you're something else, you are other worldly.

Anonymous said...


Years ago a Calvinist told me that regeneration before faith was Scripturual. I told him it was sinful and that I could prove it from Scripture. In fact, I told him Scripture openly calls regeneration before faith sinful.

He asked where Scripture taught this, and so I pointed him to Ro. 14:23b: "[F]or whatsoever is not of faith is SIN." I told him if regeneration was not of faith (or the result of faith), then it was SIN. You should have seen the look on his face!

T. Pennock

Jonathan Speer said...

Your concluding paragraph says it all.

A consistent application of their own doctrines of regeneration and sovereignty should extend to daily Christian living and not be so strictly and exclusively applied to the gospel.

I guess that's another one of the problems inherent in their "gospel-centered" ministries.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Good knowledge. :-D

T. Pennock,

I think you're right.


Good points. And it does make them suspect in their "God-centeredness."

Don Johnson said...

Tracy, you're funny.

Kent, the Bible also says that Christians are dead to sin (Rm 6.2). To apply the Calvinist interpretation of 'dead' with respect to ability to believe, one would have to say that believers are sinlessly perfect.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3