Regeneration is perhaps the most difficult topic to be debated between the opposing views, due to the intertwining of such topics as spiritual death and life, depravity, rebirth, faith, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc. Call me an optimist, but I still see the potential for fruitful discussion. As a Compatibilist, my view of regeneration tends to align with the Traditionalist, while my view of election aligns with the Calvinist; so my goal here will be to address the Calvinist argument in such a way as to illuminate and defend the Compatibilist position. Rather than addressing generalizations of the Calvinist argument, which are frequently met with objections of misrepresentation, I will address the Calvinists’ Calvinist, John Murray, from the Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. two, (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, 2001). Since the middle position is usually overlooked, much of the Calvinist argument on regeneration does not apply to the challenges that a middle view brings them. They put a lot of emphasis on the fact that God must be the One to decide whom to bring to faith, and then to accomplish that in the lives of His elect. I fully agree. But I intend to show that they go too far by including in their prefaith regeneration nearly every aspect of salvation except justification. It is one thing to argue against the Arminians and Traditionalists that God brings to faith only those whom He has unconditionally chosen, and quite another to establish that God cannot sovereignly bring a sinner to faith without first indwelling him with the Holy Spirit, uniting him with Christ, giving him a righteous nature, cleansing him of sin, bringing him to spiritual life and causing him to be “born again.”
In their endeavor to ensure that God is held as the disposer of the destinies of men, the pivotal importance of faith (as it is found throughout Scripture) is stripped of its substance, as faith becomes a fruit of the process and a mere formality. In its place, regeneration is given pivotal importance in the salvation process; and once a man is regenerated, all else falls like dominoes, one after another. Although they have stripped faith of the substance of its importance, they have kept the Biblical language of the necessity of faith for salvation. However, the salvation they have in mind is mainly justification. Salvation is much more than justification—it includes the many things that they put ahead of faith, such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and spiritual union with Christ. In fact, it is the substantial reality of union with Christ within the believer that is the ultimate end of salvation. And a faith that is the necessary and immediate result of God’s unilateral regeneration is in no sense pivotal. That which is rigid is no hinge. Salvation cannot turn on that which offers no turning. If faith is the necessary effect of regeneration, then regeneration, not faith, is the true cause of the effect of salvation. In such a scheme, imploring men to believe would make no more sense than imploring them to be regenerated.
Four questions need to be addressed with well-reasoned arguments from the text of Scripture:
- What is the meaning of regeneration?
- How is belief related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
- What is the nature of the sinner and his inabilities?
- Which view of regeneration accords better with the Biblical presentation of the gospel?
This discussion will continue with more posts of this same title, as time allows. I post this introduction in order to let you know what’s ahead and to spur me to press on with the work.
Ken Hamrick, 2013