Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I'm no longer a Calvinist #1 - Pre-faith regeneration

First, a clarification: When I say "Calvinist" I mean it only as a well-known label to quickly sum-up a system of beliefs commonly known as the Doctrines of Grace (DofG). I fully realize there are those who believe the DofG who take issue with being called "Calvinist" since it implies following after a man rather than what they believe are biblical doctrines. Fair enough, so know that I am using the term here in its more general sense as a label.

So, with that out of the way...

... a few years ago, in being challenged on my Calvinist beliefs I was confronted with the reality that, to cling to Calvinism, I would have to accept as true something called Pre-faith regeneration (PfR). Basically, this means that before someone can believe unto salvation they have to first (logically if not sequentially) be regenerated with new life by God to even be able to believe in the first place. This is logically demanded by Calvinism's view of fallen man's depravity which renders the Biblical order of salvation backwards and/or incomplete in many many verses.

There are many examples but here are just a couple to get started:
John 3:16b:
Bible view -- "... whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. "
PfR view -- "... whoever has life shall not perish but believes in Him"

John 6:47:
Bible view -- "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life"
PfR view -- "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who has eternal life believes in Him."

There are many many more examples, but you get the point -- If PfR is true it means the Holy Spirit essentially inspired these and many other verses regarding belief unto everlasting life... backwards! Rather, any natural reading of the Bible paints new life as clearly the result of belief, not the other way around as PfR demands. Since PfR is unbiblical yet required by Calvinism's view of depravity it became evident that strict Calvinism was askew. Not to say Calvinism is all bad, not at all (or second son does bear his name in-the-middle after-all), but if a premise leads to a clearly faulty conclusion then one ought reexamine the premise.

For further reading, please see the following:
Lordship's (out of order) Salvation
The Danger of Teaching that Regeneration Precedes Faith


  1. Got the following comment via Google Buzz which I've reproduced here:

    "Jeff Compton - That's a good read. I know very little about Calvinism, it's got me wanting to learn more. If something contradicts the word of God and the bible, I think which side of the fence to be on is obvious."

  2. Awesome, thanks for commenting. My wife and I are pretty heavily "theological" and were Calvinist for years. Though there are distinctions, Calvinism boils down to five points known as TULIP, each letter standing for one of 5 distinctive truths which they believe are true.

    T = Total Depravity: Many Calvinists take this to such an extreme to mean that fallen man is not even genuinely capable of believing the truth of The Gospel when presented.
    U = Unconditional Election:
    L = Limited atonement: Which means Jesus did atone for the sins of all the world, only for the sins of those who would believe.
    I = Irresistible Grace: That God not only draws men to believe, but that His draw is in fact irresistible and therefore everyone who is drawn will also believe unto salvation. So, if you don't believe, it's because God didn't draw you and that's just your tough luck.
    P = Perseverance of the saints: Some sanitize this to mean "Once saved always saved" but the formal Calvinist means much more than that -- they mean literally that once saved you will persevere in good works and not fall away from the faith. If you do fall away then it means you weren't saved in the first place. This destroys assurance of salvation since, until you die, you have no way of knowing if today might be the day you turn from your faith for some reason.

  3. Stephen:

    Really appreciate what will be a compelling series I'm sure. FWIW, I have for a long time referenced Calvinism's regeneration before faith as "extra-biblical."


  4. Thanks for the encouragement Lou. I don't wanna rub people wrong, and I have a lot of friends who are Calvinist, but I'm hoping I can sway some to see that strict Calvinism demands some pretty odd beliefs. I'm not down on Calvinism entirely, many Free Grace leaders like Charles Ryrie either have or do consider themselves "moderate" Calvinists. It's really the extremes of so-called "strong" Calvinism that bugs me, and it seems "strong" Calvinism is becoming "normal" Calvinism these days. I hope in formalizing and sharing my realization of Calvinism's trappings that I can spare some from having to make such a difficult transition in the first place. Especially, I'm concerned with the link from Calvinism to Lordship. I can generally live in unity with so-called "Calvinists", but I can't live in unity with Lordship and, sadly, they often go hand-in-hand. Praise God I was averted from "going there" myself and it's my hope I can spare others as well.

  5. Stephen:

    Thanks for the reply.

    You wrote, “Especially, I'm concerned with the link from Calvinism to Lordship. I can generally live in unity with so-called "Calvinists", but I can't live in unity with Lordship and, sadly, they often go hand-in-hand. Praise God I was averted from "going there" myself and it's my hope I can spare others as well.”

    I too can “live in unity” with most Calvinists, but Lordship Salvation, which corrupts the gospel entirely is where I must draw the line. Calvinism and LS often do go hand-in-hand, but we both know Calvinists who utterly reject LS, especially as MacArthur defines it.

    If we keep speaking and using resources such as our blogs we will reach some and spare them also.


  6. Stephen-

    My favorite Bible example of PfR is Ephesians 2:8.

    Bible view- "For by grace you have been saved through faith..."

    PfR view- "For by grace you have been saved to faith..."

    I have come across a few Calvinists on line who are vehemently opposed to LS. There are two on YouTube named Red Beetle and Prodigal Child and someone else named John Robbins who runs a web site. He is Reformed in the extreme and feels that LS has absolutely no place in Reformed theology. I also have come into possession of a book by Michael Horton on MacArthur's LS teachings. He is troubled by many of the same things that trouble us. So, yeah. Calvinism and LS don't necessarily go hand in hand. I too can agree to disagree with non LS Calvinists. But once it becomes Calvinism AND LS, that is a whole different ball game.


  7. Jan, appreciate the support. That's a good PfR comparison vs, and especially since some Calvinists like to use those same verses to justify the idea that faith itself is a gift. Which, of course, as a Calvinist I once believed. Seeing later that the Greek grammar and gender matching disproved my previous belief about faith itself being the gift was another hole in my Calvinist armor.

  8. I've quite a bit of discussion the facebook version of this blog post, recreating it here in the next several posts for everyone's consideration.

  9. Robert wrote:
    "Niether one of those examples say any thing about that the Spirit could not have first moved upon the person. Both versus are still true no matter if you look at them via a Calvinistic view or not.
    If a sentance talks about someone jumping from a highdive one may assume you climbed up by yourself or you may assume that the spirit put you up there either one could be correct unless that particular verse says otherwise."

  10. Robert, thanks for engaging. Though I think I understand what you are saying, I would say it amounts to argument from silence. The couple verses I listed, and many many others, give no direct indication whatsoever that any divine work took place to "quicken" or change the unbeliever in any way prior to their belief. The biblical sequence is unbelief -> belief -> life. Calvinism has to insert a step between unbelief -> belief that, biblically, I just can't see.

  11. Robert wrote:
    "Well the bible says that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. If we have to have faith to believe where does that faith come from? If no man does good not one how can a person chose to do good on thier own with out the influence of the Spirit with in their lives.
    I dont think any thing needs to be inserted the bible already lays out these principles.
    Now I grant there is a mysterious line between where the Holy Spirit starts to work and between when we start to move. However I have no doubt that it is the Spirit does the heavy lifiting here not us. We are mearly tools to used by God (we have the Spirit dwelling with in us) to tell others about Christ then we have to wait and see if the Spirit moves upon those we placed the seed on.
    If God does move on them they will accept and be saved due to Gods grace and mercy and the work of the cross.
    If God does not move upon them the bible states that he desires that all would be saved. Let each man see creation and understand his sinfull ways. All are given the opportunity but none with out the work of God in their life will chose to do good and accept the gift. We are lost in darkness with out light given to us by the Lord."

  12. The context of Hebrews 12:2 is a sports analogy. In this context, "author" / Archegos is also a sports term referring to the judge of the games who authenticates the eligibility of the contenders and who, when done, awards the prizes. Nothing in the context of the analogy allows Archegos to be interpreted as being the root cause of the contenders' participation, only of their eligibility and reward when done. In light of this, Heb 12:2 does not justify the view that God must mysteriously intervene somewhere between non-belief and belief.

    As to Rom 3:10 and following - It's a quote from the beginning of Psalm 14 -- "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."
    They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
    There is no one who does good.".... and so on.

    Allowing scripture to interpret scripture, Psalm 14 (the original scripture upon which Rom 3:10ff is based) and earlier in Romans itself indicates clearly that who is being referred to here is not literally "everybody", but rather everyone of a class of people, **fools**, who have rejected/suppressed truth, have said in their heart "there is no God", and therefore fallen to such depravity as the result of their rejection. It's obvious then that the level of depravity referred to here is worse than their original fallen state, but is a state attained to later as a result of them rejecting truth. It's simply not biblically consistent to apply this passage as description the normal level of depravity of of all fallen people at all times.

    It's true enough that none are righteous, but it's a stretch of the passage and it's biblical context to interpret Rom 3:10ff as meaning that no man can do good at anytime. This does not mean fallen man can actually achieve righteousness on his own bcz God's standard is utter perfection and no man, even with occasional good, can satisfy that standard on his own. In the sense of attaining righteousness then, yes, none do good. But it is out of context to take this passage as meaning that none **ever** do good of any kind, just not enough to ever merit being "righteous".

  13. Jeremiah wrote:
    "So Stephen, honest question here, what do you think of the case of John the Baptist? I realise that his case is not exactly "normal", and not saying it is, but it would seem to illustrate quickening bringing about belief.

    BTW, I'm not too keen on the phrase "regeneration before faith", as it can be misleading, as well as the fact that it's not exactly a biblical phrase. But "quickening" bringing about faith is a much more biblical statement. Or the new birth that Jesus speaks of in John 3."

  14. Jeremiah, regarding John the Baptist. Been thinking about it throughout the evening, talking it over with Rachel, and looking over the passage. The reference to John leaping for joy in the womb (Luke 1:41,44) is so vague that it could have been any number of things, hyperbole for sake of emphasizing Elizabeth's own joy at her revelation being one of them. Since Elizabeth's revelation at that moment was clearly a unique experience. Further, looking back to the end of v15, it's clear that John had a unique and miraculous call. Fine, God can do that. It's plain enough though from the passage that this is not to be taken as the normal order of things. Miracles happen, non-Calvinists have no problem with miracles... but they are exactly that.... miracles. They are by definition not the norm.

  15. Lou wrote:

    Jeremiah demonstrates one of the extremes that come from Calvinism’s extra-biblical regeneration before faith. There are very few Calvinists that go where he has taken you. They insist God regenerates, saves, justifies, and makes righteous infants in the womb. They believe years later the infant, once mature, will express faith in Christ. They look to these passages for justification of their position. Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15.

    These are ambiguous passages that we should not be building doctrinal buildings with. Whatever happened to John and Jeremiah was totally unique, one of a kind.

    The infant regeneration position is just about as far to the left as one can go in the Reformed camp. That position makes many Reformed men squirm. It is an utterly unbiblical position that has no basis or justification in Scripture."

  16. Lou, I agree that the passages are insufficient to establish "normal" in much the same way as would be looking to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, for example, as the normal experience for Christians thrown into a fiery furnace for their faith. Most will simply burn and die -- Rack, Shack, and Benny experienced a rare divine intervention, same as Jeremiah and John the Baptizer. No ground whatsoever to see these passages as indicative of the normal order of things unless one is defending a position already held.

    Robert and Jeremiah, I do appreciate your participation here. I have however yet to see even a single reference that clearly supports the notion that God must somehow intervene on a regular basis for even fallen man to believe the Gospel of salvation. Believing unto salvation is not a work of righteousness, Romans is crystal clear on that, so there is no contradiction in my view that man cannot attain righteousness on his own yet even fallen man is quite capable of saving faith. Faith is not a work of righteousness, it's not even in the same league.

    Rom 10:17 says "faith comes by hearing" not "faith comes by regeneration". Saving faith is the result of hearing the message that Jesus' finished work atoned for us and accepting it as true. Inserting a necessary divine intervention between non-belief and belief is neither necessary nor biblically warranted.

  17. To sum up so far, I think the main issue is that one reason "Calvinists" believe divine intervention is required between non-belief/belief is because they mistakenly believe fallen man having saving faith would constitute a work of righteousness. Though "logical" to a degree, it's simply not biblical. Romans 4:16 says "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace". If one regards the scripture as it's own best interpretive authority it's impossible to view "faith" as a work. Once we realize the Bible itself specifically excludes "faith" from being a work it's no longer a theological obstacle to see even fallen man as capable of it.

  18. Robert wrote:
    "Your use of Archegos goes against the other uses of the same word in the New Testament one of them being used in the same book. The term is some one who creates or pioneers. I think Author is a pretty fair term for the word here and is perfectly useable as is. I will stand by what the verse says as a general truth.
    As for Romans 3:10 even Jesus himself said dont you know that there is noone good but the Father. And I think that many people do "good" many even unsaved people do good but that goodness comes via God and his grace mercy not because we choose it"

  19. Robert, archegos is only used 4 times. In the KJV at least it's only translated "author" once, here in heb 12:2. In the NASB it's only translated "author" twice. You're overstating your case to conclude that "author" in the Calvinist sense has strong support from other scripture. In the KJV it's in the minority and in the NASB the best it can claim is 50%. The other times it's translated as prince or captain which certainly do not support the Calvinist understanding of Archegos as used in Heb 12:2. So, counter to your claim, the Calvinist interpretation does not have majority support at all.

    More importantly however, the Calvinist interpretation doesn't square well at all with the immediate context. No contemporary reader would have accepted the idea of an official who directly influenced the contenders. The Calvinist interpretation in the context of Heb 12:2 is as awkward and out of context as would be for me to tell you that a referee helped the Chiefs score a touchdown in last Sundays game... it would stand out to you as totally inappropriate for the referee to have been so directly involved. So also is the case here, there's no contextual or translational argument whatsoever to support the Calvinist claim on this verse.

  20. Robert, I realize I missed addressing your last comment regarding "none good" so let me correct that now.

    As already stated, there is no biblical reason whatsoever to justify the Calvinist claim that divine intervention is required for fallen man to exercise saving faith. The bible is clear that saving faith is not a work of righteousness so I'm not sure why you seem to have a hang up with that. You seem to be unnecessarily correlating fallen man's ability to be positionally righteous with whether or not fallen man has ability to exercise saving faith. Again, there is not a single verse or passage of scripture, in context, to justify that Calvinist claim. It simply doesn't exist -- the bible could not be more clear that saving faith is not a work of righteousness so there's no justifiable reason to believe that man's fallen state is even an obstacle. Seeing fallen man as incapable of saving faith is artificial restriction imposed by Calvinist presuppositions, but there's not a shred of biblical support for it.

  21. Robert wrote:
    "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
    Hbr 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
    Hbr 12:3 ¶ For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

    Yes I am sorry NIV uses Author 3 times but you will see the meaning is still parallel Captain or leader is very similar to Pioneer or creator inovator wich is also parallel to Author. Each definition puts the person as responsible for and care taker
    As for your second paragraph verse 2 I dont see at all being about them directly looking toward a judge or referee at all. The first verse is about the physical world and running the race that is given to you. The second verse speaks to an example of what happened before and that it can be run well.
    Lets break it down
    ok start with the end of 1
    and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
    ok so we are in this race
    Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith
    look unto Him why? because he started and finished our faith. With out him we would not be running at all
    who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross
    The Joy? for the bounty of the harvest he endured for us the puinishment
    despising the shame,
    a seemingly honest statment of having to endure the shame while being on the cross but doing it in love anyways
    and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God

    In the end I dont really think we are going to convince each other that one is right or wrong. I just wanted to point out I didn't think your case lined out there was snapped very tightly shut"

  22. Stephen:

    To Robert you wrote, "The Bible is clear that saving faith is not a work of righteousness so I'm not sure why you seem to have a hang up with that."

    The problem is that the Calvinist sees any participation of man in the salvation experience as an assault on the sovereignty of God. The Calvinist just cannot accept that divine sovereignty and human freedom are both in the Scriptures. They cannot allow for the truth that man has a free will to choose or reject Christ and God is still sovereign. So they have negate the will of man and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Of course there is no Scriptural justification for such teaching, but they do what they to or with the Scriptures to force it into conformity with their Calvinistic presuppositions.


  23. Hi Stephen,

    I have not read your full conversation with Robert but the discussion about where faith comes from is an important topic.

    Yo noted that the Bible states that faith is not meritorious. Romans 4:16 is a clear demonstration of this. It had to be by faith so that it could be by unmerited favor (grace).

    John Calvin himself said clearly that faith comes from the believer. The Spirit convinces and convicts but the believer believes.

    You can read his words (and some additional commentary) at my post John Calvin Describes The Faith That Saves

    Such an explanation may be helpful to Robert.

    There is also that the word "author" doesn't mean that He writes our faith, but that He has gone before us in it, is the leader.... archēgos

    Hope this is helpful,

  24. Stephen and Kev-

    So, archegos could be more like founder or establisher? Like Calvin is the "author" of Calvinism?

    Though I guess with "pioneer" it does also have an example quality to it. Because that is what the passage in Hebrews 12 is getting at- Jesus as our example and the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us also, Jesus being the Chief of these. Is that what you are saying?

    In other words, it doesn't necessarily have a subjective quality of forming the believing/obeying in us so much as a more objective quality.

    Or am I getting this all wrong?


  25. You are getting it right Jan. He has gone before us. Not devised it in us.


  26. Kev, thanks for the link. I'm headed there now to read it.

    As to archegos -- Yes, that's more-or-less how I'm coming to understand it; that Jesus is the leader, the trailblaser, the "first fruit", the one who has gone ahead of us and made the way possible. Him to whom we look for approval, guidance, and as our example.

    He is the "author" of the path itself, but not the direct cause of each contender's individual participation.

    Whaddaya think?

  27. And, hey, one more thing regarding Rom 4:16. Often LS Calvinists claim that a faith that saves is a faith that works... trying reading with Rom 4:16 and Eph 2:8-10 with that definition of "faith"... it just don't fly.

    Here's "faith that works" inserted into Rom 4:16a and Eph 2:8,9 -- it makes them self-contradictory:

    Rom 4:16a:
    "For this reason it is by faith that works, in order that it may be in accordance with grace".

    Eph 2:8,9:
    "For by grace you have been saved through faith that works; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

    By defining saving faith as "... that works" they raise the value of works over the value of faith and cause the bible to specifically contradict itself in these, and I'm sure other, passages.

  28. Hey Stephen,

    I employ a similar tool in Fail-Safe For Fallacy for evaluating teachings.

    I love what you showed there in Eph 2:8-9 and Rom 4:16

    I'd like to ad Rom 4:5-6

    Rom. 4:5   But to him who does not work but has a belief that works on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith that works is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

    Interesting stuff!


  29. Excellent example Kev -- Rom 4:5-6 handily showcases the contradiction very well.

    I plan to have Part 2 up this week. Was occupied last week preparing a lesson for our class on Sunday since our regular teacher was out of town. But, now that that's done... time to advance to L... the first tenet of the Calvinist Doctrines of Grace that stood out to me as biblically twisted, at least in the way "they" mean it.

  30. Stephen/Kev:

    You will find that many who ID with Calvinism have a real hard time with 'L' Limited Atonement. Many will say they are 4 point or 4.5 point Calvinists to give them distance from Limited Atonement.


  31. Lou, I think you're exactly right. Disagreement on the L is what I believe distinguishes most 4-pointers from 5-pointers. As I progress with the series I'm going to tackle TULIP in the order in which I rejected it.

  32. Hi Stephen,

    You wrote;

    As I progress with the series I'm going to tackle TULIP in the order in which I rejected it.

    That should be most interesting. I think that L is where most people see the first crack in the armour of TULIP.

    I don't agree with everything Miles J. Stanford wrote (by a fairly long shot) but this table was my first bit of light that helped me get out of Calvinism.


    I link with the expectation that this is OK. If it is not please feel free to delete it. I will not in any way be offended.


  33. I am not a Calvinist be none of the five tenants of the tulip, when compared with Scripture, are true. I have been a Biblicist for many years. I recommed Bryson's book "The Dark Side of Calvinism" for anyone who is truly seeking the truth concerning this issue.
    Calvinism is false, and some of the more militant calvinists have actually broken up churches. Tre the site The Biblicist.org.
    John Gregory