Yes, I’m continuing down the rabbit hole of soteriology. Primarily, because it isn’t a rabbit hole, but has real-life implications. Here’s one:
A few Sundays ago, I was visiting a church in which the pastor began his sermon in John 2 and then suddenly launched into a defense of the Calvinist doctrine of “irresistible grace.” He focussed on the belief that regeneration precedes faith.
He never used any of the traditional terminology that surrounds this doctrine which of course left the untrained ear unknowingly approving of the message without knowing the consequences of such a view.
I don’t say this condescendingly, I say it because I spoke to multiple people afterwards that were confused.
He referenced a string of proof-texts that were largely unexamined in their context to show his position to be biblical.
Then he spent a large amount of time mocking and criticizing any opposing views as “humanist,” “mitigating God’s worship,” and “robbing God of His glory.”
He danced around on stage pretending to be Lazarus trying to raise himself from the dead, equating such “nonsense” with the non-calvinist perspective.
I had never seen such blatant mischaracterizations and childish accolades. At one point, my wife turned to me wondering if I was going to fall out of my chair.
I didn’t. I sat through it respectively.
After the sermon, I waited until the next day and sent the pastor an email. I didn’t aim to debate. I simply asked if he thought that I, someone who thinks faith comes before regeneration, was a Christian. I further asked if he would permit someone like me to be a member of his church.
He didn’t respond. I’ll grant the benefit of the doubt and say he was too busy. The church was awfully large.
So no, the question isn’t just a nonsensical, abstract pondering. It has real-world consequences.
I first want to analyze the way in which we talk about this subject. The pastor, and many (not all) calvinists seem to think that if we have the capacity to believe before being regenerated and made alive, that this would somehow mean we earned, or merited our salvation.
First, no non-calvinist accepts this concept. Faith is not meritorious on any non-calvinist position including Arminianism. On Arminianism, faith is only possible because of God’s prevenient grace which does just that, enables people to believe. The distinction between prevenient grace and irresistible grace is that this free gift can be rejected on Arminianism.
Calvinist (not all) seem to think that if you can believe before regeneration, you have room to boast. I honestly don’t know how or why you could think that.
If I freely gave you a one-hundred dollar check that you took the bank and cashed, and then proceeded to march around town boasting about how you had earned it, who would take you seriously? No one who knew the truth of the matter.
So how is responding in faith toward God’s free gift of salvation akin to earning your salvation so as to boast?
Faith being a gift is another concept worth pointing out. All are in agreement on this point. Calvinists, Arminians, and Traditionalists all agree that salvation, faith, repentance, and the whole nine yards are a gift from God.
The Calvinist claims that this gift is irresistible. Here’s the question: what does irresistible mean?
To the Traditionalist and the Arminian, irresistible means what it seems to plainly mean: cannot be resisted, or rejected. If God grants you faith, you will necessarily believe.
But in no imaginable conception does “gift” or “grant” carry with it the weight of “unable to reject.”
If I give you a gift that you cannot reject, I didn’t give it to you. I forced it upon you to the extent that you could not reject it.
“Irresistible grace is not forceful or coercive!”
Then it isn’t irresistible. That’s simply what the word means. Irresistible means “cannot be resisted” by every stretch of the imagination.
If the Calvinist wants to contend that the gift of salvation, repentance, or faith can be resisted, or rejected, then great, welcome to non-calvinism.
The point here is that the pastor, just by a conceptual analysis misrepresented what Arminians and Traditionalists believe. He also “hid the ball” on what irresistible grace means.
We agree that you cannot “make yourself alive” or “give yourself a new heart.” We believe that God has promised to regenerate, make alive, give a new heart to those who believe and that all people have the ability to believe (or not) because God has given us that capacity, whether through prevenient grace or some other work of grace.
There is no need for this kind of vitriol and mischaracterization. We are all brothers and sisters.
Originally, the subtitle “conceptual analysis” was going to be the first half of a post followed by a “textual analysis” in which I looked at some Biblical texts that touch on the topic. However, I dragged on a bit as I’m prone to do. So, next time!
What do you think? What comes first: faith or regeneration? Do we all have the capacity to believe? Some of us? None of us?