"Barely Christian" – R.C. Sproul on Arminianism

Image of Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation
by R. C. Sproul
Baker Books 2018
Paperback 240

I first encountered the term “High Calvinism” when I read Lewis Chafer’s systematic theology. This term is a bit old-fashioned now, of course. If someone is a “High Calvinist,” it means he’s very Reformed in his soteriology. This surely described R.C. Sproul!

In a book entitled Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation, Sproul provided a short historical theology of this topic by examining nine different theologians and their soteriological positions. In this excerpt, Sproul frames one part of this important issue:1

This classic issue between Augustinian theology and all forms of semi-Pelagianism focuses on one aspect of the order of salvation (ordo salutis): What is the relationship between regeneration and faith? Is regeneration a monergistic or synergistic work? Must a person first exercise faith in order to be born again? Or must rebirth occur before a person is able to exercise faith? Another way to state the question is this: Is the grace of regeneration operative or cooperative?

Monergistic regeneration means regeneration is accomplished by a single actor, God. It means literally a “one working.” Synergism, on the other hand, refers to a work that involves the actions of two or more parties. It is a co-working. All forms of semi-Pelagianism assert some form of synergism in the work of regeneration. Usually God’s assisting grace is seen as a necessary ingredient, but it is usually dependent on human cooperation for its efficacy.

The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

According to semi-Pelagianism regeneration is wrought by God but only in those who have first responded in faith to him. Faith is seen not as the fruit of regeneration, but as an act of the will cooperating with God’s offer of grace.

Evangelicals are so called because of their commitment to the biblical and historical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Because the Reformers saw sola fide as central and essential to the biblical gospel, the term evangelical was applied to them. Modern evangelicals in great numbers embrace the sola fide of the Reformation, but have jettisoned the sola gratia that undergirded it …

I agree with Packer and Johnston2 that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian. Is this error so egregious that it is fatal to salvation? People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians. I usually answer, “Yes, barely.” They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.

What is this inconsistency? Arminians affirm the doctrine of regeneration by faith alone. They agree that we have no meritorious work that counts towards our justification, that our justification rests solely on the righteousness and merits of Christ, that sola fide means justification is by Christ alone, and that we must trust not in our own works, but in Christ’s work for our salvation. In all this they differ from Rome on crucial points.

Packer and Johnston note that later Reformed theology, however, condemned Arminianism as a betrayal of the Reformation and in principle as a return to Rome. They point out that Arminianism “in effect turned faith into a meritorious work.”

We notice that this charge is qualified by the words “in effect.” Usually Arminians deny that their faith is a meritorious work. If they were to insist that faith is a meritorious work, they would explicitly be denying justification by faith alone. The Arminian acknowledges that faith is something a person does. It is a work, though not a meritorious one. Is it a good work? Certainly it is not a bad work. It is good for a person to trust in Christ and Christ alone for his or her salvation. Since God commands us to trust in Christ, when we do so we are obeying this command.

But all Christians agree that faith is something we do. God does not do the believing for us. We also agree that our justification is by faith insofar as faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation. All the Arminian wants and intends to assert is that man has the ability to exert the instrumental cause of faith without first being regenerated. This position clearly negates sola gratia, but not necessarily sola fide.

Then why say that Arminianism “in effect” makes faith a meritorious work? Because the good response people make to the gospel becomes the ultimate determining factor in salvation. I often ask my Arminian friends why they are Christians and other people are not. They say it is because they believe in Christ while others do not. They I inquire why they believe and others do not. “Is it because you are more righteous than the person who abides in unbelief?” They are quick to say no. “Is it because you are more intelligent?” Again the answer is negative. They say that God is gracious enough to offer salvation to all who believe and that one cannot be saved without that grace.

But this grace is cooperative grace. Man in his fallen state must reach out and grasp this grace by an act of the will, which is free to accept or reject this grace. Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed. He has “in effect” merited the merit of Christ, which differs only slightly from the view of Rome.

Notes

1 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 22-27.  

2 Sproul is referring to an introduction J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson wrote for an unnamed edition of Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, which Sproul quoted in his own book. For sake of space, I removed these quotations for this excerpt.   

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There are 74 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This is the key point: " Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed."

There is sound logic here, but a problem with premises. Scripture never defines or even hints that believing is a "work." By definition, "by works" in Scripture is the alternative to faith. So faith, regardless of how one sees the causality question, simply is not a work. It is not a "more righteous" deed of some sort.

I'm quite sympathetic with most of what Sproul has to say on the overall topic, but I don't think he (and the others before and after him) have much to work with on this particular point.

Ron Bean's picture

To paraphrase an old Gospel song:

"He's done all He can do.

Now it's all up to you!

You must open the door!"

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JohnBrian's picture

This sinner was NOT dead in his sins, he was just MOSTLY dead,

I was drifting away on life’s pitiless sea,
And the angry waves threatened my ruin to be,
When away at my side, there I dimly descried,
A stately old vessel, and loudly I cried:
Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!
And loudly I cried: Ship ahoy!

Twas the old ship of Zion, thus sailing along,
All aboard her seemed joyous, I heard their sweet song;
And the captain’s kind ear, ever ready to hear,
Caught my wail of distress, as I cried out in fear:
Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!
As I cried out in fear: Ship ahoy!

The good captain commanded a boat to be low’red,
And with tender compassion He took me on board;
And I’m happy today, all my sins washed away
In the blood of my Savior, and now I can say:
Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!
From my soul I can say: Bless the Lord!

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

Mike Harding's picture

Dr. Bruce Compton teaches that Illumination precedes faith which immediately produces regeneration.  Illumination here essentially becomes the effectual call.

Pastor Mike Harding

wcombs's picture

I used to hear that song in the 1970s at Tennessee Temple. Can't remember who sang it, but it was a favorite. Have not thought about it for years, and had not remembered or even known at the time, what a clearly Arminian song it is.

Bill Combs

Mike Harding's picture

Great cookies

Pastor Mike Harding

pvawter's picture

But all Christians agree that faith is something we do. God does not do the believing for us.

It's interesting that Sproul maintains that Arminians "in effect" make faith a meritorious work, while at the same time failing to recognise that his own position "in effect" makes faith the work of God, in spite of his claims to the contrary.

JSwaim's picture

I read this book by Sproul a few years back and i have it packed away, but I remember underlining a statement by Sproul in the book.  After a lengthy explanation and defense of regeneration preceding faith Sproul admits that, in time, regeneration and faith occur simultaneously.  Logically regeneration is first, but in actual occurrence they are simultaneous?  Then what is the value of the logic?  I just don't track with Sproul on this.

ScottS's picture

I agree with Aaron Blummer that true faith is by biblical definition not a work (Eph 2:8-9). And I also agree, as Mike Harding noted was Bruce Compton's view, that illumination is distinct from regeneration.

God, by grace, illuminates the unregenerate mind (by His Spirit and His Word) to a point where a person comes to belief, and calls on God for salvation, but that salvation has not come until that belief and calling process is complete (Rom 10:10-14), whereas regeneration has not occurred until the moment that salvation has been obtained (Titus 3:5), for after belief is when the Holy Spirit seals a person to obtain the inheritance (Eph 1:13-14).

Having faith before regeneration in no way "negates sola gratia" as Sproul assert in the quotation above. To answer Sproul's question of "Why [some people] are Christians and other people are not," it is because God has drawn them to Him (Jn 6:44) and illuminated their hearts and minds against Satan's lies, opening their eyes and ears to the truth (Lk 8:12, 2 Cor 4:3-6), and thus allowing faith to arise in them in spite of their unregenerate state (this is what the "drawing" to God is, a working in the heart in the unregenerate state).

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Paul Henebury's picture

Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism are at variance.  Sproul ought to know this.  Anyone who reads Arminius or Wesley or Lenski or Olson (as I have) knows this.  I get so fed up with this falsehood, and I'm not even Arminian!  See this link  

I recall Greg Bahnsen saying that he had spent time with Sproul explaining to him what Van Til's presuppositionalism taught, only for Sproul to go off and repeat the same falsehoods as before.  Some teachers are unteachable.  

As far as regeneration preceding faith; not only is that akin to the Judge releasing the prisoner before declaring him innocent, but it contradicts several passages of Scripture like Galatians 3:14   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Olson's book is very, very good! It clears a lot of the cobwebs away for folks whose knowledge of Arminian soteriology comes from Reformed folks. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

But regeneration is not the same as justification.  Regeneration enables one to believe.  Faith is followed by justification.  The judge pronounces the prisoner innocent when he believes, not when he is regenerated.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

There is a problem with this order.  Regeneration is the receipt of the new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  To do this before the person has been declared just is to seriously jump the gun.  Furthermore, this flies in the face of Paul's argument in Galatians 3 where a sinner receives the Spirit (regeneration) by faith (Gal. 3:2), which is analogous to Abraham believing and being justified (Gal. 3:6).  Gal. 3:26-27 supports this position.  We become sons of God and are baptized into Christ by faith (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).  Romans 3:22 shows that we get Christ's righteousness through faith.  But if that is so then logically we are unrighteous until we believe.  If regeneration precedes faith then a person is regenerated who has not been declared righteous, hence the illustration of the prisoner.  But notice that I said the Judge releases the prisoner before he is declared innocent (not "regenerated" which spoils the analogy).  No judge would do that.       

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

It looks like we are now positing one strand of logic against another.  Each will have to decide which logical deduction best squares with the whole of Scripture.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

I gave a biblical argument, not just a logical one

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

JohnBrian's picture

Clearly the dispute over "regeneration precedes faith" is due to the fact that Calvinism uses it to refer to the initial awakening - which above is called "illumination." 

Paul defined regeneration above as "...the receipt of the new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit." If I understand him correctly, he's using regeneration to refer a place further along in the salvation process. 

In another post on this subject I referenced Wilson's use of the phrase "resurrecting grace," instead of regeneration. Is that phrase helpful in understanding the point Calvinists make with the term "regeneration"?

Another question:

Is there a consensus here that God illuminates (or regenerates), and all those who are (illuminated or regenerated), do then exercise faith and believe?

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

Kevin Miller's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

This sinner was NOT dead in his sins, he was just MOSTLY dead,

I was drifting away on life’s pitiless sea,
And the angry waves threatened my ruin to be,
When away at my side, there I dimly descried,
A stately old vessel, and loudly I cried:
Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!
And loudly I cried: Ship ahoy!

Twas the old ship of Zion, thus sailing along,
All aboard her seemed joyous, I heard their sweet song;
And the captain’s kind ear, ever ready to hear,
Caught my wail of distress, as I cried out in fear:
Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!
As I cried out in fear: Ship ahoy!

The good captain commanded a boat to be low’red,
And with tender compassion He took me on board;
And I’m happy today, all my sins washed away
In the blood of my Savior, and now I can say:
Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!
From my soul I can say: Bless the Lord!

Well, what is the main point of the death analogy in the Bible? I've always understood "death" in the Bible to be referring to separation. Our physical death is the separation of our spirit from our body and our spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God. In the case of the hymn, the person in the water was definitely separated from the boat, so he was spiritually dead. Sure, we can try adding other aspects of physical death to the analogy, such as inability to function or rigor mortis or a terrible smell, but those aren't the primary meaning the Paul was trying to point out in Romans. Isn't it possible to take an analogy too far?

Kevin Miller's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

Another question:

Is there a consensus here that God illuminates (or regenerates), and all those who are (illuminated or regenerated), do then exercise faith and believe?

Your question brings a certain question to my mind, though this question probable could use it's own thread. In Hebrews 6:4-6, we see some people who were illuminated and "tasted the heavenly gift"  and even shared in the Holy Spirit, but they could still fall away and not be able to repent again. I don't believe saved people can actually "fall away," so this passage must be acknowledging that some unregenerate people can be illuminated but not then actually exercise faith and believe. Isn't that correct?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Kevin, you've really ventured into questionable territory now - people have argued about the warning passages in Hebrews for years! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

JohnBrian wrote,

JohnBrian wrote:

Clearly the dispute over "regeneration precedes faith" is due to the fact that Calvinism uses it to refer to the initial awakening - which above is called "illumination." 

Paul defined regeneration above as "...the receipt of the new life in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit." If I understand him correctly, he's using regeneration to refer a place further along in the salvation process. 

In another post on this subject I referenced Wilson's use of the phrase "resurrecting grace," instead of regeneration. Is that phrase helpful in understanding the point Calvinists make with the term "regeneration"?

Another question:

Is there a consensus here that God illuminates (or regenerates), and all those who are (illuminated or regenerated), do then exercise faith and believe?

I'm sorry to have to correct this position but it's simply not true that for Calvinists like Sproul regeneration is just illumination.  Here's John Murray:

A man must surely be born again before he can be sanctified.  Regeneration is the inception of being made holy and sanctification is the continuance." - Redemption Accomplished & Applied, 80

See how Murray equates being born again with regeneration?

Again,

God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive... a change which is nothing less than a new creation... This, in a word, is regeneration." - Ibid, 96

And finally,

Regeneration is the beginning of all saving grace in us, and all saving grace in exercise on our part proceeds from the fountain of regeneration.  We are not born-again by faith or repentance or conversion; we repent and believe because we have been regenerated." - Ibid, 103

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  (I Corinthians 2:14)

1) How many categories of people are there?  Answer:  two.  Natural (unregenerate) and spiritual (regenerate)

2) Can a natural man savingly believe in Christ?  Answer:  No.  "Nor can he know them"

3) How, then, can someone believe unto salvation?  Answer:  He must be constituted "spiriuial" first.

4) How is a natural man made spiritual?  Answer:  By the regenerating work of God's Spirit.

5) What comes first, regeneration or faith?  Answer:  Regeneration.

G. N. Barkman

Kevin Miller's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  (I Corinthians 2:14)

1) How many categories of people are there?  Answer:  two.  Natural (unregenerate) and spiritual (regenerate)

2) Can a natural man savingly believe in Christ?  Answer:  No.  "Nor can he know them"

3) How, then, can someone believe unto salvation?  Answer:  He must be constituted "spiriuial" first.

4) How is a natural man made spiritual?  Answer:  By the regenerating work of God's Spirit.

5) What comes first, regeneration or faith?  Answer:  Regeneration.

Does the context of I Corinthians 2 and 3 actually talk about the gaining of salvation faith, or is the "things of God" referring to things that mature believers should be understanding? This is written to believers after all. It's not an instruction guideline on how to become believers. Three verses after I Corinthians 2:14 is I Corinthians 3:1-2, in which Paul calls these people "people of the flesh" and tells them "for you are still of the flesh." According to your logic, is Paul telling these people they are still unbelievers since they are still of the flesh and therefore unregenerate?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Kevin,  that's a good question.  Paul does not call believers "natural" anywhere that I know of.  "Carnal" (or fleshly) is used to describe immaturity in believers.  To say that I Corinthians 2:14 is talking about immature believers would mean that "the things of the Spirit of God" are "foolish" to believers, and that there are believers who "cannot know them" .  That produces a whole set of new problems.

No, "natural" is a word that describes all men as they are born in Adam.  "Spiritual" is used to describe those who have been made new by the work of God's Spirit.  It is referring to the natural birth and the spiritual birth.  It could be a veiled warning to some who profess saving faith, but have no spiritual understanding, that they have not experienced the spiritual birth.

G. N. Barkman

Kevin Miller's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Kevin,  that's a good question.  Paul does not call believers "natural" anywhere that I know of.  "Carnal" (or fleshly) is used to describe immaturity in believers.  To say that I Corinthians 2:14 is talking about immature believers would mean that "the things of the Spirit of God" are "foolish" to believers, and that there are believers who "cannot know them" .  That produces a whole set of new problems.

No, "natural" is a word that describes all men as they are born in Adam.  "Spiritual" is used to describe those who have been made new by the work of God's Spirit.  It is referring to the natural birth and the spiritual birth.  It could be a veiled warning to some who profess saving faith, but have no spiritual understanding, that they have not experienced the spiritual birth.

Well, I Cor 3:1 made the comparison between "spiritual people" and "people of the flesh." I was just trying to put the passage within your logical progression. It seems then that the passage is talking about three groups of people. Natural man, carnal believers, and spiritual believers. The spiritual believers are able to understand things of God that carnal believers cannot. They are still at the "milk" stage, so they can't understand the things that a spiritual believer can. The passage doesn't tell us anything about the spiritual "birth" of the carnal man. It just compares those people negatively to the "spiritual" man. The passage also doesn't really tell us the reaction that a "natural man" might have to "milk." It does tell us that a natural man will think the meat is foolishness.

Paul Henebury's picture

Brother Barkman, you have repaired to 1 Cor. 2:14 to defend your position, even though I offered scriptural evidence that a person does not receive the Holy Spirit until they believe (viz. Gal. 3:2, 14. cf. Rom. 1:16).  Often logic can be used against Scripture, so we must be careful to make our logic follow Scripture, not fit Scripture within an already deduced outlook.

In contrast to Gal. 3: 2 and 14, which refer to salvation and justification, 1 Cor. 2:14 refers to the contrast between human wisdom and God's wisdom.  Having God's wisdom is akin to having the mind of Christ (2:16).  Therefore, Paul is not teaching here about the ordo but rather about the wisdom of the Spirit (we may broaden this out to 'the Christian worldview').  

Even though we shall differ on this (which is fine), I think, with respect, that you are guilty of having a premise in search of a text.  Here is what you wrote:

 

1) How many categories of people are there?  Answer:  two.  Natural (unregenerate) and spiritual (regenerate).  True, but neither group is monolithic.   There are varying degrees of understanding within both groups. 

2) Can a natural man savingly believe in Christ?  Answer:  No.  "Nor can he know them"  This does not follow.  Paul is not referring to saving faith in the chapter.  A natural man cannot see the wisdom of God for what it is because he sees the world differently.  Whether a natural man CAN savingly believe is not the subject of 1 Cor 2 and remains an open question. 

3) How, then, can someone believe unto salvation?  Answer:  He must be constituted "spiriuial" first.  Again, this does not follow since the Apostle is not on that subject.  Spiritual people can act carnally and they can be worldly too.  Christians can and do ignore the wisdom of God (even though they are spiritual - Rom. 8).  Also, a natural man may comprehend a good bit (Mk. 12:34)  

4) How is a natural man made spiritual?  Answer:  By the regenerating work of God's Spirit.  Gal. 3:14 says differently!  But you must prove that a natural man cannot believe even if the Holy Spirit convicts him and illuminates him.   Acts 10 illustrates this.  You have Cornelius regenerated before he is justified and before the Spirit falls on him (Acts 10:44).  But no judge justly do that.  Ergo, the Judge is not justified in regenerating an unjustified and unforgiven sinner.

5) What comes first, regeneration or faith?  Answer:  Regeneration.  Answer, faith according to the Bible.  But not according to your logic.  I have given you several clear passages.  Another is John 3:16-17; 5:24.  I have also given a couple of logical reasons which go along with the passages I have cited. 

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thank you Paul, but you continue to equate Justification with Regeneration.  I have stated more than once that Justification follows faith.

Kevin, I Corinthians 2:14 does not speak of three categories of people, but only two.  To imagine a regenerated man who is unable to understand the things of the Spirit of God is to fabricate a category that does not exist.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

It is easy to argue as you do.  I do not equate justification with regeneration at all.  The argument is about whether a sinner is regenerated BEFORE they are justified.  I have argued No.  You argue in the affirmative.  I HAVE equated regeneration with the new birth which comes (and can only come) with receiving the Spirit.  I have shown that the NT does indeed confirm that a person receives the Spirit (and so the new birth) after they believe (Gal. 3:2, 14).  

The logic of this is straightforward.  A sinner must be justified (and the Judge must be just - Rom. 3:26) by faith.  Before they believe they are unjustified (they are guilty and under wrath).  If they are not justified then God is not just to give them the new birth (which is the seal of acceptance with God) before He pronounces them justified.  And they cannot be justified until they believe.

That is the point here.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I haven't really been following the discussion, so maybe this is an unhelpful random observation ... But whenever this debate resurfaces I find myself asking the same question internally at least:

Isn't it true that in Scripture nobody is ever regenerate who does not believe, and nobody believes who is not regenerate? Is there ever any moment when anyone is one (believer) and not also the other (regenerate)?

If indeed the situation is binary (either a person is both regenerate and believer or is neither of these) the question of sequence would appear to be moot. 

Kevin Miller's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Kevin, I Corinthians 2:14 does not speak of three categories of people, but only two.  To imagine a regenerated man who is unable to understand the things of the Spirit of God is to fabricate a category that does not exist.

But when Paul tells these carnal Christians that they "were not ready" for the "solid food," isn't he telling them that they wouldn't understand it? Why else wouldn't they be ready for it?

The way I see it, the "things of the Spirit of God" in 2:14 is specifically referring to "solid food" stuff, which  of course natural man does not have any hope of understanding and which the carnal man still doesn't understand but can become ABLE to. It's like he's saying "Being stuck at milk is like being a natural man who can only understand milk and not solid food." He's telling them not to be like the natural man but to get past milk. We know from Hebrews 5:12 that the milk is the "elementary truths of God's Word." I Cor 2:14 isn't saying that the natural man is unable to understand these elementary truths. So if i was to make only two groups out of the passage, it would be solid food eaters (who are "spiritual') and milk drinkers (who are either "natural" or "carnal").

Can you please answer something that I asked in another thread, but I didn't get any responses to it?  In Acts 2, Peter preaches a sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Verse 37 says When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” So if these spiritually dead people were "cut to the heart," does that mean they were already regenerated before they asked "What shall we do"? I've always understood "cut to the heart" to be a phrase indicating conviction. Can an unregenerated man understand enough to be convicted?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Kevin's question is a good one. Its also an example of why I don't worry too much about the finer points of ordo salutis when I preach or chat with people. I believe regeneration comes first but, practically speaking, it's simultaneous with repentance and faith. I believe repentance and faith are the fruit of regeneration. I believe someone is saved only because (1) God specifically chose to save him, and (2) specifically sent the Spirit to convict, draw and regenerate that person. 

That's my academic answer. Actually, I was asked about election at men's prayer breakfast this morning! I covered all of this, briefly. I presented a "regeneration first" answer, based on divine election. 

But, now we come to the messiness of real life. You could argue that the crowd in Acts 2 was being drawn when they asked the question. Maybe they were regenerated already, but the text doesn't seem to suggest that. Here's the thing, ordo salutis wasn't Luke's point when he wrote that passage, and it shouldn't be ours, either! Real life is messy, and doesn't follow neat systematic outlines. 

I like and appreciate systematic theology. We all have a systematic theology, whether we're consciously aware of it or not. But, real life isn't like systematic theology. Was the crowd in Acts 2 regenerate when they asked the question? Don't know, and don't care! I just can't generate the passion to argue one way or the other. I'm settled on my Reformed soteriology. You can have yours, if you wish - no hard feelings.

I am willing to chat about whether there is an order that look like this - (1) conviction, illumination and drawing, (2) repentance and faith, (3) regeneration - the latter two occurring so closely together that they're virtually simultaneous. 

Everyone has a "big issue" they like to ride a lot. For some people, it's Reformed soteriology. For others, it's Baptist fundamentalism or the KJV. For others, it's eschatology. For me, it's theology proper and Christology. When it comes to my passion on this issue, I'm much more J.I Packer-ish (see his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God) than R.C. ("Arminians are barely Christians!") Sproul-ish. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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