Monday, February 16, 2009

Sproul's influence


Ian D. Elsasser left a new comment on the post about "Sproul's error," but I thought his interesting comment was worthy of being featured as a "lead" article. The following is Brother Elsasser's testimony about his personal experience in relation to Calvinism and R. C. Sproul:

R. C. Sproul's Chosen by God was instrumental in my move to Calvinism in Bible College. The first time I read it I remained unconvinced. During my last year of College, Don Carson came to our College and gave a series of lectures from the Gospel of John. After his lecture on John 6 in which he plainly set forth the predestinarian elements of the chapter, I remember walking back to my dorm deep in thought, grabbing Sproul's book to read through it once again and praying, "God, if this is true, please help me to love it."

By the end I had become convinced that the Calvinistic position was correct and became a Calvinist. Of course, I accepted Sproul's view that regeneration precedes faith, believing it to be the biblical and Calvinistic view.

A few years ago I began to see that some of the passages that supposedly taught it did not. I remember, for example, examining 1 John 5.1 and seeing exegetically that it was not concerned with an ordo salutis, that it was being read into the text. I later disavowed the regeneration precedes faith view and came to see that there was a third alternative to the two options commonly presented: namely, that neither preceded the other but that they were simultaneous. I came to see that the frequently used "logical priority" phrasing was incorrect and actually masked that repentance and faith are constituent elements of the new birth, that where you had the one (whether faith/repentance or regeneration) you had the other.

This view, I learned, had roots in older Calvinism and was held by many Calvinists from the sixteenth century to present, though it is not often given as an alternative in the discussions about the relationship of conversion and regeneration.

Maybe someone is reading this and has rejected Calvinism because he or she thinks it is bound up with the teaching that regeneration (logically or otherwise) precedes faith/repentance/conversion. Please understand that Calvinism does not necessitate this view. Rather, Calvinism teaches that repentance and faith are gifts of God, that they are given by God, and this giving or granting is the new birth. They occur together or are comcomitant.

I am a Calvinist yet I do not believe regeneration (the new birth) occurs before faith. I believe they occur at the same time. The new birth does not occur without or apart from faith; where you have one, you have the other.

Bob, you have done a great service over the years by hammering away at this issue. Keep at it.

Seeing that this article was prompted by Stephen Garrett's work on the subject, I must acknowledge and thank him for all the hours of research and writing he has done over the last several years online.

Good work, men.

BOB'S NOTE: Brother Elsasser is one of several who say that they have been helped by our blogs to see that the "regeneration" theory of many in the modern Reformed camp is not creedal Calvinism, but is a hybrid development, not sustained in the creedal standards.


  1. There are also non-Calvinists who espouse this "third alternative" and reject that either regeneration precedes conversion or conversion precedes regeneration. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and Director of the Center for Theological Research, gave this answer in response to a question asking if SWBTS teaches that regeneration precedes conversion:

    "...nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that any of these things [regeneration, faith and repentance] are prior to the other. REGENERATION AND CONVERSION ARE CONCOMITANT ACTIONS OF GOD THAT ALSO DEMAND HUMAN RESPONSE! This is why our denomination’s confession treats regeneration neither as prior to or subsequent from conversion. Rather, it treats regeneration and conversion as concomitant realities of the one moment we understand to be the beginning of salvation....Or, if you want a simple answer to your simple question, 'Does regeneration precede conversion?' The answer is, 'No, but neither does conversion precede regeneration.' Calvinists and Arminians would respond that they are not speaking of a temporal order but a logical order, and I would respond that if one deigns to speak of a logical order from eternity apart from divine revelation, then one speaks with both ignorance and arrogance" (from Baptist Theology Q&A).

    This is a point of agreement and contact between non-Calvinists and true "classical" or "creedal" Calvinists.

  2. Bob:

    This comment by a Calvinist holding to the born again before faith view reveals the error of this position, namely, that one is saved before they repent or believe:

    "If you were a Calvinist as myself and RC Sproul you would believe that you must be born againt [sic] to see the kingdom of God. The ordo salutis is regeneration then repentance. You are saved then you ask what must I do?"

    One need only cite Acts 16.30-31 by way of refutation: why would Paul counsel the Jailer to believe to be saved if he was already saved?

    One's theological position has pastoral implications. As one can see, the born again before faith view is pastorally dangerous. One is not saved until one believes.

  3. THE "FUNNY THING" . . .
    about that post on Wade Burleson's blog is that DR. DAGG taught that "FAITH PRECEDES" in the New Birth. See quotes in our post, DR. DAGG vs. WADE BURLESON.
    Yet this blogger is opposing what Dr. Dagg taught.

    As for the "altar call," I have noted and refuted all of the objections I could find. See these websites:

    Spurgeon and Public Invitations

    Writings of Bob Ross

    A Critique of Brother Reisinger's Article Against the Use of a Public Invitation

    Most of the current crop of Anti-Invitationists are simply Internet "copy-cats" of what has been written by Iain Murray, Ernest Reisinger, Tom Nettles, Erroll Hulse, etc.

  4. Bob:

    Millard J. Erickson, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, OR, and Baptist minister, is a Calvinist who also believes that conversion precedes regeneration:

    “...the biblical evidence favors the position that conversion is prior to regeneration. Various appeals to respond to the gospel imply that conversion results in regeneration.....God regenerates those who repent and believe. But this conclusion seems inconsistent with the doctrine of total inability. Are we torn between Scripture and logic on this point? There is a way out. That is to distinguish between God’s special and effectual calling on the one hand, and regeneration on the other. Although no one is capable of responding to the general call of the gospel, in the case of the elect God works intensively through a specially calling so that they do respond in repentance and faith. As a result of this conversion, God regenerates them. The special calling is simply an intensive and effectual working by the Holy Spirit. It is not the complete transformation which constitutes regeneration, but it does render the conversion of the individual both possible and certain. Thus the logical order of the initial aspects of salvation is calling—conversion—regeneration” (Christian Theology, Unabridged, one-volume edition, pp.932, 933).

    He rejects the view that one must be saved first in order to repent and believe.

    Both Erickson and Dagg are not true Calvinists, then, according to the criterion of certain Calvinists who say that Cavinism teaches that one is born again before faith.

  5. Bob said...

    “THE "FUNNY THING" . . .
    about that post on Wade Burleson's blog is that DR. DAGG taught that "FAITH PRECEDES" in the New Birth. See quotes in our post, DR. DAGG vs. WADE BURLESON.
    Yet this blogger is opposing what Dr. Dagg taught.”


    Another funny thing is that a verse to which these Calvinists appeal to support that faith is a gift from God – Ephesians 2.8 – also says one is saved through this faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God.”

    The Scripture teaches that the faith given as God’s gift is the faith through which one is saved, whereas these Calvinists have it that one exercises this faith after one is saved. The preposition through (Greek dia) found in the text indicates agency or instrumentality, telling us the means by which one is saved. This is contrary to those espousing that regeneration is prior to faith or that one is saved before believing.

    Christians are right to reject and oppose this teaching.