Recently, at the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Iron* site there was a discussion over depravity, regeneration and sanctification. The discussion centered on a critical review of Tullian Tchividjian’s disconcerting theology by Mark Snoeberger from his Theologically Driven blog. Alex Guggenheim left a comment in the SI thread from which I share the following excerpt. Alex wrote,
“There should be no outcry toward [Mark] Snoeberger, rather it should be quite the opposite. It should be that the objections of a fundamental misunderstanding and articulations by Tchividjian are the loud sound being heard and intense concern over this prominent Pastor and Teacher saying such things (I say this while making clear Snoeberger remains Neo-Calvinisticly wrong about regeneration preceding faith and his exegesis and theology on the matter easily rebutted…).” (Bold his)
The doctrine of man’s total depravity has been distorted by extreme Calvinists resulting in a wrong understanding of man’s inability. The Philippian jailer once asked, “WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?” (Acts 16:30–31 and compare Acts 2:37–38). Some extreme Calvinists, if they had been in Paul’s place, would have answered as follows: What must you do to be saved? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! You are spiritually DEAD and totally unable to respond to God until you are regenerated!
Extreme Calvinists teach that regeneration must precede faith, and that a person must be born again before he can believe. They would say that a person must have eternal life before he can believe because a person dead in sins is unable to believe. They teach that faith is impossible apart from regeneration. Such teaching seems logical and reasonable to them based on the theological system which they have adopted. But “WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURES?”
The Bible clearly teaches this: BELIEVE AND THOU SHALT LIVE! “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15). The extreme Calvinist says, “LIVE AND THOU SHALT BELIEVE!” Please notice that John 1:12 does not say this: “But as many as have been regenerated, to them gave He the power to believe on His Name, even to those who have become the children of God.” Notice also that John 20:31 says, “believing ye might have life.” It does not say, “having life ye might believe.” In his helpless and hopeless condition the sinner is told to LOOK to the Lord Jesus Christ AND LIVE (John 3:14–16)! [We sing the hymn **“LOOK AND LIVE.” The extreme Calvinist should change the words to “LIVE AND LOOK”].
For a moment, let’s assume that what the extreme Calvinists are saying is true. If regeneration precedes faith, then what must a sinner do to be regenerated? The extreme Calvinists have never satisfactorily answered this. Shedd’s answer is typical: Because the sinner cannot believe, he is instructed to perform the following duties: (1) Read and hear the divine Word. (2) Give serious application of the mind to the truth. (3) Pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit for conviction and regeneration. [See W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, pp. 472, 512, 513.]
Roy Aldrich’s response to this is penetrating: “A doctrine of total depravity that excludes the possibility of faith must also exclude the possibilities of ‘hearing the word,’ ‘giving serious application to divine truth,’ and ‘praying for the Holy Spirit for conviction and regeneration.’ The extreme Calvinist deals with a rather lively spiritual corpse after all.” [Roy L. Aldrich’s article is highly recommended. It is found in the July, 1965 issue of Bibliotheca Sacra and is entitled, “The Gift of God” (pages 248–253).]
The tragedy of this position is that it perverts the gospel. The sinner is told that the condition of salvation is prayer instead of faith. How contrary this is to Acts 16:31. The sinner is not told to pray for conviction and for regeneration. The sinner is told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some Reformed men, including R. C. Sproul, even teach that a person can be regenerated as an infant, and then not come to faith in Christ until years later. For documentation of this, and a more detailed analysis of this issue see, Does Regeneration Precede Faith?
Pastor George Zeller
Middletown Bible Church
“John MacArthur uses the following statement to prepare the way for the hard demands of the Lordship gospel: ‘Thus conversion is not simply a sinner’s decision for Christ; it is first the sovereign work of God in transforming the individual.’ Is MacArthur suggesting that a sinner must first be transformed through regeneration into a child of God before he can believe and respond in faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Regeneration before faith under girds Lordship Salvation. There are a growing number of preachers that believe regeneration occurs prior to and apart from repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ.” (IDOTG, p. 63.)
“The Calvinist believes man is so 'dead in trespasses and sins' that he must first be regenerated: That is to say, born again, made alive by the Spirit of God, and given the new nature prior to personal repentance and faith. Even faith, according to Calvinism, is a gift that was given to him after regeneration.” (IDOTG, p. 264.)I encourage each of my guests to read George Zeller’s Does Regeneration Precede Faith? The article is George Zeller’s extended and penetrating answer to the danger of teaching that regeneration occurs prior to and part from faith in Jesus Christ.
“Today there are those of a Reformed persuasion who teach that regeneration precedes faith. They would say that a person must be born again before he believes. They would say that a person must have God’s LIFE before he can believe on Christ…. The doctrine of man’s total depravity has been carried to the extreme by some Calvinists resulting in a wrong understanding of man’s inability. They believe that the sinner is dead in sin and therefore he is like a corpse, totally unable to do anything. They believe he must first be regenerated and have life and only then will he be able to believe the gospel. But the Scripture teaches that he must believe in order to have life. (John 20:31).”
**Listen and Sing along to, Look & Live
- Life is offered unto you, hallelujah!
- Eternal life thy soul shall have,
- If you’ll only look to Him, hallelujah!
- Look to Jesus who alone can save. (3rd stanza)