December 11, 2012

The Danger of Teaching that Regeneration Precedes Faith

Last week were considered the question, What is Hyper-Calvinism?  A thoughtful discussion thread ensued and has continued into this week.

Recently, at the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Ironsite 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)
Because a right understanding of this doctrinal issue, which Alex drew attention to, is crucial to a right understanding of the one true gospel of Jesus Christ I am providing an answer to the question, Does Regeneration Precede Faith? Brother George Zeller has written extensively on a wide range of subjects, including Calvinism and its inherent theological errors. Following is George Zeller’s article titled,

The Danger of Teaching that Regeneration Precedes Faith 
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  
The Danger of Teaching that RegenerationPrecedes Faith  
Middletown Bible Church
Site Publishers Commentary:
In my opinion, regeneration before faith is an extra-biblical presupposition. Because Calvinism’s regeneration precedes faith is a significant contributor to the theology of the works based Lordship Salvation interpretation of the Gospel I address this issue in my book In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.
“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).”
Yours faithfully,


**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)
Related Reading:


  1. Lou,

    George is exactly right about the relationship between faith and regeneration. The former definitely precedes the latter (Jo. 1:12; 20:30,31; Ro. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:16, etc.).

    If I recall correctly, Robert Lightner also addresses this error in "The Death Christ Died," "Evangelical Theology," and "Sin, the Savior, and Salvation." It's been awhile since I've read those books, but he has some good remarks on this issue.

    But, again, George's article is spot on.


    1. TJP:

      I have a copy of Dr. Robert Lightner’s book Sin, the Savior, and Salvation before me. I quote from it in my book on Lordship Salvation, because Lightner also rejects LS. He wrote one of the back cover endorsements to my book. In any event, if you turn to pages 155, 219-221, 255 you find some very pointed comments rejecting the extra-biblical teaching that regeneration must occur prior to and part from faith. For example, from page 220:

      Some insist that regeneration precedes faith. They do so because they believe if it does not, then total depravity is denied. In this view faith does not result in regeneration, but springs from it. Repentance and faith are not considered as human capabilities prior to regeneration.

      Such reasoning fits the five-point Calvinistic system. The question is, however, what does the Bible teach about the relationship of faith to regeneration? There is no text which declares that faith results from regeneration, that regenerations comes before faith. It is always stated the other way…. Never are [sinners] told to believe because they have already received new life.


  2. Hi Lou,

    The doctrine of Pre-Faith Regeneration is in my view a fellowship breaker without question.


  3. Lou,

    I did a little searching and remember reading, thoroughly, and responding, pointedly, to Snoeberger's paper on this topic at SI. I was rather amazed at the ease of identifying logical, theological and exegetical errors regarding his main assertions. Great piece here, thank you.

    1. Alex:

      You wrote, "logical, theological and exegetical errors..."

      My experience is that when we come to the circle-logic of five point Calvinism, with its extra-biblical presuppositions, the errors are easily found.


  4. I am curious to know how you and/or your readers, Lou, understand 1 Corinthians 2:14. A person who asks what he must do to be saved has received, at least to some degree, the things of the Spirit of God, because he no longer considers them to be foolish. Since he is no longer a natural man, what do we call the change that occurred in that man before he believes?


    1. I really didn't intend this to be a rhetorical question.

  5. You guys really believe man can believe apart from the heart being quickened first? It seems to me to be the height of arrogance to fly in the face of scripture and elevate man to such a place.

  6. A stunning description of the depraved heart. Not only can man not accept Christ without his heart first being warmed, he cannot even understand nor seek after Christ nor will he. His heart must be first quickened and the scales taken off his eyes before he can accept Christ.

    Romans 3 10 - 18

    As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

    11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

    12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

    13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

    14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

    15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

    16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

    17 And the way of peace have they not known:

    18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

  7. Nowhere in the whole of Scripture is it taught that a lost man, who is dead in his sins, must first be regenerated, that is to say born again, prior to and part from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The statements above typify the way in which men that hold to a Calvinistic soteriology will force into or extract from the Bible things that are NOT there to bolster the man made presuppositions of five point Calvinism.

    There is a better answer- see,

    Impossible Decision- John 16:7-11

    The Holy Spirit is come to convict the world of “sin” (note singular). What is the “sin” that the Holy Spirit will reprove the world over? That “sin” is explained in verse 10, which is the sin of “unbelief.” The lost man needs to be confronted with the Law to bring him/her to know the need for forgiveness through Christ. The book of Galatians is very helpful in this matter. The sin that is damning the lost man to hell is “unbelief” and the only act that will result in salvation is “belief” (John 3:16 ; Acts 16:31 ).

    George Zeller wrote,

    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 ).


  8. Hi Lou,

    You noted to Alex that once one starts looking at TULIP that the errors are easily seen. These comments demonstrate the absurdly poor scholarship that is presented in defense of Calvinism at pulpits and in books around the world. I was astounded by how poorly Calvinism is defended in The Potter's Freedom. I did not believe I would be able to rebut much of the book, let alone every argument the man presented! Nearly as soon as I started investigating Calvinism I realized it wasn't completely true, as I've looked at it deeper and deeper over the last 3 years I've found it to be just as baseless as Roman Catholicism. In fact I've taken to calling Reformed Theology "Reformed Roman Catholicism" in my mind. That is technically what it actually is, but I really had no idea that it was as absent from the Text as RC is.

    Here are two links to recent articles on some of the subjects posted above that I did while reviewing James R. White's The Potter's Freedom

    About Pre-Faith Regeneration
    About the Inabilities of Man


  9. In Calvin’s preface to his Institutes of the Christian Religion (second edition of 1539), we have a defining statement that really tells us why the exegesis of all Calvinists is perverted, transforming it into eisegesis. This happens because all Calvinists look at the Scriptures through the theological presuppositions of Calvin. This is clearly stated as Calvin’s purpose in writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

    “I have endeavored to give such a summary of religion in all its parts (in the Systematic Theology laid out in his Institutes of the Christian Religion), and have digested it into such an order as may make it not difficult for anyone who is rightly acquainted with it (the Systematic Theology laid out in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) to ascertain both what he ought principally to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it. Having thus, as it were, paved the way, I shall not feel it necessary in any Commentaries on Scripture which I may afterwards publish to enter into long discussions of doctrine or dilate on commonplaces, and will therefore always compress them. In this way the pious reader will be saved much trouble and weariness, provided he comes furnished with a knowledge of the present work (the Systematic Theology laid out in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) as an essential prerequisite. ” (Words in parenthesis add) (as quoted by Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, A Study of the Doctrine of Election, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN, 1970, pages 227-228)

  10. Hi Lance, that's a very interesting quotation from Calvin. I had a recent experience with a local Calvinist preacher. Before I knew the man was a Calvinist I asked him which hermeneutic he uses, and is normative to be used in his assembly. In my email to him I explained that I use the Gramatical Historical Hermeneutic exclusively from cover to cover of my Bible.

    He replied with:

    We are passionately committed to a Grammatical-Historical-Theological approach to interpretation. Meaning is to be derived from context and the overall unfolding of God's plan of redemption.

    Exactly like what Calvin wrote. The words mean what their Historical definitions were as modified by grammar unless it offends Calvinism in which case Calvinism is trump.


  11. How does John 6:44 inform this conversation? I do not think it supports the cause of Reformed theology, but it must be factored to rescue the non-reformed from Pelagianism (or semi-Pelagianism). There is a totality to depravity and it must be answered in God alone, but this answer is not regeneration it is drawing.

    Furthermore, the spiritual death and quickening of Ephesians 2 are the facts of the redemption story (vs 1-4) summed up the word "saved" in 2:5. The quickening is the act of saving-rescuing from deadness. According to vs 5 and 8 this is by grace through faith. We are quickened by grace through faith. But there is no faith (coming to Christ John 6:35) until there is a work of drawing by the Father. Salvation is all of God (John 1:13), but reliant on our response. Who are drawn? All!--according to John 12:32. This does not eliminate depravity for not all are drawn immediately upon birth nor does this eliminate the sinfulness of man. However, the power of the voice of God calls into this deadness and depravity making it possible to believe. Salvation is for the glory of God from beginning to end, but not by means of regeneration before faith. That is a most unbiblical order to the observant reader (John 3:16; John 5:24; 6:40; John 20:31 etc).

  12. Kevl,

    You call it the "Reformed Roman Catholicism." That's good. We could also call it "the Deformed faith" or the "Reformed Roman Religion."


  13. David,

    The "things" mentioned there do not appear to be the gospel. The gospel is what is required for a lost man to believe unto salvation. The man that is now asking how to be saved is a man that has been exposed to God's revelation. The Holy Spirit works with the Word to bring a person to understand that he is lost and that Christ alone can save. The change needed in man is repentance - that is a change of mind. So it is change from unbelief to belief. There is no change of nature before salvation. After conversion, the Old man remains and is not totally done away with until glorification takes place in heaven.

    Jim F

  14. KP,

    "You guys really believe man can believe apart from the heart being quickened first? It seems to me to be the height of arrogance to fly in the face of scripture and elevate man to such a place."

    What is the point of the gospel if the person is already saved? Is it just a formality? Rather, we are to take the gospel to the lost so that they might believe. The power is in the gospel. Can an unsaved man believe that the sky is blue? Can he believe that two plus two is four? Sure he can. Can he also then through the power of the gospel change his mind to believe that he is lost in sin headed for eternal punishment and place his belief in Christ to save him? Sure he can.

    The height of arrogance is more like denying the power of the gospel and the lost man's need of it. (I am not saying that you are necessarily saying this yourself.)

    Jim F