Monday, December 1, 2008

Arminianism and Regeneration-Prior-to-Faith

Article 3 of The Five Arminian Articles of 1610:

That man has not saving grace of himself, not of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is);

[A fairly strong statement that fallen man can do nothing, including have faith in the Gospel of Christ, that is anything other than evil. -GR]

but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in his understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John XV.5; 'Without me ye can do nothing.'

-from pages 546-547 of Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom, Volume III. (Brackets mine, of course.)

Note well the phrase "it is needful that he be born again of God," and its relation to understanding and doing that which is "truly good"; and, note that the article has specified that faith is included in that true good. This Arminian confession, the foundational Arminian confession, which is the basis of the famed Remonstrance, has clearly specified that being born again must precede, logically, faith in Christ.

What this means is that when synergists of any stripe, even those claiming to be Arminian, argue against regeneration-before-faith, they are not advancing the cause of true Arminianism. Rather, they are denying the doctrine of Total Depravity (which both Calvinists and Arminians affirm) and are siding with teaching of Pelagius. Pelagius, of course, maintained that

a) Adam's fall into sin did not render his posterity incapable of doing Good, and

b) the fact that men are commanded to do Good is proof that they can.

These concepts undergird the position of the mainstream leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the position that was advanced at the John 3:16 Conference. It is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian in its origin. Classic theologians in both those camps would label the theology of J316C as some form of Pelagianism.

Granted, it is not "hard" Pelagian: it is some greatly softened version, but it maintains the core ideas. Specifically, man's fallen state does not render him incapable of truly doing Good, and the fact that the Gospel commands him to do so is proof that he can.

Again, for those keeping score, Pelagianism is a heresy. Whether or not the J316C version of it is damnable is up to God the Judge; but we can certainly render the verdict that it is a different gospel, and thus anathema (Galatians 1.)


kelly jack said...

So i've been way to generous using the word arminian in this debate,its actually way worse. Would Charles Wesley have been a classical Arminian?

Gordan said...

Well, I can't know how generous you've been....but I'm convinced that most of the people we Calvinists label as Arminians in a sort of knee-jerk reaction to them, are not Arminians at all. They may have in common with Arminians the idea of fallen man cooperating with grace in order to get saved, but Armianism really is a technical term that defines a specific theology. And, very few modern synergists actually hold to it.

Rather, it's my conviction that most modern non-Calvinists hold to a soteriology that is a product of their own personal attempts to cobble together all the Biblical data, and very often into a format that fits what they had theorized prior to the beginning of their cobbling. It's a soteriology developed in a vacuum; with no interaction with history, or gifted teachers, or even the fellowship of the saints. Not surprisingly, then, it's also often quite unique and personal. Bill's synergism doesn't match Joe's, except that they both hate Calvinism, especially as they've seen it presented by Dave Hunt, etc.

I'm no Wesley expert, but the little bit that I have read suggests they were closer to classical Arminianism than they would be with the modern SBC. (Or modern Methodism for that matter.)

Mitch said...

Would a confessional Arminian say that if one has been renewed in understanding, inclination, or will and all of his powers, and is now able to rightly understand, think, will and effect what is truly good – that such a person will reject Christ? That after said person has been born again of God in Christ that they would then reject Christ?

Grace & Peace

Mitch said...

Of course the “confessional” Arminian will answer yes since they do not subscribe to perseverance of the saints.

I have never come across a “confessional” Arminian, have any of you?

Even the Arminian’s that frequent this site (Billy, Ben, Thibs, etc.) would not be in-line with this “confession”.

Grace & Peace

Anonymous said...

This is really just a statement of the need for God's grace to enable the sinner to believe and do good. The Remonstrants saw the prevenient grace of God as a grace which would inevitibly lead on to regeneration unless finally resisted. If this grace was not resisted then it would produce faith.

However, they made a distinction between the work of resistible regenerative grace and a fuller regeneration that results from faith union with Christ when that regenerative grace is yielded to in faith. This can be plainly seen in Articles II, IV, and V.

It seems that for Arminius and the remonstrants the regenerating grace of God was at work from start to finish but this grace could be resisted at any point (perhaps even viewing regeneration as somewhat incomplete prior to final glorification/resurrection).

It was important for them to emphasize that the grace which man can resist is the grace which intends to regenerate and not just some "common grace" that God has no actual intentions of saving man with.

When men resist the Spirit they are resisting God's actual effort to regenerate them and incorporate them into Christ. Arminius sometimes spoke of the need to be regenerated in our faculties prior to being enabled to believe. But he seems to mean only that God must renew our ability to believe (which is the first movement of regenerating grace) due to our depravity. However, Arminius was clear that regeneration as we tend to speak of it today was only fully realized after faith was exercised and we were joined to Christ:

"Besides, even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken, and consisting of the mortification or death of the old man, and the vivification of the new man...For Christ becomes ours by faith, and we are engrafted into Christ, are made members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones, and, being thus planted with him, we coalesce or are united together, that we may draw from him the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, by which power the old man is mortified and we rise again into a new life." [Works Vol.2 pg. 233, Wesleyan Heritage Collection- emphasis mine].

So regeneration is viewed as taking place in stages or steps by Arminius and the Remonstrants, but what we tend to refer to as regeneration today in soteriological debates (the full experience) they would have placed after and not before faith just as modern Arminians do. It really is a matter of semantics and viewing regeneration in a slightly different way (more of a continual process) than is common today.

God Bless,

Mitch said...

So would it be fair to say that modern day Arminians would say that regeneration was a process rather than a one time event?

Also, that quote from Vol. 2, was he speaking to repentance more than regeneration as we would define it today. I ask because the part you excluded made a reference to Calvin’s Institutes and there the issue was repentance and how it came after faith.

Grace & Peace

Strong Tower said...

Hobbs considered himself a classical Arminian, but believed in the P. His position as I understand it was Pelagian/semi-Pelagian. He is still a hero among this group.

I have to agree, the theology is all over the map. Still, each one seems to take on Calvinism at the points that Arminianism would disagree. Which leaves one wondering is the moniker, non-Calvinist should be replaced Arminian-non. It is really frustrating that a systematic theology cannot be pinned down, that makes the wrestling match more like confronting a dysfunctional family in denial.

Thanks for your post. Nice balance to my otherwise porridge pot labeling.

Strong Tower said...

Didn't JCT hold that one could lose their salvation?

Gordan said...

We have to label stuff. Can't really get around it. I just think that, as much as I may disagree with Arminianism, the folks we're dealing with in the SBC don't meet up to that level. In an ironic way, they are right when they claim to be neither Calvinists nor Arminians. I'm at a loss, though, to know what the correct label would be: it looks a bit like this over here, but also like some stuff over here.

Strong Tower said...

If you haven't had a chance, Dr. White is continuing to examine the J316C. He is amazed too. There is no real fix you can get on these guys and they seem to make it up as they go. As White points out, Allen is a professor of systematics!

Do you like tapioca?

Well ya, except for the tapis, if you leave them out, then ya.

But without them it wouldn't be tapioca, it would just be oca.

Well, not really, it would be non-tapi tapi-oca, but still tapioca.


Yes labels are important, and more important is the definition that is given them for the context within which the labels are used. But, if those definitions are always changing, then the labels are really worthless.

Anonymous said...

I have a question that might seem as though I am challenging you, but it is meant to be an honest question.

Could you show us a few scriptures which explicitly teach that one must first be regenerated, in the full and proper sense which we mean it today, in order for a person to have faith in Christ?

The reason I ask is because of such passages as Colossians 2:13. It reads, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions" (NASB). I may have brought this up here before, I can't remember.

If God "makes us alive," having already forgiven us (justified us) of our sins, and a person is only justified by faith in Christ, then is not Paul explicitly teaching us that faith precedes regeneration proper? What Paul is saying is:

1) God justifies and forgives a sinner; and then

2) He makes us alive in Christ

I realize we will never reach an agreement on this issue (at least we agree that faith only comes by the grace of God, unlike semi-Pelagians), but I was curious as to what you think. Leaving theorizing behind us and plainly dealing with the Text, what are your thoughts on this verse?

And would you agree with Calvinist Dr. Nathan Finn (prof. at SEBTS), who told me that Calvinists and Classical Arminians have more in common with each other than either one does with semi-Pelagians?

God bless,


Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention two things.

1) There are some Calvinists who disagree with the theory that regeneration must precede faith. Calvinist Southern Baptist Stephen Garrett at, who defends Calvinism rigorously (but cordially) has posted many arguments against the notion that regeneration must precede faith.

This causes one to realize that there are just as many strains of Calvinism as there are any number of theological systems available today.

2) R. C. Sproul, in his "Willing to Believe," mentioned Arminius's view on regeneration. He wrote, "When Arminius expands on this point, he seems to mean that what is begun in regeneration is continued in the process of life-long sanctification. For example, the divine illumination that occurs at the onset of conversion is a work that continues through the Christian pilgrimage.

"What is jarring here is Arminius's reference to regeneration's not being completed in one moment. Perhaps this is a mere slip of the pen, intended to convey the idea that the fruit of regeneration is ongoing." (pp. 128-129)

I agree with Ben's assessment on the issue of Arminius's view of regeneration. But whether or not we understand Arminius or the Remonstrants rightly, one thing should be obvious: Classical Arminians held to a heavy-weighted view of man's depravity. I would dare say that it is equal to the Calvinist's view, though we may not fully agree as to the particulars of how a sinner comes to believe in Christ (i.e. via regenreation or prevenient grace).

And, both Calvinists and Classical Arminians believe that God's grace is monergistic! No sinner asks for God to grace him. God does so out of His great love for mankind. In the Arminian system (at least this is what Classical Reformed Arminians today are trying to convey) what God does for the sinner (initially monergistically) is to set him free from his bondage to sin by the power of the gospel and the conviction of the Spirit, in order to enable him to have faith in Christ Jesus; and even that faith is a grace-gift.

I know, I know . . . we will not agree on this matter :) But once again, this is a far cry from the semi-Pelagianism that is rampant in America's pulpits. And I think that Calvinists should at least rejoice for the revival of Classical Arminianism which attributes man's salvation to the grace of God alone, and not to any alleged free will of man to choose Christ apart from God's enablement. You may never convince Classical Arminians of Calvinism, but at least they attribute all glory to God for a persons' salvation, eh?

God bless you guys,


Strong Tower said...


One thing that I have challenged is the definition of grace. What I mean by the grace that is salvation is the whole enchilada which include everything from regeneration to perfection.

As to regeneration preceding faith, there are many Scriptures, but the first that comes to my mind is always out of John 3. It says before a man can "see" the kingdom. The word is eido. It is not just the bare visual ability, it is the word from which we get the word idea. It means to comprehend, understand with the mind. Faith, that is, that which is true faith, knows, believes, and trusts. To get to that point Jesus said that one must be re-genesissed, anothen gennao. Which means as is restated in John 17, to be born from above, not of this world. Or, one must begin again, anothen gennao. Regenesis (regeneration) must occur before the understanding and understanding precedes faith. That is what we mean by credo. There is a system of thought, creeds, which we hold as credible. In other words, we trust in what we know, we do not trust in what we do not know and to know we must first be made alive just as Adam was first made alive and then knew the God who had created him.

When linked to John 1 12-13 the necessity that one is born first, then receives is beyond doubt. John 3 further explains that there is no fleshly mediation, but that which is born of Spirit is spirit. All the graces of salvation flow from that source. The flesh profits nothing so that even the faith is a gift. Still, faith is not contained in a void, but the vessel which God has prepared to receive. The vessel is made first then is filled with new wine.

Gordan said...

Hi Billy,

Thank you for the gracious tone of your comments here. I do, in fact, rejoice that you and guys like you take a more Biblical stand on things like Depravity and grace than the modern Semi-Pels.

Though I know my answers to your question above will not convince you, I offer them, such as they are:

1. We would distinguish Regeneration from Justification in terms of defining what they are and how they happen, although most of us would place them at the same moment in time. One precedes the other logically if not temporally. So, while we'd say that the "making alive" and the forgiveness refer to two different events according to their definitions, yet according to their timing they are the same, or so nearly so as to make the timing indistinguishable. So, we'd wind up agreeing with you that the passage encompasses both Regen. and Justif.

2. I think 1 John 5:1 is about as explicit as the Scripture could make it. Maybe not in its English rendering, and maybe not by a surface reading; however, when read with an eye toward the original tenses of the verbs, and comparing the grammatical structure to identical structurings in the same epistle, I really don't see how one escapes the force of its statement that he who believes does so as a result of having been born from above.

3. Though that may not be a sufficient explanation for you about why belief happens, the reverse is more explicit in John 6, and 10, where unbelief is assigned to the sinful nature of the unbelievers, and belief is credited to the previous grace of God.


Strong Tower said...

It would have been better to say, "All those who are believing were born of God. That comports with the Gospel of John. The perfect past tense shows that the ones believing are those who were born. John 1 says the same. Those who received him were those born not of the will of man, but of the will of God.

We generally hear if you will believe you will be born...

The Scripture doesn't say that. As you note, the justification comes in logical order after believing so that we hear Scripture say, if you believe you will be saved. Repeatedly, being saved is confused with regeneration, and though salvation is the entirety of the grace work toward us in Christ, the experiential aspect of understanding, conviction and faith in Christ..., what we might call being saved, is only a portion of the whole.

Nice passage.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Billy:


To others:

I John 5: 1 does not teach that one is born again before receiving and believing on Christ! That is poor exegesis. The verse says that the begetting proceeds the life of faith. See my entry here and here

For a rebuttal of the Hyperist argument of John 3 see my entry here

For a rebuttal of the Hyperist argument on John 1: 10-12, see my entry here

These passages do not teach that one is born again before he believes. To try to make them to teach such is a twist of scripture and not exegesis.



Stephen Garrett said...


That is precede not proceed.


Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Billy:

No one answered your argument on the Colossians 2:13 passage! You tore up their little paradigm ordo salutis and no one could come back and address your argument. The passage is clear!



Strong Tower said...

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule R105 and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Here's the thing Stephen, in your gloating blindness you missed the rest of this verse. Notice when it was that we were forgiven, and when it is that we were made alive in him. It was at the cross, in his burial and in his resurrection. And this answers Billy fully. We are justified through faith, indeed. But as you always do, you reduce faith to a mere act of man when in fact it is all that Christ has done for us. That happened in his passion. We were justified, that is accounted righteous in Christ at the cross, it is applied in time when we place that faith accomplished on the cross in him. No destruction of the ordo here. Every perfection, including taking away the penalty of sin, that is death which establishes the ground of our regeneration, was accomplished at the cross.

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Stephen, you said: "1 John 5:1 does not teach that one is born again before receiving and believing on Christ!"

But the Scripture says you're a liar. The passage says: And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Remember John 3 says that one must be born again before he can understand the kingdom.

Together with these we are taught that we have been given the Spirit to be able to understand. Now God does not put his Spirit into uncleanness, remember the parable of the wine skin? It is a new nature that is required, a new man, Paul instructed. And so did Jesus.

So, yes 1 John 5:1 does teach that a person must be regenerated before he can understand, and understanding is required for faith. No one who does not know God loves him and those who love him do so because they are his children, begotten of him, not the preached word.

I know, you think that God will accept your confession from your filthy heart because your corrupt mind has accepted what you think you understand. Go ahead and believe that if you must. Just know that you are making God one with a whore.

You said in one of your pieces: "One who is living the life of faith and the life of righteousness, is one who has been born of God. John is not divorcing, as brother Ross has shown, faith and being active, from the experience of being born of God. The only reason why "believing" and "practicing righteousness" are not in the past tense, like the begetting, is because John wants to focus on the life of the believer, not on the initial act of faith."

This actually doesn't indicate that the believing ones were those who were born, at all, in both the first and second use of born, it is the Son who is the referent. So it says, the ones believing that Jesus the Christ was born of God are loving the Father and His Son. This goes along with John's speaking of the deniers of Christ come in the flesh. And White says that too, but includes the fact that one believing started his believing in the past. Now how is that that one believes in Christ as the Son except that the knowledge of that was in him to begin with. The point being, that as John says, only one who has the Spirit testifies that Jesus has come in the flesh. Then, one must receive the Spirit, but we know that John said in his Gospel that no one received him except those who were born of God, John 1:12-13.

So the complete thought out of John 1 cf John 3 is here. One must be born again before he understands, before he can believe and trust into Christ. Indeed, one must be made a new man before he can testify to Jesus come in the flesh.

Have you been? Some how your arguing that God will let you testify to his Son as joined to a you, a harlot, doesn't really seem to fit the texts at all.

Mitch said...

Strong Tower,

To use another’s comment-

No one answered your argument on the Colossians 2:13 passage! You tore up their little paradigm ordo salutis and no one could come back and address your argument. The passage is clear!

Grace & Peace

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear ST & Mitch:

I do not respond to people who make verbal attacks and who cannot discuss things civilly.

So, you can read all you want into my silence, but the fact is, I chose not to respond for that reason. Also, you did not refute what Billy had said.

For a rebuttal of your false exegesus of I John 5: 1, see here

Also, see my entry for today wherein I cite Gill on the passage in Colossians 2:13.



Strong Tower said...

Actually, it did expose error in Billy's understanding, and actually, I did read your piece. And it did not prove what you assert.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot attack and then shelter yourself under the guise of personal offense. If your doctrine, as you say, fits, wear it. But to whine that you have been attacked personally... I would suggest you have someone read your writting to you. It is a old technique for discovering voice. You should try it.

Anonymous said...


I didn't respond because I disagree with his findings, as he foretold that I would. I chose rather to keep peace between us because I respect these guys. I do not think that we will benefit in arguing over each other's "misinterpretations." :)

The Bible instructs us to build one another up, not tear each other down by constant bickering over the particulars of which comes first: regeneration or faith.

Realizing that some people enjoy a good fight rather than edification (due to depravity, no doubt), I chose to remain silent.

God bless,


Mitch said...

I just found it amusing that silence was taken as a sign of victory by Stephen. I fail to see how Colossians 2:13 speaks to the order of salutis, I think the NIV starts a new sentence with the second part of verse 13. All we are told is that we were raised at one time in the past and we were forgiven at one time in the past. Which came first is till open for debate:)

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. NIV Colossians 2:13,14

Grace & Peace

Anonymous said...


Fair enough. However, I do believe that the NIV is in error, since the Greek form also reads "having been forgiven" as stated in the ESV, NASB, NKJV, and KJV.

It seems to me, and that's why I asked these guys their opinion, that if a person is forgiven/justified before having been born again, then faith precedes regeneration, since a person can only be justified/forgiven by faith in Christ.

Nonetheless, we'll disagree over this 'til Jesus comes and delivers us from our errors :) Notice I said "our" errors and not "your" errors :) I'm a nice Arminian.


Alex said...

This entire post and discussion is great. It helps to know I'm not alone.



J.C. Thibodaux said...


I think you're a little loose with your words there. The core distinctive idea of Pelagianism involves coming to faith apart from grace, not regeneration coming after faith (and it was for that very concept that was condemned). Holding a coincidental likeness in doctrine doesn't associate two people. Pelagius also believed that Christ was literally crucified and died, such doesn't imply that anyone who holds that belief in common with him is part Pelagian.

What this means is that when synergists of any stripe...argue against regeneration-before-faith...they are denying the doctrine of Total Depravity...and are siding with teaching of Pelagius.

I would have to strongly disagree, prevenient grace nicely reconciles both TD and regeneration following faith, and makes grace-based Synergism completely at odds with Pelagianism and its variants.

...but we can certainly render the verdict that it is a different gospel, and thus anathema (Galatians 1.)

I think statements like that are exactly why the SBC is rallying against Calvinism, and it's hard to blame them. If you say that, "Any person/church/denomination disagreeing with my view of ordo salutis is teaching a different gospel," then of course other Christians are going to want to make sure that your teachings are nipped in the bud. Such a view of what constitutes the gospel cannot be backed scripturally nor logically. Do you honestly believe that someone who trusts in Christ's death and resurrection for his salvation, and believes He will one day return to raise the righteous to glory, yet believes that he was born again through faith by grace rather than being born again to faith believes a false gospel? Where do we stop? Are we to consider Lutherans to be teachers of a false gospel because they believe that regeneration necessarily accompanies and occurs through baptism? I think it's incorrect as well (plus I believe in immersion), but I don't question their place as children of God because of it. Being completely frank, the whole, "if you oppose my views on when regeneration occurs, then you're anathema" sounds cultic.

When Monergists try to raise the stakes with the assertion that only they have the true gospel, everyone else is seriously defective (and possibly not saved), the church as a whole recognizes the unscriptural and historically inviable implications of such a teaching, as well as the divisive and unchristian spirit it brings with it. Such beliefs and talk closes all lines of communication, and provokes extreme and sometimes unjust reactions like Rhett and Fred experienced.

Gordan said...

Joshua, I'm sorry that my words struck you in that fashion. (Offensively, I mean.) But I didn't claim that Arminianism is a different Gospel; in fact, I asserted that classic Arminians would not recognize the mainstream pseudo-gospel of the SBC as any gospel at all. Or, I tried to say that, anyway.

The point of the post is that the "ordo" that is being presented within rank-and-file churches in the SBC is a strange animal, from the standpoint of both classic, Protestant camps. It is a "gospel" that would not have been recognized as such except by the occasional heretic in church history.

I spent a lot of words reviewing Frank Page's book here, for instance. And where he deviates from both Calvinism and Arminianism, it is clearly in the direction of Pelagianism, if we're confining ourselves to the historic categories.

I understand you personally to believe in radical Depravity, such that a man needs a previous work of grace in order to understand the gospel. Therefore, the strong criticism I've leveled above is not directed at you, at least I didn't think so.

I am not here saying, My way or the highway. I haven't condemned Arminians as anathema, and they certainly disagree with my "ordo." I condemn the gospel of Jerry Vines and Frank Page as a false version of the true.

This is not to argue that I have been as "tight" with my wording as I could've possibly been, though. I mess that sort of thing up a lot.

It's funny that in a post in which I took pains to read Arminian literature, and even to commend it, and kind of count them on my side, that I still get this sort of "you arrogant monergist" criticism.

J.C. Thibodaux said...


I think I see what you're getting at. I was under the impression that you were stating that anyone who believes in/teaches that the new birth comes through faith (even if he holds that faith comes only by grace) was a Pelagian. For the record, you've never struck me as an arrogant person at all, which is all the more why I was so surprised at what I read initially. Please accept my apologies for the misinterpretation.

Gordan said...

No worries. Normally in a situation like this, it's the writer who's at fault for not being clear. Probably is here, too.

For the record, I am very prideful. If I've managed not to strike you that way so far, all glory to God, for helping me tone it down when I write.