Mar 16, 2009

Duncan on Regeneration I

In a famous debate by Hardshell apologist, Elder John R. Daily, this elder cited from a section of John Gill's "Body of Divinity" wherein Elder Daily attempted to show that John Gill held that one was regenerated before faith and apart from gospel means. Elder Daily had agreed with Elder Throgmorton that John Gill clearly believed in means in regneration in his "Commentaries," but he maintained that Dr. Gill had "changed his mind" by the time he wrote his later works and thus wrote against the "means" position at that time. I showed in my series on "Gill and the Hardshells" that this was a falsehood and that Daily had misread and misinterpreted the comments of Gill in his "Body of Divinity."

See here

And here

When Elder Daily quoted the part he wanted, while dishonestly omitting other pertinent parts, he made this statement - "Seems like John Gill put his studying cap on here."

What is interesting about this statement is that it was also made by another Hyper Calvinist in our time, by Ligon Duncan, when he introduced his remarks on regeneration preceding faith.

In "UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES Which Came First? Faith or Regeneration," from July 20, 2005, Duncan said:

"Put on your thinking caps! Let me ask you a question. What do you think: must a person believe in order to be born again, or must one be born again in order to believe? To restate the question in theological terms, does faith precede regeneration, or does regeneration precede faith? To put it even more precisely, is faith the activity of a regenerated heart, or is it the activity by which we receive regeneration?"

(Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III - "UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES Which Came First? Faith or Regeneration," July 20, 2005)

See here

It is obvious that both Daily and Duncan believe that it takes superb intelligence to be able to grasp the concept of regeneration (new birth) preceding faith. Those who put on their "thinking caps" are the Hyper Calvinists while those who reject the "born again before faith" error are those who have failed to put on their "thinking caps"!

This is ironical, prideful, and arrogant. It is ironic because it is the Hyper Calvinist who teaches that it is not natural intelligence that enables one to understand spiritual truth, but revelation through the word and Spirit of God. This is the kind of statement that one would expect from those who think they are superior in intelligence and in their knowledge of biblical truth, and from "hair-splitting theologians" who seek to be wise above that which is written. It smacks of "elitism." This is the kind of statement that one would expect from those who can only find their doctrine by "logical deductions" rather than from express statement of scripture. Of course, most of the time their premises or conclusions are incorrect.

Notice also how Duncan uses words like "precede" in his attempts to separate faith from regeneration. This too is ironic because it is men like Duncan who will insist that they do not believe in any "chronological" order to faith and regeneration, only a "logical" order. But, clearly, this is not the case, for such men truly believe in a chronological order.

Duncan writes:

"Now, why, some of you may be wondering, would anyone want to ask such an abstract, impractical, and frankly, boring question? Well, I trust that I can offer a convincing reply. Indeed, there are at least three reasons why this is an issue of the utmost importance for faithful Christians to understand, and about which we ought to have a biblical view."

This is standard Hyperistic "spin." They promote this "question"! They are the ones who "raise" it regularly and incessantly! They insist that understanding and accepting their man-made "ordo salutis" is the question of questions! To them the whole gospel rests upon this question! To them, if one does not put regeneration and salvation before faith, then he is unsound in the gospel or not preaching the gospel at all.

Duncan continues:

"To begin with, this issue involves the heart of the good news and the grace of God. One’s answer to this question necessarily reflects one’s understanding of the whole of the gospel message. For instance, if you say that belief must precede the new birth, then you must also say (1) that all men are not really spiritually dead before regeneration; (2) that saving faith is not a gift of God; (3) that the natural man does accept the things of the Spirit; (4) that an unbeliever can believe at any time by his own power, apart from God’s regeneration; and, (5) that men can come to Christ without the Father drawing them."

Are these five consequences true logical deductions, reductio ad absurdum, of those who put faith before regeneration?

The scriptures do put faith before salvation, including rebirth. This does not mean that there is any gap in time between faith and the new birth. As soon as one believes, he is born again. And, we can say the same thing in the reverse. As soon as one is born again, he believes. Still, when two things are mentioned, one must be put first and the scriptures more often than not put faith before salvation, including regeneration.

According to Duncan, the great Calvinist theologians, such as John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Jonathan Edwards, Archibald Alexander, John Gill, Abraham Booth, Charles Spurgeon, etc., men who did not put the new birth prior to faith, were men who did not understand the basic gospel! Were men who were guilty of the five consequences listed by Duncan? Duncan says John Calvin and Martin Luther, because they did not put the new birth before faith, did not believe men were spiritually dead prior to faith and regeneration! Were men who did not believe faith was a gift of God! Were men who believed that the natural man received the things of the Spirit and could believe at any time they choose! Were men who believed that sinners could come to Christ without being first drawn!

Does putting faith before regeneration cause one to logically deny that sinners are spiritually dead? I have dealt with this accusation before.

See here

But such an argument wrongly assumes that unbelief (or the absence of faith) is not an essential part of spiritual death. Likewise, it wrongly assumes that belief (or faith) is not an essential part of spiritual life.

Also, how does putting faith before renovation of soul make faith to be other than a gift from God? Surely Duncan can prove his assertions rather than just merely asserting them. Why does he limit God in his power and methods, in his modus operandi? Is God not able to give faith when he regenerates? Can he not make a person a believer and in doing so regenerate him? Besides, where is the passage that puts salvation before faith? Is not salvation uniformly put after faith? Oh yes, I know, Hyper Calvinists, like Duncan, will say that one is regenerated before faith but saved after faith, as if to imply that a man is not saved when he is regenerated. This is both confusing and unscriptural. The scriptures most often used the word "saved" for what occurs after one believes. But, the Hyperist cannot say that this salvation is regeneration or the new birth, for this would destroy his "gospel"!

When Paul spoke of God giving faith, by irresistable power, in Ephesians 1: 19, he equated this experience with being "quickened" from spiritual death. (Eph. 2: 1) He gives faith to the dead sinner and this giving of faith is the essence of the new life. But, according to Duncan and the Hyper Calvinist, he does not give faith to the dead sinner, but gives faith to the spiritually alive sinner. But, this is completely out of line with the scripture statements. It is the "dead" who both "hear" and "believe" and are alive because of it.

Duncan says that if we believe God gives faith to the spiritually dead, by which they live, is to believe that the "natural man receives the things of the Spirit." But, as I have pointed out, in the above linked posting, the Hyper Calvinist himself also believes, in some sense, that God gives a "thing of the Spirit," yea "life" itself, to the dead sinner, or natural man! So, his argument, if it proves anything, proves too much. It makes it impossible even for God to give life (a thing of the Spirit) to the dead sinner! By this kind of "logic" a sinner must be alive before he can receive life (a thing of the Spirit)!

Also, it is not a case that those Calvinists who put faith before regeneration, teach that the dead sinner can believe at any time he chooses! Duncan must demonstrate how this is so. His mere asserting it proves nothing. Certainly the Father must draw the sinner before he is spiritually resurrected! But, this drawing, in itself, is not regeneration. If if is, then people may be said to be drawn who have not come to Christ. But, the coming to Christ is believing and receiving him, and this is indeed the result of the drawing of the Spirit through the word. Duncan's system has a man who is "drawn," and spiritually "alive" or quickened, but who has not come to Christ! Yet, Jesus taught that spiritual life is the result or effect of "coming" to Christ. He said, in John 5: 40, that men come to him for "life." Thus, Duncan is wrong. He would reinterpret this passage to say - "you will not have life that you might come unto me." Or, "you must have life before you can come to me." But, this is not what he said. As long as John 5: 40 is in the Bible, the Hyper Calvinist will not be able to put life before coming to Christ.

Duncan continues:

"Now, these are serious contentions, to say the least. Moreover, there is a real danger of losing sight of vital biblical truth in our generation if we do not come to grips with this question. Two of the great emphases bequeathed to evangelical Christians from the sixteenth century reformers by our Lutheran and Calvinist forebears, in their Herculean labor to recover the biblical gospel, are the inability of man and the sovereign grace of God in salvation. These biblical doctrines are compromised by the assertion that faith precedes regeneration."

And what is Duncan trying to do? Is he not trying to be a "reformer" himself? Is he not trying to "refine" the teachings of Luther and Calvin? He apparently doesn't believe that Calvin or Luther went far enough. This is what I hear from Hyperists all the time. They claim to be the refiners of what these first reformers taught! He is wiser than they! He is the corrector of these men! What pride and arrogance!

It is underhanded for Duncan to use the names of Luther and Calvin in such a manner as to leave the impression that these men agreed with him and the Hyperists in putting regeneration before faith. They are really inconsistent and contradictory on this matter. In one breath they will claim agreement with Luther and Calvin on the "ordo salutis," and then, in the other breath, say that they are improving and refining their views! They will in one breath say that these men were in agreement with them, and then say, in the other breath, that these men did not distinguish between regeneration and conversion!

Duncan accuses Luther and Calvin of compromising Biblical truth, yea, the gospel itself, by their putting of faith before regeneration! By Duncan's judgment, these men were in great error, and denied the gospel, all because they did not put regeneration before faith!

Duncan is a Presbyterian and it is ironic that he goes against the great Calvinist leaders of his own denomination! Not only Calvin, but also men like Jonathan Edwards and Archibald Alexander, did not put regeneration before faith, and are thus guilty of denying the heart of the gospel!

Duncan continues:

"Finally, far from being an abstract or impractical question, this question has direct impact on matters of daily Christian living, like assurance of salvation and an understanding of the magnitude of God’s grace."

Duncan here states that those who put regeneration before faith have greater assurance of salvation and a better understanding of the "magnitude of God's grace." But, again, he merely asserts this without the least shred of evidence from the scriptures to support it. If God's grace is the cause of a man coming to faith and of his regeneration, then how does this lesson understanding of God's grace? How does a belief in regeneration preceding faith increase one's assurance? Is it not a fact that the Hyper Calvinists have historically been those who lacked assurance? Who continuously were "looking within" themselves for evidences rather than to Christ? Is it they who sing - "tis a point I long to know, am I his or am I not"?

Duncan writes:

"Now these two very different sorts of questions are connected to a proper understanding of the relationship between regeneration (the new birth) and faith.

A biblical view of this issue will, on the one hand, aid this woman in her search for assurance, and on the other hand lead the student to a deeper appreciation of how far God goes to save helpless sinners."

How does Duncan know that those who put regeneration before faith have greater assurance? Assurance of salvation does not come from a correct understanding of the relationship between faith and regeneration but comes from trusting in Christ. Are those Hyperists who put regeneration before faith in possession of greater trust in Christ?

A "biblical view of this issue"? If Duncan and the Hyperists really wanted to get the "biblical view" of this matter, all they have to do is to recall John 5: 40! That passage says "life" comes after one has believed in Christ, after they have "come" to him.

Duncan writes:

"There are many well-meaning evangelicals today who are quite adamant in their assertion that faith precedes regeneration, and it would not be difficult to multiply examples. For instance, one theologian recently insisted that God cannot (and, to say the same thing, God will not) regenerate a heart that will not admit him. More often, though, we hear it put positively: any person who is willing to trust in Christ as his personal Savior and Lord can receive the new birth."

Duncan here is truly ironic, if not hypocritical. It is laughable, that he, as a Hyperist, speaks of his counterparts, those who do not put regeneration before faith, be he a true Calvinist or Classical Arminian, as they who are "quite adamant in their assertion that faith precedes regeneration." I dare say that he and his Hyper Calvinist associates, such as those who participated with him in the T4G conference, far outdo his counterparts in their being "adamant" about regeneration preceding faith! It is Duncan and the Hyperist who say that getting the "ordo salutis" correct is the heart of the gospel! Also, it is the Hyperist view that may best be described as "assertion," not the classical view.

Secondly, notice how Duncan shows the tendency of Hyper Calvinism, its "killing" or "chilling" effects for evangelism to the lost. They dislike gospel invitations, or at least any that calls upon the dead alien sinner to believe, repent, or to be born again. Again, Duncan and the Hyperists will not call upon the lost to come to Christ for life and new birth! Why do they decry this kind of invitation so much? Do they want us to give invitations in the same manner as the Hardshells? Who only call upon those who are already saved to believe and repent? Who say it is unscriptural to call upon men to be born again?

What about the sinner "admitting" Christ into their hearts and minds? Is there not scripture for this? Is it Duncan's position that it is wrong to do this? Is he saying that only the already regenerated should have this kind of invitation? It seems to me that Revelation 3: 20 clearly demonstrates that it is acceptable to call upon sinners to open the door of their hearts to the Lord as he knocks. Is it the view of Duncan, as it is that of the Hardshells, that Revelation 3: 20 is only an invitation to the already born again?

Does not Duncan believe, like historical Calvinism teaches, that "thy people will be willing in the day of his power"? That the elect are made willing to receive Christ in regeneration?

Duncan writes:

Now behind these positions lie three presuppositions:

First, that the natural man is not spiritually dead in sin. Though he is at enmity with God and a slave to sin, and morally and spiritually blind, this view says he is not so dead in sin that he cannot believe in God for salvation. That is, this view says that all men are capable of ordinary initial saving faith, and they do not need to be regenerated to exercise it."

I must say that this is not good debate. It is generally a practice in gentlemanly and Christian debate, not to charge your opponent with believing a proposition which he does not avow, and in fact denies. If one believes that an opponent's views on a particular passage or doctrine involves certain logical consequences that makes his opponent to deny what he affirms, then he may so say. But, this is quite different from saying that the person actually believes it. I see this uncharitable action very often in the ongoing internet discussions between Arminians and Calvinists, with the Hyper Calvinists being the worst of the lot.

Duncan here repeats what he said earlier about the five supposed consequences of putting faith before regeneration. It is misrepresentation and does not properly represent those who put faith before regeneration, at least among historic Calvinists and classical Arminians.

No, one can believe, consistently, as Luther, Calvin, Edwards, etc., that one is born again by faith through the power of the Spirit and word of God, and still believe in total depravity and that faith is a gracious gift.

Duncan writes:

"But however pious or well-intentioned are such views, they are actually dangerous to the believer’s spiritual life, first and foremost because they distort and contradict clear biblical teaching, and they place human reason over the expressed teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, a faith before regeneration view entails certain unavoidable consequences."

A belief that faith precedes regeneration is "dangerous to the believer's spiritual life"? How so? I rather believe it is the Hyperist view, one that insists that faith must come after regeneration, and that regeneration occurs apart from the means of the gospel, is the more "dangerous" view. Certainly it is the Hyperist view of Duncan that has more often killed evangelism. Since when did the view that faith, through the gospel, ever kill evangelism?

As far as which view "distorts" the "clear biblical teaching" on the subject, I find that it is the Hyperist view of Duncan that "distorts" the biblical teaching. Does salvation and life not come, consistently in scripture, after hearing and believing the gospel?

I find more irony in Duncan's remarks in that he accuses those who believe in the means of faith, and that, in scripture, faith precedes life and salvation, of "placing human reason over the express teaching of scriptures." Anyone who is familiar with the writings of the Hardshells and other Hyperists will laugh at this accusation of Duncan, for it is they who attempt to prove their born again before faith error by the use of human "logic" and not from any clear express statements of scripture. They cite no verses that clearly say men are born again before faith, but the other side cites many. Again, John 5: 40 is quite clear. "Life" is the result of coming to Christ.

Duncan writes:

"First, it robs glory from God by teaching that the ultimate ground of our salvation, that which distinguishes us from the lost, is our unaided free choice rather than the grace of God. It tends to build up the pride of a converted sinner: “I chose God,” someone will boast, “and was reborn as the result.” In other words, God loved me savingly, but only in response to what I did. I chose God; the unconverted person did not; and, hence, my choice is the difference between us. God could not save me without my unaided choice of Him.”

Now, I can appreciate, to some degree, being a Calvinist, Duncan's fight against Armininism, especially in its Pelagian form. However, the words of Duncan indicts the greatest leaders among the Calvinist ranks! It indicts the great men of his own Presbyterian denomination! Will he charge these supposed consequences upon John Calvin? Upon Jonathan Edwards? Upon Archibald Alexander? What arrogance to charge these men with such consequences for their not believing his born again before faith error!

Did Jesus put the "ultimate basis of salvation" upon the sinner in John 5: 40, because he put coming to him in faith before receiving spiritual life? Did the great named Calvinists above boast about their faith because they put it before salvation? Bunk! Instead of these brethren, like Duncan, attempting to "refine" the views of these men, they ought to "reform" back to their views!

Duncan wrote:

"And thirdly, it robs assurance from the believer. He or she begins to question the first motions of the heart towards God: were they really sincere, or flawed? Did I have enough faith? Was it misdirected? How can I know that my initial faith was good enough to warrant regeneration?"

This has already been addressed as it is a recap of what he said earlier in his article. But, here he is a little more detailed. Did Duncan show us how putting faith after regeneration cured all this? I am one who used to believe as Duncan, but now I do not. From my own experience, I have not found any difference in my degree of assurance based upon my understanding of the "ordo salutis." Rather, I find assurance connected with obedience.

Duncan writes:

"Now, whatever the current popular view is, God’s word clearly teaches that regeneration is prior to faith, not that the new birth takes place apart in time from the exercise of faith in Christ; no, that’s not what we’re saying. Those things come together in time. Theologians would say they are concomitant: faith always accompanies regeneration, but regeneration is prior to faith in production; that is, a sinner believes in Christ because God has regenerated him, not vice versa."

If regeneration and faith always come together, then why all the hubbub from Duncan against those who say faith precedes? Why insist that faith follows regeneration and then, at the same time, insist that it doesn't? If regeneration doesn't exist without faith, then why decry calling men to faith and to regeneration?

Actually what Duncan and the Hyperists do is to say that regeneration produces faith, but say also that faith produces salvation and justification, and thus leave most minds confused. Duncan creates a character who is born again, but who has not yet believed or been saved and justified. One is born again before faith but saved after faith, as though being born again is not being saved.

Duncan wrote:

"The reasons for this are simple and biblical.

First, the Bible teaches that all men are spiritually dead and thus unable to believe. All are under sin and none has the fear of God. In fact, there is no one who seeks God. Romans 8:7, 8 makes very clear the spiritual condition of man before regeneration: those who are in the flesh are hostile towards God, cannot please God, and are not even able to obey the law of God. Jesus Himself insists that men are slaves to sin.

Furthermore, Paul and Jesus both tell us that the natural man cannot see or understand spiritual things. This is why Paul describes the unregenerate as “dead in trespasses and sin”; not simply under condemnation for sin, but unwilling and unable to change. Such persons are in no shape to exercise saving faith."

I have already written against this kind of argumentation on "total depravity," and addressed the passages mentioned by Duncan, showing that those passages do not teach that one is born again before faith.

See here

Duncan wrote:

Second, the Bible teaches that regeneration is the work of God. The work of God can change our hearts and release us from spiritual bondage."

Who denies that regeneration is the work of God? Did Calvin, Edwards, and Alexander, deny it because they did not put the new birth before faith? According to Duncan, such men denied that regeneration is the work of God.

Duncan defines regeneration as being a work that "changes our hearts," yet he seems not to want to see this change of heart as involving a change of belief!

In our next article I will finish this review of Duncan.

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