Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Some thoughts on Regeneration Before Faith (or vice-versa)

Our church just underwent a mini-crisis regarding whether the church's official position is rbf or not. I had previously shared my own journey from fbr to rbf, "kicking and screaming."

(Note: rbf = Regeneration before faith; fbr = Faith before regeneration)

What is clear is that there are two camps, both composed of brothers and sisters who are serious about their faith and service. How do our respective positions affect our service and devotion? In what ways will they differ? Both sides suspect the others' views will theoretically prove detrimental, no matter how slightly, but in reality I expect we will serve and worship in almost exactly the same way. rfbs will think that bfrs may not care about evangelism as much as they, but this is not the case; and bfrs may think that fbrs have a lower view of God's sovereignty, but I very much doubt that this is ever in their minds.

The best resolution of this issue is for those who hold this issue to be so important to, as Pastor ___ suggests, get together to study the Scriptures, with the appropriate study helps. I hope this will happen sometime in the future. I can understand some apprehension about being "dominated" by our fearsome pastors, but we have nothing to fear from trying to understand and discern the Scriptures for ourselves with the benefits of scholarship. I am sure we have enough knife-fighters and martial artists to maintain order. (inside joke)

I received a couple of comments yesterday to the effect of "Oh, you're a Calvinist." However, as Pastor ___ described his own position, mine is due to a study of the Scriptures only, trying to see how the Scriptures cited by both sides can be made into a coherent whole. (I had read R.C. Sproul's book about election and TULIP some years ago, but I would be hard pressed to remember it; and, in any case, after reading it, I had the same objections to his presentation as do the fbrs.)

My intent in adopting fbr was honorable enough; I thought that rbf could lead, theoretically, to a kind of spiritual apathy. If God has chosen, why do we need to do anything? And I was defending God against charges of being cruel or arbitrary or unfair, charges which arose when considering rbf. I could interpret or explain away many passages that seemed to support rbf. "Dead in trespasses and sins" didn't convince me; could just be a metaphor. Paul could just as well have written, "choking in trespasses and sins ... drowning in trespasses and sins ..." However, I could not harmonize my view with some very significant passages. "You did not choose me, but I chose you ..." (Not to mention a whole chapter, Romans 9).

The weight of the Scripture began to erode my view. Finally it seemed that I was upholding fbr only because of the supposed implications of fbr, rather than the Scriptures. Could it be that I was wrong, then, about those implications? (Maybe.) Could the reality actually be (far) more complex than that? (Yes.) Does the hawk take flight by my wisdom and spread his wings toward the south? (No.)

With you, it may begin or end simply with this choice: which has more priority, my human experience and objections and reasons, or God's revelation? I can't rationally explain Creation or the Trinity or the Incarnation, but I believe them, not because of one or two cryptic verses, but because of the combined weight of Scripture. What, then, about rbf?

There was also a huge problem, in my mind, with grace. The Scripture says, repeatedly, that there is no reason whatsoever for us to boast about being saved. But why did I choose Christ, and that other person not choose Christ? Was I smarter, more childlike, more honest about myself, more open to the truth, more humble? If so, I was saved because I was, in some teeny, tiny way - better. And if so, there was some reason to boast - not that I would, of course, nor would any of us. But still, there it was - a reason to boast. Salvation by merit. Teeny, tiny merit, but merit nevertheless.

Unless even that faith was from God. (Eph 2:8-9)

As my original view slowly gave way, my mind still resisted the conclusions and implications. As I examined the basis of my objections, I saw that it was my view of God which led to the implications which made rbf seem arbitrary and fatalistic. Or, to put it another way, when I was saying that rbf was arbitrary and unfair, I was really saying God was arbitrary and unfair. I had to ask myself, "Does God do things that don't make sense?" No. "Does God elect or not elect people willy-nilly, by throwing dice?" No. "Does God will for as many to be saved as is possible?" Yes. Once I started from the certainty that God is not arbitrary but is loving and merciful and wise beyond my understanding, my objections began to fade.

Now allow me to say this: the mystery is that our experience seems fbr. We never knew when or how God started his work in us. As far as we were concerned, our choice was freely made. And all our other choices are, in our experience, free. As I mentioned, human experience does not negate the Scripture, but the juxtaposition of the two - regeneration and real choice - does magnify my awe of God and the subtlety of his ways, which are truly higher than ours.

Lastly, I talked with a fbr-er (you know who you are!) before the meeting, and he mentioned that it was interesting that my "journey" to rbf was so arduous, and that I was dragged into it "kicking and screaming" showed that it's a hard thing to accept. Well, it was hard for me, but I know many kinder and gentler souls for whom it was easier. But at the end of the conversation, I'm sure we both knew that we were both still nuts, but still brothers.