Friday, April 25, 2008

The New Birth

I have had many different disagreements with many different people during my stay here in cyberspace. But I am often asked why I accuse some men, like Bill Hybells, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen of heresy while never mentioning men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul. Simple, these later men have the gospel right. While we are all fallible human beings prone to error as I believe Piper, MacArthur, and Sproul are in some areas, they have the gospel right. I think Piper and MacArthur are wrong on baptism, for example. And I believe Sproul's approach to apologetics is seriously flawed, but they have the gospel right.

The dismal state of the church is due to one major flaw in my mind. There is one point of doctrine with a subtle shift at the foundation makes for major heresy when put into action. It completely changes the way one looks at evangelism. It manifests dangerously in how worship is conceived of. It shifts the focus of the gospel away from God and onto man. It makes for a man-centered gospel instead of a God-centered gospel. What is this point you ask? It is the relationship of regeneration to faith. You see regeneration precedes faith. You can not do anything until God does His work. You can not believe until God changes your nature. You can not exercise your faith until God gives you the new birth. You can not repent until God makes you who were dead alive.

If we twist this just ever so slightly and start to preach faith precedes regeneration the consequences are devastating. If we have to exercise our faith, if we have the ability to resist God's call, if Christ did the same work for everyone, then salvation belongs entirely to man. If the only difference between you, who are saved, and your neighbor, who is lost, is your choice, then you have something to boast about and God is no longer omnipotent.

Regeneration precedes faith is crucial to the true gospel of God. I am going to put up a couple of quotes now, one from John MacArthur and one from John Piper. I wll include links to the entire transcript of each so you may read them in context if you so choose.

First from John Piper:
"Now we are in a position to answer our original question about the relationship between regeneration, faith in Christ, and loving people. Here’s what we can say and why it’s so important.
The New Birth Is the Cause of Faith

We can say, first, that regeneration is the cause of faith. That’s plain in 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes [that is, has faith] that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” Having been born of God results in our believing. Our believing is the immediate evidence of God’s begetting.
Loving People Is the Fruit of Faith

Second, we can say that loving people is the fruit of this faith. That’s the way John argues in verse 4: The victory that overcomes the world—that is, that overcomes the obstacles to loving others—is our faith.
The Order: New Birth, Faith, Love

So in the order of causation we have: 1) new birth, 2) faith in Jesus, and 3) the doing of God’s commandments without a sense of burdensomeness, namely, loving others. God causes the new birth. The new birth is the creation of new life that sees Christ for who he is and receives him, and that receiving severs the roots of the cravings of the world and sets us free to love."
From the sermon titled: "Regeneration, Faith, Love: In That Order"

Now from John MacArthur:
"And so, in all these passages you have a picture of the condition of the sinner who is spiritually dead, spiritually incapacitated, spiritually ignorant, cannot understand, cannot examine, cannot apprehend. And in that condition one asks the question, how does this sinner respond to a call from God, a saving call, an unyielding summons, a supernatural subpoena? How does he respond to this irresistible power grace, this drawing of the fire? What faculty is there to cause him to respond? How can he repent and believe and embrace, since he is dead and ignorant and helpless like a corpse?

And that question leads us to the simple answer of regeneration. There will be no response unless the sinner is supernaturally given life because the call of God is a call to life, but there must be enough life to respond to that call. It's a call to faith. It's a call to salvation. But there must be a faculty to react. And so the doctrine of regeneration, the teaching in the Bible of regeneration says that God gives to His elect life so they can respond to the call, the effectual call, the power grace, the Father's drawing."
And again:
"To believe that the sinner has the ability in himself to respond to the gospel is to believe a lie. Everything that is good, and everything that is perfect is from above, anothen. It's the same word that's used, by the way, in John 3, you must be born from above, anothen."
Taken from the sermon: "The Doctrine of Regeneration, Part 1"

John MacArthur says if you believe faith precedes regeneration you believe a lie. These are strong words but I think this doctrine needs to be defended with strong words. Many saved men are propogating this error that began with Pelagius, sent down to us through John Wesley, Charles Finney, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and out into the future. Surely you can see how this snowball effect has devastating consequences for our Lord's Church. It leads to a man-centered gospel in which we must always be trying to appeal to the masses, we must be seeker-sensitive, emergent or emerging. We must go into the community and see what would attract people to our churches.

No, we must get back to a God-centered gospel, a Christ-centered gospel. God has told us how to do church and to evangelize. The gospel, says the Lord, is the power unto salvation! So we need sound historical-redemptive preaching of the word. When the preacher steps into the pulpit and proclaims the word of God by exposition of the scriptures he truly is a prophet of God, one who speaks Gods words to the people. That is the mission I am about to embark on and I will never compromise to the culture or sway with the wind. I will proclaim Christ and Him crucified until He calls me home.


Rhea said...


I'm not completely sure that I agree with you in that if faith proceeds regeneration, it makes it a "man-centered" Gospel, BUT, I do think that it might make it easier/more likely for that to happen. I don't know that I have a very strong view/opinion on this, as it isn't something that I've honestly thought about a lot.

At this moment in my life, I wouldn't call myself Arminian in my theology, but I wouldn't call myself Reformed either...I'm still "feeling both out" to a certain degree. At the moment, I feel more comfortable calling myself "Reformed-esque" as at this moment, I don't feel like I know enough about reformed theology AND, what wI do know, I'm not 100% sure that I completely embrace yet.

Anyway....all that way just to let you know where I am "theologically" in my spiritiual walk. I definitely have MAJOR issues with Joel Osteen, but I feel that EVERY Christian should. I know VERY LITTLE about Bill Hybels to say anything either way about him, and as for Rick Warren....sometimes he says something, and I'm like "yes! right on!" and then other times he says (or does something) and I'm like...."did that come out of the same guy's mouth that last week said __________?" The Bible is clear that teacher's are to be held to a higher standard, and sometimes I wonder if people like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen realise that?

Coram Deo said...

Great post Alan!

I did come away with one particular question however; when you said I think Piper and MacArthur are wrong on baptism, for example., what did you mean?

You may have already addressed this issue elsewhere on your blog and if so you can simply point me there so I can read your position for myself.

In Christ,

Coram Deo said...

Hi rhea,

Not to hijack Alan's post, but you can identify your current theology (at this moment) by asking yourself a simple question about your present belief on the method whereby man is saved; in other words your soteriology can help define your theology.

The question goes something like this: Does sinful man have the capacity/ability within himself to place saving faith in Jesus Christ apart from his prior regeneration (new birth)?

This is a simple "yes or no" type question and will reveal a host of helpful things about your worldview.

It will show, for example, if you are monergistic or synergistic in your view of salvation; it will reveal if you are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian; it will demonstrate your high/low view of sinful man and a holy God; and finally it will color much of the rest of your theological worldview since soteriology tends to be the touchstone for all subsequent doctrine as it proceeds directly from the Eternal Gospel.

In Christ,

Rhea said...


My major problem with that question is, the answer that I currently have is "I'm not 100% sure"

I agree though that if I could settle in myself that question once and for all, it would really explain a lot.

Alan said...

I am a covenant theologian, Presbyterian, paedobaptist. John and John are credobaptist therefore I think they are wrong on this issue. But they have the gospel right!

James said...

I totally agree with you Alan!

Allow me to raise a question that I've been struggeling with lately. It's the question of when should we divide? Even though I strongly disagree with Olsteen or Warren, I doubt they're heading to hell... but perhaps that's another discussion for another day. The question is, when should division happen? Or maybe a better question is, "should we divide?"

Anyways, just a question I've been struggeling with lately. :-)

Anonymous said...

John MacArthur is a heretic!