Regeneration Precedes Faith: Six Passages in Paul That Prove Faith is a Gift

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Continuing the theme of monergism in salvation, we come to the debate regarding faith and regeneration. Does regeneration empower faith? Or does faith produce regeneration? Both are necessary for salvation, but what is their relationship? And how do we know?

Historically, Reformed theologians have understood faith as a divine gift to God’s elect, a gift that was planned in eternity, purchased at the cross, and personally granted in regeneration. By contrast, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other advocates of free will aver that faith is possible for all men and hence is not a special gift of grace to God’s elect, but a gift of grace to all who would freely receive it.

As one who gladly affirms a Reformed view of salvation, I believe this latter position minimizes the work of God in salvation. Instead of putting man’s final destiny squarely in the hands of God, an Arminian view conjoins the work of God and man. Theologically, this undermines grace. Pastorally, this contribution of faith produces (or leaves unchanged) man’s inveterate thirst for self-determination and creates communities that lack a spirit of humility. In God’s grace, other doctrines may ameliorate these realities or produce humility. But, by and large, a church that teaches—explicitly or implicitly—that you are capable of making such a decision for Christ impedes the humility which the gospel is meant to foster (see Rom. 3:27–30).

So, how we understand God’s work of salvation matters immensely for our sanctification, discipleship, and Christian fellowship. Still, it must be a doctrine derived from Scripture and not from tradition alone. To that point, we might ask: Where do we find teaching that says regeneration precedes faith and/or that faith is a gift of God? Good question. And in Paul’s Epistles, we find at least five passages that teach us that faith is a gift. Let’s consider each below. Continue reading

Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm The Priority of God’s Grace

crashing waves

. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —

When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.

Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).

In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts. Continue reading

From Predestination to Glorification: Defining Twelve Words Every Christian Should Know

black and white book browse dictionary

And those whom he predestined he also called,
and those whom he called he also justified,
and those whom he justified he also glorified.
— 
Romans 8:30 —

Last Sunday I preached a sermon with lots of big but important words. In two verses (Romans 3:24–25), Paul uses justification, redemption, and propitiation to speak of the saving work of God in Christ’s death and resurrection. Tomorrow, I will add to that list a number of other big words as our men’s group discusses John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. In Part 2 of his book, Murray outlines the order of salvation (ordo salutis) starting with regeneration and ending with glorification. Added to this list we could describe God’s eternal plans for salvation in things like predestination, election, and adoption.

All in all, there are a lot of -ion words that Christians (at least English speaking Christian) need to grasp in order to understand their salvation. To be clear, salvation does not depend upon knowing how it works. We can fly on a plane without understanding aerodynamics. Just the same, we can be saved by faith in Christ, without understanding everything about it. There are many, indeed all of us, who possess wrong ideas about salvation who are still saved. So great is God’s grace.

Nevertheless, for those who delight in God and his salvation, we are urged (Ps. 111:2), even commanded (Matt. 28:19), to grow in a knowledge of our salvation (2 Pet. 3:18). And to that end, I share the following selection of definitions that start in eternity past, move to eternity future, and cover a basic pattern of salvation that is true for all those whom God has saved, is saving, and will save. I hope they will serve you as you study the Scriptures and work out your salvation with fear and trembling, grace and knowledge.

Sources

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Picturing the Word without Caricaturing the Text: Fifteen Statements on Inerrancy and Interpretation

eduardo-pastor-pDAipmK6eRg-unsplashIn his six-volume opus, God, Revelation, and Authority, Carl F. H. Henry unpacks 15 Propositions about Revelation. These propositions include statements related to the source, nature, and purpose of God’s speech. And for anyone interested wrestling with the theological debates surrounding God’s Word and its inerrancy, this would be an excellent, if lengthy, place to begin. Henry was one of the chief architects of neo-evangelicalism and a defender of biblical inerrancy. He with 300 others authored the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 and his enduring legacy includes not only his books on theology but his influence on other theologians. 

As noted by Kevin Vanhoozer, Henry was a part of evangelicalism’s “greatest generation,” a spin on the nickname given to the Post WWII generation (The Basics of the Faith). And in that generation, Henry and others argued against liberalism’s rejection of the Bible and for a view of the Bible that was infallibly true in “all matters upon which it touches.” This statement on inerrancy is part of the legacy that Henry and others passed on, but it also has been a legacy regularly contested.

As we should expect, the Word of God will always be questioned. “Did God really say?” is not a query left in the Garden of Eden. It is a question that persists at all times and in all fallen hearts. Thus, it is not surprising that today, those within evangelicalism and those without have raised questions about biblical inerrancy. In fact, to get a good lay of the land, just consider the book, Five Views on Biblical InerrancyIn that volume, you find two voices championing inerrancy, albeit with different terms (Albert Mohler and Kevin Vanhoozer), two voices denying inerrancy (John Franke and Peter Enns), and one voice basically affirming the contents of the Chicago Statement without giving it his international endorsement (Michael Bird).

From that volume, it is clear that the doctrine of inerrancy is not clearly understood today. That is, many who reject it fail to appreciate the nuance offered in the 1978 statement. And those who affirm it seek to provide clarity on what inerrancy is and is not. To that end, I think Kevin Vanhoozer is the most helpful. And in another of his books, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, he lists—although by authorial intent, as far as I can tell—15 Propositions on Scripture that clarify what biblical inerrancy is and is not. Continue reading

What God Has Joined Together Let No Man Separate: A Few Words on Scripture and Tradition

jenny-marvin-u3py_1Tcnuc-unsplashLast week, I offered a few (here and here), reflections on the important and challenging relationship between Scripture and tradition. This week, I offer a few more, beginning with a three-paragraph summary of sola Scriptura from Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier. Avoiding the error of thinking we can interpret Scripture by ourselves (solo Scriptura), it is important to understand that sola Scriptura affirms a proper, yet secondary, place for church tradition. That is, any historic church teaching is always evaluated and when necessary corrected by Scripture, even as creeds, confessions, and catechisms aid the church to read and understand Scripture. Put differently, the apostle’s possess a magisterial authority that comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while the church catholic enjoys a ministerial authority that rises or falls as it properly understands and applies Scripture.

Bringing these three ideas together—Sola Scriptura, apostolicity, and catholicity—Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Treier, in Theology and the Mirror of Scripture, remind us how to avoiding separating what God has joined together. They write,

Mere evangelical theology is both catholic and apostolic. To say apostolic affirms the supreme authority of the commissioned testimony from the prophets and apostles—those “sent” to extend in writing Christ’s self-communication. Apostolic thus signifies the inspired human writings borne along by the Holy Spirit, who “speaks only what he hears” in bearing witness to the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. To say apostolic identifies what anchors both faith and theology: the canonical gospel. To say catholic explains what is “mere” about evangelical theology’s focus, namely, what it believes with the whole church about the gospel of God and the God of the gospel. Continue reading

In Defense of Tradition: Five Reasons Protestants Should Not Protest The *Proper Use* of Tradition

photo of church during daytime

In yesterday’s blogpost, I outlined a doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency, arranging Kevin Vanhoozer’s articulation of sufficiency into a fourfold taxonomy—sufficiency caricatured (i.e., what sufficiency is not), sufficiency simpliciter, material sufficiency, and formal sufficiency. The last of these is the most debated, because it gets wades into the intersection of Scripture, tradition, and interpretation, as well as the insufficiency of human knowledge. While Scripture is sufficient for all that it promises to do, we are insufficient in ourselves to understand the Word of God.

But this is the point that Vanhoozer addresses with respect to formal sufficiency. Instead of solving the problem of our insufficiency with a church authorized interpretation (i.e., the Roman Catholic magisterium) or a personally authorized experience of God and his Word, Vanhoozer presses us back to the Scripture with the all-sufficient aid of the Spirit. In this articulation of formal sufficiency, Vanhoozer addresses the ministerial role of tradition. And it is this proper use of tradition that I want to outline here.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer gives six reasons for accepting and applying tradition, when done under the greater authority of Scripture. In other words, the tradition that Protestants seek is not written with a capital ‘T’. It is not put on the same level as Scripture, but as children of God who have come to life by the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:17), we need the teaching of the church, along with the creeds and confessions that help articulate biblical truth. Similarly, we need to rightly understand the role of tradition and avoid wrong uses and absolute dependence on human institutions. However, affirming the fact that the church is not a mere human institution, but the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can and should seek to benefit from the church universal and the church local.

With that positive approach to the church in view, I want to share five of Vanhoozer’s six ways that tradition can and should be applied in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Again, you can find these points outlined in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine. Continue reading

Sufficient for What? Four Aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture’s Sufficiency

pink pencil on open bible page and pink

Writing about Sola Scriptura in his book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, Kevin Vanhoozer notes that the reformation principle of Scripture Alone “implies the sufficiency of Scripture” (114). But then he asks and important question: “Sufficient for what?” What does the sufficiency of Scripture promise? And what does it mean?

To that question, he gives four answers—one negative and three positive. Here they are in abbreviated form.

  1. Scripture is not sufficient for anything and everything that it may be called upon to do or describe.
  2. “Scripture is sufficient for everything for which it was divinely inspired. ‘[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isa. 55:11).”
  3. “Scripture is materially sufficient (‘enough’) because God has communicated everything we need to know in order to learn Christ and live the Christian life: ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Pet. 1:3).”
  4. Scripture is formally sufficient, which means when it comes to interpretation “Scripture interprets Scripture” so long as the interpretive community (i.e., the church) relies upon all the means of grace created by the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, these four answers need further elucidation, and in his chapter on “Scripture Alone,” Vanhoozer explains each point that I have abbreviated above. Here are a few quotes and explanations to help round a sufficient doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency.

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The Proof is in the Patterns: How Typology Demonstrates the Trustworthiness of the Bible

empty gray and white concrete spiral stairs

In a few weeks, I will be teaching a class on Scripture at my church, followed by teaching Systematic Theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. In preparation for those classes, I have begun thinking through many of the facets related to the doctrine of Scripture, especially as it pertains to Scripture’s trustworthiness.

For those who question Scripture and its veracity, they often make claims regarding errors in the manuscripts, discrepancies in the text, or immoral teachings in the Law or Paul. Each of these must be and can be answered by a careful reading of the text. But one aspect of Scripture that has repeatedly born witness to its reliability, unity, and even its divine authorship is typology—namely, the way that types and shadows, patterns and persons (in their public actions and offices) are repeated and fulfilled throughout the Bible.

Most recently, I encountered this in the book of 1–2 Kings, where Solomon is presented as a new Joshua. Previously, I had seen Solomon as a new Adam, but in reading again from Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, I found his observations compelling, in that the author of 1–2 Kings presents Solomon as a new Joshua. Continue reading

Taking God’s Word on Offense: Inerrancy, Apologetics, and the Proof of Gospel Preaching

aaron-burden-TNlHf4m4gpI-unsplashIt’s been said that the best offense is a good defense. However, it is also true that if your defense spends too much time on the field, they will eventually fatigue and fold. For that reason, it is equally true that the best defense is a good offense.

And when it comes to apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith, it is important to do more than play defense, but also to go on the offensive. With firm confidence that God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), unfailing in accomplishing God’s will (Isa. 55:11), and always proving itself true (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5), there is no reason to merely defend God’s Word. Instead, we should positively proclaim the Scriptures as the living and active word of God.

Articulating this point forcefully with respect to biblical inerrancy, the late Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–90) reminds us that Christians should do more than defend the faith, we must also proclaim the faith positively. Here’s what he says, Continue reading

We Don’t Like Theology, Do We? Three Reflections from the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

2021 Nashville-1500 x 500-Final BWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5–6 —

It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points. Continue reading