What is the purpose of regeneration, if God can direct the will of man in any direction he chooses? Why must God regenerate a sinner to create faith in him—could he not just control his will so that he believes? A question from Ben at Arminian Perspectives, answered.
Ben at Arminian Perspectives has recently posted a brief article asking, ‘What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?’ Briefly put, since “God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants [...] why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him? Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?” I think that’s a fair, reasonable question on the surface of it, Ben, so let me respond as a Calvinist.
The answer to your question isn’t so difficult if you consider what faith is. Faith is not merely an abstract awareness of some or other facts about God and Christ. It is an intimate knowledge about these things, communicated directly by the Spirit. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 2, where he ends with that remarkable statement, “But we have the mind of Christ” (v 16b). What does that mean? Why is it that we have—that we need—the mind of Christ? Because “who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (v 11) And what is it that we know? “A secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v 7) which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (v 9). If the heart of man has not imagined these things, then how can we know about them? Because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v 10). We have knowledge of them precisely because we have “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
This is the mind of Christ; and this is why the natural person, the person who has not received the Spirit of God, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God”—why they are “folly” to him, and why “he is not able to understand them”: because “they are spiritually discerned” (v 14). If one does not have the Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God, because these things require direct communication by the Spirit to the believer. They are things of God’s own mind, which (whether by his decree or by their very nature) cannot be grasped by anyone not availed of that mind. Thus we must be indwelled by the Spirit, having “the mind of Christ”, in order to understand the spiritual truths which comprise Christianity. Without the mind of Christ, according to Paul, faith is impossible.
Now, certainly God may incline a spiritually dead person to believe certain Christian propositions for a time—but since faith entails a knowledge which can only be communicated by the indwelling Spirit, and can only be understood by someone with that Spirit, it remains that if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith. Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly—but that belief does not constitute faith. It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension. It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths—and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.
It really goes without saying that this renders Arminianism untenable. In your previous post, ‘The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study’, you listed prevenient grace as the only item prior to faith. In your view, prevenient grace is required for totally depraved man to be able to libertarianly choose to have faith—but only prevenient grace. Then, following logically on from that faith, you would say that the person is then joined with Christ, justified, and only then regenerated. But according to 1 Corinthians 2, prevenient grace would have to entail nothing less than the full indwelling of the Spirit of God in order to make faith possible. Nothing less than that suffices to convince the “natural man” of spiritual truths. Nothing less than the mind of Christ is needed for a person to understand Christianity so as to have faith at all. As John puts it, a man must be reborn of the Spirit before he can “see” the kingdom of God (John 3:3,8).
But this being the case, it is evident that once a man has the mind of Christ, he will be convinced of and understand the truths of Christianity (not in a flash, of course; not all at once—but inevitably). Once a man is reborn of the Spirit, he will see the kingdom of God. So if the Arminian wishes to go so far as to say that prevenient grace does indeed entail the indwelling of the Spirit in some sense, then he goes too far because either prevenient grace is not given to everyone (in which case, it’s hard to see the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism here); or everyone is a Christian and is saved (which is plainly false on both scriptural and merely empirical grounds). Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?
The only theological system which accommodates Paul’s teachings regarding the nature and requirements of spiritual belief is Calvinism. Those teachings are accurately reflected in the monogerstic view which Calvinism takes of regeneration, wherein God must sovereingly work by giving his Spirit to those whom he has elected to salvation. He knows who will believe because he knows to whom he will give his Spirit. By contrast, the Arminian scheme renders 1 Corinthians 2 incoherent, since God’s knowledge of whom he will save is based on those people’s own choosing—yet they cannot choose without God first having given them his Spirit.