In Whomever He Wills, Dr. Matthew Barrett writes in his chapter entitled, “The Scriptural Affirmation of Monergism” concerning the doctrinal significance of what has become known as regeneration precedes faith--or, in short, monergism. He writes:
“For some, such a debate [i.e. synergism vs. monergism] may appear insignificant. To the contrary, God’s glory hangs in the balance. If God’s working in calling and regenerating the sinner is conditioned upon man’s will, then God cannot receive all of the glory in salvation. But if God works alone, effectually to call and regenerate dead sinners, then He does receive all of the glory in our salvation” (pp. 120-121, italics original).
The significance Barrett attaches to this doctrinal affirmation is not unlike the position of Reformed Presbyterian theologian, R.C. Sproul, who states unequivocally throughout his prolific works the simple but profound distinction he finds between those who are believers in the Reformation tradition and those who are not:
- “‘A cardinal point of Reformed theology is the maxim: “Regeneration precedes faith”’1
- “When John H. Gerstner was a college student, he took a course in theology from John Orr, one of the nation’s most learned and distinguished scholars in the early twentieth century. During one lecture Orr wrote on the blackboard in large letters: Regeneration precedes faith… This was John Gerstner’s virgin exposure to Reformed theology, and it startled him. That regeneration comes before faith, not after it or as a result of it, was an idea he had never considered. Once he heard his professor’s cogent argument, Gerstner was convinced and his life was set on an entirely different course” (embolden original).2
- “When speaking of the order of salvation (ordo salutis), Reformed theology always and everywhere insists that regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration precedes faith because it is a necessary condition for faith.”3
- “Remember that in Reformed theology’s ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith.”4
Barrett representing Founders Calvinists insists just as strongly as does Sproul on making the new birth a resurrection from the dead in an analogous way to how Lazarus was raised from the dead:
“Contrary to Steve Lemke, man is not wallowing in the waters in need of God to throw him a life preserver, leaving it up to the drowning victim to choose whether or not he will grab hold of it.4 Not at all. Man is dead, lifeless, rotting away at the bottom of the ocean. he does not need a life preserver, but a resurrection! He is like Lazarus, dead in the tomb. He stinketh. What Lazarus needed was the resurrection words of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43)” (p.121, footnote original)
Often Calvinists like Barrett summon the illustration of Lazarus as indicative of spiritual resurrection but inevitably do so without a scintilla of contextual proof for their conclusion. Where in the resurrection narrative do we find the slightest hint that John recorded the raising of Lazarus’ dead body as an illustration of spiritual resurrection? Even so, Calvinists like Barrett routinely rip this text from its contextual cradle to prove their particular theory of regeneration. What is more, to describe what the Bible references as post-Edenic humans being “dead” in their spiritual life as definitively “rotting away” like so much lifeless human flesh is predicated upon what particular text in Scripture? Where is fallen humanity’s spiritual deadness literally described as “rotting” human flesh?
The image Barrett projects must be prima facie denied and a more suitable Scriptural image substituted indicating what spiritual deadness looks like–separation…banishment from God’s presence. Isaiah said, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God…” (59:2). Beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden, in fact, sin was the great separator, separating Adam from Eve, Adam and Eve from God, and finally Adam and Eve from the garden. The ultimate separation will be banishment from God’s presence into the lake of fire–eternal death equating to eternal separation. Indeed death appears to be regularly pictured as separation in Scripture. Jesus’ haunting words cannot be underestimated: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:23; embolden added). Hence, for Calvinists like Barrett to suppose spiritual death to be more like literal human flesh “rotting away” at the bottom of the ocean rather than what death appears to be consistently referenced in Scripture usage–i.e. separation–remains inexplicable.
Whatever the case, according to John M. Peck, who penned a two-part essay for The Christian Review (No. LXX. – OCTOBER, 1852) entitled “Baptists of the Mississippi Valley,” the Regular Baptists of Kentucky so over-emphasised the doctrine of regeneration, apparently arguing for it in a similar way to Barrett’s presentation–that is, regeneration precedes faith, or, in short, monergism–that it ultimately led to what Peck calls a “ruinous extent among the churches in the Mississippi Valley.” Note the lengthy passage below:
Attempts were made to unite the Regular and Separate Baptists in 1793, but failed, and four churches withdrew from the latter class, formed Tate’s Creek Association, the same year, and opened correspondence with Elkhorn Association.
A portion of the ministers of the Regular Baptists, who came to Kentucky at this period, would be now regarded as hyper-Calvinistic in doctrine, especially in their limited views of the mediatorial office of Christ, and the reservations they made concerning indiscriminate offers of mercy and salvation to all persons through faith in Christ. Most of the ministers in these associations were men of vigorous minds but of limited education. They studied the Scriptures attentively in the English language, but with very little aid from biblical literature. They had no knowledge of the languages in which they were originally written by the direction of the Holy Ghost, and their views were not very clear of the usus loquendi of the English Scriptures. Hence it is not strange that metaphors were often interpreted literally, figurative language misunderstood, and passages relating to the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” misinterpreted, and the impression left on the minds of their hearers that Jesus Christ came into the world as a Saviour, and suffered and died to purchase the elect.
The sacrifice of Christ was held forth as literally the payment of a debt for his people. Sinners were “dead in trespasses and sins;” therefore, they could no more help themselves than a dead man; and as it is the office-work of the Holy Spirit to quicken the dead, the mode of preaching the doctrine of regeneration as the work of the Almighty Spirit, was in such a form, and by such illustrations, as to leave the impression that the gospel was preached, not to convert sinners, but to comfort God’s people. It was at a much later period that these crude speculations exhibited their legitimate fruits in practical antinomianism…
The hyper-Calvinistic doctrines at a subsequent period became more prominent, and speculations were taught, until antimonianism in spirit, theory and practice prevailed to a ruinous extent among the churches in the Mississippi Valley. We have long known that the opposition to missions and all other philanthropic efforts to promote the kingdom of Christ, by human instrumentalities, had its origin, and has been sustained by erroneous views of Bible truth. The seed was sown in an early period, and like noxious vegetation in our rich and productive soil, increased from period to period, until divisions were the natural result. It is necessary to keep this fact in view as a key to expound the history of the denomination at a subsequent period (//link; embolden added)
Are Founders Calvinists like Matthew Barrett sowing seeds similar to what Peck lamented as a “ruinous extent among the churches in the Mississippi Valley” which resulted in what he dubbed “practical antimonianism”? Is preoccupation with theological “monergism”5–not to mention “Limited Atonement” which Peck also cited as a corollary to the “ruinous extent” among Kentucky Baptists–healthy for Southern Baptists today? Is the belief “regeneration precedes faith” a doctrine Baptist Calvinists insist guards the gospel and protects God’s glory an explicitly biblical doctrine, or is the doctrine necessarily deduced from an undeniable alliance between systematic theology, logic, and God’s meticulous sovereignty (i.e. divine determinism)?
These questions among many others that could be expressed raise doubts that Baptist Calvinists affiliated with Founders Ministries propose a viable future for Southern Baptists. For them, unless their brand of Calvinism prevails, the gospel will inevitably fall and God’s glory will be compromised.
1R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God, 72 (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986).
2R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, electronic ed., 179-80 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000).
3R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, electronic ed., 195 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000).
4R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, electronic ed., 193 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997).
5We need to be clear: the theological term “monergism” has only recently been employed in Calvinist works from Southern Baptists. Few, if any, works written by Southern Baptists since 1845 employed the specific term until only recently. However, historically the term “monergism” is liberally employed by Primitive Baptists or those Baptists who’ve been euphemistically dubbed “Hardshell” Baptists.