24 January 2013

Justification and Regeneration

Seems to me there are roughly four camps when it comes to the question of how to put together the gospel with our ongoing growth.

Maybe we can put all four in terms of their unification of the objective/legal/pardoning/external side of salvation (which for simplicity's sake we'll call justification [J]) with the subjective/mystical/empowering/internal side (which for simplicity we'll call regeneration [R]).
1. Unbelievers (neither J nor R). No focus on either justification or regeneration. Full-blown functional Pelagianism and Socinianism without knowing it.

2. The Christian Buzz Lightyears (R, not J). A focus on regeneration to the neglect of justification. Overly optimistic. Anthropologically naive. Historically known as 'Neonomian.' Forgets that even the regenerate continue, in many ways, to be hard-wired to self-generate, even a little bit, God's approval. Focuses on the ongoing need for the work of the Spirit to the neglect of the ongoing need for the work of the Son. I think the German Pietists Franke and Spener were probably here. Probably Wesley too.

3. The Christian Eeyores (J, not R). A focus on justification to the neglect of regeneration. Overly pessimistic. Pneumatologically naive. Historically known as 'Antinomian.' Forgets that the regenerate are new creatures with new impulses and new desires who are able to do new things out of new motivations that truly are, for all our fallenness, pleasing to God (as a son pleases a father, not an employee a boss). Focuses on the ongoing need for the work of the Son to the neglect of the ongoing need for the work of the Spirit. I think Berkouwer is here, as I have publicly argued before. Perhaps Luther too, though in my reading of him he talks way more about obeying the Ten Commandments than those who quote him generally do.

4. The New Testament (J + R). Soberly optimistic, injected with realism. Rejoices in both justification-grace and regeneration-grace (which come together nicely when we make union with Christ the soteriological umbrella, as the NT demands). Grace is both pardon (Rom 3:24) and power (1 Cor 15:10). We are, our whole lives long, simul justus et peccator; yet we also are able to actually act differently. A deep appreciation of the depths of sin, even in the regenerate, wedded with a deep appreciation of the new power ignited in the new birth. Believers are given a new power, new impulses, new taste buds; holiness now appears strangely beautiful instead of repulsive; yet one of the main ways that hunger for holiness is fueled is by sustained, repeated reflection on the gospel of grace, the need for which we never outgrow. I see Calvin getting this just right. And Owen. Schlatter too. And Whitefield got both of these together in a wonderfully combustible way.
The point is that we should emphasize neither the objective to the neglect of the subjective nor the subjective to the neglect of the objective. Of course, the four camps above are not neatly divisible. And we all naturally operate on the assumption that we ourselves have the perfect balance, which may or may not be the case.

But honest and humble self-examination would be a salutary check for many of us. Are we emphasizing the full picture of salvation with the rhythm of the New Testament? Or are we emphasizing what appeals to us the most, resisting equal appreciation of all the Bible says about salvation?

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