Friday, February 22, 2008

Piper's view on the New Birth


Since writing the post for the The Flyswatter on Friday, December 07, 2007, Is John Piper Correct On The New Birth? it has been brought to my attention that years ago Piper had written material which at that time apparently expressed the Hybrid Calvinist "born again before faith" idea.

However, we understand Piper's very recent sermon series on the New Birth to be more expressive of pre-18th century Creedal Calvinism on "Effectual Calling" and likewise consistent with the Puritan view of such men as Stephen Charnock and John Owen, in contrast to the "born again before faith" view as advocated by some post-17th century pedobaptist "Reformed" sources.

This raises the question -- Has Piper altered, or more fully developed, his views on the New Birth?

Currently [February 17, 2008], on his website, in a sermon entitled Faith: Unique and Fruitful Effect of the New Birth, Piper has what appears to be a clear message which affirms the Creedal view of the New Birth which is in contrast to the "born again before faith" idea.

This message affirms that God's Spirit is the efficient cause of the New Birth and Word of God, the Gospel, is the instrumental cause.

And as Piper said in the former sermon from which we quoted, "we should never separate the new birth from faith in Jesus. From God’s side, we are united to Christ in the new birth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. From our side, we experience this union by faith in Jesus.

Never Separate the New Birth and Faith in Jesus

. . . Born of God–the key to victory. Faith–the key to victory. Because faith is the way we experience being born of God.

. . . In the new birth, the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith. For Jesus is life. "

In the current sermon on his website, Piper says:
First Peter 1:23 says, as we saw last week, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” This sentence is stupendously important. We are born again, that is, we are united by the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ so that we share in his new, eternal resurrection life through the word of God. This miracle, this transfer from death to life, happens through the word of God. . . .

After saying in 1 Peter 1:23 that we are born again “through the living and abiding word of God,” Peter says in verse 25, “This word is the good news that was preached to you.” In other words, the word through which we are born again is “the good news that was preached to you.” And what is that? What is that gospel or good news? . . .

The Gospel Is News

In other words, the gospel is news. It’s about events that happened, that you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands and think about with your mind and describe with your mouth. It’s the news about the death of Jesus in history and his resurrection getting their meaning, as Paul says, from Scripture: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

We are saved, he says in verse 2, by believing this news. And we believe it because we heard it and understood it with our minds. Paul ends that section in 1 Corinthians 15:11 by saying, “So we preach and so you believed.” As he said in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And Galatians 3:2, 5, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? . . . Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.”

In other words, “hearing with faith” is what happens when we are “born again through the living and abiding word of God.” The gospel—the news about Jesus Christ—is preached, we hear it, and through it we are born again. That is, faith is brought into being. James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” . . .

You were born again through the living and abiding word of God. This word is the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Don’t fall prey to another gospel. There is no other gospel, and there is no other path to God, or to ultimate well-being, than hearing, understanding and believing the scandalous news of Jesus Christ. . . .

The Word was God. But the Word became flesh. And the story of his saving work—the gospel, the word of God—is the way Jesus Christ, the Word, comes to us and regenerates us and renews us. We hear this word, and by grace, we understand this word, and receive this word, and are born again by this word. . . .

God’s act in bringing about the new birth is the creation of a believer where once there was only spiritual deadness and unbelief. The reason that the new birth is the creation of a believer is that this new creation happens through the word of God (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18)—through the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit, creates spiritual understanding and faith where once there was blindness and unbelief. It does this as a narrative of historical events—the cross and the resurrection—that reveal the glory of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This narrative is the power of God bringing about the new birth and awakening faith (Romans 1:16). . . .

And because of that I can—and I do—appeal to you: Look at him in the gospel. See his glory and his truth. Receive him and believe in his name. And you will be a child of God.

Bob's note: This sermon is consistent with the same view expressed in the old Confessions and by Stephen Charnock, John Owen, Abraham Booth, C. H. Spurgeon, John Calvin, B. H. Carroll, A. H. Strong, and others we have quoted, and it is in stark contrast to the "born again before faith" view of many of those today who refer to themselves as "Reformed."


At Friday, February 22, 2008 3:58:00 PM, Blogger Bob L. Ross said...

An additional comment
from John Piper

In an earlier sermon on February 10, 2008, Pastor John Piper says:

The Instrument: The Gospel

The second clue that God’s begetting is the cause of our believing is that God makes the word the instrument of the new birth . . .

So the point is that God makes the word his instrument in the new birth and the way the word works in the new birth is by awakening faith. That’s what Paul says in Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So if our part in the new birth is believing, and if the word causes believing(and verse 24 says that God causes the new birth “through the word”), then behind the word and behind our believing is the decisive hand of God. This is what James says in James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.”

Again, this correponds to the view that the efficient [power] in the new birth is the Spirit, and the Word is His instrumentality.

As Abraham Booth expresses it in his book, "The Reign of Grace" --

"In performing this work of heavenly mercy, the eternal Spirit is the grand agent, and evangelical truth the honored instrument" (page 98).

At Monday, February 25, 2008 10:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, if John Piper is anything like Peter Piper (over at Triablogue) then I wouldn't put too much stock in what is said there.


At Monday, February 25, 2008 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Bob L. Ross said...

Comment via email:

Robert wrote:

That is good news.

I started reading "Future Grace", but was disappointed that Piper seemed to be putting a "new label" (new "revelation"?) on doctrine I recall exposited in Spurgeon's sermons.

Sorry, I don't recall the details from "FG", but, in any event that is certainly good news about Piper's solid recently expressed views on faith and regeneration.

- Rbt.

Bob Ross' comment: We can only hope that Piper's emphasis on the element of faith in the new birth may catch-on with other Hybrids, and they will abandon the pedobaptist theory of "born again before faith."

At Wednesday, March 05, 2008 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Bob L. Ross said...


I received an email from a Pastor who sent me a sermon by John Piper. Here is my reply to him on March 4, 2008:

Dear Pastor S______:

You emailed me a copy of Pastor John Piper's article to read and evidently for my comment:

In a message dated 3/3/2008 7:07:52 P.M. Central Standard Time, you wrote:

The New Birth Is the Cause of Faith

[Bob's comment]:

This excerpted "heading" from John Piper's presentation seems a bit unclear, theologically speaking. That is, it could be interpreted according to one's view of the new birth as a whole.

I will explain: if Piper does not exclude the instrumentality of the WORD in the Spirit's accomplishing the "new birth," then the new birth can be said to be the "cause of faith," for the Word, used by the Holy Spirit, does cause faith; or, The Holy Spirit, using the Word, causes faith.

This would be consistent with the Creedal view, and that is how I understand Scripture to teach that the believer is, or has been, born of God. Any one in whom the Spirit produces faith by means of the Word, is, or has been, born of God (1 John 5:1).

But no one who does not have faith, produced by the Spirit's using the Word, has yet been born of God. There is no
"regenerated unbeliever."

On the other hand, if Piper has the "new birth" as an accomplished act by the Spirit before and without the Word, and therefore before the creation of faith, then this would fall into the pedobaptist Hybrid Calvinist category of doctrine -- namely, the new birth is viewed as an act of the Spirit apart from the use of the instrumentality of the Word and the creation of faith -- as was taught by Shedd, Berkhof, and many post-17th century pedobaptists.

As Dr. B. H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, puts it:

(1) Every one born of God has the right be called a child of God.

(2) But no one has the right until he believes in Jesus.

(3) Therefore the new birth is NOT COMPLETED WITHOUT FAITH."

Page 287 of Volume 10, Part I on The Gospels, An Interpretation of the English Bible.

B. H. CARROLL, Sermons, page 177:

Conviction, repentance and faith are the CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF REGENERATION.

Carroll uses this illustration:

"I would prefer to write the word 'regeneration' above a horizontal line with 'conviction,' 'repentance,' 'faith,' directly underneath, so that three names under the line are exactly equal in length to the one above the line. Then, above the line is the mysterious, inscrutable, divine side, while below the line is the explicable human side of the same -- one fact. Thus considered, conviction, repentance, and faith are the constituent elements of regeneration; that is, they are the elements within our range of vision" (Sermons, page 177).

While affirming that the Spirit does exert preliminary influence, Dr. Carroll says, "But I do not call this influence regeneration" (page 178).

There you have a specific denial by B. H. Carroll of the idea that the preliminary influence of the Spirit constitutes a "pre-faith regeneration." He further says, "No son without faith" (page 185).

Carroll believed that the Spirit uses "the instrumentality of the Word in the new birth" (page 187.

Bob L. Ross
Pilgrim Publications
[End of reply to this Pastor].

So I have no problem with the statement that the "new birth causes faith" when it does not mean a separation of the new birth as an act apart from the Spirit's use of the Word to produce faith, which would have a person as a "born again unbeliever." Piper himself has exhorted that faith and the new birth cannot be separated. Until he says otherwise, I will believe he means it.


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