May we have a little clarity on the nature of regeneration, puh-leeze? Sorry to pick on the neo-Calvinists again, but a common construction of regeneration among those who stress the antithesis is to attribute to the supernatural work of the Spirit the intellectual genius of believers. This interpretation is strongest among the neo-Calvinists who are philosophically inclined. Because they can unearth the epistemological roots of an idea or argument, and because they operate in what at times seems like a Manichean universe divided between the knowers (of Christ) and the ignorant, these neo-Calvinist philosophers believe they hold the keys to discerning the work of the Spirit. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of the fall and now allows Christians to interpret reality correctly, and even see the philosophical basis for all things.
Never mind that the arguments for Christian schools contradict this understanding of regeneration. If regeneration does produce a new w-w, then why is education necessary? Shouldn’t the regenerate already have the tools, by virtue of the illuminating power of the Spirit, to understand all things correctly? But if covenant children and the w-w challenged need to appropriate the value added material that comes from the w-w cognoscenti, then is the Spirit’s work in regeneration really responsible for a new outlook on the world? Or could it be that a w-w is much more the product of human instruction about the fundamental truths of epistemology and metaphysics, or Christian teachers who give a faith-based reading of the arts and sciences?
Another wrinkle here, by the way, is the folly that apparently afflicts believers not only about the world but also about the faith. Remember that Paul call the Galatians and Corinthians foolish even while considering these folks to be saints, that is, people who had experienced the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Also, consider that a w-w does very little justice to catechesis. In fact, in communions where w-w has expanded, catechesis has generally declined. At the same time, regeneration is no solution to the hard work of memorizing a three-figure set of doctrinal answers. It takes time, discipline, and memory.
So what we need is clarity about the noetic effects of regeneration. And we also need to distinguish among those effects, the native intelligence of persons that comes providentially from genes, family environments, and temperament, and academic proficiency in a particular area of human investigation. Clarity may start with a reminder about the nature of the spiritual illumination in regeneration. According to the Shorter Catechism:
Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (WSC 31)
. . . when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. (Dort III/IV, 11)
What sure seems clear to me is that regeneration has a narrow effect — it allows a person who had no interest in Christ to understand his need and to trust the work of Christ. It is a kind of knowledge, but it is not even necessarily knowledge of well-formulated doctrine. At the same time, regeneration does nothing to take someone from a low to a high IQ. Nor does regeneration place someone all of a sudden as a graduate of a Masters-level curriculum in western philosophy. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of sin. It does not change the brain or a person’s mastery of a body of thought.
At the same time, neo-Calvinists enraptured by western philosophy may want to remember what Calvin and Kuyper, Mr. Paleo- and Mr. Neo-Calvinist, had to say about the learning of pagans.
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good. (Institutes II.2.15)
. . . the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and literary productions of professed infidels, how much more there is which attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not infrequently you entertain the desire that certain believers might have more of the attractiveness, and who among us has not himself been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen”? (Lectures on Calvinism, 121ff)
What is important is that Calvin does attribute to the Spirit the knowledge that pagans possess. Truth, wisdom, and intelligence do not exist independent from God. At the same time, the wisdom of pagans is spiritual work that does not include regeneration. It is in effect another iteration of the doubleness that 2K tries to maintain. In the same way that Christ rules the work of redemption differently from the order of his creation, so too the Spirit works upon the minds of people differently, with the illumination of regeneration providing a knowledge distinct from understanding politics, the liberal arts, or even neo-Calvinists’ beloved philosophy.
So once again, neo-Calvinism’s failure to follow Kuyper and figure out how to affirm a common realm that exists somewhere between the holy and the profane bites them in their argumentative backsides. Without that common realm, believers — whether fundamentalist or neo-Calvinist — will try to baptize everything and turn all truth and wisdom into the blessings of redemption and special grace.