Can Regeneration Occur Without a Repentance Experience?

Before reading this article it may prove helpful to consult my brief article,
Theological Inclusivism, Exclusivism, Universalism etc., What Do These Terms Mean?

Some Introductory Comments Before I Tackle the Question

Around two years ago I came out in a loose (yet quite definite) support of what is usually referred to as 'Theological Inclusivism'; it is not possible to outline this theological position in great detail here but there is a link to my article 'An Evangelical Inclusivist Defends Evangelical Inclusivism' at the end of this article. In a nutshell, Inclusivism says that Christ will finally save some people who never had a knowledge of Him during their lifetimes, hence the term 'Inclusivism' because Christ is able to include people. Yet Inclusivism fiercely insists that there is salvation only in the name of Christ (funnily enough, at more or less the same time, three other leading evangelicals made statements which appear to loosely support some form of Inclusivism: Billy Graham, John Stott and J.I. Packer; there was absolutely no collusion between us of course, indeed, its highly doubtful whether these three important and distinguished gentlemen have even heard of me!) And going back to 1996, the highly-regarded British conservative evangelical writer, Alister McGrath, made statements which show support for Inclusivism (though he never used the term), in a book which he contributed to ('Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World').
But my impression is that these distinguished evangelicals had not yet thought through a consistent theology of Inclusivism in the manner in which John Sanders and I have done, but perhaps that might come later.

Any talk of Christian Inclusivism must immediately put a separation between itself and the sort of Inclusivism, and indeed, Universalism (all the world will be saved) which is the product of liberal theology. All evangelicals must necessarily reject the conjectures of those who don't even believe that the Holy Bible is inspired by God! This is why I am quick to use the term 'Evangelical Inclusivism'.

So how did I arrive at this point? Well, I had long been troubled that reformed protestant theology, despite its enormous strengths (and I continue to consider myself 'open reformed'), paid little or no attention to a whole group of Scriptures which suggest a final broadness of salvation; its as though the reformers wanted a neat, tidy and consistent theology with no loose ends! So they concentrated on the 'little flock' and 'holy remnant' sort of Scriptures and built a complete and enclosed theology around that. Calvin appeared to want no loose ends and no quibbles. But in concentrating so heavily on the remnant approach, many other Scriptures which just do not fit into this enclosed approach were apparently ignored. These include:
1. Those Scriptures which infer that those who greatly suffer during this life will be saved (for instance, Psalm 72:12-14 and Luke 16:19-31 but there are many other such Scriptures, usually with no indication of the sufferer's relationship with God!).
2. Those many covenant-type Scriptures which certainly appear to show that while God usually works through small groups of people, His intention is always to bless All Mankind. (One may note several Old Testament covenants, including the post-flood covenant, as well as Galatians 3:6-8).
3. Those Scriptures which pointedly refuse to quantify how many will finally be lost, such as Matthew 19:24-26 (but those finally saved are described as, 'A great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues...' Revelation 7:9).

Before actually tackling the newest question sent to me on this subject, let me just once again point out that the internet is full of misinformation on this topic! Some continue to suggest that Inclusivism was unheard of until the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner started writing! Others suggest that Inclusivism can have no existence except where liberal theology is accepted - all of this is, of course, utter and sheer nonsense! Indeed, without doubt, Inclusivism is where the "church fathers" stood, and they lived rather close to the time of Christ compared to us; indeed, perhaps there is food for thought in that fact alone.

'Inclusivism surely assumes a new birth without a repentance experience. The whole of Scripture is couched in "the disobedient, and the remnant" - unbelief and belief, and those who believe are at the same time 'obedient' – by prevenient grace. Evidence then of their spiritual life is that obedience – James/1 John - (despite the fact that we slip up sometimes - still having the original sin in "our flesh") - and it is they who go through the "narrow gate'".

This seems to me to be 2 assertions, followed by a suggested logical conclusion:

1.Inclusivism surely assumes a new birth without a repentance experience (which, it is inferred, can never happen).

2.The whole of Scripture is couched in "the disobedient, and the remnant" - unbelief and belief, and those who believe are at the same time 'obedient' – by ‘prevenient grace’.

3.It is they who go through the 'narrow gate'

My Response to Point 1:
So, first of all, what about 'new birth' without a repentance experience? Can that ever be possible? What we must understand about 'repentance experiences' is that they themselves are not salvific, in other words, a repentance experience - of itself - will save nobody. Actually, nobody shouts louder than I about the necessity of repentance and currently too many evangelical churches appear to be baptizing people in droves who never appear to have gone through a 'repentance experience' - that is a general observation for our early 21st century and I stand by it, however, none of us should ever forget that repentance (a) cannot save and (b) varies from person to person.
There is no doubt that the New Testament stresses repentance for those who come into contact with the message of the gospel, yet I say again and again that the majority of the human race have lived and died without hearing the name of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it was calculated a few years ago that 90% of the human race have lived and died without ever hearing the name of Jesus Christ or even learning that there was such a thing as "the gospel that saves"!
God has given us a job to do: that of preaching the gospel to every creature, yet God knew we would be bound to inquire and wonder over those who never have the opportunity to hear the gospel - does the Holy Bible give us any kind of help, similes or examples here?Yes, it surely does!! God has given us the Old Testament! We all know that the patriarchs and prophets lived and died without hearing 'the only name that saves', but these people too were regenerated and included within the scope of the sacrifice of our Lord even hundreds or even thousands of years before Jesus walked this earth! Yet, to be honest, there are not too many repentance examples in the Old Testament; we certainly know of David's great confession of his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51), and there are other examples too, so we know these men of God genuinely walked with Him and were, therefore, necessarily regenerated.

The example of the Old Testament proves the truth of the quote of John Sanders' which he has been so unjustly attacked for. Sanders said, 'Christ is ontologically necessary for salvation, but not epistemologically necessary' In other words, there is simply no salvation without Christ - there is simply no other name given under heaven whereby we may be saved, yet some may be saved who have no knowledge of Him. The Old Testament itself corroborates the statement of Sanders; we don't have to wonder whether or not Sanders is correct in his assertion, because either he is correct or the Old Testament is not telling us the truth, and the Word of God is unreliable!
Yet sadly a few who have never given any in-depth thought to these things have been quick to attack.

My questioner said, 'Inclusivism surely assumes a new birth without a repentance experience'. But we have to understand that God is even able to regenerate people from the womb should it be His will, as He apparently did with Jeremiah. A Godly conscience and a continually repentant attitude toward God are the path of life for the just who love God. But God is not bound to 'fall down' before our own doctrinal dictates!
Who of us can truly qualify/quantify the repentance phases of any of God's people? Will we dictate to God how He should do things? We say, for example, that when believers finish their life down here, they must undergo the experience of death, but God Himself is not bound to this - in fact, He took Elijah straight to heaven without having undergone the experience of death when his labors on earth were finished! Let us not be too hasty to 'tell God' (in our doctrinal dictates) what He can and cannot do. We cannot domesticate God.

Another point about this is that many believers believe that the mentally handicapped, as well as small children who die are saved. This is a slightly separate issue although not entirely disconnected, but here too we may see examples of regeneration without specific and quantifiable 'repentance experiences'. But if God can save here (which, of course, He surely can), why can He not also save a family washed away in a monsoon flood in India or Bangladesh who threw themselves on God's mercy in their final moments?
The answer, of course, is that HE CAN save them and they may be included within the scope of the sacrifice of our Lord. NOTHING within the Holy Bible says that God cannot save such people. Moreover if He does save such people then Inclusivism is true. It is our humanly-imposed doctrinal regulations and restrictions which insist that God must reject the pleas of a family about to be swept away in a monsoon flood - their voices are ignored (so many of my fellow evangelicals so worryingly believe), because they had not responded to a Christ they had probably never even heard of!!

My Response to Point 2:
The questioner says this, 'The whole of Scripture is couched in "the disobedient, and the remnant"'. I take the point but I might express it differently. I think I would say that the whole of Scripture warns that disobedience toward God (sin) just brings curses and suffering and repeatedly demonstrates to us that where God is rejected today, injustice will surely follow tomorrow. The enemy of Mankind is sin because it completely cuts us off from God. The solution of course is in our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course I cannot deny that one also finds the teaching of the 'remnant' and 'little flock' who shall be saved, but like most Inclusivists I would say that this is a picture of the church in the present world, a small group suffering against the odds. This is the way it is with men and women...but not with God. Logically speaking it might appear that the huge majority will be lost, yet God can rise above this and provide a solution; Notice how this is expressed in Matthew 19:
'And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, "Who then can be saved?" (note: this looks exceedingly gloomy, as do some other statements of Jesus and it would appear to logically follow that almost no one can be saved, but note how Jesus rejects such logic in His next statement): 'But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."' (Matthew 19:24-26).
The questioner continues, 'those who believe are at the same time 'obedient' – by ‘prevenient grace’.'. Yes, people can only be made obedient to God through the grace that God Himself supplies. Yet we all know that we cannot 'work' to receive such grace - God alone is elector and decider of where He furnishes that grace. No works of ours can ever cause us to earn this grace, yet works follow when we receive it. All reformed protestants would agree with this, yet Evangelical Inclusivism is in no way weakened or hindered by any of this! After all, we also know that we cannot draw any direct correlation between the bestowal of God's grace upon any individual and their doctrinal knowledge, although perhaps, in general terms the recipients of God's grace will tend to have more knowledge, yet knowledge itself cannot save.....but God's grace is conclusive! Did Job have the understanding of Justification by Faith Alone that the apostle Paul did?? Highly unlikely! Did David have Paul's understanding on this topic? Highly unlikely! Did Ruth?..........No, we can never say that those who have received God's grace now have all knowledge; after all, even we reformed people believe that John Wesley was certainly saved and powerfully used by God and we would say the same about William Booth despite their Arminian theology which we genuinely believe to be flawed. What about the thief on the cross who was promised by Jesus that he would enter paradise? How much knowledge did he have? Probably almost none but his belief on Jesus proved that the grace of God had come to him!

So there is little or no correlation between God's grace and in-depth spiritual/doctrinal/biblical knowledge. There is little point arguing about this because biblical examples abound to back up this point. So when my questioner (quite correctly) points out that God's grace will cause people to want to be obedient toward God and to follow Him, that does not mean such people will necessarily have all doctrinal knowledge and it certainly does not mean that these will all be 'good reformed people'.
So we come back to that extremely poor family in India or Bangladesh who, about to be washed away in a dreadful monsoon flood, throw themselves on God's mercy in their final moments. If God hears their pleas and takes them into His eternal kingdom, then the grace of God came to them - would He reject them because they are not 'good reformed people' - what nonsense!! Would He reject them because they did not know the name of Jesus? But neither did any of the saved of the Old Testament!
It is lamentable that the great majority of reformed writers refuse to give any consideration to these areas of philosophical theology; they will often say, 'We must not go beyond the Scripture' when, in fact, it is they themselves who are quite prepared to omit consideration of many many Scriptures. Are we aware, for instance, that the word 'mercy' occurs 253 times in the Bible (KJV), yet 'predestinate' occurs twice and 'predestinated' occurs twice, 'elect' occurs seventeen times, 'election' occurs six times and 'elected' occurs just once and yet one may find reams of pages discussing the latter group of words in our theologies yet almost never any real consideration of God's mercy! Other interesting comparisons are certainly possible: The word 'heaven' occurs 568 times in the KJV, but 'gehenna' (translated 'Hell') only 11 times (the KJV erroneously translates certain other words into 'Hell' such as 'sheol' and 'hades' but these errors have been corrected in more recent Bible translations). We may also note that 'salvation' occurs 163 times, but 'damnation' only 10 times, and 'damned' only 3 times. This should alert us to the fact that there is something seriously 'out of kilter' here (and I speak as a reformed man).

My Response to Point Three:
My questioner now draws his conclusion: 'It is they (the subjects of God's grace) who go through the 'narrow gate'. He is here using the picture of God's suffering people in an evil world, the remnant, the persecuted, the despised people of God The NKJV says,
'Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it' (Matthew 7:13-14).
In other words, most of this world do not want God, they are going in a contrary direction, they are not, at least at this present moment, recipients of the grace of God; if the grace of God should come to them, they would wish to bow down before Him and to learn more about Him, but without God's grace they are headed for destruction. Of course, these words are being used as a warning: wherever the gospel has been seriously preached, people will have heard these words! Without God there is ultimately just hopelessness! However, God has all knowledge and He knew that some would never read these words or even hear the name of Jesus during their earthly lives, they are in ignorance.

Humanly, this would appear depressing and hopeless but despite this we must remember that when people were about to conclude that almost nobody can be saved, Jesus made the most encouraging comment, 'All things are possible with God' - there is a Judgment Day to come when many will find that the grace of God had come to them during their lives which had led to them doing good works (not the other way around), even though they did not know Jesus! Matthew 25:31-46 is a beautiful parable because it is a picture of people being told on Judgment Day that the good works they had done during their lives were done through the very grace of God - but there is astonishment among these people because they know little or nothing about 'The King' (Jesus). Maybe they had expected condemnation but now richly discover the overiding mercy of God.

Please read Matthew 25:31-46 with great care and note how this depicts an astonishment that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is extended to many who did not appear to expect it!

So finally, while the 'remnant' and 'little flock' are occasionally presented to us in the Scriptures, they are pictures of God's true people struggling in the societies of this present world, they do not appear to be quantitative statements of eternal salvific finality. When we do find such statements they are always highly encouraging and we see a picture of the work of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, having far more scope, efficacy and eternal conclusiveness than the work of the First Adam (which we should surely expect to see). See Romans 5:15-20.

Just consider the following Scriptures which look beyond the 'present evil world' to a time when a broadness of salvation is finally revealed:

Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 12:1-6; Matthew 19:24-26; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 15: 2-32; Luke 19:10; John 1:9,29; John 3:16-17; John 4:42; John 6:33,51; John 12:31-32; Acts 10:1-35; Acts 14:16-17; Acts 17:23-28; Romans 2:6-16; Romans 5:15-20; Romans 11:12,15; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,19; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:10-11; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; James 1:27; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14; Revelation 7:9-17 (esp 9); Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:6-7; Revelation 22:2.

When I wrote a few years ago that I believe that some Roman Catholics are certainly saved although they lived and died within the doctrinal confusion of the Church of Rome, a certain hyper-Calvinist Scottish gentleman came to me (by e mail) breathing fire and venom; he was outraged because he apparently wished to see 95% of the human race, including deceased small children, despatched to the 'fires of hell'. I made a remark to him which, I'm afraid, outraged him even more: I seriously doubted whether he and I could be worshipping the same God! This undoubtedly sincere gentleman felt that I was a short-term student of the Bible. In fact, Bible study became a passion for me when I was 15 and it is still a passion now in my 60th year, so there is around 45 years of Bible study there (some ups and downs along the road, of course). For what it is worth, I can still vividly recall, at the age of 15, kneeling beside my bed with an open Bible on the bed, begging the good Lord to give me an understanding of His Word.
Robin A Brace

'An Evangelical Inclusivist Defends Evangelical Inclusivism' is HERE




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