The Doctrine Of Regeneration In Evangelical Theology The Reformation To 1800 -- By: Kenneth Stewart
JBTM 8:1 (Spring 2011) p. 42
The Doctrine Of Regeneration In Evangelical Theology
The Reformation To 1800
Dr. Stewart is Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia and author of Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (IVP Academic, 2011).
With increasing regularity, an argument is now being made in conservative Protestant theology that runs thus: the related doctrines of regeneration and conversion took on an enlarged and even exaggerated role in the eighteenth century (the age of the Great Awakening) compared to anything given to them previously. As a consequence (so goes this argument) the now-conventional evangelical Protestant emphasis on the need for regeneration, not being an emphasis very fully anticipated in the theology of the Protestant Reformation1 is something now best “pared back.” Children raised in Christian families can be nurtured towards faith in Christ without it; those “in the world” can be told of their need to be united with Christ without the conventional emphasis on regeneration.
This paper takes issue with this representation and consequently will survey the doctrine of regeneration as taught from the age of the Reformation to 1800 (a convenient terminus date for the first era of Awakening) and seek to analyze such developments to the doctrine as may have occurred. It is only to be expected that we will observe some developments – inasmuch as formulations of many doctrines may develop incrementally over time. But I hope to be able
JBTM 8:1 (Spring 2011) p. 43
to demonstrate that such developments to the doctrine of regeneration did not wait for the eighteenth century but arose much closer to the Reformation – and in response to the pastoral difficulties faced in a nominally-Christian Europe which still awaited full evangelization.
I. Our Current Usage Of The Term “Regeneration” Does Not Strictly Conform To Early Protestant Usage
Today, it is not sufficiently appreciated that a significant part of the “gain” in the Reformation era was in the realm of the application of redemption. Given that Jesus Christ, by his incarnation, his perfect life, his death for our sins, and his resurrection had accomplished redemption, how was any given individual able to participate in this redemption? To answer the question only by saying that the individual participates in Christ’s redemption by the exercise of faith is true, yet it is an answer that raises stilladditional questions. Whence comes this faith? Whence comes the awareness of and contrition for sin, without which no proper faith in Christ is exerc...
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