The New Birth

A pastor-friend and I were discussing how we should understand (and not understand) the meaning of the new birth or being born again as taught by Jesus and his Apostles in Scripture. It was a fruitful conversation.

More recently, I’ve tended to favor or emphasize the New Birth as a corporate objective historical reality first and foremost. And there’s plenty of biblical warrant for viewing it that way. Lots of biblical talk about sociopolitical turmoil and society upheaval as birth pains. And in this thinking, an individual’s new birth is a matter of subjectively getting caught up in that corporate objective historical reality. It’s akin to the historia salutis of salvation accomplished by Christ in history compared with the ordo salutis of salvation applied by the Spirit in the individual.

I can see some contrarianism to American baptistic revivalist evangelical notions of the born-again experience at work in my shifted view. And that doesn’t bother me all that much. But I don’t like that I sense my shifted view is going so far as to undermining my confidence in a significant change in the individual that marks a real event.

My pastor-friend said we can have both. And we can especially have the new birth of the individual as a substantial reality (i.e. the meaningful retention of present Reformed and New Calvinist notions of regeneration or effectual calling) without the revivalist baggage. To do so, we have to reject the assumptive importation of revivalist notions about altar calls, radical conversion experiences, etc. into the biblical text when it speaks of us being born of God. There’s no actual biblical expectation of what the event looks like to us. The individual’s new birth by the Spirit is substantial and definitive in some way. But it’s an invisible reality. It’s known by its results. It’s the resulting reality to which we look. But it’s not a spectacle with some particular characteristics to which we look.

The new birth is a status to be believed about ourselves to remind us in Whom we have our origin. And the reality of the new birth reveals to us that it is a necessary work of the Spirit of God in us to grant us sight and entrance into the Kingdom of God, because the Kingdom of God is the Age of the Spirit, and its citizens must be born of the Spirit.

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