Over at SBC Tomorrow, the blog of a leading personality and Pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, Peter Lumpkins, I interacted in the comments section under one of his recent articles, Did Jesus tell Nicodemus he must be born again so he can believe the gospel?
What it revealed was an ongoing mentality which represents Christians who have chosen a sycophantic adherence to all things Calvinistic as opposed to all things exegetical and allowing the results be as they may, to determine one’s theology. I am not going to rehash or re-post what you can read but I recommend you visit the blog and observe the sottish reasoning by one particular commenter.
I used to be a Reformed Calvinist and argued so on many occasions but my arguments were trained to be exegetical, as all theological arguments ought to be in their foundation. Fortunately, the very tools given me in order utilize exegesis were what brought me out of the boundaries of Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist Theology.
It is important you understand what is going on here in the comments section of this particular article. It is not only Calvinists who have this problem but numerous others, believers and unbelievers, as a way of coping with facing overwhelming rebuttals to their belief system.
People often make great ego-investments early on with matters only to discover they have bought in to something they did not fully vet and which contains problematic values and properties. Unfortunately, a significant number of such people also become demonstrative in their ego-investment and when their conscience pricks them on a matter, they are too far pronounced in their allegiance to become circumspect and retest what they believe and instead, as the Scriptures impart, they see the flaw in the mirror but as soon as they turn away, they forget about it. Why? It is simple, to save face within themselves and with others.
I have said this often and repeat it now, do not invest your ego in your theology, invest your soul in humility and the person of Christ and be ready to learn and correct your errors. You will get to a place of dogma and certitude over years and years of study but to do this too soon, before you have truly vetted and substantiated a comprehensive system, is to invite into your life the role of a theological fool.
Now, on to my treatment of the material which I am copying and posting from the comments section I shared at Peter Lumpkins’ blog. I have modified my response a bit for more general readership but have retained addressing a few personal points, so if it reads as if I am speaking to someone specifically, I was.
John 1:13: Examined
John makes a clear point. We are born again:
1. not of blood
2. not the will of the flesh
3. not the will of man
4. but of God
The expressions are understood as negatives in comparison to the real source of our regeneration.
Not of blood - (technically plural, "bloods") that is, by means of biological inheritance or lineage. This was a very critical point regarding the Jews with some misunderstanding that their blessings from God, which were based on their genetics (i.e., being a Jew), incorporated the promise of eternal salvation merely by being born a Jew. And expanded in application, this implicates any human pedigree if, being a Gentile, one imagines their human royalty is of some aid in the cause of God regenerating them.
Some suggest it could refer to the various sacrifices, pre-Christ, and if this be correct it still stands as a testament that it is only by means of Christ's righteousness and not the former sacrifices. I believe this is the weakest of the interpretations but still, I mention it just to cover the base and ultimately does not steer either of us in another direction since this is not the disputed portion.
Not of the flesh - this has been and still is, widely accepted with respect to its use in the Bible and outside of the Bible in contemporary literature of the period, a reference to life being the result of sexual intercourse. In other words, one is not born of God by means of human procreation, it is something greater and outside of that (which lays to rest the idea that babies are born regenerated and only die spiritually and gain a sin nature after they willfully sin at some point past their birth).
Included in this is the propensity among the Patriarchs to have many wives thus, increasing their seed and enlarging their covenantal benefits which our Lord is passively addressing; that while they might have succeeded in doing so via human procreation for geographical, political and agricultural blessings, the blessing of the covenant of eternal life will not and cannot come by this means.
Not by the will of man - interestingly the Greek word here for man is (ἀνδρὸς) andros and not (ἄνθρωπος) anthropos. Anthropos refers to all human kind without respect to gender (in general, though it can denote or connote a limited number of people or specific group depending on the context) which is not used here, rather, andros is the word used which is definitively for males. Why? What was our Lord referring to here?
He was addressing the view of the Jews and society which understood it was the husband or the authority who headed both the home and social structure. It was via the male authority that children were conceived, received, circumcised, given social status, and decreed what they will be with respect to their family and society. In other words, while human authority could and did decree many things, this event, regeneration, will not and cannot come by way of human authority or human decree.
Ultimately God is rebutting all human efforts which might claim the ability to regenerate one's self or claim/decree such.
Thus, this reference to the "will of man" grammatically, is disqualified from referring to all human kind (anthropos) since its definitive/grammatical property alone limits it to only males and its contextual use further binds its meaning to being limited to males and with respect to their role as authority.
Thus, the use here by the Calvinist as arguing that the human will is eliminated as an element of the process of our being saved is invalidated since such an argument is with respect to all humankind and the exercise of their will in believing the gospel which would not only require anthropos to be used but as well, a different context and never minding what I just presented, the use of andros which is limited in its definitive/grammatical property and further, its contextual use which ultimately nullifies this particular Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist interpretation and application which, again, would require anthropos (Yes, I am being a bit redundant in my last paragraph but it seems redundancy is necessary, at times).
Regeneration is from the Greek word, palingenesias (παλινγενεσίας) which is found in Titus 3:5 (also, Matthew has a reference). Even though John 3:3 does not use palingenesias it does refer to it with the phrase, “being born from above” using γεννάω (born or to bring forth) ἄνωθεν (from heaven or from the source of origin). Regeneration, as explained in Titus, is not merely the spiritual enlivening or resurrection of the human spirit but it is also the sanctification or washing from sin (Titus 3:5) by God the Holy Spirit. And this comes, how?
From believing the gospel as Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved..."
So in one sense you are right. Our regeneration is not by our will, that is, being born again. No one is arguing with that. God, through his third person, God the Holy Spirit, washes us and enlivens us by resurrecting our spiritual state lost in Adam from which we are born congenitally dead until we believe and are born again.
However, God regenerating us and our believing are not synonyms though they are very closely related in chronology and one is the consequence of the other. Here, Christ is speaking of the regeneration process itself (that it is by the power of God and specifically via God the Holy Spirit per Titus 3:5) and not why someone believes the gospel which results in regeneration. That is another issue and not contained in what Christ addresses here and is only imposed or imported via eisegesis.
It is true that the language of Christ, here, leaves many questions but that is just the point of many things our Lord said and did, to provoke genuine and further discovery by those who wanted the truth.