It is difficult for the modern mind to accept the possibility of substantive revival and lasting reformation. Christians are not immune from the modern tendency to limit their thinking to strict causality, the idea that every effect has a specific cause.1 The history of Karl Marx, the biology of Charles Darwin, and the psychology of Sigmund Freud are all based on an evolutionary view that sees all development as a long string of effects based on prior causes. Man is viewed as a product of these environmentally determined causes. Man is then no more than a particular effect of a series of biological, social, and historical processes.
Such naturalism sees no place for the divine or miraculous. Life is seen only in terms of the conditions and experiences of the present and past. To the Indian way of thinking, man is so completely controlled by his past that the sum total of all his effects, his Karma, is inescapable. He might go through many reincarnations in an attempt to work out the burden of his Karma before he escapes into Nirvana, which is not seen as a type of heaven, but as oblivion. Man, in such a view, can escape causality only by means of integration into nothingness. The West has sought to escape its perceived burden of causality in other ways, such as Marx's revolution, the Darwinist's use of science as a tool of control, and psychiatry's attempts to control thought and consequent behavior.
When Christ told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:3), He offered an alternative to blind causality. Nicodemus was naturally incredulous. His response to the idea of a new birth and a new citizenship was, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" Nicodemus did not see how a man could become a new man, how he could undo all that he was and all the effects of the causes which made him what he was.
Nicodemus did not merely have trouble with a new theological term, born again, but with the idea of regeneration. How can a man have a new beginning, a fresh start, as Christ's language implied? It was not just the biological impossibility that Nicodemus questioned but the idea that this new birth could really remake a man into a citizen of the kingdom of which Christ spoke.
Christianity is about regeneration, God's putting new life into men's cold, dead souls. The regenerate is no longer the sum of what made him what he was, but is a new creature in Christ, ethically a new man. Christianity is based on regeneration, on God's changing men from what they are in themselves and their context to what He would have them be. Christianity sees God as the primary cause and redeemed man, restored to fellowship, as exercising dominion under Him in His Kingdom. Environment (as in Freud and Darwin) or historical process (as in Marx), when made ultimate, make men perpetual victims. Dominion men, under God, can be more than conquerors through Jesus Christ and His salvation. Christ was speaking to Nicodemus of regeneration, a new life as a new man because God, as the primary cause, supersedes simple causality.
The new birth makes new men, new creatures who are enabled by God's Spirit to serve their Redeemer. This regeneration is the beginning of man's restoration, the starting point of man's life of faith. Is it not to be viewed as the end point of God's dealing with the regenerate in this life? Man, Christ told Nicodemus, was born again to be a citizen of the kingdom of God. Citizenship has its loyalties, duties, and an obligation of law-keeping. These responsibilities are more pronounced when the Sovereign of the kingdom is under attack by those who would dethrone Him and elevate another.
Unregenerate man can see and know the facts of Christ's work, but they mean nothing to him without the Holy Spirit's supernatural power of regeneration. This puts our status, that of the church, and the kingdom of God within the realm of God's eternal decree. If we see our own salvation as the will and act of God, we must view reform and revival as coming from God and not as the effect of primarily human causation. Such reform and revival must not, therefore, be anticipated as future effects of human causation, but of God's eternal will. God is in the business of changing men. When He ordains it, they will believe and repent. To look at the world or the church and somehow project the potential for revival and reformation as one would project potential sales or population growth is to claim the ultimacy of human causality rather than God's regeneration. If you believe your regeneration to repentance and faith was solely by the power of God, you must believe in this power as the sole determiner of all men's regeneration.
If we believe in God as the first and primary cause, we will believe that great things are possible; to believe otherwise is to deny God's regenerating power. Moreover, if we believe that our salvation is an objective legal status before a very real God, we will believe in the objective reality of God as the ultimate cause of all things, including the future of men and nations. Marx, Darwin, and Freud saw man and his environment as the limits of causality. They trapped man in a world of their own perceived limits. God frees men by regeneration and makes them new creatures in Jesus Christ. Before we can believe in reformation and revival, we must believe in God's miraculous regenerating power.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, The Biblical Philosophy of History (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2000). See Chap. 4, "Regeneration and History," for a discussion of causality vs. regeneration as it applies to history.