I'd like to start this question by citing the definition of intellectual assent provided by the article Is faith intellectual assent?:

To give intellectual assent is to agree with something on a factual basis. Faith involves intellectual assent, and intellectual assent is an important part of faith, but faith is much more than knowing facts. Faith does not mean that you suspend your intellect. Someone once defined faith as “believing what you know isn’t true.” Such a suspension of the intellect is not faith! Rather, faith is committing yourself to something that you believe to be true.

In other words, intellectual assent represents an epistemic state characterized by agreement with specific factual propositions about reality. But instead of conceptualizing intellectual assent as a binary condition (agreeing versus disagreeing), a more nuanced perspective views it as a value within a spectrum, a percentage, or a continuous scale between 0 and 1. In addition, it is crucial to recognize that Christianity encompasses a collection of multiple propositions, necessitating an even more nuanced approach that acknowledges individuals may allocate varying degrees of intellectual assent to each proposition.

For instance, a Latter-day Saint may strongly assent to a distinct set of propositions, differing significantly from the propositions to which a Reformed Calvinist might offer stronger intellectual assent. Or take, for example, propositions like The Earth is roughly 6000 years old, which might garner robust intellectual assent from a Young-Earth Creationist but receive less agreement from someone adhering to the mainstream scientific consensus on the age of the Earth.

The challenges associated with intellectual assent might perhaps be simplified by narrowing down the set of factual propositions that need to be believed to a fundamental core, akin to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. However, even within this simplified framework, the extent of intellectual assent to Christianity's core tenets would still exhibit a spectrum, contingent upon the individual's assessment of the available evidence.

For instance, the evaluation of historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, arguably the most pivotal proposition in Christianity, requires careful consideration. A highly recommended resource for this examination is The Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemics, History by Dale Allison. As one of the reviewers aptly expressed:

“This is a book of massive erudition around the resurrection, the real events that may well lie behind it, and how to read its popular New Testament residues and cross-cultural parallels. Allison engages the full power and depth of contemporary biblical criticism to show that the scriptural accounts are relatively thin but nevertheless intriguing documents for the responsible historian and can reasonably be read faithfully or skeptically. The originality, even genius, of the book lies in how he then turns to other independent literatures to “think in parallels,” playing, for example, well-documented Marian apparitions and angelic, bereavement, and near-death contacts off the early New Testament accounts or the Buddhist rainbow body off the empty tomb, always with a double refusal to fall into either easy debunking reduction or naïve literalist belief. The result is a shocking book that troubles one's certainty, whatever that certainty happens to be, and advances a profound humility before one of the most important mysteries of the history of religions. It turns out that the questions of “what really happened” or, more basic still, “what a body is” are much more complicated than is normally thought or believed.” ―Jeffrey J. Kripal, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought, Rice University, USA

But moving beyond mere intellectual assent, with all its associated epistemological challenges, there is also the concept of the "new birth" or the "born-again experience." Unlike a purely intellectual exercise, this transformative phenomenon is considered supernatural, an event that believers are expected to undergo at some point in their lives. It appears to me that the extent to which one intellectually assents to certain propositions can be addressed intellectually through the practical study of evidence, arguments, and counter-arguments. However, triggering a supernatural experience, such as the "born-again" encounter, is not something for which I can discern an obvious method, if a method even exists at all.

Given these considerations, my question for Evangelical Protestants is as follows:

How do Evangelical Protestants understand the relationship between intellectual assent to core beliefs and the experience of being "born-again"? Specifically, is there consensus within your faith tradition on whether a high degree of intellectual assent is a prerequisite for undergoing a "born-again" experience, and if so, are there established guidelines regarding the process leading to this experience?

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    'triggering a supernatural experience' 'a method'. The question seems to have no conception that God himself does these things. They are not 'triggered'. And there is no 'method'. If God is not in the matter, then it is all faked.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 12 at 23:53

1 Answer 1


Nicodemus approached Jesus on the grounds of intellectual assent saying, "We know that you're a teacher sent from God because no one could do these miracles that you're doing unless God is with him." (John chapter 3). Jesus responded that unless a person is born again/from above he cannot even see/perceive the kingdom of God.

The verb ειδω (eido) is one of three verbs that cover three groups of tenses of the act of seeing — for instance a star (Matthew 2:2), amazing things (Luke 5:26), conflicts (Philippians 1:30) — but specifically with a subsequent recognizing and understanding. Particularly, in the narrative of the New Testament, a past-tense seeing results in a present-tense knowing ("I saw" means "I know"). - Abarim Publications

It is hard to imagine giving intellectual assent to something which can't even be perceived and, indeed, this is just what Jesus indicated to Nicodemus. There is first a new birth enabling perception and then intellectual assent in knowing. There's a spiritual reckoning which must come first. One must receive the conviction by the Holy Spirit of one's sin, receive it and not fight it, and then that person can perhaps repent and believe and 'see'.

This is the 'born again experience'. Saying the same thing about my sin as God says. Acknowledging current and future condemnation as just and good and right. Pleading for and receiving undeserved forgiveness by means of the death of an innocent. Being given the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, in whom is life.

Then comes the perceiving of the Kingdom of God, the renewal of the mind, and increasing intellectual assent founded upon this singular premise implanted through the new birth by the Holy Spirit (which is God's testimony): That God is true.

He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. - John 3:31-33

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