Sunday, July 01, 2007
N.T. Wright, Paul Helm and the Ordo Salutis
Theologian Paul Helm has posted some thoughts on N.T. Wright's ordo salutis (the ordo salutis is the 'order of salvation' and it describes the chronological and logical order of the application of salvation to the believer). Here I have a few thoughts on the ordo salutis itself and Wright's understanding of it.
On the Ordo Salutis
1. As someone who comes from the Reformed tradition I am inclined to see regeneration as preceding faith. In fact, regeneration is the efficacious cause of faith in my thinking and God creates faith the same way that he made the universe: he found nothing and made something.
2. I find certain aspects of Wright's ordo salutis dissatisfying since Wright appears to make justification contingent upon regeneration which, in effect, reduces justification to an analytic judgment (it renders the verdict based on what is "there") based on spiritual vitality rather than making the verdict based on a synthetic addition (imputation or union with Christ). I think Wright is simply inconsistent with what he says elsewhere about union with Christ as the grounds of justification. Nonetheless, you cannot read Galatians 4 without realizing that reception of the Spirit and justification are part of the instantaneous experience of faith.
3. In Romans 8.29-30, Paul does give an ordo salutis of sorts (see also Eph. 1.4-5). However, what Paul is doing here is situating the story of the salvation of the believer amidst the larger story of God's cosmic plan for the restoration of creation and the vindication of the people of God at the eschaton. The key issue here is assurance that God's plan will prevail! Paul did not write Rom. 8.29-30 in order to create a neat little box that all conversions must conform to, nor did he think that an ordo salutis was the centre and goal of theology and the test for one's orthodoxy.
Limitations of the ordo salutis
1. As I've said elsewhere, Reformed Theology often reduces Theology itself to the construction of an ordo salutis. This I think was Karl Barth's criticism of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Theology becomes reduced to anthropology or what God does for humanity rather than concerning itself with the sheer God-ness of God!
2. There are roughly 24 conversions in the Book of Acts and no two of them are the same (e.g. the timing of the reception of the Spirit etc) and it is nonsensical to try make any single conversion model universal and normative for all Christians, whether that is the conversion of Cornelius, the Samaritans, the Jews at Pentecost, or even Saul of Tarsus. No systematic ordo salutis will ever survive contact with the Book of Acts!
3. Reading Galatians and Romans via the grid of an ordo salutis has done the most heinous violence to the text of Paul's letters in the history of intepretation. Romans and Galatians are not answering the question, 'What must I do to be saved?' rather they are concerned with the question: 'Who are the people of God and in what economy will they be vindicated?' Paul is concerned in these letters with the unity of Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles around one gospel, under a common Lord, and living in worshipful harmony with each other. He is not trying to refute Pelagius and Erasmus.
4. More important than an ordo salutis is a historia salutis (i.e. history of salvation). Good narrative theology that plugs into the biblical storyline, along with an acute awareness of historical context, is the antidote to bad systematic theology.