written by Roger E Olson, PhD
I was recently asked here to provide an Arminian order of salvation (ordo salutis).
First, what is an order of salvation? In theology the technical term is “ordo salutis.” From now on, here, I’ll simply refer to it as “ordo.” An ordo is an attempt to put into logical, not chronological, order the events that lead up to and take place in and follow a person’s initial salvation. Those are chronological terms, of course, and there isn’t any way to delineate an ordo without using chronological language at least some of the time. Many theologians, however, would argue that, like the decrees of God, these ordo events are not necessarily chronologically sequential—especially from God’s point of view.
The Bible and Christian tradition use many terms to identify things God does and things the person being saved does in relation to turning from being “lost” to being “found” (to use evangelical language) or from being “damned” to being “redeemed.” The Bible nowhere lays out a single, clear ordo, so a major task of systematic theology has been to bring together all the biblical concepts of personal salvation and put them in logical order. Why? Because inquiring minds want to know what God does and what we do in our becoming saved persons.
This issue of a proper ordo became pressing during the Protestant reformation which is not to say it wasn’t an issue before. However, Protestants, with their emphasis on grace alone and faith alone, felt the need to offer an alternative ordo to the typical Catholic ordo which emphasized sacraments and works of love as instrumental causes of saving grace. Calvinists worked out their own ordo (with some variations) that emphasized the priority of grace over human decisions or actions.
Arminianism, Remonstrantism, was, in many ways, simply an attempt to mediate between Catholic and Calvinist ordos—both of which were viewed by Arminius and the Remonstrants as imbalanced. To put the matter simplistically, Arminians have always viewed the Catholic ordo as over emphasizing Philippians 2:12 to the neglect of the immediately following verse and the Calvinist ordo as over emphasizing Philippians 2:13 to the neglect of the immediately preceding verse. According to classical Arminianism, the biblical ordo must do justice equally to God’s action and ours in salvation with priority being given to God’s without neglecting ours as essential.
So here is my attempt to lay out an Arminian ordo:
1) God’s electing grace in Christ of all who will believe in him;
2) Christ’s atoning, reconciling death for all sinners;
3) Prevenient grace given by God to sinners through the Word (calling, convicting, illuminating, enabling);
4) Conversion (repentance and faith) enabled by assisting, prevenient grace;
5) Regeneration, justification, adoption, union with Christ, indwelling of the Holy Spirit;
Remember—these are not necessarily chronologically sequential. Especially 3, 4, 5 and 6 may be temporally simultaneous. (Of course, some Arminians will view all as temporally simultaneous in God’s awareness as God does not experience temporal sequence of events.)
Now, some Arminians, especially high church, sacramental Arminians, will want to insert baptism into the ordo. I would simply say they include that with 3—baptism as a means of prevenient grace. They will want to add “the water” after “through.”
Some Arminians will view 6 as a process beginning with 5 and ending only with 7 while others, especially Wesleyans, will view 6 as potentially complete before 7.
The main point is this: In this Arminian ordo, in contrast to a typical Catholic one, a clear logical distinction is made between 4, 5 and 6. 6 is in no way a cause of 4 or 5. In contrast to a typical Calvinist ordo, 5 logically follows 4.
Why does this matter? Well, Arminians believe this is the pattern of evangelism in the Bible—the call to repent and believe is serious; without repentance and faith, enabled by prevenient grace, one cannot be fully saved (regenerated, justified, etc.). And one cannot count on God doing that for him or her apart from his or her free acceptance. There is urgency to the call to conversion. It is something we do, enabled by God, in response to God’s call, and not something that just happens to us. It is freely entering into a new relationship, not just having a new condition imposed.
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