The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

, posted by Ben Henshaw

The ordo salutis is the “order of salvation.” It focuses on the process of salvation and the logical order of that process. The main difference between the Arminian and Calvinist ordo concerns faith and regeneration. Strictly speaking, faith is not part of salvation in the Arminian ordo since it is the condition that is met prior to God’s act of saving. All that follows faith is salvation in the Arminian ordo while in the Calvinist ordo faith is the result of salvation in some sense. What follows is how I see the Arminian ordo compared to the Calvinist ordo along with why I find the Calvinist ordo theologically problematic.

Arminian ordo salutis:

Prevenient grace

Faith

[Union with Christ]

Justification

Regeneration

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Arminian ordo:

Again, it is important to note that strictly speaking prevenient grace and faith are not part of salvation but are necessary to salvation. Prevenient grace makes the faith response possible and faith is the God ordained condition that must be met before God will save. Faith is synergistic in that it is a genuine response that is made possible by God’s enabling grace. All that follows (the various aspects of salvation) are a monergistic work of God. While salvation results from faith, faith does not cause salvation. God causes salvation in response to faith according to His promise to save believers.

There are other aspects or expressions of salvation that are not explicitly included in the above ordo. Adoption, for instance, would probably be included under both regeneration and glorification. Regeneration would include the commencement of adoption while glorification would include the culmination of adoption. Election would be tied to union with Christ. We would become the elect of God upon our union with Christ (the elect One) as we would come to share in His election through union and identification with Him. Faith joins us to Christ (Eph. 1:13) and all of the spiritual blessings that reside in Christ become the believer’s upon union with Him (Eph. 1:3-12).

Temporally, these blessings would become ours simultaneously, but logically it is important to place justification prior to regeneration and all that follows, since one must first receive forgiveness and have sin removed prior to the reception of new life and the attaining of holiness (sanctification). One cannot have life while still under the condemnation of sin and the wrath of God for “the wages of sin is death”. And one cannot be made holy apart from justification. So the moment we are joined to Christ we are cleansed by His blood and new life and holiness immediately result from that cleansing.

Predestination would have reference to the predetermined destiny of believers through union with Christ. Believers have been predestinated to ultimate adoption and conformity to the image of Christ (glorification). Predestination does not have reference to God’s predetermination of certain sinners to become believers and be ultimately saved.

Calvinist ordo salutis:

Election/Predestination (unconditional)

Regeneration

Faith

Justification

Sanctification

Glorification

Notes on Calvinist ordo salutis:

The Calvinist ordo begins with an unconditional divine selection of certain individuals for salvation. This divine selection of those to be saved would fall under election and predestination. God would then regenerate those pre-selected individuals in time (usually upon the hearing of the gospel). Regeneration would cause a faith response. Most Calvinists would say that the faith response would be automatic and immediate. The moment one is regenerated by God that person believes. Calvinists tend to speak of faith as an unconditional and irresistible gift from God rather than the condition for receiving salvation. It is part of the salvation package as it arises from a primary aspect of salvation- regeneration. Calvinists will often say that faith is monergistic, but it is hard to see how faith could be monergistic unless God does the believing for the individual. But most Calvinists deny that God believes for the person while maintaining that faith is an unconditional monergistic work of God along with every other aspect of salvation.

The difficulty with the Calvinist ordo has to do with the priority of regeneration (the new birth). Logically, the new birth (regeneration- the beginning of spiritual life) precedes justification in the Calvinist ordo just as it precedes faith (and the Bible is clear that justification is by faith). So logically speaking we have people receiving new life prior to justification. Since justification includes forgiveness and the removal of God’s wrath, the Calvinist ordo results in the receiving of life logically prior to being forgiven and prior to the wrath of God being removed.

A further difficulty comes from trying to place adoption in the Calvinist ordo. Do we place it at the new birth (regeneration)? If we place it at the new birth then we also have the person becoming a child of God (which I think must be part of regeneration) logically prior to being forgiven and justified.

And still another difficulty comes from trying to place sanctification in the ordo. I think most Calvinists would agree with where I have placed it here. Yet I have heard (and read) many Calvinists claim that regeneration is the beginning of sanctification. If that is the case then the Calvinist also needs to explain how one can be sanctified (made holy) prior to being justified.

It is also hard to place union with Christ in the Calvinist ordo. When do we become united with Christ? Do we become united to Christ in regeneration logically prior to a faith response? This would lead to the conclusion that one can be in union with Christ logically prior to believing in Christ. If union with Christ is placed after regeneration and faith in the ordo we run into the difficulty of sinners receiving new spiritual life logically prior to being joined to the source of life- Christ.

The Calvinist ordo has much to account for and seems to be hopelessly problematic. In placing regeneration prior to faith the Calvinist ordo salutis involves itself in numerous theological absurdities while the Arminian ordo avoids them all.

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