Oct 1, 2008

More from Berkouwer

"Nevertheless, we cannot share Kuyper's attitude toward the words of the confession. Kuyper said that later theologians abandoned "this more or less questionable manner of speech and set regeneration in the foreground." He went on to say that the confession contained a "subjective conception." Here Kuyper's criticism of the confession suggests, I think, that he puts too much importance on the arrangement of the steps in the ordo salutis. The decisive point is the way in which faith is related to God's grace. And this was in the confession, as it was in Calvin, above reproach. It is just as unreasable to brand the formulation which we find in Calvin and the confession as subjective conceptions as it is to charge post-confessional development with shifting interest from grace to man. Faith involves a certain subjectivity, but a subjectivity which has meaning only as it is bound to the gospel."

"This is precisely the marvel of the word of the Holy Ghost -- that He is the origin of this faith. It is not the order as such that is decisive. It is how one understands God's salvation that determines whether sovereign divine grace is properly respected. To make a system of a certain order of salvation does not insure purity of doctrine. Nor does simplifying the ordo salutis guarantee a pure confession of grace.

This becomes more interesting and important when we see that it is not possible to deduce a fixed ordo from the the words of Scripture and their order. An ordo is often read from Romans 8: 30: "And whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Other texts are also used in this regard. Consider I Corinthians 1: 30: "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption"; I Corinthians 6:11: "And such were some of you: But ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God"; and Titus 3: 5: "Not by words done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." The great variety which is apparent in the words Paul uses brings to mind the expression of Seeberg: "Only the richness, not the order, of the way of grace comes to expression." The text which looks most as though it presents a definite sequence is Romans 8:30, in which Paul, while discussion election, notes the phases of the way of salvation - calling, justification, glorification. Sanctification is conspicuously absent in this list; and anyone with a mind to accept Paul's list as a systematic arrangement of the course of salvation, would surely be unwilling to omit sanctification from the sequence."

What does Paul intend here? He evidently means to characterize salvation in Christ, the salvation which arises from the depths of the Father's heart and reaches out into time with an eternal blessing. The context suggests that Paul does not have a sequence in mind. He is talking about the work, and particularly the prayer, of the Holy Ghost (Rom. 8: 23, 26, 27), about hope (Rom. 8: 24, 35), about love to God (Rom. 8: 28), and about the cooperation of all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8: 28). A simple biblicism, which sees a sequence here, would bring us into trouble when faced with I Corinthians 6: 11, which puts sanctification before justification."

(I do disagree with Berkouwer on this last point. I do believe Paul gives a definite order in Romans 8 SG)

"It is clear that we cannot answer the question of the ordo salutis with a compbination of scriptural terms. The determinative question is whether, in the way of salvation, we give sufficient expression to the fact that the life of the believer - from first to last - is embraced by divine salvation.

We need not be afraid that by reflecting on the relation of this divine salvation to human subjectivity we are harboring an objection to the sovereignty of grace. Salvation has everything to do with human life down to its most subjective facets. Neither need we think that the way of salvation has to do with an "application" of salvation, as though a "second salvation" - a subjective one in distinction from an objective work of Christ - had to be realized. Rather, it is concerned with the achievement of the purpose of grace. When a person sees this clearly, he will never make faith one distinct point in the way of salvation. To do such a thing with faith, says Stephen, "Robs it of its fundamental and comprehensive significance as the one unifying doctrine of evangelical Christianity. If the ordo salutis were really intended to be a straight line drawn through a sequence of causal factors it would be open to the same objections that we have against the Roman Catholic concept of the function of faith as a preparatory phase preceding justification or infused grace. Reformation theology has always protested that faith thus loses its central and total character and becomes a mere step on the way of salvation. In contrast to this devaluation of faith, the Reformation confessed sola fide, meaning thereby to emphasize the universal significance of faith. In this way faith possesses no unique functional value; it rests wholly in God's grace. Theological study of the way of salvation, or ordo salutis, must, then, always revolve about the correlation between faith and justification. It must simply cut away everything which blocks its perspective of this sola fide. Heresy always invades the ordo salutis at this point, and this is why it is so necessary to realize that the entire way of salvation is only meant to illuminate sola fide and sola gratia. For only thus can it be confessed that Christ is the way.

Theologians, in their studies on the ordo salutis, have often done injustice to Christ by making subtle distinctions and divisions between the objectivity and subjectivity of salvation. Christology, for instance, has often been reckoned with the objective while soteriology has been put in the subjective sphere. Salvation was thus practically construed as composed of two factors, one divine and one human, while the totality of salvation was to be seen in their combination. Grace and redemption were considered as the objective state of affairs. Grace and freedom of choice, grace and merit were part of human activity. But in this way the correlation between faith and justification was lost sight of. A tension arose between the work of God in Christ and the role of man."



Ian D. Elsasser said...

I agree that the Scriptures do not present an order of salvation, something by Richard B. Gaffin (Resurrection and Redemption, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1978, pp.136-143) and Anthony A. Hoekema (Saved by Grace, Eerdmans, 1989, pp. 11-27). Says Hoekema:

"We should think, then, not of an order of salvation with successive steps or stages, but rather of a marvelous work of God's grace—a way of salvation—within which we may distinguish various aspects. These aspects, however, are not all of the same sort; they should not therefore all be placed into the same category. For example, some aspects of this way of salvation concern what man does, though only in God's strength (faith and repentance), whereas other aspects concern what God does (regeneration and justification). Some aspects are judicial acts (justification), whereas other aspects concern the moral and spiritual renewal of man (regeneration and sanctification). Some aspects are instantaneous actions (regeneration, conversion of the crisis type, definitive sanctification), while other phases are continuing actions (progressive sanctification, perseverance).
In summary, the various phases of the way of salvation are not to be thought of as a series of successive steps, each of which replaces the preceding, but rather as various simultaneous aspects of the process of salvation which, after they have begun, continue side by side" (pp. 15-16).

Regrettably, Hoekema still speaks of the logical or "causal priority" of regeneration" (p. 14). Yet in Titus 3.5-7, regeneration is our justification/vindication. This is the same as Jesus' resurrection being His vindication/justification (1 Ti 3.16).

Imposing an order of salvation on Scripture does not do justice to the "now" and "not yet" (already/not yet) of salvation. For example, sanctification is a definitive act at the point of conversion (1 Co 6.; 2 Th 2.13; 1 Pe 1.2) but also an ongoing activity. Justification is presented in three tenses – past (Ro 5.1, 9; 1 Co 6.11), present (Ro 3.24, 28; Gal 2.16; 3.8, 11; 5.4; Jas 2.24), and future (Ro 2.13; 3.20; Gal 2.16; 5.5). Adoption takes place at conversion and yet is a future event (Ro 8.23). And what of the present tense of calling in Galatians Gal 5.8 and 1 Thessalonians 2.12? An order of salvation has no place for this.

Ian D. Elsasser said...

The first sentence above should read, "I agree that the Scriptures do not present an order of salvation, something acknowledged by Richard B. Gaffin (Resurrection and Redemption, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1978, pp.136-143) and Anthony A. Hoekema (Saved by Grace, Eerdmans, 1989, pp. 11-27)."

I apologize for the omission.