Despite centuries of contention, various Christian denominations continue to debate the logical or pedagogical sequence of soteriological elements, noting significant theological ramifications resulting from the affirmation of each.1 Far-removed from an inconsequential academic debate, the Ordo Salutis (order of salvation) represents a significant theological framework, providing a basis for scholarly research, while simultaneously supplying laypersons with an avenue to better understand their Christian identity and communicate their faith to others.2 Examining the Ordo Salutis, this paper intends to determine which model best articulates the biblical sequence of, and causal connections among, the various elements. Although this humble inquiry does not expect to settle the debate, it will demonstrate that Scripture delineates a pedagogical sequence of major soteriological elements resembling that of the Reformed tradition—while noting its variances.3
Outlining Ordo Salutis Models
The Reformed Model
Founding their model on the principles of eternal election and the mystical union (as established in the pactum salutis) Reformed theologians postulate the sequence: (1) election, (2) predestination, (3) effectual calling, (4) regeneration, (5) faith, (6) repentance, (7) justification, (8) perseverance, (9) sanctification, and (10) glorification.6 Fundamentally, one must regard this model as a logical sequence (or pedagogical device) rather than an exact chronology, as there exists an inherent interconnection amongst the stages.7 Elucidating this principle, theologian Louis Berkhof writes,
Calvin recognized a repentance preceding faith but saw in it merely an initial fear, a legal repentance that does not necessarily lead to faith and cannot be regarded as an absolutely essential preparation for it. He stresses the repentance that flows from faith, that is possible only in communion with Christ, and that continues throughout life. Moreover, he does not regard it as consisting of contritio and fides. He recognized the close connection between repentance and faith, and did not consider the former possible without the latter, but also pointed out that Scripture clearly distinguishes the two, and therefore ascribed to each of them a more independent significance in the order of salvation.8
Furthermore, the Ordo Salutis is designed to articulate the general progression of major soteriological elements, and it is not intended to be comprehensive. Exemplifying this concept, theologian Anthony A. Hoekema observes the models omit love and hope, yet, he contends that “love and hope are just as essential in the process of our salvation as is faith.”9
The Arminian Model
Placing emphasis on human freedom and God’s universal grace bestowed upon humankind, the Arminian model diverges from the Reformed template, eliminating elements of election and predestination.10 Consequently, Arminian theologians propose an order of (1) calling, (2) prevenient grace, (3) faith, (4) repentance, (5) regeneration, (6) justification, (7) perseverance, and (8) glorification.11 As with the other ecclesial frameworks, the Arminian pattern has undergone modifications since its establishment, and “so-called Wesleyan or Evangelical Arminian[ism] does not entirely agree with the Arminianism of the seventeenth century.”12 Although unanimity and resolute continuity are impossible to obtain, the fundamental theological differences between the soteriology of Arminian and Reformed theologians is evident, providing a firm basis for comparison and abductive analysis.
The Lutheran Model
Differentiating themselves from the Reformed pattern, Lutherans accentuate activities accomplished a parte hominis (i.e., on the part of humanity) rather than those conducted a parte Dei (i.e., on the part of God).13 Correspondingly, the Lutheran framework consists of (1) calling, (2) illumination, (3) repentance, (4) regeneration and conversion, (5) mystical union, and (6) renovation.14 Digressing from both the Reformed configuration further, the Lutheran arrangement omits perseverance, as “the permanent possession of all these blessings depends on the continuance of faith—on an active faith on the part of man. If man continues to believe, he has peace and joy, life and salvation; but if he ceases to exercise faith, all this becomes doubtful, uncertain, and amissible. There is always a possibility that the believer will lose all that he possesses.”15 This theological position underscores the fundamental difference between the Reformed and Lutheran conceptions, demonstrating a profound departure from the doctrines of eternal election, mystical union, and imputation of righteousness.16
The Roman Catholic Model
Lastly, Roman Catholicism implements the sacraments as the underpinnings for the Ordo Salutis, maintaining a sequence of (1) baptismal regeneration, (2) confirmation, (3) the Eucharist, (4) penance, and (5) the extreme unction.17 Under the Roman model, confirmation facilitates reception of the Holy Ghost, while penance applies the benefits of Christ’s death to those who sin after baptism, and the extreme unction prepares an individual for death by removing any remains of sin.18 Since not all persons undergo baptism as infants, Catholicism recognizes the divine offering of a gratia sufficiens (i.e., a common grace sufficient for salvation), which remains inefficacious (gratia inefficax) without personal cooperation (gratia co-operans).19
Extrapolating constituents from each of the sacramental elements, it appears a more comprehensive soteriological arrangement of Roman Catholicism might be: (1) predestination, (2) cooperative (effectual) grace, (3) contrition and preparation, (4) baptismal regeneration, (5) justification, (6) penance, (7) sanctification, and (8) glorification.20 Similar to competing systems, the Catholic theologians are not devising a strict chronology, as Catholic doctrine specifies justification enables cooperation between God’s grace and the human will, yet conference does not occur until baptism.21 Furthermore, justification is not absolute or irrevocable under the Catholic model, as an individual can squander the gift of grace through unbelief or mortal sin, thereby requiring penance and works of sanctification for recuperation.
Examining the Biblical Data
Having outlined the various soteriological hypotheses, our investigation transitions to biblical material collection and analysis. However, before exploring the biblical evidence, it is necessary to apprehend the integral challenges and limitations of the investigation. Foremost, nowhere in the Scriptures do the biblical writers provide a theological discourse, unequivocally and purposefully outlining an order of salvation.22 In fact, the term Ordo Salutis (or any variation thereof) does not appear within the biblical text, remaining the product of theologians attempting to provide a systematic summary of the Scriptural data. Consequently, exploration relies heavily on abductive reasoning and philosophical inquest to determine which postulation corresponds best with the Scriptural particulars while contemporaneously remaining logically consistent.
Nonetheless, it seems through careful study one can produce a logical ordering of soteriological elements, as theologian John Murray comments,
There are good and conclusive reasons for thinking that the various actions of the application of redemption. . . . take place in a certain order, and that order has been established by divine appointment, wisdom, and grace. It is quite apparent to everyone that it would be impossible to start off with glorification, for glorification is at the far end of the process as its completion and consummation, and it is scarcely less apparent that regeneration would have to precede sanctification.23
Finally, the biblical authors do not employ soteriological terms in the same manner as systematic theologians, thereby necessitating the implementation of sound exegetical methodologies. With these considerations in mind, we turn to the biblical evidence for further evaluation.
Perhaps the archetype of soteriological ordering is found in Romans 8:29-30, as Paul writes, “For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Cursory reading may entice the average Christian to conclude the investigation here, yet, a couple of factors prevent us from doing so. Firstly, it is necessary to appreciate the context of the passage, acknowledging that Paul’s primary purpose is to expound upon the statements made in the preceding verses, not expressly communicate a comprehensive and ordered list of redemption facets.24
Even though contextual considerations require caveat, there are compelling circumstantial and exegetical reasons to believe Paul’s order represents the divine arrangement—mainly that reversal or significant reordering of the elements is inconceivable.25 Concluding his analysis of the passage, John Murray comments, “We shall have to conclude that, since there are so many indications of intended order in this passage as a whole, the order which Paul follows in reference to calling and justification must be intended as the order of logical arrangement and progression. It would violate every relevant consideration to think otherwise.”26
Secondly, while Paul’s list parallels that of many systematic theologians, it remains incomplete, omitting additional elements imparted throughout the Scriptures. Elucidating upon this fact, theologian John Frame comments,
Paul’s placing of calling, justification, and glorification agrees with the order of these in the traditional theological list. But Paul’s list does not include some items on the traditional ordo (regeneration, conversion, adoption, sanctification, perseverance), and it adds the events of foreknowledge and predestination, which are not usually included in the ordo by the theological systems.27
Nevertheless, Romans 8:29-30 provides an adequate framework for succeeding exploration, providing the initial outline: (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4) justification, and (5) glorification.28
Advancing from the foundation of Romans 8:29-30, we discover an additional soteriological element in John 3—the aspect of regeneration (i.e., conversion or rebirth).29 During His discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus introduces the concept of rebirth as a prerequisite for entrance into God’s eternal kingdom (vv. 3; 5-7). Correspondingly, Peter speaks of the rebirth experienced by genuine Christians (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-5; 1:22-25) and similar analogies reference true believers throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; 4; 18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 6). Employing different terminology, Jesus clearly specifies regeneration occurs chronologically before glorification, while His comments in verses 16-17 indicate placement before justification as well.30 Accordingly, the revised paradigm consists of (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4) regeneration, (5) justification, and (6) glorification.
Backtracking to Romans 6:22, we read, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” In this passage, Paul indicates that Christian regeneration and justification result in sanctification before the process finalizes in glorification.31 But, if this is the case, why does Paul omit sanctification from his ordo in Romans 8? It seems that Paul (in Romans 8:29-30) envisions a justification and glorification that necessarily include elements of regeneration and sanctification.32 New Testament Scholar R. E. O. White explains, “An exclusively objective view of the work of Christ tends to regard sanctification as either an addendum to justification or merely evidence of justifying faith.”33 Nevertheless, both sanctification and regeneration emerge as dominant aspects of the subjective application of redemption, thereby requiring their inclusion for a comprehensive and robust ordo.34 Accordingly, the final order is (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4) regeneration, (5) justification, (6) sanctification, and (7) glorification.
Critiquing the Ordo Salutis Models
After briefly reviewing the biblical evidence, we have sufficient data to critique the various hypotheses previously outlined. Romans 8:29-30 explicitly includes the soteriological components of foreknowledge and predestination, both of which enjoy multiple attestations throughout Scripture. Consequently, it seems the Arminian and Lutheran models do regress far enough—failing to incorporate these two essential components—thereby invalidating both hypotheses. Although the Catholic model includes predestination, reliance upon the sacraments and incorporation of penance inherently undermines the biblical principles of substitutionary atonement, salvation by grace (sola gratia) through faith (sola fide), and the imputation of righteousness.35
Conversely, the Reformed model remains consistent with the Scriptural passages consulted thus far, yet includes additional elements (e.g., faith and repentance) not previously established. Nevertheless, these additions appear to represent sub-components of designated constituents, as faith and repentance are intrinsic aspects of regeneration, and it remains preposterous to postulate the existence of a born-again Christian devoid of either salvific faith or genuine repentance; or an unregenerate person exhibiting salvific faith and sincere repentance.36 Comparably, perseverance is a distinctive and necessary property of salvific faith, as carefully articulated in the doctrine of eternal security (i.e., assurance).37 Moreover, the ordo in Romans 8 presupposes Christian persistence by culminating the process with glorification, as it would remain impossible for an individual to obtain such a state without lifelong perseverance of justifying faith and divine sanctification.
After addressing the additional elements found in the Reformed model, one must seek to reconcile a couple minor divergences. First, the model includes a caveat in the third component, labeling it “effectual calling,” to distinguish it from the general, “outward one which comes to all who hear the gospel.”38 Parallel to previous analysis, predestination and regeneration presuppose an affirmative response to God’s calling, and Reformed theologians often use the terms vocation, conversion, and effectual calling as synonyms for regeneration.39 Overall, the inclusion of these features appears redundant, but they are biblically authentic and accurately represent characteristics of a regenerated person.40
Second, the Reformed outline places election as the first element, in place of foreknowledge. Decidedly, the components of election, foreknowledge, and predestination are overlapping concepts, and perhaps in this context election and predestination are synonymous. Even if one should consider foreknowledge an antecedent to salvation and omit it from the ordo, it seems election and predestination would undergo elimination for the same reason. Nonetheless, Paul’s ordo in Romans 8, expressly mentions both foreknowledge and predestination, thus solidifying their inclusion in a finalized Ordo Salutis.41 While one could conceivably include election between foreknowledge and predestination, it seems unnecessary, as predestination encapsulates the concept of divine election. Consequently, it appears the only notable flaw in the Reformed model is its exclusion of foreknowledge.
After reviewing the Scriptural data, and considering the elements of applied redemption, it appears the best articulation of soteriological components is: (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4) regeneration, (5) justification, (6) sanctification, and (7) glorification. When comparing this model to those historically espoused by Reformed, Armenian, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic theologians, notable deficiencies quickly become evident, invalidating all but the Reformed composition. Unmistakably, Scripture clearly delineates a logical sequence of major soteriological elements resembling that of the Reformed tradition, although it does not achieve complete homogeneity. While most of the variances between the Scriptural framework and the Reformed articulation are reconcilable, its exclusion of foreknowledge serves as the solitary deficiency of note—although the tradition clearly recognizes God’s omniscience and foreknowledge.
- The Ordo Salutis is primarily concerned with the application of redemption, thereby placing particular emphasis on the subjective soteriological elements. Accordingly, the Ordo Salutis characteristically affects discussions regarding determinism vs. libertarianism, monergism vs. synergism, and various interpretations of atonement theology. These topics are beyond the scope of this examination, and the advocation of a particular order does not constitute (nor necessitate) a stance concerning these theological issues.
- Andre van Oudtshoorn, “SOLUS, SOLA: Constructing a Christocentric Faith Model of the ‘Ordo Salutis,’” Verbum Et Ecclesia 35, no. 1 (2014): 2.
- This paper is not concerned with expounding upon the meaning of foreknowledge or predestination, but rather to show a progression of thought between the two soteriological elements. For additional exploration of these topics, see James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001); David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986).
- This section merely intends to identify accepted systems; thus, deferring critical evaluation until consultation of biblical evidence has transpired.
- It is imperative to note that theologians will occasionally differ on the precise order of soteriological elements, or the individual components themselves, even within their respective ecclesial context. Moreover, primary sources may utilize theological terms in a different sense than contemporary scholars. Consequently, the subsequent models serve as a general representation of the soteriological framework from each ecclesial tradition, while analysis will utilize definitions from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), for terminology standardization.
- John Calvin, “Eternal Election, by Which God Has Predestined Some to Salvation, Others to Destruction,” in Institutes of the Christian Religion: Volumes One and Two, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011); Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1949), 224-226; G. N. M. Collins, “Order of Salvation,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, 870; Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 670; A.A. Hodge, “The Ordo Salutis; or, Relation in the Order of Nature of Holy Character and Divine Favor,” Princeton Review 54, no. 1 (1878): 305.
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1938), 416; Dane Ortlund, “Inaugurated Glorification: Revisiting Romans 8:30,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 1 (2014): 130-131.
- Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, 225.
- Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 14.
- Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, 226; Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1933), 230.
- Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 605; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 421-422; Thos. O. Summers, and Jno. J. Tigert, Systematic Theology: A Complete Body of Wesleyan Arminian Divinity Consisting of Lectures on the Twenty-Five Articles of Religion, Volume I & II (Nashville, TN: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1888), 118-120.
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 422.
- Ibid., 420.
- Ibid.; Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Verified from the Original Sources, trans. Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs, Second English Edition, Revised according to the Sixth German Edition (Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication Society, 1889), 448.
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 420.
- Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Three: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 522-528; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 420.
- Collins, “Order of Salvation,” 869-870; Hodge, “The Ordo Salutis; or, Relation in the Order of Nature of Holy Character and Divine Favor,” 305.
- Collins, “Order of Salvation,” 869-870.
- F. L. Sheerin, “Grace, Efficacious,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, ed. Berard L. Marthaler (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003), 405-406; Cornelius Van Til, Christianity and Barthianism (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), 52; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 421.
- Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 268; 359; 363-364; 481-483; 489-490; F. L. Sheerin, “Grace, Efficacious,” 405-406; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 421.
- Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 482-483.
- John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 183.
- John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), 80.
- Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 13-14; John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 936.
- Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 83-84; J. V. Fesko, “Romans 8.29-30 and the Question of the Ordo Salutis,” Journal of Reformed Theology 8, no. 1 (2014): 50-57.
- Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 84.
- Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, 936.
- Additionally, predestination is explicitly taught in Ephesians 1:4-6, 11; and is implied in Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5-7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10. Considering the concept holistically, it becomes evident that predestination logically flows from God's omniscience, thereby solidifying these two elements as natural precursors to the ensuing constituents.
- Early theologians clearly equate the term regeneration with Christian conversion or rebirth; see “The Canons of Dordt,” in Historic Creeds and Confessions, ed. Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2001), Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Article 12; J. I. Packer, “Regeneration,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, 1000-1001; Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., Volume Four (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-2016), 30-33. Accordingly, these terms will be utilized interchangeably henceforward.
- Justification in this instance (John 3:16-17) speaks of forensic justification rather than renovative justification. For further discussion concerning this distinction, see Richard B. Gaffin Jr., By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2006), 44.
- This concept receives fortification throughout the New Testament. Cf. Romans 6:1-11, 19-22; 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 John 3:1-3; Hebrews 10:10; 12:4. For a beautiful articulation of sanctification, see Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition, 73-75; Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 213-216.
- Alluding to this fact, Paul mentions a process by which the Christian conforms to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29)—the very definition of sanctification.
- R. E. O. White, “Sanctification,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, 1052.
- For the purposes of the ordo, justification represents the forensic aspect of union with Christ, while sanctification represents the transformative. Additional details concerning the background of these elements are available in J. V. Fesko, "William Perkins on Union with Christ and Justification,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 21 (2010): 21-34.
- Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Isaiah 53:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-22; Galatians 2:20; Lane G. Tipton, “Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards Revisited: Union with Christ and Justification Sola Fide,” Westminster Theological Journal 75 (2013): 4-6.
- Additional information concerning this relationship is available in Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia, PA: William S. Young, 1851), 61-71; Packer, “Regeneration,” 1000; A.TB. McGowan, “Justification and the Ordo Salutis,” Foundations 51 (2004): 10-11.
- R. E. O. White, “Perseverance,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition, 907; Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 305-314. Also, see the well-articulated popular level treatment in Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 381.
- Arthur Walkington Pink, The Doctrines of Election and Justification (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), Chapter 8; John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 74.
- William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology: Third Edition, ed., Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 762.
- Similarly, theologians often recognize three elements of faith: knowledge (notitia), belief or assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia), yet none would include these sub-categories in the Ordo Salutis.
- Furthermore, God’s divine decree is a manifestation of His wisdom, logically flowing from His omniscience or divine foreknowledge, thereby providing rational justification for including both elements.