A Problem in Calvinism’s Order of Salvation

October 21, 2014

by J. Matthew Pinson

In Calvinism, Regeneration comes before faith, whereas in Arminianism regeneration comes after faith. In other words, the “timing” of what Scripture describes as the “new birth” is decisive in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. In Calvinism, God gives His elect a new birth. This is the result of their effectual calling (sometimes called “irresistible grace”). They cannot and will not resist it, because they see with new eyes. Their new birth creates in them a desire to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In Reformed Arminianism, the order of salvation is different. God convicts and calls and draws people to himself, yet gives them the freedom to resist his grace. If they do not resist, and they receive God’s gift of salvation with the empty hands of faith, then God regenerates them. They experience a new birth only after receiving Christ through faith.

Leroy Forlines says that there is a problem for the coherence of Calvinism when it places regeneration before faith, because, as the great Calvinist theologian Louis Berkhof states, “Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification” [1]. It is a problem, logically, to place regeneration prior to faith in the ordo salutis (order of salvation) because, if regeneration is the beginning of sanctification, and if justification results from faith, then logically Calvinism is placing sanctification prior to justification.

The Calvinist Lorraine Boettner argues, “A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved” [2]. This really is what the Calvinist view of regeneration preceding faith amounts to. Yet, as Steve Lemke says, this seems to be getting the cart before the horse. Lemke provides another way of looking at this conundrum: “When does the Spirit come into a believer’s life? . . . What do the Scriptures say about the order of believing and receiving the Spirit?” [3].

This is particularly poignant, Lemke argues, in view of Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (NASB) [4].

Forlines hones in on why this is a logical difficulty for the Calvinist system: “Calvinists have, by and large, adhered to the satisfaction view of atonement and justification. If a person is consistent in developing the implications of the satisfaction view of atonement, it is clear that God cannot perform the act of regeneration (an act of sanctification) in a person before he or she is justified. God can move in with His sanctifying grace only after the guilt problem is satisfied by justification. To think otherwise is to violate the law of non-contradiction. I realize that when we talk about the ordo salutis (order of salvation) we are talking about logical order instead of chronological order. But that logical order is inviolable!” [5].

If Berkhof and Boettner are correct that regeneration is the beginning of salvation and sanctification (and I think they are), then the Calvinist ordo salutis, which places regeneration prior to saving faith, and thus prior to justification and the gift of the Spirit, is highly problematic.

 

[1] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 266.

[2] Loraine Boettner. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philadelphia, PA: P&R, 1965), 101.

[3] Steve W. Lemke and David Allen, eds., Whosoever Will (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 137.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Forlines, 86.

*This post was originally posted HERE and comments for the author should be directed Here.