Saturday, January 29, 2011


Predestination ("predestined" Rom 8:30) is the best way to start an Ordo Salutis because it correctly implies God planned salvation from the earliest moments of Creation. ("God chose you from the beginning to be saved" 2 Thess 2:13) Interestingly the letter to the Ephesians shows that it is the Father who initiates predestination ( "he [v3 the Father] chose us in him before the foundation of the world" Eph 1:3-4).  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each have a different focus in God's work of salvation.  Salvation takes place in Christ ("in him we have the redemption through his blood" Eph 1:7), quite literately in his body as he lives and dies and lives again in his human nature. Then the Spirit comes in to carry us along on the way to our divine inheritance ("with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance" Eph 1:13-14).


The Apsotle Paul while broadly discussing the place of Israel in God's plan of salvation in the letter to the Romans, employs the concept of election and reprobation, the idea that God chooses some and condemns others. ("Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated" Rom 9:13) A concept reflected throughout the entire biblical narrative of Israel from Abraham to Nehemiah.  Even the exceptions such as the story of Jonah only serve to highlight the dominate theme of predestination, God choosing a particular people for his particular purposes, while the pagan gentile nations are condemned.  God can choose but does he condemn? In the letter from Jude, it mentions those "who were designated for this condemnation" (Jude 4).

There could also be tangents about the place of free-will but that's more of a discussion in the context of God's sovereignty.  Anyway, predestination is the natural corollary of God's sovereignty.  Also elsewhere some have argued that election is corporate. But Scripture slips deliberately and frequently between the corporate and the individual, so it's saying to little to say God only predestines a group of people.


I choose the hand writing symbol to echo the image of God having the names of those people he'd chose to save in the "book of life" (Rev 20:15).  The entire blue box represents that predestination is a plan, it's the way God has decided Salvation will play out.

My visual Ordo Salutis, is a work in progress, for example in the slide above I still have an envelope but I'm merging the 'deposit of the Holy Spirit' with 'Regeneration.'  The original slide show, showing how these doctrines unfold and relate to each other is at the Ordo Salutis tab on the top of the page.


All God's decrees, even election and reprobation, are made visible to us in the progress of history.  They are, however, rooted in God's eternal foreknowledge and foreordination, which stands forever and will come to pass. While Romans 9 most certainly speaks of God's action in time, the ground for action lies outside of time, in the will and good pleasure of God alone. (Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, 337)


Augustine (In Psalmum 31 and 33) compares the human will to a horse preparing to start, and God and the devil to riders. "If God mounts, he, like a temperate and skillful rider, guides it calmly, urges it when too slow, reins it in when too fat, curbs its forwardness and over action, checks its bad temper, and keeps it on the proper course; but if the devil has seized the saddle, like an ignorant and rash rider, he hurries it over broken ground, drives into ditches, dashes it over precipices, spurs it into obstinacy or fury." With this simile, since a better does not occur, we shall for the present be contended.  Those whom the Lord favors not with the direction of his Spirit, he, by a righteous judgement, consigns to the agency of Satan. (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 191)


ish said...

Please give a key for the symbols in the box.

Luke Isham said...


Anonymous said...

Thanx for the key bro, although its still confusing... all those big theology words ;(

Could it be broken down more, or do I need to upgrade my theological vocab?


Andrew Bowles said...

"Even the exceptions such as the story of Jonah only serve to highlight the dominate theme of predestination, God choosing a particular people for his particular purposes, while the pagan gentile nations are condemned."

If the gentile nations are just to be condemned, for what 'particular purposes' were God's particular people chosen? I think Isaiah at least saw that purpose as being the salvation of the nations (eg. 60-66). That makes election not about who is saved but about who will be the instrument of salvation. The church is a 'royal priesthood' (1 Pet 2), but upon whose behalf do we act as priests if our election is about a choice of who will be saved? We'd be priests with no people for whom to intercede. This is why Calvin's view of election seems barren to me.

Stephen Brown said...

Luke I read the following on the 'Desiring God' blog...

Bible teachers have their more sophisticated ways of saying, "Nanny nanny boo boo."

And perhaps we Calvinists are especially susceptible to this temptation to pump our team more than focusing on biblical truths.

We would do well to track with John Frame's observations and maybe adjust our attitudes accordingly.

Frame writes in Evangelical Reunion:

[I]t is not hard to convince people of Calvinistic teachings when you avoid using Calvinistic jargon. . . . [T]here is a slogan among the Reformed that “anyone who prays for another’s conversion is a Calvinist.” . . . If you pray for the soul of another, you believe that person’s decision is in the hand of God, not merely a product of the person’s “free agency.” . . .

It seems to me that what we call Calvinism today is simply a spelling out of the heart instincts of all believers in Christ. I can easily persuade myself that the whole church will be Calvinist eventually, if we allow people to read Scripture as it stands, without feeling that we have to rub their noses in historic controversy.

There is a certain “smarty pants” theological attitude in wanting to show people of the other party that our team was right all along. We sometimes feel that we need to do that to make our case maximally cogent; but in fact that attitude detracts from the cogency of our case. We give people the impression that to acknowledge the biblical principle they must also acknowledge us, our denomination, our historical traditions. But no. Although biblical principle deserves their allegiance, our “team” does not necessarily deserve it.

Stephen Brown said...

To Andrew, what? I think you need to read Calvin mate. Calvin isn't hyper as you seem to suggest.

Besides, who do the Priests serve? God or people? You'll say both of course. But who is first in their thoughts and devotion? Not the nations I'd suggest but rather the God who elected them to office to serve him. I think Isaiah would agree would he not? God will do with the nations what he will for the nations belong to him. He has a PLAN for them which he will most certainly execute...either salvation or judgment!

"I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down.
His yoke will be taken from my people,and his burden removed from their shoulders.

This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" ISAIAH 14:25-27

Who indeed!

Andrew Bowles said...

Hi Stephen. I read someone recently who said that any idea that you can prove that Barth held from some place in his writings you can disprove from another part. Perhaps the same is true about Calvin. :)

But I have read what he has to say about predestination, and if he doesn't say that God's predestination from eternity is of some to salvation and others to damnation, then I'm not sure what he could be saying. He's certainly very vehement about it! I think what held him back from being 'hyper' is that his love of the Scriptures prevented him from following the logical conclusions of his own thought. With all due respect to you and our host, I see the same dynamic in Calvinists today. Scholastic discussions of the hidden reprobative decree alternate with Biblical ideas of grace. One of these things is not like the other...

I would indeed want to say that priests are those who serve both God and others, because that is what they are. My point for Luke was not about how we 'balance' that service, and whether God or others ('the nations') are primary, but that the very dual nature of that service points to the fact that God's purpose in calling them is not just for their own salvation but for a wider mission. Missing that connection I believe makes election into a strange idea lacking its proper Biblical content.

Luke Isham said...


Predestination is the larger term to describe how God plans the salvation of people. Election refers to the fact he choose some people to be saved and reprobation refers to the way in which condemns others to be punished.


If the gentile nations are just to be condemned, for what 'particular purposes' were God's particular people chosen?

I didn't say the the gentiles are there "just" to be condemned, although that could be the wider charge against reprobation. It's a wider pattern of narrative theology, God choosing some over others which in turn gives credence to the idea God would plan his salvation in a similar way.


The intention of this post is to be part of a larger series on the Ordo Salutis the doctrines of Grace. I wasn't intending to pump Calvinism persay.

Andrew again,

Scholastic discussions of the hidden reprobative decree alternate with Biblical ideas of grace.

I'd agree that election is the more dominate of the two sisters, but reprobation gets Scriptural airtime.

I think if you keep (I should of alluded to this) the decrees in their right place (revealed partially but God's business) then the covenant (God initiated but involving us) of salvation fits into a "wider mission." I just think that like Frodo in the cleansing of the shire, salvation relates to but is a discreet part of the "wider mission".

Andrew Bowles said...

Everything is improved by an analogy to The Lord of the Rings. :) It's good to hear about the 'wider mission', but if somewhere in there there is a dungeon tucked away where countless people are punished eternally according to the previous determination of God in order to 'display his justice' I'll get Gandalf to open up on you with the Flame of Arnor.

Andrew Bowles said...

Sorry, that was a little combative.

Melissa said...

Andrew, could you show us where Calvin contradicts himself on this matter?

Andrew Bowles said...

Just to round off my contribution. Melissa, I'm not saying that Calvin contradicted himself, rather that he seems to view election as pertaining purely to salvation, which is not what the Biblical writers were talking about. This introduces a tension between his theology and the Biblical text. So eg. when he talks about Jacob and Esau, it is as though God's favour to Jacob is that he saves him and damns Esau, whereas in context it is that Jacob is chosen to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and Esau is passed over. You can see what Calvin says about this in Book 3 of the Institutes, chapters 11-12. He understands very well and correctly that election is gratuitous and unmerited, but not its purpose.

Luke Isham said...

Andrew, I don't think you can separate salvation from God's broader/ultimate purposes. Calvin when arguing for predestination sees it as an extension of God's activity in the world. Even if there is a larger trajectory beyond Genesis 2 to Revelation 21, salvation is still an integral and inseparable part of that trajectory.

It seems that Calvin's line of argument is that "God is such and such", and "acts in a certain way", "therefore salvation looks like predestination". For example in the Institutes 3.22.11 when he discusses Romans 9:13 Therefore, if we cannot assign any reason for his bestowing mercy on his people, but just that it so pleases him, neither can we have any reason for his reprobating others but his will. I'm not sure I see the contradiction.

Andrew Bowles said...

You're right that he's using analogical reasoning in this case. Eg. 'In the case of Jacob and Esau, God chose one and rejected the other, so we can say that in the case of salvation, he may do the same'. As I've been saying, I think this analogy is flawed, because it only picks out the 'choice' part of what is going on in election and ignores other parts. People are being chosen for the purpose of being part of the redemptive plan. So the reason for which they are being chosen invalidates the idea that this choice can be used to say that the fundamental way that God works is in an 'accept/reject' mode. The purpose of election was for the people of God to prepare the way for the truly chosen one, the Messiah, Jesus. That is the analogy that we have to use to understand God's character in a wider aspect, which is that he is turned towards his creation with redemptive love, and works through humanity to achieve his purposes. To make the choice about separating the elect from the reprobate is to make the fundamental mistake that Israel made in the Old Testament, that is, to ignore their mission and glory in their chosenness, regardless of their obedience.

I understand why Calvin wanted to focus on the aspect of God's free choice, since in his context he was defending justification on the basis of faith and not merit, but I think his perspective was limited and also his use of the concept.

Luke Isham said...

I'm not entirely following your line of argument. Election isn't a stage of the redemptive plan it's an aspect of the redemptive plan.

It's wrong to argue that the concept of election/reprobation in the Old Testament was flawed. The error was in the abuse of election/reprobation not a problem with predestination persay. For example in the story of Jonah, God's election of Ninevah is highlighted by the fact Damascus is overlooked.

Stephen Brown said...

Interesting discussion. But I must say, I can't follow Andrew's logic either. Could you have another go at it Andrew?

I'm catching a hint of 'NEW PERSPECTIVE' I think, am I right?

Andrew Bowles said...

I've said essentially the same thing four times, so either I'm a poor communicator or there is some blockage in our mutual understanding. Probably some of each.

You've definitely misheard me if you think that I said that the Old Testament view of election is flawed. My point is that there is a wrong interpretation of it which is apparent in the Old Testament nation of Israel itself, and which Calvin is replicating, according to which election demonstrates just that God has chosen some and rejected others, and no more. It's interesting that you mention Jonah, because that story is a classic refutation of that idea. Nineveh is not elect over against Damascus et al, it is actually a 'reprobate' city, but repents and is forgiven. And Jonah is not willing to give the message of judgement because he knows how gracious God is. Read the last verse of the book. Should God not be concerned with so great a city? Or should he choose only the people of Israel to be saved?
In Jonah, election is seen in God's gracious use of this useless prophet to achieve his salvific ends.

Now read Calvin: 'Hence it is that the whole world no longer belongs to its Creator, except in so far as grace rescues from malediction, divine wrath, and eternal death, some, not many, who would otherwise perish, while he leaves the world to the destruction to which it is doomed'. I'm hearing something different here from the God who is concerned even with the 'many cattle' of Nineveh. Maybe I'm not reading him correctly, but I hope you can see that it is the Scriptures themselves that drive me away from Calvin's doctrines.

If this is clear, let me know, if not, best to leave it until, as C.S. Lewis put it, we are 'old enough' to talk to each other.