Saturday, July 7, 2007

Helm on Wright on the Order of Salvation

In a recent post to his blog, Reformed philosopher of religion Paul Helm discusses how N. T. Wright's (who is also self-avowedly Calvinist and Reformed) view of the order of salvation differs from the more common order that is popularly maintained by many in Reformed theological circles. He cites the typical order as follows:

a. Regeneration/effectual calling
b. Conversion, including repentance and faith
c. Justification
d. Sanctification
e. Glorification

Wright's order:

1) Divine foreknowledge
2) Divine 'marking out ahead of time'
3) Calling - summoning to turn from idols and serve the living God through the word and Spirit, bringing about believing submission to Jesus as the risen Lord, dying with him and rising to new life in him through baptism. Faith is the first fruit of the Spirit's call.
4) Justification/Vindication. God's verdict – his authoritative declaration of what is in fact the case - consequent upon the event(s) that constitute the calling, a declaration that the one called is in the right (forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus) and a member of the true covenant family of believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
5) Sanctification
6) Glorification - the final declaration, foreshadowed in the earlier justification, sharing the glorious rule of Jesus as Lord.

If find these contrasts a little strange, since Helm leaves (1) and (2) out of the 'typical' Reformed list. But no matter. What is interesting is that Helm claims that "If Bishop Wright has a controversy with the Protestant tradition, as he says that he has, then there is little that is new about his own proposal, even though it may be founded upon a novel account of what St. Paul really said. It’s the old, old story; a moralistic declension from true evangelicalism." From the tone, I think Helm believes that the 'if' clause of that first sentence is indeed satisfied and that Wright has backslidden from "true evangelicalism" (whatever that is supposed to be). But I'm really not sure what is moralistic about Wright's ordering or even bad about it at all from a Reformed perspective. Presumably it has something to do with the fact Helm keeps coming back to that on Wright's view justification comes temporally after faith and calling. But why that should matter at all, once one understands what Wright means by "justification" (and Helm himself spells this out), I'm not sure. Wright does believe that our salvation is by grace alone and not from anything we do - faith is a gift from God, not something we come up with ourselves to earn or otherwise procure salvation. In Wright's terminology, "justification" is more like a recognition that one is in the right because of what God has done. In Helm's, "justification" is more like making someone to be in the right and it is what God has done. Using Helm's more usual Reformed definition, Wright's view does look more moralistic or bad from a Reformed view of things. But use Wright's and there's nothing unkosher vis-a-vis the Reformed spirit at all. So what's my verdict? I think Helm has unwittingly condemned Wright for saying something he didn't say, using words to mean something he didn't mean, to express a view he didn't express. If we understand Wright in the Wright way (excuse the pun - this is like the umpteen millionth time it's been made), however, there's no problem.

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