The Debate Over The “Ordo Salutis” In American Reformed Theology -- By: Timothy Miller

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 18:1 (NA 2013)
Article: The Debate Over The “Ordo Salutis” In American Reformed Theology
Author: Timothy Miller

The Debate Over The “Ordo Salutis” In American Reformed Theology

Timothy Miller1


Some of the newest contenders for orthodoxy in Christian theology have come from a distinct approach called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Coming beside the NPP—though not agreeing in entirety—is the development of the Federal Vision (FV). Believing they have found emphases in Scripture that have been long neglected, these groups have sought to redefine Paul’s theology of salvation. Specifically, they have brought into question the relationship among union with Christ, justification, and sanctification. The Reformed community has adequately risen to the challenge and defended orthodox, confessional Christianity.2 However, while the responses have successfully warded off the attack from those outside, they have also incited a civil war from within. This war concerns what is the proper Reformed ordo salutis.3

While neither school, as a school, has publicly or formally expressed the disagreement, Westminster Seminary California (WSC) and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS) have been the hubs of the discussion. In some of the debate tension has been high. While not calling him a Lutheran or semi-pelagian, Lane Tipton did affirm that Michael Horton’s book committed the writer to a structurally Lutheran conception of justification that has the potential effect of producing a semi-pelagian soteriology.4 On the other side, some have

sought to tie WTS’s perception of the ordo salutis to Norman Shepherd and the development of the FV.5 The descriptions expressed, though potentially misleading and pejorative at times, show the deep and abiding concern present in the orthodox Reformed community for a truly biblical and Pauline soteriology. Indeed, Godfrey and VanDrunen have argued that in the current debate, “The very character and identity of the Christian life are at stake.”6

The purpose of this essay is (1) to define the members of the debate, (2) to give a brief summary of the historic Lutheran ordo and the present WSC ordo, (3) to defend WTS’s perception of the ordo as both theologically convincing (Calvin) and exegetically satisfying (Paul’s eschatology), and finally (4) to note why this debate matters to both those within and outside the strictly Reformed context...

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