The Ordo Salutis

April 12, 2011 — 1 Comment


[This post is part of The Christian Faith series]

And so now we come to section five of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith. Having actually finished the book at this point, I will say the second half of the book (chapters 14-29) is much stronger and well developed than the first part. In a way this is not all that surprising since these last sections (covering Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology) are clearly drawing on Horton’s strengths as well as his previous work.

I’m going to keep the remaining posts shorter and focus chapter by chapter. This last half of the book is not without difficulties, but I found much to commend and overall found Horton’s discussions balanced as well as practical.

That being said, perhaps the biggest issue with chapter 17 has to do with its organization. Not so much in terms of the information but in the presentation of the outline. The chapter starts with a heading numbered Roman numeral one, but there is no corresponding number two. I am wondering if this is intentional because it seems like something that would be hard to slip past an editor. At any rate, it seems pointless to have a point one if you lack a point two. Point one then should have been the chapter title and points A, B, and C under it could have been Roman numerals I, II, and III.

This really just seems symptomatic of the overall lack of an underlying analytic outline, but this is perhaps the most obvious manifestations of it. But, for this to be the biggest drawback of the chapter is an improvement on some of the previous material.

Just so we point out at least one footnotes folly, on pg 573 he cites Berkhof as following Hodge in a certain distinction, and then footnotes it, and quotes from Berkhof in the footnote, but gives no page number. I didn’t feel like running it to ground. I doubt Horton is misquoting Berkhof, but it is at least an issue to correct before a possible second edition.

As to actual content, this chapter is focused mainly on unpacking the ordo salutis. As noted in the last section, Horton is much more overtly reliant on Scripture in making his arguments (from here out). Not that he wasn’t before, but it seems like from this point on Horton is much more dependent on exegetical work, creeds, confessions, and thankfully Calvin. I think then part of what I liked about this chapter is that I didn’t feel like Horton was trying to show us all the contemporary authors he is in dialogue with, but rather was working hard to build from Scripture the doctrines of effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, faith and repentance.

As a general observation, I think much of the discussion on ordo salutis is susceptible to the criticism John Frame leveled against logical orders in theology, specifically in reference to the divine decrees (although he directly mentions the ordo, see his DKG). Basically, the argument is that there are multiple types of logical orders and when construing the events associated with a Christian’s coming to faith, it is hard, if not exegetically impossible to specify in what ways each things stands in logical relation to the next in a particular order.

So for instance, which comes first logically, regeneration or repentance? Well, it depends on what kind of logical relation you mean, one of which can be a temporal relation. In fact, most logical relations are in some way temporal which is why simultaneous actions can be hard to construe in a logical order (whatever one may mean by that). In Horton’s analysis, he makes effectual calling and regeneration simultaneous and in some respects the same event (he notes that the terms were used interchangeably at one point, see specifically pt 6, discussion from 572-575). He then distinguishes this from conversion. Horton makes regeneration a point in time event and suggests conversion is a process (I’ll come back to this in another post). I think this can be confusing to some, but I would agree with his general point. We tend to talk about conversion and regeneration as if they were synonymous, but that isn’t really the case.

In the end, I think Horton does a great job with the content of this chapter. From here on out, Horton starts reading more systematic-like and I’ve found the later part to be much more of an enjoyable read than the first part was. Hopefully much needed revisions will bring the earlier chapters into line and make this work a much stronger presentation of the Christian faith.


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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