There is a range of views among Reformed theologians on the ‘steps’ belonging to the ordo. It is therefore helpful to discern important points on which they differ, and why. Among these there are three critical concepts that need careful definition.
In Q3, Vos notes there is ‘a great variety’ of views on the ‘steps’ belonging to the ordo. In particular, theologians differ on:
•The steps involved.
•The sequence of the steps involved.
•Definitions of key terms.
In Q4, Vos highlights three critical biblical concepts in the ordo that every Reformed theologian ought to consider carefully and on which he or she ought to come to an articulated view. These three are regeneration, calling, and repentance. Of course there are other important and related concepts Scripture gives us to think with as we consider salvation. But defining and relating these three, Vos says, is of particular importance.
The first important point is ‘the varying and unclear definition of the concept of regeneration’. Vos notes especially a triad of considerations:
1. Is ‘regeneration’ synonymous with ‘conversion’?
Yes – Canons of Dort Chs. 3-4, Articles 11-12; John Owen?; many 17th cent. theologians.
No – Turretin, who wants a more careful distinction and ‘makes mention of a double conversio‘: one ‘habitual and passive’ – this is regeneration properly so-called; an implanted habitus; – the other ‘active and effective’ – this is conversion, in which the regenerate person exhibits faith and repentance; ‘the exercising in faith and repentance of the already implanted habitus‘.
2. Regeneration and internal calling
Most Reformed theologians consider regeneration and conversion ‘under the concept of internal calling‘. Vos notes that terms are differently applied here as well – for some (e.g. Wollebius) internal calling is synonymous with ‘new creation’ or ‘regeneration’. For others (e.g. Leiden Synopsis) calling more or less stands for regeneration. They order the steps as (1) calling, (2) faith, (3) conversion. Calling (and thus regeneration) is also equated by some with union.
3. Regeneration and sanctification
Still others see regeneration ‘as almost completely synonymous with’ sanctification. Calvin (Institutes 3.3.9) seems to suggest this in part. This view takes the term ‘in a very wide sense’ and views the ‘entire process by which the old nature of man is transformed into a new nature resembling the image of God’.
Thus, it is evident that we must take care to define terms related to regeneration precisely and to bear in mind the semantic ranges and contexts of these important theological terms in the history of theology.
The second, related, point is the lack of clarity in defining the concept of calling.
Here Vos has in mind distinctions between internal and external calling, where the former emphasises the ‘immediacy of action’ and thus comes very close to regeneration.
The third important concept which is ‘not always clearly distinguished’ is repentance.
When we speak of repentance, do we mean ‘instantaneous actions at a critical moment’? Or do we mean ‘long processes that accompany the whole of life’?
Next up: What kinds of distinctions have been made among the steps of God’s saving acts in the ordo which might prove helpful to us?