Noted Wesley scholar Albert C. Outler describes the order of salvation as typically presented by John Wesley. Try to correlate Outler’s discussion of Wesley with Oden’s extended list. Outler sees Wesley’s ordo salutis as “an organic continuum”:
- conscience (which Wesley sometimes described as “preventing grace,” what we would call “prevenient grace”)
- conviction of sin
- regeneration (Nazarene theologians typically link regeneration or the new birth with justification andadoption as happening at the same instant in conversion.)
Outler summarizes by writing that “all of these are progressive stages in the divine design to restore the image of God in human selves and society.” Outler’s summary statement is quite dense and even technical, but worth quoting in full:
Wesley’s theology was elliptical in its form. Its double foci were the doctrines of justification and sanctification in a special correlation-two aspects of a single gracious intention, but separated along a continuum of both time and experience. The problem in justification was how Christ’s sufficient merits may be imputed to the penitent believer as the righteous ground for God’s unmerited mercy (i.e., the formal cause of justification). And it was on this point of formal cause that Wesley parted from the Calvinists. They had stressed the Father’s elective will, the prime link in “a golden chain” of logic which led them link by link to the famous “Five Points” of High Calvinism. Wesley tilted the balance the other way because of his sense of the importance of the Holy Spirit’s prevenient initiative in all the “moments” of the ordo salutis. He could thus make room for human participation in reaction to the Spirit’s activity and for human resistance as well-yet always in a very different sense from any Pelagian, or even “Semi- Pelagian”, doctrine of human initiative.
TO TRANSLATE. THE CALVINISTS [MOST BAPTISTS] BELIEVE IN THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION WHICH STATES Because all persons are totally depraved, those who are among the elect can do nothing to change their elect status, given purely through unconditional grace. Because God’s predestined decisions are perfect and final, they must hold even if those who are among the elect resist their election and their election must persevere even in the event that they backslide. Furthermore, since the number of elect persons is a fixed quantity established before the foundation of the world, it is only logical that atonement would be limited to the elect.
At this time we need to explain the meaning of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian, which arose out of the Early Church controversy between Augustine and Pelagius.
Here is how Jaroslav Pelikan describes the controversy:
Augustine’s prayer in the Confessions asking God to “give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt” seemed to his contemporary, the Irish monk Pelagius, to be treating individual moral responsibility with inadequate seriousness: every person faced the moral choices faced by Adam and Eve and was to be held accountable for the outcome of those choices. What Augustine interpreted as the Pelagian argument forced him to formulate his doctrine of original sin as the unavoidable consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve passed on to all their natural descendants, together with his doctrine of sovereign grace as the unearned gift of God to those who were the objects of divine election.
The Church of the Nazarene has often been accused by detractors of being overtly Pelagian, or at least semi- Pelagian. Outler suggests that if our theology is solidly grounded in the wisdom of John Wesley, we will not err on the side of semi-Pelagianism, which is the doctrine that we can save ourselves through our own choosing of God’s redemption, apart from grace. If we say, with Wesley and with the Apostle Paul, that salvation is through grace by faith, we will avoid both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Both of these erroneous doctrines might be called “moral boosterism,” or someone saving himself or herself by dint of sincerity and moral effort. But the gospel of Jesus Christ contradicts every attempt at self-salvation.