No Ordo, No Gospel

The ordo salutis (order of salvation) is a Reformation doctrine that describes the way God ordinarly applies salvation to his people.  Typically, the ordo goes something like this: election, calling, regeneration, faith/repentance, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification.  Though the ordo is somewhat temporal, it is primarily a logical way to summarize the Bible’s teaching on the topic.  Unfortunately, a few Reformed theologians have rejected the ordo (i.e. Herman Ridderbos).  Other theologians – not necessarily Reformed theologians – say that the Bible does not teach a coherent ordo salutis and therefore they accuse Reformed theology for imposing this “system” upon the Bible.  However, the Reformed teaching of the ordo is based explicity upon Scripture.  For example, John 3:3, Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 2:1-10, and 1 John 3:14 quite clearly show that someone who is dead in sin can neither believe in Christ, do truly good works, or expect to enjoy eternal life.   The ordo is not just a fashionable Latin word we use to show off knowledge.  Rather, it is a great way to highlight the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace.

I appreciate John Fesko’s comments on the ordo salutis.  He explains that the biblical terms used for the ordo (i.e. calling, regeneration, etc.) are not just metaphors.  Fesko also says that the Bible does teach a relationship among the different truths of the gospel (it does not contradict itself).

“This leaves us with the task of relating the various elements of our redemption.  This is of the utmost importance.  In fact, one can say that without the ordo salutis the gospel is lost.”

“Reformed theologians have long observed the dangers in confounding the constituent elements of justification.  Turretin observed that his opponents converted justification, which was a forensic act, into a physical or moral process, or that which takes place before God and that which takes place in us.  Likewise, John Murray observes that ‘if justification is confused with regeneration or sanctification, then the door is opened for the perversion of the gospel at its center.'”

“In other words, if it does not matter where the believer’s good works enter the process of salvation, then what difference does it make whether the believer’s good works come before his faith and are in some way preparatory for the grace of justification?  Such confusion over the proper place of works, however, negates the grace of God in justification and the necessity of Christ’s work.  Without an ordo salutis chaos ensues and the gospel is lost.  Hence, the concept of the ordo salutis is necessary for the preservation of the gospel but also because one finds a basic ordo in Paul.”

Fesko goes on to explain the ordo from Scripture (which we don’t have the space to discuss here, though it is a helpful section).  To be sure, I agree with Fesko.  Have you ever heard a preacher who doesn’t know the ordo or mixes it all up?  It is a mess; unfortunately this confusion is not a rarity in American pulpits.  At minimum ignoring or mixing up the ordo clouds the gospel. Even worse, it strips the gospel of its inherent “good news” (which, as Fesko rightly notes, makes it no gospel at all).  Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 2:1-10 are surely worth memorizing as we strive to teach and preach (and believe in!) the gospel in a way that is truly good news.

The above quote is found in Fesko’s Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, page 86.

shane lems

13 thoughts on “No Ordo, No Gospel”

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I’d be curious to hear how he fleshes out the idea that mixing up the ordo results in no gospel.

    Did not know Ridderbos denied the ordo. (There is a lot of Ridderbos on my shelf that I have not read or just don’t recall the substance of what I read.)


  2. Andy:
    Imagine putting justification after sanctification – i.e. you won’t be justified unless you’re sanctified to some extent. Then justification would be somewhat dependent upon us, and it would not be by grace alone. Or, just mix around some of the other “parts” of the ordo and see the mess you end up with. Make sense?


  3. I challenge the ordo salutis. Why?? Because even if it is SOUND “from the ground up” — from a position of man in flesh on earth — it is not the Whole Counsel of God. In fact, God bless the Reformers, but it is man-centered rather than Christ centered. 2 Timothy 1:9Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

    Here is my challenge. What Reformer will take it?? WRITE AN ORDO SALUTIS from the position of JESUS CHRIST – the Author and Finisher of my faith, the Alpha and Omega — and begin it within Jesus before the world began — then tell it from His heart to mine from Heaven down in Jesus in a truly Sovereign Christ-centered ordo salutis.

    I want to stop “hearing the story” of ordo salutis from within man in flesh in time. I want to “hear the story” of ordo salutis from within Christ before the world began — all the way through to the moment the Spirit moved out of the heart of Jesus to mine so that I was saved. Heaven down ordo salutis… I’d like to hear a Reformer set that forth. Will any take the challenge??

    Who cares about “our experience”?? That’s experiential in man — man-centered. Speak to me of Jesus… and how my salvation comes through Him in all means.


  4. I was wondering if you could supply some sources to substantiate your claim that Herman Ridderbos has rejected the ordo salutis.


  5. So the quote from Ridderbos that I think that you are referring to is: “The result is that in Paul’s preaching there is no such thing as a systematic development of the ordo salutis, a detailed doctrine of the anthropological application of salvation.” If so, then I am struggling to see how you conclude from this quote that Ridderbos has rejected the ordo salutis. Please enlighten me (us).


  6. Well, if you look in the context of that section, you’ll notice that Ridderbos highly favors a “historia salutis” approach to salvation rather than an “ordo salutis” approach. When he downplays the individual/personal/temporal aspects of salvation, he’s downplaying the ordo salutis. He’s basically saying that Paul does not give us an ordo salutis, but a historia salutis. Notice his emphasis on eschatology, for one example.

    Furthermore, you’ll notice in this chapter (from which the above quote came), Ridderbos does not give an ordo salutis when he discusses the “New Life.” I haven’t read every thing Ridderbos ever wrote, but let me know if you know of something where he favorably speaks about the ordo salutis and gives a biblical explanation of it. I don’t think he did these things, but I admit I could be wrong.

    Anyway, I love Ridderbos, and his book has been quite helpful for me, but like all theologians, he wasn’t perfect. It is simply not helpful to ignore/deny the ordo salutis and only highlight the historia salutis. Fesko does a great job in “Justification” to show how the two go hand in hand.

    Hope this helps,


    1. Shane, thank you for interacting with me on my questions.

      So are you saying that your original comment above that he “rejected the ordo” salutis is perhaps over-stated? The reason I ask is that I could not detect that you “love Ridderbos” in the original blog post. In fact, I had the sense that you had only criticism for him, since he rejected the gospel and therefore has lost the gospel (loosely quoting from Fesko). It was that sense that you left me with that prompted me to ask my first question. I was concerned that if one were to relegate a well-renowned Reformed theologian like Ridderbos to the ranks of those who preach works righteousness it should be on the basis of solid evidence in his writings.



      1. Henk:
        I understand now what you’re getting at. I didn’t mean to say that Ridderbos denied the gospel at all. I was just noting that some theologians – even a few Reformed ones – deny this area of historic Reformed theology (the ordo salutis). It seems to me like Ridderbos was rejecting it and also critiquing historic Reformed theology for its “personal” and systematic emphasis. (And yes, I do think this is a fault of Ridderbos’. I think he dismissed it for poor reasons.). Again, Fesko makes a great point (several times!) in his book that the ordo salutis and the historia salutis go hand in hand – that we don’t need to reject one at the expense of the other. I suppose one might argue that though Ridderbos overemphasized the historia salutis while rejecting the ordo salutis, he ended up with some sort of a hybrid after all. Or maybe he was just inconsistent (aren’t we all from time to time?). You’ll have to read the scholarly debates for more on that….

        There is a rather big and deep debate in Reformed circles about the historia salutis and the ordo salutis. Fesko was dealing with some of these recent debates, navigating through them in a balanced, confessional Reformed way. I encourage you to grab Fesko’s book and dig in if you want more info in this area. He spends a lot of time with it.

        I’m sorry if I was confusing! Thanks for your charity. And, if you want to see how I (along with Andrew) appreciate Ridderbos, you can do a search using his name here on the blog and you’ll see a few old posts. Or (half joking here) I can email you a picture of my tattered, highlighted, and bruised copy of “Paul: An Outline of His Theology.”



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