bible christianity theology

participative redemption

This post was inspired by a good discussion-slash-debate about Wesley’s doctrine of “entire sanctification” with my good friend and accountability partner Frank Ritchie.

Wesley had a simple ‘Ordo Salutis’ (order of salvation): justification > sanctification > glorification.  It is often said that we ‘have been saved’ (justified), ‘are being saved’ (sanctified), and ‘will be saved’ (glorified).  Simple enough.  But despite my respect for Wesley (I love his Quadrilateral for sources of theology), his doctrine of ‘entire sanctification’ seems (to my mind) to be positing at best a kind of second-tier sanctification, or at worst a kind of strange quasi-glorification-in-the-present.  If Wesley is merely intending to describe a state of increased commitment to the sanctifying process, he should have just used that language instead of calling it ‘entire’, which is just another word for ‘complete’, total, ‘perfect’ or full – which is only proper to glorification, not sanctification.

But in addition to being anachronistic, it also seems to place too much emphasis on human participation.  Stated in Arminian-friendly terms, I think Scripture affirms both human and divine elements in the salvation process, but at the same time want to frame it all within the singular sovereignty of God.  Stated in Calvinism-friendly terms, I think Scripture affirms that the entire salvation process is framed in the singular sovereignty of God, but also affirms both human and divine elements in that process.  For example, here’s how I understand Justification, Sanctification and Glorification.

Justification is the work of God, declaring one to be ‘just’ not on the basis of human ‘works’ (good or of course evil), but rather on the basis of divine grace, which becomes effective through the human participation in the aforementioned work of God, by placing their faith/’trust’ (itself a ‘gift of God’) in the person and work of Christ.

Sanctification is the work of God, conforming one more into the ‘saintly’ (meaning ‘holy’ from the Latin ‘sancte’) image of Christ progressively during their lifetime, which involves human participation (‘working out’ salvation) with aforementioned work of God the Holy Spirit (who is ‘at work in’ us to will and to do).

Glorification is the work of God, perfecting and completing one into the image of Christ through the final resurrection from the dead, which (it perhaps not stretching language too far) involves human participation in the sense that we will be somehow rewarded for our works.

Of the three, sanctification appears (perhaps wrongly) to be the one where the human is most involved.  And of course, a rather large discussion of the human and divine elements of both could and should be had.  But I will content myself to make the observation that this ‘ordo salutis’ preserves both the freedom of the individual and the redemptive sovereignty of God.  To use language proper to the discussion, it is both synergistic (by work ‘with’; human with divine) and monergistic (by ‘one’ work; solely divine).

How so?  Well, firstly, without the human elements of trusting Christ’s work (justification) and working with Christ’s Spirit (sanctification), it would be very hard (it seems) to preserve any sense of human participation (synergism) in the redemptive process, which is no longer a process but a moment of transition at glorification which would seem to deny the freedom of the individual.  Secondly, without the divine elements of grace (justification) and resurrection (glorification), it would be in danger of being ‘monergistic’ in the sense of being entirely according to human work.

In justification, the human responds to and thus participates with the grace of God with faith, but both grace and faith are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

In sanctification, the human works alongside and thus participates with the Spirit of God with obedience, but both the Spirit and the ability to work and participate are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

In glorification, the human is rewarded ‘according to their deeds’ and thus participates with the judgment of God with joy, but both the reward according to works, and the ability to do those works to are themselves gifts of God.  Human freedom within divine sovereignty.

I don’t know a term or prefix that we could attach to ‘ergism’ that would equate to a singular (‘mono’) sovereign work, which nonetheless enables and involves a free human response of working ‘with’ (‘syn’), but someone else might!

5 replies on “participative redemption”

I tried to convince myself not to respond and have failed.

I think the confusion is purely semantics. The argument is around what it means to be perfected/sanctified in this life. I don’t think Wesley is talking about the type of perfection one attains to after death. It’s interesting to note the definition Aquinas gives to perfection: a perfect thing as one that “possesses that of which, by its nature, it is capable.” Also (Summa Theologiae): “That is perfect, which lacks nothing of the perfection proper to it.” It It is a limited perfection – perfection as it stands in a broken world. Time and time again in Wesley’s Plain account of Christian Perfection he makes this clear. The problem is also, partly, time. If Wesley was drawing on the likes of Aquinas (who was drawing on Aristotle) to define his understanding of ‘perfection’ then clearly we see a limiting of the word ‘perfection’ over time to simply mean what is attained to after death. I think we’re dealing with something where the word means more than one thing to Wesley.

The Wikipedia article is helpful

I don’t think the mention of it being too focused on human participation is fair. I don’t think Wesley would say that at all – he would see it as entirely a work of God. If we do anything, it is simply living a life that makes us open to that work.

I’m glad you are not so entirely sanctified that you didcomment ;)

And yeah, it is a very semantic issue, as I would deny that “entire sanctification” and “glorification” were ‘entirely’ synonymous terms for Wesley. I just think he could have used better language for it (which may have avoided the confused later proponents [and adversaries!] that understood him too literally).

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