My rereading of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart sparked many questions for me. One of them has to do with the role of our individual will as it relates to the work of the Holy Spirit. In search of conversation partners, I first turned to Stanley Grenz’s tome, Theology for the Community of God. He reframes the conversation by speaking of God’s proleptic work of salvation and the Holy Spirit’s function of bringing about this process in creation.
It is a consciously chosen and sustained relationship of interaction between The Lord and his apprentice, in which the apprentice is able to do, and routinely does, what he or she knows to be right before God because all aspects of his or her person have been substantially transformed. Sanctification applies primarily to the moral and religious life, but extends in some measure to the prudential and practical life (acting wisely) as well.” (226)
“Viewed from our perspective, salvation is the process that begins with conversion, moves through sanctification, and leads to glorification. If we look behind our experience, however, we discover that salvation is one unified act of the triune God within which the Spirit is at work bringing us into full conformity with the likeness of Christ. The Spirit’s work, therefore, occurs within a wider context, namely, God’s eternal purpose.” (447)
“To summarize: The order of salvation entails glorification, sanctification, conversion, application of the word, predestination, foreknowledge, omniscience. In this manner, our salvation, which is effected by the work of the Spirit, is surrounded by the eternity of the triune God, whom we will praise throughout all eternity as participants of the great community of the redeemed.” (459-460)
Grenz notes the different reformation perspectives on the order of salvation and cites Robert Jenson in Christian Dogmatics. I had that book on my shelf, and I read Jenson’s book on the Trinity, so I grabbed it and read the article “Pneumatological Soteriology.” Jenson gives a brilliant, if not perplexing and thick, argument for Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith (as opposed to the Wesleyan or Pietistic conversionist theology). He states,
“What is needed over against the whole traditional doctrine of grace is a complete shift of pneumatological discourse from this third-person vantage, from attempted description of a process between God and creature, to a location within the carrying-out of first- and second-person proclamation and teaching. precisely as a doctrine of the work of the Spirit–of which work ‘calls, illumines, converts, justifies, renovates, unites with Christ, and sanctifies’ is a perfectly good list–theology must be done from the location of the preacher, liturgical president, and advisor, and the recipient of these ministrations.” (130)“Rather, verbs specifying the Spirit’s work must be understood as instructions to preachers, liturgical leaders, teachers, and advisers. For example, ‘The Spirit illumines’ should mean ‘So speak of christ and the lives of your hearers, that our lives’ meaning in Christ is made visible.’ Nor do these instructions stipulate an experience or process in the hearer, which gospel-speaking is to strive to produce. We are not to exhort to or describe or even promise illumination. We are verbally to illumine–illumination is a work of the prophetic Spirit, that is, it is an aspect of the spiritedness of the preacher’s words.Returning to our first example, the instruction is not to induce, or manipulate, conversion by our discourse; the hearers’ conversion is to be accomplished as the act of gospel-speaking itself. Conversion is a change in the communication situation within which every person lives; a proper sermon or baptism liturgy or penance liturgy just is that change. Using penance as the simplest paradigm, when the confessor says, ‘You have confessed cheating and coveting. Now I forgive all your sins, in Jesus’ name,’ these words do not seek to stimulate conversion as an event external to their being said. Rather, this utterance is a conversion of the penitent’s life, from a situation in which the word he or she hears and must live by is ‘You are a cheat and a coveter,’ to one in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are Jesus’ beloved.'” (133-134)
“With the specifically Christian understanding of the relation between God and the faithful thus blocked, Augustine was left with the standard position of Western culture-religion; on the one hand there is God, conceived as a supernatural entity who acts causally one us; and on the other hand there are the results among us of this causality. In the subsequent Latin tradition, God and the objects of God’s causality are then both interpreted accordingly: they are ‘substances,’ fundamentally self-sustaining and self-contained entities, who ‘act’ over against each other, the result of which action is in us a habitus, an acquired disposition to behave and react in ways obedient to the will of God.” (Christian Dogmatics, Two, 126)