Monday, November 05, 2007

Don Garlington responds to Phil Ryken

Below is a post from Don Garlington who responds to an article by Phil Ryken. My own response is located here.
A Brief Response to Philip Ryken
Don Garlington

Although a number of issues arising from Philip Ryken’s article Justification and Union with Christ. could be addressed in detail, I will confine my remarks to the following.
According to Ryken, the thrust of my response to John Piper’s Counted Righteous in Christ (“Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” Reformation and Revival Journal, 12, No. 4 [2003], 45-112) is that we “must choose one doctrine or the other in articulating the theology of salvation” (italics added). This, however, fails to take account of the introduction and conclusions of that response. In the former, what I said was this:

It must be clarified from the outset that this response to Piper’s book represents a kind of “mediating” position. Not that the purpose is to bridge a gap simply for the sake of being a “peacemaker,” but rather that the baby is not to be thrown out with the bath water. That is to say, the intention of the doctrine of imputation is not to be disputed: our righteousness comes from Christ and is for that reason an “alien righteousness.” However, it is a question of modality…. It is the contention of this paper that the free gift of righteousness comes our way by virtue of union with Christ, not imputation as classically defined (pp. 45-46).

In the latter, I wrote:

In closing, it must be placed beyond all doubt that imputation as a concept is hardly objectionable: what evangelical could, at least with any degree of consistency, protest the notion that Christ has become our righteousness in the gospel? But as pertains to a strict doctrine of imputation, exegesis of texts must be the deciding factor. It has been the contention of this paper that exegesis will steer us away from imputation to union with Christ (p. 101).

True enough, I see lots of evidence for union with Christ and none for imputation. Nevertheless, the choice is as not as stark as Ryken would have us believe. My position is somewhere between that of Piper and Robert Gundry. Consequently, as I actually stated, the baby is not to be thrown out with the bath water, and imputation as a concept is hardly objectionable. No reader of my essay was forced to choose one or the other as far as the practical consequences are concerned. That is to say, Christ and Christ alone is the source of our righteousness, by whatever modality it comes.
To take matters a step further, my principal problem with Piper is not imputation as such, but two other factors. For one, there is Piper’s attack on a salvation-historical hermeneutic. Those who embrace such a “new paradigm,” as Piper dubs it, are consigned to the company of Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians­, who, as Paul himself exclaims, are the agents of Satan disguising themselves as angels of light! As much as anything else, it is this breathtaking condemnation of other Christians that evoked my reply. For another, there is Piper’s emphatic denial that justification entails liberation from sin. It is certainly ironic that Reformed exegetes of the likes of John Murray do affirm that justification is “from sin” (Acts 13:39; Rom 6:7) in the sense that Paul intends the phrase, i.e., liberation from sin’s dominance (Rom 6:18). Among other things, that is the function of justification. Such, I think, is a larger issue than imputation as a theological category.
Since Ryken has chosen to subsume my views, along with those of Michael Bird and N. T. Wright, under the heading of “Current Distortions of Biblical Justification,” I would submit that the contemporary justification debate has been tarnished precisely by a distortion of the theology of those of us who differ with Ryken, Piper and others. A glaring example is Ryken’s partial and out-of-context quotation from my conclusions: “Garlington intends to offer an exegesis that will ‘steer us away from imputation to union with Christ’.” This is but the final sentence of a paragraph that maintains that imputation as a concept is hardly objectionable, because Christ has become our righteousness in the gospel! I would hope for better things in days to come.


James said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for your blog and the work you do in connecting us to some of this. Is there supposed to be a link for Garlington's response?

James Grant

blake white said...

Great post. I wish his book on the obedience of faith wasn't so darn expensive!

Mark said...

Thank you for posting this. Don is a true Christian scholar.

David Kirk said...

Mike. Thanks for this. Interesting to read Garlington's comments on Piper's view of justification, especially in the context of the Is John Piper Bad? debate amongst some of us at college.