Friday, February 13, 2009

Doug Wilson on Wright's New Book

Doug Wilson (of Federal Vision fame) has a series of reviews on Wright's new book on justification. It is a rather amusing review at several points. You can read posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and what I found notable were his comments:

Post # 5: "I believe that Wright is actually kicking against a particular form of the imputation calculus -- the idea that somewhere there is a reservoir of merit, and that withdrawals are made from it from time to time in order that we may pay our debts. But let's forget about merit. Suppose for a moment that we are not talking about the imputation of merit, but rather the imputation of obedience. The former is medieval; the latter is Hebraic and covenantal. Not only do I believe it is fully consistent with what Wright is saying, I believe that it is what he (in essence) is saying."

Post # 6: "And so contra Wright, the picture is more like this. Adam is in the dock, and lined up behind him (in the billions) are all his descendants, condemned because of his disobedience. He was a federal, covenantal head of the human race, and so his sin was reckoned to all of us, considered as ours, imputed to us. And so Jesus was born into our race as the last Adam, and the same kind of thing happened. Jesus stood in the dock, received the penalty that was due to Adam, rose from the dead, and was vindicated or justified by God. And so everyone who lines up behind Him is therefore justified as well. His payment of the penalty, and His perfect obedience in its own right, are now credited to us who believe in Jesus. The obedience of Jesus is imputed to us in just the same way that the disobedience of Adam was."

My comments:

1. Wilson is correct that we need to dump this idea of merit and focus on the covenantal aspects of Jesus' obedience as the true Israel and second Adam.

2. As long as we believe that Adam is the federal representative of humanity and Jesus is the federal representative of the new humanity, then something akin to imputation will aways enter into the equation in terms of switching persons from condemnation in Adam to justification in Christ.

3. I'm still not sure if the NT allows for a distinction between active and passive obedience (usually what is emphasized is his passive obedience, e.g. Phil. 2.6-11).

4. What is missing in this discussion by Wilson is reference to "union with Christ" as the mechanism that communications righteousness since we are only justified in Christ. There is no imputation without participation and incorporation into Christ.


Erick White said...

Thank you for this post. I was wondering if anyone would like to have a discussion via emails on the issue of imputation. I am struggling through this doctrine in my study of the SCriptures.

Tim Bertolet said...


I've been reading your blog for a little while and I appreciate your thoughts and insight particularly in NT studies. Before that I had encountered your work in your ETS article on this subject.

With respect to #4, I agree I didn't see Doug Wilson mention union with Christ by those words, but whenever you are talking about Federal Headship, it seems to me, you aren't ignoring it even if you don't say those words. The reason I say that is with the idea of federal headship one is either 'in Adam' or 'in Christ'. There is in federal headship both the legal, federal, representation aspects and the union aspects. One is either in the old humanity or the new humanity of the eschaton.

Second, excuse me as I quibble over words... is it entirely accurate to say 'union with Christ' is 'the mechanism that communicates righteousness'? I agree the righteousness of our justification comes through our union with Christ. I agree there is no imputation without participation and incorporation into Christ.

Yet in our union with Christ there is a two fold grace: righteousness that comes in justification and righteousness that comes out of that same union that is sanctification. If union with Christ is strictly the mechanism then, personally I think there is a danger at missing the distinct but inseparable elements of justification and sanctification.

Again, excuse the quibble--and maybe you'd disagree, but I would say the grace we have flows out of union with Christ (through our incorporation/participation) and there are two mechanisms by which this is communicated: legal reckoning (imputation) and inward transformation (sanctification). I would distinguish the overarching anchor (union with Christ) from the particular mechanisms (imputation and transformation)
(Calvin's duplex gratia is driving my thinking here--as well as Reformed soteriology--and [hopefully] solid Pauline/Biblical exegesis, especially Romans 4-5 vs. 6)

Thanks for letting me comment. Oh, your readers might be interest in this post over at ThomasGoodwin on the significance of union with Christ for Owen and Goodwin. Sometimes we forget union with Christ has always been crucial for Reformed Theology.


Rod said...

Your quotes on Wilson actually made the Federal theological position make more sense to me. Thanks for sharing.

Erick White said...

Just for what's it worth. I am new to this blog, but it is extremely interesting.

I would experiment here for the scripture, but I don't think that Scripture really distiguishes from active/passive obedience of Christ. In fact, when Paul talks of justification, he is focused upon the cross for our salvation.

Andrew Faris said...

Dr. Bird,

When Jeff was reading SRoG and reviewing it at CiC, he and I interacted quite a bit about incorporation, and I have to say that the more I read the NT with that idea in mind, the more I think it's on the money. It covers such a broad range of texts, yet without being so broad as to be meaningless.

So, uh, thanks is I guess what I'm saying...


A.C. Slater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Cowan said...

On #3, I sympathize with what you are saying about the NT and active/passive obedience. But I think that what a lot of the people who are making that distinction mean is that we need Jesus not only to take the punishment for our sins (passively) but also to be the (actively) obedient son that God intended for Adam and then Israel to be. Perhaps in light of the NT's emphasis on the cross as "the" act of obedience (e.g. Rom. 5:18-19) and suffering generally as the crux of his obedience (Phil. 2:6-11 and Heb. 5:8), we ought to come up with better terminology than "active" and "passive," but some way to speak about Jesus' suffering and death having soteriological import as obedience and not simply as God's punishment on sin needs to be included.

Michael F. Bird said...

Eric: Everything I have to say about imputation and Paul can be found in my book "Saving Righteousness of God" and "Introducing Paul". Also, it is cross AND resurrection that is the means of our justificaiton - see Rom. 4.25.

Tim: I agree that union with Christ is the source of justification and sanctification for Paul (1 Cor. 1.30!) and the notion of twofold grace sounds kosher to me. But I think it is a quibble to think of union with Christ as an anchor rather than mechanism. Maybe union is the mechanism and grace are the cogs in the wheel!

Andrew Faris: Mate, I think incorporation and participation needs alot more air time in discussions of Pauline soteriology and all talk of imputation must be ancillary to it.

Andrew Cowan: I prefer to speak of the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus Christ in his life and death to his divinely given role as the new Israel, Messiah, and second Adam.