Friday, 30 January 2009

D.A Carson on Imputation

The doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is one of those unfashionable doctrines these days. N.T Wright doesn't like it, Bob Gundry doesn't like it, Ben Witherington III doesn't like it,...I could go on. You can't pass righteousness from one party to another like gas passing accross a room (as N.T Wright argues). The number of exegetical heavyweights who are rejecting the doctrine can leave one with the impression that to persist in holding to it, is akin to the stubborn traditionalism of some Roman Catholic exegetes. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that it is a doctrine not only full of comfort for the conscience but also a doctrine that rests on a carefully nuanced and sophisticated exegetical base. D.A Carson, in response to Gundry, explains.

I cannot too strongly emphasize how often Paul's justification language is tied to "in Christ" or "in him" language - yet this brute fact, far from clarifying matters, has sometimes merely muddied the watters.
On the one hand, justification is, in Paul, irrefragably tied to our incorporation into Christ, to our union with Christ. Thus, as we have seen, in Phillipians 3:8-9 Paul wants to be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own. In 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, we are told that God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It is because of God that we are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Passage after passage in Paul runs down the same track. If we speak of justification or of imputation...apart from a grasp of this incorporation into Christ, we will constantly be in danger of contemplating some sort of transfer apart from being included in Christ, apart from union with Christ. (D.A Carson, Justification - What's at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Husbands and Treier, p72)


JohnGreenview said...

Imputation may well be correct, however, Scripture never says Christ's moral righteousness is credited to us. To say we are righteous in Christ does not necessarily mean that we have Christ's righteousness imputed. We are gifted righteousness from God through Christ.

It may be better to reason something like this: Christ does not have our sin imputed to him, he bears the punishment or legal consequences of our sin. We in turn do not have his righteousness imputed, but the legal consequence of his 'one act of righteousness' (his death not his life).

Worth consideration.

JohnGreenview said...

...another question worth reflecting on. Are we 'united' to Christ on earth or Christ in heaven?

Christ in his death ended the history of our old humanity in Adam with its guilt and moral powerlessness. We are united to his new life in resurrection (not, I think, to his life on earth).

Lots of questions on this I feel able to ask but not necessarily answer.

course, Nicky placed this blog only to provoke me.

Anonymous said...

"It may be better to reason something like this: Christ does not have our sin imputed to him, he bears the punishment or legal consequences of our sin. We in turn do not have his righteousness imputed, but the legal consequence of his 'one act of righteousness' (his death not his life)."

If there is no imputation, how then would you explain these verses?

Isaiah 53:6 (ESV) - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"

Does "iniquity" mean our sin or merely the punishment for that sin? Moreover, in accordance with God's justice, how can Christ bear legal consequences or our sin without becoming sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)? And if our sins were not laid on Christ, doesn't that mean we still bear them?

Consider also:

Isaiah 53:11 (ESV) - "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities." [or NKJV - "By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities"]

If all we have is the "legal consequence" of Christ's death, then all that means is that our sins are paid for. There is still no righteousness for justification. How is the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in us (as it says in Romans 8:4)? How is this law-fulfillment (as you said) "gifted" to us? Is it that God enables us to produce righteousness, or is it does he credit righteousness? If you say the former, wouldn't this conflict with Paul's contrast between wages and gift in Romans 4? - especially verse 6 where he refers to David talking about the "blessing on the man to whom God credits [NASB, NIV; or "imputes" NKJV; or "counts" ESV] rigteousness apart from works"


JohnGreenview said...

At this stage only a brief (and tentative)response to Mike. Brief and tentative because a) I am not fully convinced in my own mind b) I have not thought about this much recently and so the issues are not at the front of my mind c) if Mike is Mike Horton, then it is with some trepidation that I say anything. I have read and benefited from his books greatly.

I should add that my hesitations do not arise from Grundy or N T Wright. My first encounter of a non-imputation view was in my youth while reading J N Darby. Grundy's position has many similarities with that of Darby.

I know Darby, as the father of dispensationalism is hardly viewed favourably by Reformed theologians. In a sense this is a pity for, dispensationalism aside, he was a profound theologian.

Darby's dispensationalism created a system that read into Scripture more than it said. I fear at times a scholastic reformed theology does the same. I say that as one very sympathetic to reformed theology. I wonder if the insistence on the imputation of the active righteousness of Christ is a case in point.

As a general point it seems to me that Scripture teaches the benefits of salvation flow to us from the death of Christ.

Romans informs us we are justified by his blood (death) (Roms 5:8).

In Roms 5 the 'one act of righteousness' that brought justification appears to mean his death.

Rom 3:24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood...

Is there a text that says we are saved by his life? (Apart of course from Roms 5:10 where 'saved by his life' refers to his present session in heaven not his life on earth)

Of course, I am sure that the sinless suffering life of Christ on earth was vital for salvation. It was the sacrifice of a spotless victim vital for the efficacy of the sacrifice. It was a life that fitted him to be our Great High Priest. But does the bible tie the active righteousness of Christ into justification? I have still to be convinced.

Mike's Scriptures along with others (he bore our sins on his own body on the cross...) may well mean that we are to think of Jesus as carrying our actual sins and not simply their legal consequences. It may however be shorthand for bearing their legal consequences. When Christ is made sin (2 Cor 5) I understand it to mean a 'sin offering' as in Isa 53:10.

None less than John Stott, quoting TJ Crawford, writes in 'The cross of Christ' "Imputation he writes,'does not at all mean the transference of one person's moral qualities to another'. Such a thing would be impossible...It would be absurd and unbelievable to imagine Crawford continues, 'that the moral turpitude of our sins was transferred to Christ, so as to make him personally sinful and ill-deserving; and that the moral excellence of his righteousness is transferred to us, so as to make us personally upright and commendable'. No what was transferred to Christ was not moral qualities but legal consequences...similarly 'the righteousness of God' which we become when we are in Christ is not righteousness of character and conduct...but rather a righteous standing before God."

To repeat, my concern is a theology that 'goes beyond what is written' something Paul expressly forbids. I wonder if the dogma of Christ's righteousness imputed' is such a theology?

Regarding the final point Mike raises. In Romans 8:4 is the 'just requirement of the law' a reference to the penalty a broken law demands - death. It cannot be the law as a demand on the believer since the believer no longer lives in the world where the Law has jurisdiction. He has died to this world and thus to the law. The law belongs to man in 'the flesh', not those living in a 'new creation' (Gals 4-6). The law has only a claim on a man 'in Adam'. It has no claim on a man in Christ, not because Christ has kept the law for him but because he lives in a sphere where Law does not exist.