Wednesday, 30 December 2009

more arguments for the iao

A view I'm coming around to is like that postulated by Brian Vickers. That is, although no single biblical text teaches the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience (IAO) in it's fullness, the doctrine is the result of a tapestry of relevant texts.

Take Romans for instance. In Romans 4:1-8, faith is "credited" or "counted" as righteousness. At the end of Romans 4 in verse 25, all of a sudden we read that Christ "was raised for our righteousness". So faith is counted as righteousness because of Christ's resurrection.

Then into chapter 5:1, we have righteousness "by/through faith" which is also "through Jesus Christ". Then in verse 9, we are "righteous-ed by his blood". In 5:18, 19 we read that it is the obedience of the one man (I think this fits better than "one act of obedience") that makes many righteous. It is tempting to read Romans 4:1-8 and offer the reductionist argument that since faith is credited as righteousness, any kind of place for Christ's righteousness must be excluded. But this argument fails to deal with the complicated nuances each text brings to the complete view.

Furthermore, if we hark back to Romans 3 and assume that the subjective reading of pistis Christou is correct (a grand assumption I realise), the picture is filled out even futher. We read in verse 22 that the righteousness of God is given "through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who have faith." (The idea of the faithfulness of Christ would create a remarkable contrast with unfaithful Israel in verse 3).

So to chronologically sum up:
  • God reckons faith as righteousness apart from works.
  • God reckons us righteous and gives us peace through Christ.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's resurrection.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's blood.
  • God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's obedience in place of the disobedient first Adam.
  • God gifts righteousness through Christ's faithfulness, because there are none who are faithful, no not one.
As I've already stated, to assert that since Paul affirms faith is credited as righteousness then it must follow that Christ's righteousness is not in view, is to undermine the complexity of the biblical passages.


John Thomson said...

Okay, you've pulled me in.

a.'the obedience of the one man (I think this fits better than "one act of obedience") that makes many righteous'

Why is it better? You(and others)only think it is better because it helps make a case for IAO. In fact, as the contrast in v18 makes clear and v19 in thought parallels this, the issue is one trespass contrasting with one act of righteousness.

'18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous'

The progress in thought from v18 to v19 is this: v18 is focussing on the once-for-all act of both while v19 is focussing on the disobedience and obedience of both. The same event is clearly in view.

We should note too that previous references to justification in Romans have nothing to do with Christ's life but centre on his death. (Roms 5:9; 3:25)

The Romans 3 passage is particularly important since there Paul explains what the 'righteousness of God revealed in the gospel' is.

He says,

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.'

Notice that the death of Christ as a propitiation shows God to be just in justifying the ungodly who have faith in Jesus.

I read Vickers and what impressed me was how he conceded that not one of the very few verses that are cited to prove IAO do so, or even nearly do so. He had to resort to an argument that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. In other words he had to import a construct - a construct he concedes no text really demands and few texts even come close to suggesting - to make his case. Weak. weak. weak.

To be cont.

Alexander Smith said...

Ah, but John, it's all very simple:

The doers of the Law are justified (Rom. 2:13)

And yet, because we cannot obey the Law ourselves, we needed a substitute. Christ is that substitute. So of course without His atoning death and shed blood we gain nothing, but as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-11: Christ's death was a CULMINATION of a life of obedience. Christ obeyed to the point of death, i.e. He obeyed God in everything, even up to and including dying and even dying on a Cross. He did everything that was necessary to achieve righteousness and justification: He obeyed the Law, He died for our transgression of the Law and He died in the most cursed way: hanging on a tree. Paul's argument makes it clear that Christ's death cannot be seen in isolation, as if His life is irrelevant to His saving work.

All of this is imputed to us, otherwise, as Machen (and many, many others) says we are merely returned to square one: having to obey the Law for justification but not being able to.

See, very simple.

John Thomson said...

Now Alexander, you are doing, I believe, the same as Nicky, you're baiting me.

The trouble with IAO is not that its simple but that its simplistic. (O dear, I'm taking the bait.)

Actually, I agree the righteous life of Christ is that which gives value and efficacy to his death. In this sense his life is integral to his saving work (not to mention its importance for his present priestly session in heaven) however that is different from saying his life is imputed to us as righteousness.

The problem with IAO is Scripture never, as far as I am aware, presents the life of Christ as atoning. In all the major metaphors of atonement (redemption,reconciliation, sacrifice, justification etc) it is the death of Christ which atones. This is explicitly so for justification.

As sinners under the curse of a broken law we needed someone who could bear our curse and redeem us from the authority of law altogether.

Our redemption involves our union to Christ in resurrection and our participation in a new humanity beyond the claims of law altogether.

I can think of nowhere where we are encouraged to think of Christ's life as 'earning' our justification.

It is perhaps worth noting that Phil 2 which is so often quoted as in some sense proving IAO is not discussing atonement concerns as such. It is cited as an example of obedience for us to follow not as an obedience we have imputed.

Much more could be said about this I know. I have made some comments on previous blogs by Nicky on this subject as I think perhaps you have too Alexander.


I forgot to finish a point in my previous comment so I'll add it here.

After 'Notice that the death of Christ as a propitiation shows God to be just in justifying the ungodly who have faith in Jesus.'read the following.

The point is the gospel is described as 'the righteousness of/from God'. The ambiguity of of/from is appropriate for the justifying death of Christ both vindicates God and sinners as Roms 3 makes clear; Roms 1:17 is explicated in 3:21-25 purely in the context of an atoning death.

For the moment I will lay aside the doubtful subjective genitive reading of 3:22, though if anything this text undermines the faithfulness=AO, since the faithfulness, if any in 3:22, is clearly that of his propitiatory death, that is, Christ's so-called PA as opposed to AO.

Good new year to Alexander and Nicky and may it be one where you are both rescued from the limitations of Reformed blinkers.

Donald Ferguson said...

Got to agree with Nick and disagree with John – though I don’t see us making any progress.

1. The case for imputed righteousness is cumulative – no one part [like a jigsaw] gives the whole picture.

To suggest another analogy, this also reminds me of the well known drawing which can look like either an old hag or a beautiful girl depending on your perception of it. Some people can only see the old hag, some the beautiful girl and others both.

I think John can only see the old hag!

2. The death of Christ is also a life offered – without the life of Christ there is no atoning death.

3. We are ‘in Christ’ and share in the benefits of his life, death and resurrection. He stands in our stead as the obedient one, the propitiation for our sins and the first fruit.

1Cor 15
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

The benefits of being ‘in Christ’ are not limited to atonement. Though the concept of being ‘in Christ’ is not couched in forensic terms it speaks of a union which imparts all that Christ is – in fact Christ Himself. If I have Christ and share in all that he has accomplished through his life, death and resurrection how can I not have his righteousness? Argue about the use of the word imputation if you like!

John Thomson said...

But we are making progress. At least you now concede that no text actually argues for IAO. We have to base it on a 'jigsaw' which apparently allows us to create a truth (a vital truth) without a text.

It is the sheer lack of willingness/ability to present any Scripture in defense that speaks volumes. All you have to offer is a tradition.

Perhaps N. T. Wright is right in his analogy after all: you fellows still believe the sun goes round the earth and don't realise a revolution has taken place. It's hard to convince folks like that; they cling to tradition and won't examine the facts.

Still we are called to bear with our weak brothers burdened with tradition.

Donald Ferguson said...

Dear John - it would appear we are not making progress as you are once more repeating the mantra that we are 'creating' a truth, when we clearly state that this truth is arrived at by taking a number of texts together - not unlike how we arrive at the doctrine of the Trinity.

There are texts I understand as refering to imputed righteousness but you see them differently!

I can remember using the drawing of the ugly/beautiful girl in class as part of an RE lesson. Two boys nearly came to blows because one of them could see the old hag and the other saw the girl. I hadn’t told them what the drawing represented. I found it funny at the time. They could not see what the other saw and so refused to believe that the other saw it at all – they each thought it was a wind up.

I know you don’t see it in the text but I do. Can I repeat myself [as saying it once seems to have no impact] - I do believe it to be a biblical doctrine; it is legitimate to understand particular texts in the light of the overall teaching of scripture; part of the task of theology is to find the right language to express biblical ideas – it is the presence of the concepts in scripture and not the particular words or a single text expressing the whole truth that count.

I notice you ignore what I said about being ‘in Christ’.

There is no one text in scripture that supports the doctrine of the Trinity [a vital truth] – There is no one text in scripture that expressly says that Christ was fully divine and fully human yet not a divine human hybrid or a divinised human or a humanised God – words we use like substance and person were given the meaning we assume during the patristic period to express what the bible taught - that Christ is one person with two natures [another vital truth].

Muslims believe that it is the words of the Qur’an and not the meaning that count – therefore the Qur’an can only be read in Arabic. Sounds familiar! I look forward to your next posting in Greek.

Finally, I now believe you must see the truth of imputed righteousness – because it is there in the Bible – and yet you refuse to believe it. I hope you don’t find that an insulting distortion of your position!

John Thomson said...


Have a good new year. Don't overheat the grey matter.

Donald, Re 'In Christ' I do think it is there our righteousness is located, simply not in the IAO sense.

In Christ is another topic that greatly intrigues me. I have lots of questions. Another topic for another time.

Nicky, and All, I've enjoyed the debate on the blog. I have learned through it and hope to do so more in the future.

God bless.

John Thomson said...


'Muslims believe that it is the words of the Qur’an and not the meaning that count – therefore the Qur’an can only be read in Arabic. Sounds familiar! I look forward to your next posting in Greek.'

I am not sure what you are saying here? Are you saying that meaning is inspired in Scripture but words aren't?

How can we arrive at meaning without words? (How can we arrive at truth without a text??)Words and meaning exist in symbiotic relationship.

Orthodox evangelicals have always affirmed 'verbal inspiration' as well as 'plenary inspiration' that is, words and meaning are both inspired; the words of Scripture are the very words of God.

This 'verbal' inspiration can be easily confirmed as biblical by a cursory consideration of how the NT writers viewed the OT.

Again,extra-biblical words and concepts are fine so long as they express what the bible actually says. When they express what the bible does not expressly teach. I have no quibble that this can involve a number of texts to create a composite whole, but like the pieces of a jigsaw each part must contribute some important part in constructing the picture.

Nicky presented the following syllogistic logic.

# God reckons faith as righteousness apart from works.
# God reckons us righteous and gives us peace through Christ.
# God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's resurrection.
# God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's blood.
# God reckons us righteous on account of Christ's obedience in place of the disobedient first Adam.
# God gifts righteousness through Christ's faithfulness, because there are none who are faithful, no not one.

Only the last two introduce the possibility of IAO. Of these two, I tried to show that the first, the'one act of obedience' text in Roms 5:18,19 referred specifically to the death of Christ. The second, 'the faithfulness of Christ' is a view that has only a very recent pedigree of support. The case for IAO in Nicky's sequence of truths seems exceedingly weak.

Cont next box

John Thomson said...

To come at this topic from another angle,given that we all agree Scripture says we are 'justified by his death' and 'justified by his blood' and 'justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood...'

What does Scripture mean by this? Surely you must say, as one reformed writer of the past does,

'In plain words, do you know this, that over the gate of heaven is written up, Do this and live? Do you know that if a man is cleansed from his sin in the blood of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, he cannot then go to heaven? He wants something more still; he must have a perfect obedience. Heaven is suspended on a perfect obedience, not a negative one. God said to Adam, 'Do this and live.' He failed. You must present a perfect obedience when you come to God. Have you got it? It is the active righteousness of Christ; it is not His sufferings, that blots out sin; it is not His Spirit, that sanctifies the heart; but it is His perfect righteousness'

I find a statement like that an appalling abuse of the texts I quoted above. Yet its very crudity expresses well the assumption - salvation is only possible on the basis of works, even if these works be those of the God-Man.

The article, like any I have read on this topic is short on Scripture and long on assertions.

I have been allowing my mind to travel over Scripture as best I can. I have re-read, for example,Isaiah53 which is at the heart of our standing with God and I cannot think of any text that begins to take our minds along the route of the vicariously redemptive life of Christ. The focus ever, is on his death and resurrection.

I agree this is an issue we will not easily resolve between us. Though I think the points I make carry weight, I recognise that others disagree and while happy to discuss and try to present as best I can what I think is the biblical case I know that many good and godly men think otherwise and respect this.

I would point out though that IAO is a view strongest in an overtly reformed tradition. It is not an overtly evangelical position. My view (held tentatively but tenaciously) has probably as many evangelical advocates as the more reformed IAO.

We feed each other by discussion. I apologise if I get too belligerent at times. Also, I know my tendency to worry away at a subject like a dog with a bone so don't feel you need to engage with this latest gnawing.