Sunday, March 02, 2008

Vickers and Imputation

I recently read Brian Vickers’ Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness. The book is an exegetical defense of the Reformed notion of positive imputation, focusing on Romans 4, 5:19, and 2 Corinthians 5:21. The first chapter of the book provides a brief historical sketch of the major players, and the remainder of the book is dedicated to exegesis. A couple of brief thoughts.

First, Vickers’ historical survey is helpful in a number of ways, not least his recognition that Calvin and Luther focus on the non-imputation of sins much more than the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness. My forthcoming paper for the SAET Fellowship Symposium will (in part) explore the extent to which Calvin can rightly be said to affirm double imputation. As I read Calvin, the non-imputation of sins is the same as the imputation of righteousness. Vickers reaches the same basic conclusion, but holds out more room for a distinct positive imputation in Calvin based upon a generous reading of the Institutes. For my part, I don’t see a separate, distinct imputation in Calvin’s soteriology.

Second, Vickers' defense is less ambitious than that of other Reformed attempts (e.g., Piper’s Counted Righteous in Christ.) He acknowledges that positive imputation is “difficult to discern” in Romans 4, and that no one passage teaches the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness per se. But he goes on to argue that when one brings together the three major passages regarding imputation, a doctrine of positive imputation is a natural, and appropriate synthesis of the data. I appreciate Vickers’ modesty here, and agree that any doctrine of positive imputation must be largely the result of a theological synthesis, rather than an explicit exegetical conclusion based off of one passage. I’m not convinced however, that Vickers—following the traditional Reformed paradigm—has adequately addressed the issue of ontological culpability. There are ways of talking about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness that address this, but I don’t think Vickers’ synthesis gets us all the way there.

Third, Vickers doesn’t seem too concerned to define positive imputation as consisting specifically of Christ’s Torah observance. He largely ignores the issue until the end of the book, and then observes in a footnote, “The imputation of Christ’s righteousness can, in my opinion, be established without recourse to a discussion of Christ’s perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law…” (226). I wonder how this sits with my more adamant Reformed brethren . . .

1 comment:

Bradley said...

Ahhh! Vickers. I have a class with Dr. Vickers this semester: The gospel of Mark (exegesis class). He's very engaging in class, great teacher. As far as his book, I haven't read it, but I think his approach is revealing and indicting for the rigid Reformed tradition which so closely associates (or rather equates) the gospel with double imputation.

It's revealing when a guy is trying to defend the tradition, but when he stares the exegesis in the face, he's forced to admit basically what his tradition has considered as the gospel, receives scant attention in the NT.