The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness: Response to Bill DeJong
My colleague next door at the Cornerstone Canadian Reformed Church, Rev. Bill DeJong, has been blogging about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In his latest post, he quotes Hans Boersma’s Hot Pepper Corn and asserts that John Calvin “stopped short of stating that Christ’s obedience to the law was imputed to us.” Since Bill doesn’t allow comments on his blog, I want to briefly interact with that statement here. I want to note that this is not a settled matter. Bill apparently follows Boersma’s reading of Calvin. Francis Turretin had a different reading and you can find it in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 2, page 454. It was Turretin’s opinion that “Calvin, in many parts of his works, teaches the received opinion” regarding the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Turretin then provides a series of quotes and references to the Institutes, as well as to Calvin’s commentaries on Romans and Galatians. He concludes this discussion by stating that “The French Synods have repeatedly declared that the same truth should be retained inviolable…” and then quoting the Synod of Tonneinsian. Turretin is not alone in his understanding of Calvin. Among others, see William Cunningham’s Historical Theology (vol. 2, SWRB 1991 reprint), 54. He finds the appeal to Calvin with regards to a denial of the imputation of the active obedience to be “without any sufficient warrant.” It could be that Turretin, Cunningham, et. al. are wrong and Boersma and DeJong are correct (I don’t think so myself). But whatever the case may be no one should have the impression that Boersma’s position has always and forever been recognized as a canonical, universally accepted, accurate portrayal of Calvin on this point.
Thanks for clarifying this, Wes. One wonders why Bill would go to such efforts to prove this denial. I am sure that he knows that our position in the URCNA is that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us in the act of justification.
“Synod affirms that the Scriptures and confessions (Heidelberg Q/A 59-62; Belgic Confession articles 20-23) teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, based upon the active and passive obedience of Christ alone (p. 27 Acts of Synod 2004).”
So for us in the URCNA, this is a confessional issue. I am wondering where Bill stands on the issue. He seems to indicate that we will find out in the next entry? Since this truth is dearly confessed in the URCNA, and something the FV has generally denied, do you think the CANRC would be in agreement with our synodical affirmation? I recognize that you cannot answer for the CANRC, but I would be curious to know if this is also a confessional issue for you brothers.
Further, there is some question of where Ursinus actually stood on this issue (though I don’t believe he denied this at all), and great caution should be used when stating with authority, in public forum, that so and so denied X, when, in fact, such things are not all that evident when reading the given theologian.
Again further, in light of the present FV controversy, to raise such a denial in past theologians as if there is a one-for-one correspondence to the FV denial is misleading to the reader. It is not the same, at all. None of these Reformed theologians defined faith, as the FV does, so as to include works in the act of justification. Th reader should keep this in mind.
There are a couple of problems with Bill’s claim.
1. It’s anachronistic. Calvin didn’t address the denial of the imputation of active obedience explicitly. He didn’t because the controversy didn’t begin until 6 years after Calvin’s death. He was able to do a lot of things but writing post-mortem was beyond even his ability.
2. Asking an anachronistic question forces the historian to ask either what would Calvin had said, which is an inherently un-historical question or to draw inferences from Calvin’s literary corpus.
3. One way to address this is to ask and answer some basic questions. Did Calvin make the same assumptions that the deniers of IAO make? Did he, e.g., assume that Christ had to qualify himself to be a Savior or does he seem to assume that Jesus was always qualified to be a Savior? Did Calvin assume a temporal distinction between Christ’s obedience and his suffering? Did he say that he had ethical trouble with double obedience, i.e., the notion that the law has to be obeyed and that justice has to be satisfied. In fact the Heidelberg Catechism anticipated the problems posed by Karg and Piscator. See Q. 60!
4. We should avoid the assumption that Calvin is the measure of all things Reformed. Calvin did err (not that I’m conceding Bill’s interpetation of Calvin).
5. The Reformed orthodox developed a strong consensus on the IAO. How do we relate this consesus to Calvin? Did they misunderstand Calvin? Did they reject him (assuming Bill is right)? I doubt this.
6. For those who are unaware, there’s a chapter in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
ps. I should have said “several problems” since 6 is more than “a couple.”
Why is Rev. Bill DeJong attacking this foundational doctrine? Why attack the comfort that believers gain from resting in Christ and his obedience, including his active obedience and the imputation of this obedience by faith alone. Could it be that Bill is a closet proponant of the fv, if not why is Bill attacking the foundation of the gospel that he has promised to defend. Where is the Can RC on this issue?
I’m not sure if Bill is attacking this doctrine. We’ll have to see as he continues this series. I sincerely hope that he is on board with it, because it is (as he himself admitted in this recent post) in the Belgic Confession. It’s also in the Heidelberg Catechism.
As to where the Canadian Reformed Churches are on this, I would say that our confessions are clear. We are confessionally bound to the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ. But lest there be any doubt, two of our seminary professors recently attended a URC Classis Southwest and answered some questions. One of those questions was “Is the active obedience of Christ believed and preached by ministers in the CanRC? How influential has the rejection of the active obedience of Christ been in the CanRC?” Their answer:
“Here we would like to refer to our colleague, Dr. N. H. Gootjes, who has written a clear defence of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience (Koinonia 19.2). He argues that, even if the actual term ‘active obedience’ is not used, the teaching is nonetheless there in BC 22 where we confess, ‘He imputes to us all his merits and as many holy works as he has done for us and in our place.'”
The answer went on to affirm the doctrine further. I’m not sure they totally answered the questions, particularly the second one. All I can say is that I am wholeheartedly committed to preaching and teaching this doctrine.
Thank you for honouring me as the subject of your blog posting! Permit me three brief responses to each of the parties interested in what I wrote:
a. Regarding Wes’s questioning of the Boersma thesis, there is more evidence in support of it to follow. Stay tuned!!
b. Regarding Chris’s wonderment about my own position on this, he is of course free to ask me, which I don’t believe he has. Besides, if he were to read earlier posts on my blog, he would discern my endorsement of a view regarding the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Perhaps it’s easier to cast aspersions on someone’s theology than to do research. My only objective so far is to prove that the denial of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience in justification has a history and is well within the bounds of Reformed theology; moreover, that some pretty significant figures, including most certainly Ursinus (primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism) restricted the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the imputation of his passive obedience.
c. Regarding Scott’s accusation of anachronism, I am baffled. If one were carefully to re-read what I wrote (obviously Scott did not) one would see that I did not assert that Calvin denied the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. What I said was that Calvin denied that Christ’s keeping of the law was imputed to us. Scott is certainly correct to claim that Calvin predates the category of “active obedience”; Calvin was familiar, however, with the categories of “keeping the law” and “imputation.”
Wishing you all good things in Christ,
Are you asking me or Wes these questions?
My preference is that Rev Bill DeJong explain why he is diminishing a foundational doctrine, which is taught in our confessions. Upon your ordination, you promised to clarify and defend the gospel. In light of the current fv heresy, I fail to see how you are fulfilling these vows? If you are sympathetic with the fv, then why don’t you publically identify yourself as a proponent of the fv. If not, then join in the fight against this false gospel.
First, am I free to ask? Since you are blogging in public, I looked for the comment button on your blog, but there isn’t one. Why isn’t this enabled? Will you please enable this? If you are going to have a blog and post these claims in public forum, then you should allow people to interact with them–it’s only responsible. All of us have this feature enabled.
Second, I state again, in light of the present FV controversy, to raise such a denial in past theologians as if there is a one-for-one correspondence to the FV denial is misleading to the reader. It is not the same, at all. None of these Reformed theologians defined faith, as the FV does, so as to include works in the act of justification.
Third, Ursinus did not hold to this position before 1566. There is a lot of speculation here, and certainly the evidence supports, at least pre-1566, that he did indeed hold to this view–after which we are into mere speculation.
So you can’t say, “he most certainly did” when we have statements like the following from his pen. Ursinus writes,
“The righteousness with which we are here justified before God, is not our conformity with the law, nor our good works, nor our faith; but it is the satisfaction which Christ rendered to the law in our stead; or the punishment which he endured in our behalf; and therefore the entire humiliation of Christ, from the moment of his conception to his glorification, including his assumption of humanity, his subjection to the law, his poverty, reproach, weakness, sufferings, death, &c., all of which he did willingly; yea, whatever he did and suffered to which he was not bound, as being righteous, and the Son of God, is all included in the satisfaction which he made for us, and in the righteousness which God graciously imputes to us, and all believers. This satisfaction is equivalent to the fulfilling of the law, or to the endurance of eternal punishment for sin, to one or the other of which the law binds all. “
A basic reading of this clearly advances the truth that our justification consists in the satisfaction that Christ rendered to the law on our stead, and notice he is not just speaking of his passion, but also of his active obedience throughout his entire life.
Fourth, you write, “What I said was that Calvin denied that Christ’s keeping of the law was imputed to us.” Huh?
From Institutes 2.16.5? “Now someone asks, How has Christ abolished sin, banished the separation between us and God, and acquired righteousness to render God favorable and kindly toward us? To this we can in general reply that he has achieved this for us by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by Paul’s testimony: “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience we are made righteous” [Romans 5:19]. In another passage, to be sure, Paul extends the basis of the pardon that frees us from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, subject to the law, to redeem those who were under the law” [Galatians 4:4-5]. Thus in his very baptism, also, he asserted that he fulfilled a part of righteousness in obediently carrying out his Father’s commandment [Matthew 3:15]…Again: “For our sake he who knew no sin was made sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21] I shall not pursue all the testimonies, for the list would be endless, and many of them will be referred to in their order. For this reason the so-called “Apostles’ Creed” passes at once in the best order from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, wherein the whole of perfect salvation consists. Yet the remainder of the obedience that he manifested in his life is not excluded. Paul embraces it all from beginning to end: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant …and was obedient to the Father unto death, even death on a cross”
Or how about the father of Elizabethan Puritanism, Perkins: That justification stands in two things: first, in the remissions of sins by the measure of Christ’s death; second, in the imputation of Christ his righteousness…By his righteousness we are to understand two things: first, his sufferings, especially in his death and passion; second, his obedience in fulfilling the law, both which go together for Christ in suffering obeyed, and obeying suffered. And the very shedding of his blood to which our salvation is ascribed must not only be considered as it is passive, that is a suffering, but also as it is active, that is as obedience, in which he showed his exceeding love both to his father an us, and thus fulfilled the law for us. This point if some had well thought on, they would not have placed all justification in remission of sins as they do.”
Thanks Wes, your reply is helpful, and I rejoice to hear this!
Thanks for following up with some comments and questions.
(a) I haven’t utilized the comments feature on my blog, in part because of what’s transpired here at Wes’s blog. The theological climate in which we Reformed live is unacceptably judgmental. On my blog I made an historical argument which may or may not have validity and soon enough I’m accused not just of denying a position I do not deny but of “diminishing a foundational doctrine.” Besides, believe or not, I don’t want to get caught up in blog exchanges.
(b) You are always free to email me, Chris. Every time you write to me, I promise to respond, as promptly as I can.
(c) Your citation of Ursinus proves nothing because Ursinus is referring to what we term “passive obedience.” I’ve got a lot of material from Ursinus which makes his position very clear. Ursinus, as Heppe alleges, firmly believed that Christ’s active obedience was “purely for himself.” Is Heppe mistaken too?
(d) Similarly, your citation of Calvin proves nothing because Calvin is referring to what we term “passive obedience.” Calvin writes, “Paul extends the basis of the pardon that frees us from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ.” Enduring the curse of the law is passive obedience! Read Institutes 2.16.19 where Calvin sums up his views and point out. if you can, one word about anything flowing from what we term Christ’s active obedience.
Hope this helps! For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with Calvin or Ursinus; I think affirming the imputation of Christ’s active obedience is important. I’m just hesitant to say that Calvin and Ursinus are not Reformed!
Thanks for engaging me, Chris!
Thank you for responding. Could you please indicate precisely where I am diminishing a foundational doctrine?
I am not convinced–and, as Wes and Scott indicate, there just is no consensus in your claim throughout the long trajectory of Reformed theology. If anything, the countless Reformed theologians that followed did not read Calvin your way. Again, see Perkins.
And I have Pareus’ original works in front of me now (1645), and he openly mentions that there is a dispute over where Ursinus stood on the issue, recognizing that many believed Ursin changed his position at his death, and that even he blotted out certain words to remove ambiguity. All this to say, there is much speculation here, even from the original docs of Pareus himself.
More importantly, I would love for you to interact with Scott’s points, especially points three and five. He makes valid points that have not been answered.
Re: Comment Feature on Your Blog. Your argumentation doesn’t work. If you are going to write provocative pieces against our URCNA report, against the IAO, et al, then, I feel, you really need to turn the feature on. This way we are all kept honest in “hit pieces”–this includes me too.
Regarding that last point on blog comments: I’ve often been tempted to turn off the comments too. But in the end I didn’t think that would be fair to my readers. At the same time, to keep things from getting out of hand, I use the option to approve all comments before they get published and reserve the right to delete those that I deem inappropriate. I know Blogger/Blogspot has that option too.
Regarding Ursinus, please consult his commentary on the catechism (p.307):
“Obj. The law does not only demand that we avoid sin, but also that we do good. Therefore it is not sufficient that sin be pardoned, but it is also necessary that perfect obedience be rendered to the law that we may be just.
Ans. Even the omission of doing good is sin (Etiam omissio boni est peccatum); for he that can do good and does not, is a sinner and accursed. This forgiveness is granted unto us, because Christ has sufficiently satisfied for our sins. Hence we have in Christ perfect remission of all our sins in such a way, that we are accounted righteousness in the sight of God by his merits alone.” Full Latin text (English is abbreviated): “Habimus igitur in Chriso perfectam remissionen omnium peccatorum, iam omissionis, quam commissionis: proinde etiam peccati omissae obedientae, et sic perfectam justitiam: ut unice Christi merito coram Deo justi reputamur.”
Your quotations are not very helpful without a little context. For example, when Turretin says that Calvin “teaches the received opinion,” what is he talking about? What is the “same truth” of which he speaks?
The reason I ask is simply because many people who write on IAOC confuse it with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which all Reformed theologians teach. Chris Gordon’s quotations from Ursinus, Calvin are examples of the sort of argumentation one repeatedly encounters: anything about Christ’s fulfilling of the law or his righteousness is hauled into what is actually a technical and highly nuanced debate.
On the one hand, you say that Turretin found IAOC throughout the Institutes and in the Galatians and Romans commentaries. Then Scott Clark comes on here and declares it anachronistic to look for IAOC in Calvin. There is an obvious problem here, and I suspect it has to do with reading anything Calvin has to say on law/righteousness/imputation as though it speaks to active obedience.
It was intended to be a short post, not a lengthy, scholarly paper. But since you’re interested, let me indulge you:
Turretin was there addressing the thirteenth question in the fourteenth topic: “Is the satisfaction of Christ to be restricted to the sufferings and punishments which he endured for us? Or is to be extended also to the active obedience by which he perfectly fulfilled the law in his whole life? The former we deny and the latter we affirm.” (Vol. 2, page 445)
After outlining Piscator’s position, he goes on:
“But the common opinion and the one received in our churches is that the satisfaction of Christ, which is imputed to us for righteousness before God, embraces not only the sufferings which he endured either in his life or at his death, but also the obedience of his whole life, or the just and holy actions by which he perfectly fulfilled the demands of the law in our place. Thus from these two parts, the full and perfect price of our redemption proceeds.” (445)
I have never heard of anyone who doubts that Turretin is here affirming IAOC.
Whatever one might think of Presbyterianism before, during or after Westminster, IAOC was recognized as the confessionally orthodox position among the Reformed churches by the time of Turretin. That would be why we find it in key texts such as the Leiden Synopsis, and, of course strengthened in the edition of the Belgic Confession put out by the Synod of Dort. IAOC is part of our historical and confessional heritage.
Are you a monocovenantalist? Your position appears to be one that is pretty much the same as Norman Shepherd. Would that be the case?
Gary, I’m curious (a) what precisely in my post about the views of the various continental Reformed theologians regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness would make you ask a question about monocovenantalism, (b) what precisely do you understand as my “position” given what I’ve written in my original post and subsequent responses to Wes and others and (c) what do you understand by monocovenantalism?
As you can tell, I’m brimming with curiousity!
Kind regards in Christ,
Well, to begin with, it always seems that historically, the denial of IAOC tags along with the rejection of the Cov. of works-thus monocovenantalism and not bi-covenantalism. Also I noticed that you link at your blog to others who have close affinity with Norman Shepherd and the Federal Visoin. Just a coincident?
Thanks for your interesting response. It’s become popular in Reformed circles—perhaps it’s not so in your Baptist circles—to do theology by sloganeering; I’m of the mind that theology is a far more sophisticated enterprise. Moreover, it seems that many Reformed folk are so eager to condemn that they hardly have the stomach for a detailed exegetical or historical argument.
If you reread my posts about the imputed righteousness of Christ you will notice that I’m pointing out that several significant figures in the so-called Protestant Reformation did not believe that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us in justification. They affirmed the necessity of Christ’s active obedience (to qualify him as the sacrificial lamb to atone for sins), but they denied that this obedience is imputed to us. As the great Reformation dogmatician Heinrich Heppe argued, Christ’s active obedience, for theologians of this ilk, was “purely for himself.”
I’m of the mind that this position is not without some problems. My own positions aligns very much with the likes of Tom Wright and Mike Horton (see his, Lord and Servant) who both see Jesus, in his earthly ministry, recapitulating Adam/Israel and being the faithful son of God Adam/Israel failed to be. Because Christ is the faithful son, we who are united to him are also reckoned faithful sons.
On the other hand, I’m thoroughly unprepared to declare as heretics and deniers of the gospel, Ursinus, Piscator, Gataker, Twisse and a whole host of other Reformation theologians who denied that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us. In fact, Zacharias Ursinus was the primary author of a confessional document — the Heidelberg Catechism — to which I heartily subscribe.
Interestingly, Ursinus also would not sign on to popular definitions of the covenant of works. For more on this see Lyle Bierma’s article on Ursinus in the volume entitled _Protestant Scholasticsm_ edited by Scott Clark and Carl Trueman. Ursinus rejected the concept of merit in the prelapsarian covenant and believed, in fact, that this covenant was suffused with grace (his view approximated that of Calvin). I agree completely with Ursinus on this point. On the other hand, I believe there is a postlapsarian covenant which is very much distinct from the prelapsarian covenant, though I recoil at formulations of the prelaps. cov. which include the notion of merit — which I regard as affront to God himself.
Regarding Norman Shepherd, he is a father in the faith, a godly man, and a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t agree with Rev. Shepherd on everything, though I cherish his ministry dearly.
Regarding federal vision personnel, I am close friends with John Barach, Jeff Meyers, Jim Jordan and several others and regard these men as some of the most promising churchmen of our day.
I hope this answers your questions, Gary!
Wishing you the very best in our Savior!!
Bill, would you agree that a denial of IAOC places one in conflict with article 22 of the Belgic Confession?
As I indicated in my blog post, it seems that the synod of Dort amended the text of Article 22 to affirm Christ’s active obedience wasn’t exclusively for himself. So yes, I think that one who denies IAOC cannot agree with the precise formulation of Belgic, article 22. Having said that, I don’t know whether such a denial would impede one’s subscription to the Three Forms of Unity. It seems on the surface it would, but it’s hard for me to imagine that the synod of Dort was intending the exclude the likes of Ursinus and Bogerman (wasn’t Bogerman the chair of the synod??). It’s a very good question for which I don’t have a good answer.
As I’ve said before, I do think that those who argue that Christ’s active obedience was exclusively for himself are unable to account for all the biblical data. This can be cured, however, by reading N.T. Wright’s_Jesus and the Victory of God_!
Thanks for engaging me in a fraternal and collegial way, Wes. It’s exactly this spirit which I find lacking in the church today. Hopefully my responses demonstrate the same spirit.
Wishing you good things in Christ!!
I am not a baptist.
By “Baptist” I didn’t mean a denominational label, but a theological one. The church you pastor subscribes to the London Confession, doesn’t it?
No- that is part of our identity so that we can support mission works that are baptistic but Reformed otherwise. I could just as well conclude that all CREC churches are Baptistic using that line of reasoning- or, to press the obvious ,that you are a closet Arminian because of your kinship with those you link on your blog -especially the ones that hold to two kinds of justification, two kinds of election, etc.etc.
So you include a Baptist confession in your “identity” to support baptistic mission works? That’s very intriguing, to say the least. I can appreciate the ecumenical impulse behind such an endeavor, though I would have a hard time signing on myself.
Wishing you the Lord’s blessings in your ministry!!
If you can find a Baptist church that sprinkles and baptizes babies-which is our practise- let me know.
I was reading Calvin’s commentaries on Jeremiah 23 a while ago and I came across the following: “But by saying, God our righteousness, the Prophet still more fully shows that righteousness is not Christ’s as though it were only his own, but that we have it in common with him, for he has nothing separate from us…. But yet God is not our righteousness as he is righteous in himself, or as having his own peculiar righteousness; and as he is our judge, his own righteousness is adverse to us. But Christ’s righteousness is of another kind: it is ours, because Christ is righteous not for himself, but possesses a a righteousness which he communicates to us.” Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Volume III. p. 141.
Maybe it’s me reading into things, but sounds like Calvin affirms here the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.
One more thing. Calvin goes on to comment on Jeremiah 33: “He in the last place adds, ‘And this is the name by which they shall call her, Jehovah our righteousness.’ In chapter xxiii. This name is given to Christ, and to him alone it properly belongs; but it is here transferred to the Church, for whatever belongs to the head, is made common to all the members. For we indeed know that Christ has nothing as his own, for as he is made righteousness, it belongs to us, according to what Paul says, ‘he is made to us righteousness, and redemption, and sactification, and wisdom.’ (1 Cor. i. 30.” As, then, the Father conferred righteousness on his own Son for our sake, it is no wonder that what is in his power is transferred to us. What, then, we found in the twenty-third chapter was rightly declared, for it belgons peculiarly to Christ, that he is God our righteousness. But as we partake of this righteousness, when he admits us into a participation of all the blessings by which he is adorned and enriched by the Father, it hence follows, that this also belongs to the whole Church, even that God is its righteousness.” Volume IV, p. 255
Here again, I don’t think that Calvin affirmed that Christ’s righteousness was only necessary to be the perfect sacrifice. Unless Calvin has a different definition of righteousness than I do, it seems as if he is saying that Christ’s obedience to the law is given to us as our own.
This particular debate revolves around whether Calvin believed that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us. He undoubtedly believed that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, but by “righteousness” he most often means “passive righteousness.” To be honest, it’s very difficult to discern from Calvin’s writings whether he is speaking of what we term “active obedience” or “passive obedience” since he predates this distinction. It could well be that he envisioned both aspects of obedience embedded in the righteousness which is imputed to us, in which case your citation of Calvin’s commentary on Jeremiah 31 is relevant.
[…] to deal with the issue. To his credit, Wes Bredenhof (a CanRC minister) has engaged the issues and responded to DeJong. At least one blogging CanRC minister regularly cites FV authors with approval and another endorsed […]
[…] to deal with the issue. To his credit, Wes Bredenhof (a CanRC minister) has engaged the issues and responded to DeJong. At least one blogging CanRC minister regularly cites FV authors with approval and another endorsed […]