Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 5

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at chapter 4.

Incorporated Righteousness

The doctrine of imputation is a touchy subject as is evident from the debates that have taken place over centuries. The debates have arisen again in recent days due to the rise of the 'New Perspective on Paul'.

Bird begins the chapter by providing a short history of the doctrine. It is interesting, as Bird points out, that imputation was not as central to justification to some among the reformers. It is easy to assume that there is one view that all the 'reformers' ascribed to. Nevertheless, many in the reformed camp have seen imputation as the defining mark of justification and protestant theology. Bird even refers to it as the 'boundary marker' to distinguish between Protestants and Catholics. Even more recently proponents of the New Perspective and some Evangelicals have questioned the validity of the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Mark Seifrid, in particular, has pointed out that talking about imputation can sometimes detract from Paul's Christ-centered theology. He says that it is better to talk about our righteousness being found in Christ, crucified and risen.

Bird then goes on to clarify the debate. He refuses to label all those who refuse to use the language of imputation as legalistic since this is an over-simplistic way of looking at the debate; he also refuses to side with those who consider a denial of imputation a denial of the gospel. "To equate the gospel as consisting of the doctrine of imputed righteousness makes about as much sense as saying that the gospel is the pre-tribulation rapture" (p. 69). He reminds us that the language of imputation is not explicitly found in the New Testament but that it is an appropriate way of restating the forensic nature of justification. Bird will now set out to show is that believers are righteous because they are incorporated in Christ.

Bird looks at some of the key texts which are used to demonstrate imputed righteousness. At the end of the day he says that the usual texts never come out and explicitly teach imputation. Rather, believer's are righteous by virtue of their union with Christ in his death and resurrection. The resurrection was Christ's vindication and it is in this that believer's share by faith. The righteousness that they possess is a result of being united to "the Righteous One." Of particular interest in this section was his discussion of the debate between Piper and Garlington on the word Logizomai.

Bird says that it makes much more sense to speak of incorporated righteousness since imputed righteousness can give the idea that righteousness is somehow abstracted from Christ and given to the believer. Incorporated righteousness has to do with union with Christ and cannot be separated from the Savior himself.

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