I wondered when those not involved in the issue would chime in, and I didn’t have long to wait. But in what is probably one of the saddest comments I’ve read in a while we read from Kevin Johnson:
Imputation, the merit of Christ’s active obedience, and forensic justification–one wonders why they are so important for Reformed people to adhere to in opposition to a Roman Catholic Church that is vastly different today than it was 500 years ago. After all, for the first 1500 years of the Church there were very few who really understood justification and the above attendant issues in the same way that the Reformers did, so much so that Alistair McGrath titled justification by faith alone a “theological novum” introduced by Luther.
Perhaps salvation and justification can be thought of differently. Is it necessary to believe in the above concepts for one to be called a Christian? Can we really call someone unregenerate because he doesn’t believe in the standard Reformed formulations mentioned above? Somehow I doubt it.
See, “Reformed people” find it so important because it is the very essence of life itself. Evidently this writer has never understood this. We do not hold so tenaciously to what Machen called our “only hope” in opposition to Rome, we hold to it tenaciously because the Spirit of God has so clearly opened our eyes to our sins, our defilement, that we know that without that alien righteousness imputed to us freely, graciously, in Jesus Christ, that we will never, ever stand before the awesome holiness of God. One who has experienced that kind of Spirit-borne conviction could never ask this question.
Next, Roman Catholicism has indeed changed in 500 years. At the time of the Reformation, Rome did not dogmatically add to the faith the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Bodily Assumption of Mary, nor the dogma of Papal Infallibility. So many today ignore the fact that these de fide dogmas did not exist at the time of the Reformation: how would the Reformers have spoken had they existed then? Further, it seems no one in the rC camp is concerned when men add such falsehoods to God’s truth as if they had the authority to do so. An amazing thing indeed.
We have dealt with the misuse of McGrath by Roman Catholic apologists for years. The context is of the impact of Augustine’s misunderstanding of the dikaio– stem terms in the New Testament resulting in the medieval errors corrected by Luther’s insight. So what is the point of this writer? Evidently the imputation of Christ’s righteousness “central to the sole glory of God in the redemption of His people” just isn’t really “that important” because Rome (a Christian church in his theology) does not confess it, and did not do so during the medieval period.
Finally, we hear this writer, who once professed the centrality of the doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, musing about whether it is really important to believe these things. Does it really matter? It doesn’t seem to matter to rC’s. It only matters to those who still have, as the focus of their theology, their faith, and their life, a single phrase: soli Deo gloria.