I have been examining the claims of Southern Seminary professor Mark Seifrid from his book, Christ, Our Righteousness, wherein he claims the Protestant belief in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is an “addition” to Paul’s teaching on the subject of justification that is without basis in the text itself, and that, in fact, such a belief is in error. I had not commented on the entirety of the last quotation, so I repeat it:

Likewise, the further distinction which some Protestants made between the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness (in fulfilling the law) and his passive obedience (in dying on the cross) is unnecessary and misleading. This view, too, arose from a failure to grasp that Christ’s work represents the prolepsis of the final judgment and the entrance of the age to come. His “passive obedience”‘ was the fulfilment of the law which condemned us! In Christ and in hope, the triumph over sin and death is ours here and now. Yet it is not ours: we possess it only in faith. In this way, and only in this way, the grace of God and the demand for obedience meet. In reducing “justification” to a present possession of “Christ’s imputed righteousness”, Protestant divines inadvertently bruised the nerve which runs between justification and obedience (175).

I have provided my exegesis of Romans 4:4-8, which clearly indicates the propriety of speaking of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. I likewise raised the issue, presented in 4:6-8, of how Paul say the forgiveness of sins in the LXX citation in the positive light of the imputation of righteousness as well, a vitally important fact. Seifrid goes on in the above citation to join the many today (from those writing on the basis of some facet of the “new perspectives” on Paul, to some New Covenant writers, to some dispensationalists) who find the imputed righteousness of Christ, and especially that aspect of that doctrine that sees a positive nature of the fulfillment of God’s law in Christ as part of that righteousness, to involve a fundamental “failure” on the part of later Protestant dogmaticians. Why does the positive righteousness of Christ as the One to whom the people of God are joined in union involve any fundamental denial of “the prolepsis of the final judgment and the entrance of the age to come”? We are not told. Seeing the certainty of the final judgment and our vindication because of Christ does not change the fact that we continue to live in this “present evil age” and as such need to have a foundation upon which to stand in grace. Is the “peace” we have with God, having been justified by faith, created merely by the pondering of the future and final vindication? Or is it grounded in the forensic nature of the verdict of justification, seen so powerfully in Romans 8:31ff?

What is Seifrid’s point in saying Christ’s “passive obedience” was the fulfillment of the law which condemned us? While that is quite true, how does this substantiate the assertion being made? “In Christ and in hope, the triumph over sin and death is ours here and now.” Quite true again, but the issue is how is it ours here and now, and not merely in view of a future, eschatological vindication? Why can’t that triumph be seen in the fact that in the here and now I stand clothed in the perfect, seamless robe of Christ’s righteousness? Evidently because, if that righteousness is imputed to us, then it is “ours,” but then it would not be of faith. “Yet it is not ours: we possess it only in faith.” If by this is only meant “it is not intrinsically ours but only by faith” then yes, of course; but if it means “it cannot be imputed to me the believer because it must only be by faith” then surely not. Why would true, saving faith exclude the imputation of Christ’s righteousness? We are not told. Evidently it has something to do with the assertion, “In this way, and only in this way, the grace of God and the demand for obedience meet.” Once again it is hard not to start seeing a style of “covenant nomism” lurking in the shadows. Demand for obedience on the part of whom, the Savior (He fulfilled the demand!) or the sinner (100% failure rate)? The grace of God and the demand for obedience are, in fact, perfectly fulfilled in refusing to separate (not distinguish, which we must, but separate) the righteousness of Christ into separate categories so as to be able to deny one aspect of it (His positive righteousness) and reduce justification to a synonym for forgiveness. But this is exactly where Seifrid is going: “In reducing ‘justification’ to a present possession of ‘Christ’s imputed righteousness’, Protestant divines inadvertently bruised the nerve which runs between justification and obedience.” Why? Again, we are not told. Is it being suggested that if we indeed possess, by imputation, the righteousness of Christ, that we will not obey? Does it then follow that full justification is held out as a goal to be obtained only upon conditions of fulfilled obedience? Surely not. So how does providing the perfect ground of peace with God do anything other than ground our obedience firmly in the realm of grace, thanksgiving, and appreciation? Indeed, without the imputed righteousness of Christ, what is the ground for one’s obedience to God? Again, we are not told. But it is surely something to be considered when a professor at Southern Seminary, viewed by many as a Reformed school, would publish a work in which the imputed righteousness of Christ (and I will argue later this is exactly what is intended by the statement of faith of Southern Seminary) is identified as an “addition” to the biblical message, one that “bruises” the nerve that runs between justification and obedience (whatever that means, specifically), and is in fact a simple error. Indeed, the next section we will examine begins, “It is not so much wrong to use the expression ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ’ as it is deficient.”

I confess, reading this coming from “inside” the camp makes one feel very much like Mel Gibson’s character in We Were Soldiers when he sent out the “broken arrow” notification: the lines had collapsed and it was no longer possible to tell friend from foe. However, carrying that analogy out a bit, they won the battle anyway. It was just a struggle (Jude 3-4). To be continued.

Update 12/30/2014: This review eventually became a major series of posts. For those interested in reading the entire series in order I post the links below. RP

Dr. Seifrid on Imputation July 9, 2004
More in Response to Southern Seminary Professor’s Denial of Imputed Righteousness July 9, 2004
Continuing Review of Mark Seifrid’s Views on the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness July 11, 2004
An Interesting Expansion in the LBCF, 1689 July 27, 2004
The Abstract of Principles on Justification July 30, 2004
The Imputation Controversy August 25, 2004
Imputation Controversy #2 August 26, 2004
Why I Care About “Christ, our Righteousness” August 28, 2004
Imputation Controversy #3 August 30, 2004
Southern Seminary and Dr. Mark Seifrid September 4, 2004
A Response to Southern Seminary and Dr. Mark Seifrid September 4, 2004
Listen to Today’s DL for a Full Discussion of the SBTS/Seifrid/Imputation Issue September 7, 2004
From the 1994 WTJ September 7, 2004
A Word of Rebuke to the Firebrands September 8, 2004
And Verily It Got Nuttier September 11, 2004
Yes, I Have a Copy, Thank You September 13, 2004
An Open Letter to Dr. Mark Seifrid (Part 1) September 14, 2004
Seifrid Response, Part II September 15, 2004
Seifrid Response, Part III September 18, 2004
Open Letter to Mark Seifrid, Part IV September 21, 2004
Open Letter to Mark Seifrid, Part V October 2, 2004
If I Misrepresented Dr. Seifrid, then…. December 3, 2004

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