In early September, 2004, Southern Seminary posted an official statement regarding Dr. Mark Seifrid’s views on justification.  The statement was clearly prompted by the blog entries that have appeared on my blog beginning in July of this year.
Allow me to begin my response by stating once again: I began my review of Dr. Seifrid’s book for purely theological, pastoral, gospel-centered reasons.  This is not a personal issue.  I do not know Dr. Seifrid.  I bear him not an iota of personal animosity.  I do not have a political bone in my body as all those who know me personally can testify.  I only replied to Dr. Seifrid’s writings because his workdemanded that I do so.  How can I defend the great truth of justification against Roman Catholic apologists and yet pass over in silence the statements Dr. Seifrid included in his book?  Consistency demanded a response lest I compromise my own faith.  I cannot concern myself over the cost, personally, of responding to this statement.  This issue transcends persons.  It is the issue of the very nature of justification, the nature of imputation, of righteousness.  We cannot allow confusion or hesitation to cloud this truth.
The statement accuses me of “charging” Dr. Seifrid in a public forum.  If quoting  published works is the same as “charging” an author with something, then I guess I am guilty.  But I believe anyone who fairly reads what I have written without bias and prejudice well knows that my focus has consistently been on the issue of justification and imputation, and has never involved “charging” Dr. Seifrid with anything.  I am not a member of Dr. Seifrid’s church, hence, I could not bring “charges” against him.  And I am not a member of the staff of Southern Seminary, hence, again, why anyone would couch my replies to his written views in this mode is truly beyond me.
Before responding to the statement, let’s refresh our memories.  Here, in concentrated form, are some of the key statements I have quoted, in full, from the published works of Mark Seifrid, specifically, from his book, Christ, our Righteousness (IVP, 2000) and from his chapter in the recent Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Husbands & Treier, 2004).  It should be noted that Seifrid himself begins chapter seven of Christ, our Righteousness by stating, “Consequently, it is necessary to draw out some of the distinctions I would wish to maintain, and to clarify the relationship of these views to traditional Protestant understandings of justification” (Seifrid 2000, p. 171).  Unless words have no meaning, Seifrid here gladly contrasts his own views with “traditional Protestant understandings of justification.”  I add emphasis to the key phrases:

It is fair to say that something of the ‘Christ-centred’ understanding of justification which Luther and Calvin grasped was lost in subsequent Protestant thought, where justification came to be defined in terms of the believer and not in terms of Christ. It is worth observing that Paul never speaks of Christ’s righteousness as imputed to believers, as became standard in Protestantism (Seifrid 2000, 173-174).

The common Protestant formulation of justification as the ‘non­imputation of sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ is understandable as a way of setting forth justification as a forensic reality, in distinction from the Tridentine claim that an infused, imparted or inherent righteousness had to be added to the grace of forgiveness. It nevertheless treats the justifying verdict of God as an immediate and isolated gift. The justification of the believer is thereby separated from the justification of God in his wrath against us. Salvation is then portioned out, so that one possesses it piecemeal. It is held together as a series of ideas (justification, sanctification, glorification), rather than being grasped — by faith — as the comprehensive act of God in Christ. The insistence that the sanctification of the believer always accompanies justification does not fully overcome this deficiency. Indeed, Protestant confessions sometimes take on the appearance of unreality at this point because they speak of believers in themselves.[At this point Seifrid footnotes the Heidelberg Catechism, Answer to Question 60, showing us what “standard Protestant formulations” he is referring to and contrasting his own view with]. Once one shifts away from Paul’s frame of reference in Christ to one located in the believer, the continuing demand of faith, hope and love is obscured (Seifrid 2000, 174-175).

By virtue of their extrinsic character and finality, Christ’s cross and resurrection exclude the notions of an inherent righteousness and progress in justification which Protestant divines were concerned to avoid. As a result, there is no need to multiply entities within ‘justification’, as Protestant orthodoxy did when it added the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the forgiveness of sins.  When Paul speaks of ‘justification’ as the forgiveness of sins, he has in view the whole of justification, the resurrection from the dead, not merely an erasure of our failures which must be supplemented by an ‘imputed’ righteousness (Rom. 4:6-8, 25). 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 (Seifrid 2000, 175).

It is not so much wrong to use the expression ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ’ as it isdeficient. Paul, after all, speaks of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation to God, the gift of the Spirit, ‘salvation’ and so on. But his teaching on justification is more comprehensive than any of these, and provides the framework in which they are to be understood. Even where he speaks of ‘salvation’ and not justification, the essential elements of the latter appear alongside the former. If we fail to capture the sense of the whole, the pieces themselves lose their significance. It is better to say with Paul that our righteousness is found, not in us, but in Christ crucified and risen. The Westminster Confession (and that of my own institution) puts the matter nicely when it speaks of ‘receiving and resting on [Christ] and his righteousness by faith’.  (Seifrid, 2000, 175).

…one of the benefits of this dynamic and comprehensive understanding of justification is that it is accompanied by the recognition that ‘sanctification’ is not a second stage, but simply another perspective on God’s work in Christ.  That is to say that growth is growth in faith and in the repentance inherent to faith.  Numerous biblical passages, which do not fit into the usual Protestant scheme, thereby become comprehensible. (Seifrid, 2004, 150-151).

The Protestant definition of justification in terms of imputation is no mere description of biblical teaching for which terminology is lacking in Scripture, as is the case, for example, with the doctrine of the Trinity.  Here we are dealing in some measure with the replacement of the biblical categories with other ways of speaking.  This development need not be regarded as deleterious, and certainly has to be appreciated in his (sic, its) historical significance, but it is not without its dangers and shortcomings.  (Seifrid, 2004, 151).

By construing divine justice within the framework of bare legal conceptions, Protestant thought separated love from justice and, quite contrary to its own intent, arguably prepared the way for the totalization of love in modern theology.  (Seifrid, 2004, 151).

Keeping these statements in mind, here is Southern Seminary’s official statement (replete with the seal of the seminary):

Professor Mark Seifrid on Justification

In the summer of 2004, an Internet site publicly charged Professor Mark A. Seifrid with holding views of justification that are outside the doctrinal parameters of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Abstract of Principles on the doctrine of justification.

Because Southern Seminary takes seriously our responsibility for confessional fidelity, the Administration thoroughly investigated the views and writings of Professor Seifrid. This investigation included extensive interviews with Professor Seifrid, along with careful attention to his books and writings, in consultation with the faculty and officers of the board of trustees of Southern Seminary.

On August 26, 2004, President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and Russell D. Moore, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology, reported to the board officers that they find Professor Seifrid within the parameters of the Abstract of Principles and The Baptist Faith and Message.

Professor Seifrid affirms the forensic justification of an alien righteousness to the believer in Christ. In Professor Seifrid’s view, this means the imputation of the obedience of Christ to all who are in Christ. Professor Seifrid further affirms that this righteousness is received through faith alone. Below is Professor Seifrid’s clarification of his views on the doctrine of justification.

  1. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith. [Abstract of Principles, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary]

I was absolutely shocked and dismayed to learn in recent days that someone has so misconstrued my writings that they imagine that I have abandoned a Reformational understanding of justification. Nothing could be further from the truth. The heart and thrust of my writing and teaching on the justifying work of God in Christ has been the defense and elaboration of a proper biblical and Reformational understanding of the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.

From my work on my doctoral dissertation until the present hour, I have been a decided opponent of the so-called New Perspective on Paul, which I regard as a serious deviation from the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone who has read my work will recognize that no one has been more adamantly opposed to the New Perspective than I have been and continue to be.

It is highly regrettable that someone who professes to be a Christian made no effort to ensure that he understood what I have written before he brought serious charges against me in a public forum.

Nevertheless, I am glad to express my convictions about justification. I affirm from the heart the article of the Seminary’s Abstract of Principles on justification, which summarizes very well the essential message of the Bible on God’s justifying work in Christ. I therefore affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who believe.

I further offer the following elaboration of this article:

First, it rightly speaks of justification in terms of acquittal from sin, making it clear that justification entails God’s declaration of sinners as righteous in Jesus Christ. Justification is not a process of infusion or impartation of righteousness, but a forensic act on God’s part. The brief statement that we are acquitted “from all sin,” bears the implication that this pronouncement is final and complete: all our sins, past, present, and future, are included in it. Justification is the final judgment brought into the present time through Jesus Christ. Nothing may be added to the righteousness pronounced by God in him. No essential distinction may be drawn between an initial justification and a final justification: it is one and the same act of God in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the article rightly makes clear that justification takes place through Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. He willingly died in our place, bearing our punishment. The mercy of God is given to us only in the judgment of Christ’s cross. In believing in him, not only are we justified, but also we acknowledge the justice of God in his judgment against us.

Thirdly, the article makes it clear that the righteousness of God pronounced on us in Christ is fully and entirely extrinsic. God justifies the ungodly, and only the ungodly. Justification is not based on any transforming effect of grace in us, nor on any works which we do. For the sake of clarity it must be said that this is also true of our “final” justification. Justification is granted to us as sinners for whom Christ died. We receive Christ and rest on him and his completed work alone. He alone is our righteousness.

My concern here is essentially that of the Reformers in their controversies with the Roman Church; namely, that our justification is found outside of us in Christ and in Christ alone.

I would hasten to add that the mere affirmation that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers does not in itself secure a Reformational understanding of justification: there are sufficient examples past and present of the relativizing of “justification” to make this danger apparent. One of the burdens of my writing has been to show that if we are to maintain the biblical and Reformational conception of justification, and thus avoid such errors, we must understand justification fundamentally and primarily in terms of God’s work in Christ, a work which is forensic, extrinsic, complete and final in nature.

The reality of justification is not so much like a bank account which is credited to us, as it is like a marriage in which we possess a righteousness which properly belongs to another, because he has made us his own. The first image is not without value, in that it conveys the gratuitous, and extrinsic nature of justification. But it leaves out much of the biblical picture.

The biblical doctrine of justification entails nothing less than the understanding that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe. But it entails much, much more. Our age is plagued not only by moral confusion, but also by confused moralism. If we are to stand, and remain Reformational, we shall have to grasp the biblical teaching on justification in its fulness. Otherwise, we and our churches shall surely fall.

Mark A. Seifrid
Louisville, Kentucky
August 11, 2004

There are so many things that flood my mind as I read this statement that putting them in the most useful order is quite a challenge.  I respond to this statement for one simple reason: if you can say, without retraction, that the concept of imputation is an “addition” made by “Protestant orthodoxy,” that it is “deficient,” that the distinction of the active and passive obedience of Christ in reference to that imputed righteousness is “unnecessary and misleading” and that such a misleading view 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,” and that “Protestant divines” “reduced” justification to a “present possession of ‘Christ’s imputed righteousness’ resulting in their bruising “the nerve which runs between justification and obedience,” and then say “The biblical doctrine of justification entails nothing less than the understanding that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe,” then theological discourse has come to a screeching halt, words have lost all meaning, and in the very halls of academia today we cannot say with any level of clarity just what justification involves and whether we stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ or whether we do not.
The key issue here is theological.  It is not personal.  Despite Dr. Seifrid’s swipe at me in his response, I will not respond in kind.  I will simply note that the demand that I try to contact every person I critiquewho has published their views for all to read is unfair and unreasonable.  If Dr. Seifrid had cited my own work (The God Who Justifies, Bethany House, 2001) as an example of the standard “Protestant scheme,” would I have had ground upon which to complain if he did not look me up and give me a call on the phone?  Of course not.  My work is published.  It is in the public realm.  I only ask that someone be as fair with what I have written as I have been with Dr. Seifrid.  The reader will notice that while Dr. Seifrid accuses me of “misconstruing” him, not a single example is provided.  Indeed, one truly has to wonder if the entirety of my blog entries were consulted, given that Dr. Seifrid’s response seems to be focused not upon the issue of imputation, but the broader footing of justification.  Yet, any reading of my articles would have informed him that my concern has, from the beginning, been directed toward his statements about the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.  It is rather ironic to note that I am not the first person to cite the very same section of Seifrid’s book and to understand him in this fashion.  Robert Gundry, who is known for his open rejection of the imputational concept, writes,

Finally, what practical difference does it make whether we affirm or deny an imputation of Christ’s righteousness?  Well, Mark A. Seifrid observes that “in reducing ‘justification’ to a present possession of ‘Christ’s imputed righteousness’, Protestant divines inadvertently bruised the nerve which runs between justification and obedience.”  I therefore suggest that Paul does not match the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us believers because he (Paul) wants to emphasize the obedient life of righteousness that we are supposed to live—and indeed will live if we are true believers—apart from the Old Testament law, under which Christ was born, and to emphasize the judgment of our works at the end. (Husbands and Treier, 2004, pp. 43-44).

Twice Dr. John Piper in his book Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Crossway, 2002), cites Gundry as seeing Seifrid supporting his denial of imputation.  He writes,

He cites Mark Seifrid, Tom Wright, James Dunn, Chris Beker, and John Reumann as representatives of a newer view of justification that does not include the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  “Other recognized scholars could easily be added to the list, so many in fact that it would not exaggerate to speak of a developing standard in biblical theological circles” (II, 15).  (Piper, 2002, p. 45).

Gundry sees himself as part of a larger shift away from the historic doctrine.  “It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  (I have in mind treatments by Mark Seifrid, Tom Wright, James Dunn, Chris Beker, and John Reumann, among others).  The notion is passé” (I, 9). (Piper, 2002, p. 125).

So I am a “late comer.”  Has Southern produced statements correcting Robert Gundry or John Piper?  If not, why not?  Such seems a relevant question.  It would seem significantly more relevant when Dr. Gundry or Dr. Piper put these statements in nationally published works than when I comment upon these passages in brief articles on an apologetics blog on the Internet.  Is it possible the staff and leadership of Southern Seminary were unaware of the citations in Gundry and Piper?  Has Dr. Seifrid repudiated Gundry’s identification of him as joining with Wright, Dunn, and others, in lacking a belief in imputation, especially in light of his assertions found in this statement from Southern Seminary?
Leaving this aside, I move on to the text of the response itself.

The Abstract and SBTS

The official response states:

In the summer of 2004, an Internet site publicly charged Professor Mark A. Seifrid with holding views of justification that are outside the doctrinal parameters of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Abstract of Principles on the doctrine of justification.

I had mentioned the Abstract of Principles in one article on July 30, 2004.  I did so in response to Seifrid’s citation of the Abstract in his book and his assertion that the phraseology found therein, which mirrors the Westminster Confession, reflects his own thinking.  But the reader is invited to read the article and discover that the topic was the active and passive obedience of Christ, something Seifrid does not evenmention in his response.  I was contrasting the clear, compelling confession of the unified righteousness of Christ by James P. Boyce and Seifrid’s assertion that the very distinction Boyce clearly taught is in fact “unnecessary and misleading” (Seifrid, 2000, 175).  I cited Boyce in full on the topic, and then made the connection that seemingly has been found so offensive on the part of some.  I pointed out Boyce was very much involved in the writing of the Abstract, and then concluded:  “It seems, then, that what theAbstract of Principles meant by ‘receiving and resting on [Christ] and his righteousness by faith’ was significantly fuller than Seifrid’s suggested understanding.”
Now, I would like to ask Dr. Seifrid, and those responsible for the drafting of this statement, some questions as we move along.  Here is the first:

Question #1:  Dr. Seifrid: Was James P. Boyce presenting unnecessary and misleading teaching in The Abstract of Systematic Theology on page 399 when he made central to his teaching on justification the concept that the righteousness that is imputed to believers is made up of the active and passive obedience of Christ?  If not, what did you mean on page 175 of your book,Christ, our Righteousness, when you said that very distinction found in Boyce is “unnecessary and misleading” and based upon a “failure to grasp that Christ’s work represents the prolepsis of the final judgment and the entrance of the age to come”?  And could you explain how it is that noting this seeming contradiction is tantamount to posting “charges” against someone on the Internet?

To those who believe I have brought “charges” by noting this, I ask a simple question: is there anyone who would wish to defend the assertion that James Boyce, or the other framers of the Abstract of Theology, held Dr. Seifrid’s view that the active and passive obedience of Christ is an unnecessary and misleading teaching based upon a failure to grasp the true meaning of Christ’s work?  If I am correct in this observation, may I ask what is the source of offense in noting it, given that the book I am reviewing has been in print for four years?

The Depth of the Investigation

Because Southern Seminary takes seriously our responsibility for confessional fidelity, the Administration thoroughly investigated the views and writings of Professor Seifrid. This investigation included extensive interviews with Professor Seifrid, along with careful attention to his books and writings, in consultation with the faculty and officers of the board of trustees of Southern Seminary.

I am very thankful that Southern takes seriously their responsibility for confessional fidelity.  I do, however, have a few questions I would like to ask.  First, surely I am not the first person to have noted the statements Dr. Seifrid makes in his book in the course of forty-eight months, am I?  If I am not, had not this issue been examined before?  Secondly, did the investigation include a full reading of all of my articles, en toto, by all involved?  And finally, if Dr. Seifrid’s books were included in the investigation, why is there no discussion of the actual citations I have given and discussed in the articles, and repeated above, since those citations are the only reason I have even engaged this discussion?

The Conclusion

On August 26, 2004, President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and Russell D. Moore, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology, reported to the board officers that they find Professor Seifrid within the parameters of the Abstract of Principles and The Baptist Faith and Message.

Of course, the question that truly needs to be answered in light of this is: Does it follow, then, that the teaching of Dr. Seifrid found in Christ, our Righteousness regarding the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an “addition” made by later Protestant orthodoxy to the biblical definition of justification is likewise “within the parameters”?  If so, was my citation of p. 399 from Boyce discussed?  If so, why is this not noted in the statement and dealt with directly?  Or, in light of Dr. Seifrid’s use of the term “imputed” in what follows, does he now renounce what he wrote in 2000 and earlier this year?  Nothing in the document addresses the actual citations of his work upon which the entirety of my discussion was based.  The statement continues:

Professor Seifrid affirms the forensic justification of an alien righteousness to the believer in Christ. In Professor Seifrid’s view, this means the imputation of the obedience of Christ to all who are in Christ. Professor Seifrid further affirms that this righteousness is received through faith alone. Below is Professor Seifrid’s clarification of his views on the doctrine of justification.

This is wonderful!  But it likewise would demand, if these words are being used in the “standard Protestant scheme,” a renunciation of Dr. Seifrid’s statements in both his 2000 and 2004 publications, cited above.  Please note:

SBTS StatementPublished Works
 

“affirms the forensic justification of an alien righteousness to the believer in Christ”

“It is not so much wrong to use the expression ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ’ as it isdeficient.”  “It nevertheless treats the justifying verdict of God as an immediate and isolated gift. The justification of the believer is thereby separated from the justification of God in his wrath against us. Salvation is then portioned out, so that one possesses it piecemeal.”  “As a result, there is no need to multiply entities within ‘justification’, as Protestant orthodoxy did when it added the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the forgiveness of sins.”
 

“this means the imputation of the obedience of Christ to all who are in Christ”

“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.”  “In reducing ‘justification’ to a present possession of ‘Christ’s imputed righteousness’, Protestant divines inadvertently bruised the nerve which runs between justification and obedience.”

One can see the problem immediately.  Without addressing these assertions that remain in print, the statement leaves us without any real answers to the questions that have been raised.  Hence we must ask another set of questions:

Question #2  Dr. Seifrid, when you say you affirm an alien righteousness imputed to believers, do you still believe such language is “deficient”?  Do you still believe “Protestant orthodoxy” “added the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the forgiveness of sins”?  If so, how can you affirm, as a Baptist, a doctrine that finds its origin in “Protestant orthodoxy” and not the biblical text itself?  But if you no longer believe the imputation of Christ was added by Protestant orthodoxy, do you renounce this assertion?  And will you remove it from future editions of your book, with notation?  And when you now say you affirm “the imputation of the obedience of Christ” does this mean the active and passive obedience of Christ, or something else? If you mean the active and passive obedience of Christ, then are you recanting your assertion that that very distinction is “unnecessary and misleading”?  And if you do not mean that, what exactly do you mean when you speak of Christ’s obedience being imputed?  And would that imputation not “bruise the nerve which runs between justification and obedience,” or do you likewise renounce that assertion?

Dr. Seifrid Speaks

At this point the statement provides a fairly brief personal statement from Dr. Seifrid.  It begins:

I was absolutely shocked and dismayed to learn in recent days that someone has so misconstrued my writings that they imagine that I have abandoned a Reformational understanding of justification. Nothing could be further from the truth. The heart and thrust of my writing and teaching on the justifying work of God in Christ has been the defense and elaboration of a proper biblical and Reformational understanding of the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.

I am left somewhat fearful, by this statement, that Dr. Seifrid has yet to actually read what I have written.  The focus, as the reader knows, of my articles has been on the issue of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, not “a Reformational understanding of justification.”  If I have, in fact, “misconstrued” Dr. Seifrid’s writings, may I ask why not a single example of this is provided in response?  The omission is troubling.  The date provided on this portion of the statement is August 11th, during the period of time between the first articles and the much longer portions that have been posted since then.  The last item posted prior to this included the citation of Boyce on active and passive obedience, but no reference is made to this at all.  Did Dr. Seifrid read all of the articles that had appeared up to this point?  We cannot tell, but I would surely like to know.  My concerns in this area are only increased by the next paragraph:

From my work on my doctoral dissertation until the present hour, I have been a decided opponent of the so-called New Perspective on Paul, which I regard as a serious deviation from the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone who has read my work will recognize that no one has been more adamantly opposed to the New Perspective than I have been and continue to be.

You will search in vain in my review of his work for any accusation of New Perspectivism.  The only mention of it is in the first article where I note that Seifrid’s work is recommended as a response to NPism, and hence my concern over its statements about the imputation of the righteousness of Christ which, for many of us, is one of the worst results of NPism.  This paragraph sounds like Dr. Seifrid is working from second-hand knowledge of my actual writings and concerns.

It is highly regrettable that someone who professes to be a Christian made no effort to ensure that he understood what I have written before he brought serious charges against me in a public forum.

If I have misunderstood, witness the misunderstanding.  At this point, every citation has come from me, not a single word of mine has been cited in response.

Nevertheless, I am glad to express my convictions about justification. I affirm from the heart the article of the Seminary’s Abstract of Principles on justification, which summarizes very well the essential message of the Bible on God’s justifying work in Christ. I therefore affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who believe.

And again I refer the reader to the contrast between this affirmation and the published affirmation that has been in print for four years.  Possibly the obvious contradiction will be explained in what follows?

First, it rightly speaks of justification in terms of acquittal from sin, making it clear that justification entails God’s declaration of sinners as righteous in Jesus Christ. Justification is not a process of infusion or impartation of righteousness, but a forensic act on God’s part. The brief statement that we are acquitted “from all sin,” bears the implication that this pronouncement is final and complete: all our sins, past, present, and future, are included in it. Justification is the final judgment brought into the present time through Jesus Christ. Nothing may be added to the righteousness pronounced by God in him. No essential distinction may be drawn between an initial justification and a final justification: it is one and the same act of God in Jesus Christ.

There is nothing said here that was not mentioned in passing in the articles and noted as areas of agreement.

Secondly, the article rightly makes clear that justification takes place through Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. He willingly died in our place, bearing our punishment. The mercy of God is given to us only in the judgment of Christ’s cross. In believing in him, not only are we justified, but also we acknowledge the justice of God in his judgment against us.

Again, nothing here is relevant to the issue at hand, that being the statements made by Dr. Seifrid about imputation.

Thirdly, the article makes it clear that the righteousness of God pronounced on us in Christ is fully and entirely extrinsic. God justifies the ungodly, and only the ungodly. Justification is not based on any transforming effect of grace in us, nor on any works which we do. For the sake of clarity it must be said that this is also true of our “final” justification. Justification is granted to us as sinners for whom Christ died. We receive Christ and rest on him and his completed work alone. He alone is our righteousness.

All well and good, but not at all relevant to explaining why Dr. Seifrid has said in print that imputation is something Protestant theologians “added” to the forgiveness of sins, etc.

My concern here is essentially that of the Reformers in their controversies with the Roman Church; namely, that our justification is found outside of us in Christ and in Christ alone.

Again quite true, but the polar opposite of infusion is imputation, and surely Dr. Seifrid knows the centrality in “Protestant orthodoxy” of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and how his own writings call that belief into question by reducing it to a scheme developed by later Protestant dogmatics that is unnecessary and even misleading and dangerous.  The simple fact of the matter is, much of what is found on pages 173 through 176 of his 2000 work Christ, our Righteousness could be utilized, in context, by modern Roman Catholic apologists against the doctrine of imputation.  And to this point, this statement has done nothing to allay our very proper concerns over this simple fact.

I would hasten to add that the mere affirmation that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers does not in itself secure a Reformational understanding of justification: there are sufficient examples past and present of the relativizing of “justification” to make this danger apparent. One of the burdens of my writing has been to show that if we are to maintain the biblical and Reformational conception of justification, and thus avoid such errors, we must understand justification fundamentally and primarily in terms of God’s work in Christ, a work which is forensic, extrinsic, complete and final in nature.

It escapes me how one could, in fact, fully and passionately affirm the imputation of Christ’s righteousness without at the same time holding, consistently, to all other relevant truths regarding justification.  But the question that has been raised in the articles to which this statement is ostensibly replying is this: can you affirm what the Abstract says and believe imputation is an addition made by Protestant divines that is part of a Protestant orthodoxy that failed to grasp numerous key issues, and that the active and passive obedience of Christ is a teaching that is unnecessary and misleading?  Or, as Seifrid’s chapter on Luther and Melanchthon seems to suggest, can a “Reformational conception of justification” be significantly different in form than that found in the Westminster Confession or the London Confession or all the other statements of faith that are representative of the “traditional Protestant understandings of justification” that Seifrid, in his own published work, specifically and unapologeticallycontrasted his own views against?

The reality of justification is not so much like a bank account which is credited to us, as it is like a marriage in which we possess a righteousness which properly belongs to another, because he has made us his own. The first image is not without value, in that it conveys the gratuitous, and extrinsic nature of justification. But it leaves out much of the biblical picture.

This paragraph is the most like Christ, our Righteousness of all of the material in the statement that has been offered.  And, as I did in the blog articles, I can agree with all the truth it contains.  But I will once again point out that while justification is not reducible to the bare concept of imputation, nor can that truth be removed from justification, or made a mere “illustration” that has “value” in certain limited contexts but is dangerous in others, without material disrupting the doctrine itself.  Imputation does involve the crediting to me of that which is not my own, that alien righteousness, and that is true not just in opposition to Rome.   Further, that truth was not merely a post-Reformation response to Rome, but is a vital insight into the actual concept in its native biblical context.  As we repeatedly noted in responding to Dr. Seifrid’s published works, we fully agree that imputation is not the whole of justification anymore than the deity of Christ is the whole of the doctrine of the Trinity.  But just as there is no Trinity without the deity of Christ, there is no justification without the imputation of righteousness.  What exactly is the benefit of saying, “We can refer to the deity of Christ, but it leaves out much of the biblical picture”?  Unless someone is saying the deity of Christ is the entire biblical picture (and who would say such a thing?), what is the benefit of the observation?  In the very same fashion, who has ever said that imputation is the entirety of the doctrine of justification?  Surely not the “Protestant schemes” that Dr. Seifrid contrasts with his own position.  So why make the observation?

The biblical doctrine of justification entails nothing less than the understanding that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe. But it entails much, much more. Our age is plagued not only by moral confusion, but also by confused moralism. If we are to stand, and remain Reformational, we shall have to grasp the biblical teaching on justification in its fulness. Otherwise, we and our churches shall surely fall.

We once again must contrast the statement that justification “entails nothing less than the understanding that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe” with the assertion by the same author “It is not so much wrong to use the expression ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ’ as it is deficient” and “As a result, there is no need to multiply entities within ‘justification’, as Protestant orthodoxy did when it added the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the forgiveness of sins.”  Is Seifrid saying imputation is a basic, foundational belief, but only a part of justification?  If so, what does it mean to say it was “added” to the forgiveness of sins by Protestant orthodoxy?  Personally, I cannot possibly see, taking both statements in their own contexts, how both can be true.  Imputation cannot be both a basic, foundational, definitional truth and an “addition” to biblical truth made by Protestant orthodoxy more than a millennia after the Christ event!
My goal in addressing this topic was transparent from the start: I love the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I love the doctrine of justification.  And I believe it must be clearly defined so as to be defended in our day.  I believe Dr. Seifrid’s statements in his book cause confusion.  I saw them cause confusion personally, and this prompted my response.  And even now in responding to the statement of Southern Seminary, I again seek only one thing: the clarity of the gospel proclamation in Christ’s Church.  But, because this statement does not even attempt to interact with the material in Dr. Seifrid’s book, nor anything I said in my articles, it contributes to the confusion.  It does not dispel it.  And that, by far, is the most disappointing aspect of Southern Seminary’s response.  I pray God’s richest blessings upon the fine, godly men I know who labor at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, and I pray God will use this discussion to enrich the faith of His saints and their commitment to the glory of the imputed righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, ours by grace alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone.

James White
September 4, 2004

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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