Before we continue with our examination of Dr. Seifrid’s published views on imputation, I thought it would be wise to note the presence of a rather short chapter in the new book, Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Husbands & Treier, 2004) by Dr. Seifrid. The majority of the text is a discussion of a dialogue between Luther and Melanchthon. But toward the end Seifrid makes application to the modern situation. I was most interested to examine this work, since it would give insight into whether the material found in the 2000 work, Christ, our Righteousness, is fully representational or if there has been a “drawing back” in response to criticism in the intervening period. In his concluding remarks Seifrid confesses his “preference for Luther’s way of understanding justification.” He states that:
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. (pp. 150-151)
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the “usual Protestant scheme” is eisegetical and artificial in nature, preferring its traditions to a robust biblical nature. And what passages become “comprehensible”? We are only offered a few examples. We are asked, “How else are we to understand that we have been justified by the Spirit (1 Cor 6:11), and justified from sin (Rom 6:7), and that the Corinthian church is made up of ‘sanctified ones’ (1 Cor 1:2)?” The list could go on. Let’s look at these three passages and see if the “usual Protestant scheme,” whatever that exactly is, fails the test.
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)
As one immediately sees, the passage does not simply say we are “justified by the Spirit” but that the Corinthian believers, who had exhibited every kind of unrighteousness (1 Cor 6:9-10) have passed from that life into something new. There are three verbs in the phrase, “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified.” Ironically, does this not distinguish, in some fashion, between sanctification and justification, a point being blurred by Seifrid? Or are these all merely synonyms, resulting in a triple tautology? Further, there are two agents, not one, listed, the Son and the Spirit. So no matter what we say, the mere phrasing of “justified by the Spirit” does not find a solid basis in a fair reading of the text. But beyond this fairly obvious fact, why would the “usual Protestant scheme” stumble at the recognition that each and every aspect of the work of salvation is Trinitarian in nature? Does Seifrid really imagine Protestant theologians hold to a particular ordo salutis in such a wooden fashion as to have to constantly read a particular order into every passage? There is no reason to believe Paul is promoting any order outside of the reality of God’s radical invasion into their sin-drenched lives resulting in the change they themselves could see and understand. I am at a loss as to how this passage is at all relevant.
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom 6:5-7)
Here the verb is dedikai,wtai, and hence can literally be translated “justified.” But there is a reason why the vast majority of translations do not do so: part of the semantic range of the verb dikaio,w is “to set free,” as in Acts 13:38, “and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” Here “freed” is from the same verb. Is it part of the “usual Protestant scheme” to force every use of dikaio,w into the same narrow meaning, never allowing for a wider usage of the term dependent upon context? If it is, I missed that part! Hence, so far, two of the three suggested passages just don’t seem to support Seifrid’s position. So lets move to the third.
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
I am once again left just a tad bit confused: is it seriously being suggested that the “usual Protestant scheme” does not recognize the stative use of a`gia,zw (especially when used in the context of the a`gi,oij “saints”)? That all uses of “sanctify” are to refer to the process of sanctification (the experience of being conformed to the image of Christ throughout life, involving repentance and growth in grace) and never to the fact that Christians have been set apart with finality in Christ? Again, I am uncertain where Dr. Seifrid learned the “usual Protestant scheme” but I certainly did not learn it that way.
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.
It is truly a reason for concern when we are told that the precious doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer is in ‘some measure’ “the replacement of the biblical categories with other ways of speaking.” For the sake of the clarity of the gospel and its defense, may we ask for a clear answer? Is it, or isn’t it? “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits (imputes, logi,zomai) righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6). This sounds like the “usual Protestant definition of justification in terms of imputation” to me. We are assured (and does this phrase represent some kind of “nuancing” of the material in his 2000 work?) that this “development” (i.e., an unwarranted one, according to his previous work: “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”) need not be regarded as deleterious.” In scholarly circles I suppose such is a possibility, but when we are speaking of the very heart of the gospel, how could such a “development” not be deleterious if it in any way obscures biblical truth? Lest the reader be losing focus, here we have the heart of the Reformed response to Rome’s “infused righteousness,” the material of the teaching of Reformed theologians for generations, and we are assured not that it is true, or vital, but it isn’t “deleterious.” Instead, we can breath much easier knowing that it “certainly has to be appreciated in its historical significance”. The doctrine of imputation is to be appreciated for its historical significance. I am reminded of those in some circles today who are all caught up in “rediscovering Mary” as if all of the unbiblical notions about Mary that came into vogue in the early centuries of the church in some way cast light upon the real Mary and the real example she is of a faithful, redeemed woman. We are told we should “appreciate” such things as prayers to Mary or the concept of her perpetual virginity. Did not great men of old believe such things? So they should be appreciated for their historical significance. Is this how the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as central to justification should be understood? Is something that is to be “appreciated in its historical significance” to be preached from the pulpit with passion by the power of the Holy Spirit, and branded upon the conscience of the believer so that it is central to how he or she understands his or her very relationship to the Almighty God?
Evidently not, for the sentence concludes, “but it is not without its dangers and shortcomings.” Obviously, when I stood before an audience in December, 1990, while debating former Protestant Gerry Matatics (graduate of Gordon Conwell and doctoral student at that time at Westminster Seminary), and replied to his man-centered soteriology by proclaiming the perfection of the righteousness of Christ, that seamless robe of righteousness which alone will avail before the throne of the thrice-holy God (to the gasps and consternation of Roman Catholics seated only a few feet away from me), I was in fact presenting to them a problematic belief, not a biblical one; a development of Protestant theology over time, a teaching with “dangers and shortcomings.” Hopefully, the reader can see why I find this kind of rumination so problematic, for such statements provide no foundation for offering a defense of the faith, and as such strike me as being far removed from the apostolic viewpoint.
Finally, Seifrid concludes his chapter by insisting that:
Luther’s dynamic conception of justification much more effectively conveys the way in which God’s mercy is granted only in judgment. The justification of the sinner takes place only in and through the justification of God in the event of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Justification” is no mere transaction to be applied to my account. God’s “yes” is given only in and with his “no,” a “no” and “yes” which are mine only in so far as faith echoes them in my heart. All growth in the Christian life, both individually and corporately, is found not in the triumph of progress and ascent (as one might suppose from the usual scheme of “sanctification”), but in that daily repentance and self-judgment by which God “makes out of unhappy and proud gods, true human beings, that is, wretches and sinners.” 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.
One should always notice the repeated use of terms like “mere” and “bare.” I have become accustomed, over the years, to hearing Roman Catholics say that the Protestant doctrine of justification is a “legal ficton” that “merely” involves a transaction that leaves us without holiness. We have documented a number of times where Seifrid uses the same language. In this one section we have”no mere transaction to be applied to my account” and “the framework of bare legal conceptions.” In neither instance does this promote a sound representation of the historic Protestant position.
It is quite true that justification cannot be separated from the cross. It is quite true that justification involves union with Christ and cannot be defined apart from Him. Who has ever suggested doing so? Holding to the ordo salutis as defined by someone like John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied does not, by any stretch of the imagination, demand such a result. It is quite true that justification is not a “mere transaction to be applied to my account.” Who has ever suggested it was? This is a straw-man. The truth is the substitutionary work of Christ in behalf of His people breaks definitively into my life as one of His people when God raises me to spiritual life, changes my heart, grants living and saving faith, and upon the exercise of that faith, I am justified in perfection: I look back upon that forensic declaration on the part of God the Father based upon the perfect work of Jesus Christ in my behalf on Calvary’s tree. This is when that timeless act breaks into my temporal experience and I am justified (Romans 5:1, which we will expand upon at a later point). Justification is not merely the transaction indicated by imputation, but justification as revealed in Scripture does not exist without it. And this is the danger of this kind of “theologizing.”
The odd representation of historic Protestant formulations continues with the statement that the work of the Spirit in conforming us to the image of Christ, often referred to as the experience of sanctification, involves “the triumph of progress and ascent” so as to contrast this with daily repentance and self-judgment. But once again I am at a loss to know who has ever promoted such a view of “triumph and ascent” that did not include repentance and self-judgment leading to a hatred of sin and a love for Christ. And the same is true with the statement that “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.” I reject, outright, this misrepresentation. It is simply false to launch this accusation (made without providing examples!) when there is such a mountain of evidence of the careful balance of godly men who have written so fully on these divine truths in preceding generations.
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