Posts Tagged ‘Evangelicalism



David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church Dundee has a good article on Evangelicalism, especially in the present Scottish context.  One paragraph of a more general nature that I found particularly to resonate is the following:

‘Lack of Maturity – This astounds me. I have always assumed that Christians should be able to disagree passionately, openly and freely without personalising everything and taking everything personally. But that does take a certain degree of maturity. I have lost count of the number of people who have written, phoned, and even visited to warn me that lots of ‘evangelicals’ were hurt by my remarks. I can understand that people disagree. I can understand that people are angry, disappointed or surprised at my ignorance. But hurt? What was there to hurt? The language of hurt is increasingly being used to stifle debate and to prevent discussion. It allows the one who is hurt, or even better the person who wants to be the nice guy and speak on behalf of those who are hurt, to dismiss the arguments of the person who does the ‘hurting’, because anyone who hurts is nasty. It is the immaturity of the child crying ‘I don’t like you, you’re not nice’. It is the evangelical equivalent of Section 5 – the British law that makes it a potential crime to say anything that could possibly offend someone. Yes – sometimes we all (myself especially) use language that is at times too robust. And yes we can all be wrong (again especially yours truly). But please don’t try to kill of any discussion by playing the hurt card. It is a sign of childish immaturity and we should be beyond that.’



getting the facts right

All too often I hear whispers that I and others who share the same basic gospel I do are simply right-wing evangelicals.  In the jargon of my ecclesiastical circles, I am  ‘tight… narrow-minded… strict…’ not to mention other other less savoury labels. In fact, it is of little moment to me how I am categorized or into what ‘camp’ I am pressed.  The important thing for each of us ought to be faithfulness to Scripture; if faithfulness puts us on the so-called ‘right’ then so be it, if it places us on the ‘left’ then that is fine too.  However, I object to being labelled ‘right-wing evangelical’, not because I am oversensitive to labels, nor because I find ‘right-wing’ repugnant, but because it is simply untrue and untrue in a way that is dangerously misleading.

The simple truth is that the basic gospel truths that I and many others like me advocate and defend do not belong to some far-right lunatic fringe but are the mainstream evangelical beliefs that all shades of evangelicals have believed for centuries.  They are simply historic evangelical orthodoxy.  The gospel narrative that I and others teach is that which mainstream evangelicals of every hue have historically embraced.  In fact, I would go further and say this gospel is simply historic Protestant orthodoxy; they are the gospel truths taught by all the major Protestant confessions.  Further still, it is essentially simply historic orthodoxy for it stands loyal to the main church creeds and councils.

Thus when I hear others trying to dismiss and junk the gospel narrative that I uphold as ‘right-wing’, implying it is some sectarian intolerant and non-representative brand of evangelical belief that can be safely discarded or discounted I can only assume knavery or extreme historical naïvety is at work.  I hope it is simply historical naïvety or ignorance.  In many cases I am sure it is.  However, whether stemming from ignorance or invidiousness the results are the same – a C21 Christian ‘urban myth’ is being created that is destructive to the gospel and the souls of men.

The gospel narrative that I confess (creation-fall-condemnation-salvation-heaven-hell), which someone like Brian McLaren denounces and dubs ‘a Greco-Roman gospel’, is in fact the evangelical gospel, the Protestant gospel, the orthodox gospel… the apostolic gospel.  By contrast, the gospel that he and his acolytes confess, which rewrites this creation-fall-condemnation-salvation-heaven-hell narrative at every key point, is not the original gospel of Jesus (as they claim) and is not even left-wing evangelicalism, rather it is not evangelical at all, not in any meaningful historical sense.  In fact, historically it is simply the gospel of liberalism – that baneful corruption of the gospel that evangelicals have historically condemned, root and branch.

The bigger the lie the easier it is to swallow.  That the gospel I and many others believe is in some sense an evangelical side-show, a backwoods redneck version of the evangelical gospel is a whopper.   Reject it if you will but please don’t do so because someone gets the facts wrong (deliberately or otherwise) and suggests it is some way-out über-conservative, wacky fundamentalist misrepresentation of the gospel.  It is not.  It is simply the gospel that evangelicals have historically confessed.  It is the Evangelical, Protestant, Orthodox and above all Apostolic gospel.  It is the gospel that saves.  The gospel of which Paul says,

Gal 1:6-9 (ESV)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 


new evangelical myths and monsters


What do the following have in common?

  • egalitarianism (the Bible does not teach male leadership in home and marriage; leadership is transgender)
  • homosexual practice is not a sin (an almost irresistible corollary to the above)
  • inclusivism (faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation)
  • a denial of penal substitution
  • God has no wrath
  • hell does not exist or will ultimately be empty
  • the gospel is primarily a socio-political message for change now
  • Gen 1-3 is myth


They are all examples of a hermeneutic of accommodation that is invading evangelicalism. There are more, of course, but this is a fair sample.


None of these beliefs is an obvious inference from the Bible.  Only hermeneutical sleight of hand can make a (specious) case for any.  None is part of historical Christian orthodoxy (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Eastern) and even less part of Evangelical orthodoxy.  The single unifying  drive for each and all comes from contemporary culture.  These are part of present unimpeachable cultural orthodoxy and by-hook-or-by-crook they must become part of a Designer Evangelical Christian orthodoxy which cannot bear to be inelegant or gauche; and so, the weight of biblical truth must give way to the whim of cultural trends.

We are prepared to abandon core biblical truths in order to be liked and hip and respectable.  Thus we employ creative hermeneutics to accommodate: we create highly-speculative reconstructed backgrounds to problem texts; we play the culturally-conditioned-limitations-of-Scripture card; we pose a trajectory theory; we arbitrarily privilege an aspect of who God is and the gospel that appeals (God is love…) and so on.  These ‘principles of interpretation’ help to make Scripture say what we want it to say (if we don’t look too closely) and we breathe a sigh of comfortable middle-classed relief and sink into the sofa with a stemmed-glass of chilled wine.

And, after all, what the Bible says, let’s be honest, is not that important.  Yes, we like to hear that God loves us, accepts us as we are, and that we will live forever in a new exciting world.  In fact the new exciting world begins now; the gospel means indignation at oil spills, female oppression, greedy corporations and the like. But all that stuff about the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites, the sons of Korah, the exile in babylon, the rich man in hell, people thrown into a lake of fire… well com’on… we’re the café latte generation… the suburbanites who party and play… we don’t get it… that’s scary stuff… primitive stuff… that’s the God of the OT… all fire and thunder and smoking mountains… stick to the big print and ignore the detail (even if it is not really detail but part of the big print).

Should we have women teaching the church?  For goodness sake woman teach everywhere else in life.  Look at all these women preachers most of them better than men… you say the Bible forbids it, but that’s your opinion, your interpretation, it’s not mine…anyway, its well-known there are lots of views on this… and the Bible’s not clear… though, the trajectory is clear, in Christ there is neither male nor female… time to get past these jaded questions , I have.. get real… concentrate on what really matters… we’re living in the C21 not the C1… what kind of ‘good news’ is it to modern women to tell them they must submit to men… we need a theology to suit, a more refined, nuanced and generous orthodoxy.

And it is a rapidly evolving orthodoxy (an oxymoron).

It is an orthodoxy that increasingly deems it oppressively patriarchal to speak of God as Father…  God is not male… let’s drop male pronouns… he is as much a she as a he… its not enough to be silent about women’s leadership you must be actively for it.. and while we are at it we should avoid psychologically crushing ideas of eternal punishment… notions like these traumatise people… they are toxic… hell is now and what we make it…  and who are we to claim our message is right and other religions have got it so wrong… to tell people their religion is wrong and they must become Christians is simply a power play… we must learn humility and avoid the arrogance of certainty and absolutes… we must avoid hate-crime… we must not try to force people into the Kingdom by fear… fear is a negative unhealthy emotion… it is manipulative and ugly.

And so the Orwellian nightmare is enacted in the church.  The past is reimagined – biblical truth and Church tradition are rewritten.  Evangelical newspeak simplifies language.  God words like head, submit, wrath, hell, holiness, dread, fear and the like disappear.  We are left with love and a few synonyms.

If you really want to see the trajectory of evangelical church life today, then in my view this is it.

Christians who love God and his Word need to wake up to this revolution.  It is happening in a church near you… perhaps in your church.  It will be all too easy to sleepwalk into apostasy.  For that is what it will finally be.  It will be hard to resist.  The tide will be strong and against you. You will be caricatured as a museum specimen, a relic from the past, stingy, hard, prejudiced, loveless, boringly predictable, staid, intolerant, ungracious, unimaginative, a people hater, daft and dangerous, and many other things.  You will be defending what is mocked as passé and oppressive.

But, God knows, we need people to be willing to take such a stand.  Unless we stand against a hermeneutic of accommodation the church and the world will, like the pigs and the humans in Orwell’s Animal Farm, simple fade into each other and be indistinguishable; the church will simply become the world.

Is this what you want for your church?

You may at the moment have embraced only one or two on the opening list, you may not buy the whole package yet.  But you will.  Give yourself and your church time.  Why?  Because you have bought the hermeneutic you just haven’t fully applied it.

Am I exaggerating, being melodramatic?  I don’t think I am.  You must judge.  Of Course, God in grace may interfere and change things radically.  He may stem the haemorrhage of truth.  If he does, are you and I willing to be part of his solution?  Are we willing to be part of it now even if it costs us family and friends and fellowship?  Even if it means being unsophisticated and uncool and impolite?


trueman on nietzsche on christianity

It was Nietzsche who declared that what is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.   What he did not realise was that he was prophetically speaking about Christians at least as much as atheists.

Found here.


what happens when eve tells adam what to do and adam lets her…

The whole of Scripture demands careful reading.  Nothing is insignificant.  This is nowhere more true than in the opening chapters of Genesis.  These chapters are laden with symbolism.  The narrative of Gen 1-3 is pregnant with the big issues of human history.   In a couple of previous blogs (here, here and here) we reflected a little on the text of Scripture which gives the account of ‘the rebellion’ or ‘the fall’.

Gen 3:1-6 (ESV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” ​​​ And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

I thought today I should reflect a little on one of the human failings that facilitates the fall, a creational irregularity that contributes to the rebellion.   In Gen 2 we are told that Adam is created first and then Eve.  This is significant.  Priority in creation conferred leadership (1 Tim 2:13).  Moreover, in the Genesis account, Adam was the source of Eve; she came from his body (Gen 2:21).  This too is significant.  The narrative point is that source and origin confer rights; the woman,  coming as she does from the man is intended to reflect the worth of the man in her submission to him (1 Cor 11:8).   Furthermore, we are expressly told the woman was made as a help for the man and not (at least in the most formal sense) vice versa (Gen 2:18).  A point again plainly stated in the NT (1 Cor 11:9).  We could add further indications of male leadership.  For example, Adam names Eve.  To name in the ancient world was an indication of authority (a bit like the implied authority of parents in naming their children still is today).

This male leadership is sometimes called patriarchy or more often today it is known as complementarianism.  It is called complementarianism as a way of recognising that males and females created by God are different and have different callings in life, callings which were never intended to be in conflict but to be complementary.  Now it is not my intention to try to tease out these different callings or roles.  I want simply to observe as the previous paragraph has made plain that fundamental to this distinction is the calling of men to lead.

Of course, even as I wrote the previous sentence, I realised how utterly reprehensible it is to the modern ear.  It is considered impossibly oppressive.  It is thoroughly retrograde and unpardonably recidivist.  Patriarchy may have been the basis of every civilization in all of previous history but we are enlightened, we know better.  Any half-human, half-moral, half-intelligent person knows that the only right position is full egalitarianism.  That is, male and female are not only equal in value and importance (which no complementarian denies) but any suggestion of gender meaning role differences is toxic and grotesque.   The patriarchy or complementarianism of Genesis 1-3 does not stand a prayer in our modern world.  It has as much credibility as claims that the world is flat.  I know this.

Yet, while the Bible does not claim that the earth is flat, it does teach again and again, in both old and new Testaments that God has conferred leadership on the male.  In fact, implicit in the narrative we are considering is that the misappropriation of roles by both Adam and Eve contributed to ‘the rebellion’.  The narrator is careful to inform us that the serpent spoke to Eve.  It is Eve that is beguiled and deceived.  Then Eve urges Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and Adam follows her bidding.  The point is clear, both acted outside their God-given callings.  Eve took the lead in a critical decision to disobey God and Adam in culpable weakness allowed her to do so.   Sin entered the world because neither maintained their God-given roles.

This, Paul forbids women to teach in the church for two reasons, one formal the other material.  The formal reason, that is, the essential reason, is that because of male priority in creation God has placed the responsibility of leadership and therefore  teaching in the church to the male (1 Tim 2:11-13) .  We may add to this a material reason, or if you like a reason evident from observation, namely, that given Eve was deceived by the serpent, and Adam was not it is clear that God knew what he was doing in placing leadership in the hands of the male; women seem more easily duped (1 Tim 2:14).  If you disagree with the latter comment then your beef is not with me, but Paul.  In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, your quarrel is with the Holy Spirit.

What is my main point in this post?  It is that reneging against biblical gender roles and the great rebellion go hand in hand in the biblical narrative.  The modern drive for a full-blown egalitarianism in society is simply an indicator of its defiance of God and his revealed pattern in creation.  This defiance by society is already having tragic consequences.  Neither men nor women feel sure of  their identity and responsibilities.  Their image is increasingly shaped by the media – the least responsible culture-conditioner imaginable.    Men are shoe-horned into caricatures of  either machismo-ism or homosexual effeminacy.  The new ‘metrosexual man’ is as concerned with his looks, dress and smell as his female counterpart, probably more so.  Meanwhile women discover their ‘freedom’ has pretty well turned them into the sex-objects of the worst kind of male fantasy; a new kind of sexualized woman: the hard-hitting Lucy Lui; the Terminator’s Sarah Connor; Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’;  Kate Beckinsdale’s  Underworld ‘Selene’; or Uma Thurman’s ‘The Bride’ in Kill Bill.  The list goes on.  The female who is more deadly than the male is part of C21 lore.

In the new egalitarian society boys don’t grow up to be men, they remain ‘boys’ with all their boyish evasion of responsibility.  All are charmingly irresponsible and befuddled Hugh Grant’s.   They marry later, if at all.  They father children but do not raise them.  Women wear the trousers and carry the responsibility.  They study, achieve, provide the income and keep the home (not so egalitarian in reality).  Men become touchy-feely while women are stoical and hard.   The role reversal works out at so many levels.    But the net result is marriage deeply suffers and society begins to disintegrate.  The net result is the rebellion deepens.

Of course, there are other factors that play into the troubles of society, but the setting aside  of a responsible complementarianism, as in Gen 3,  is undoubtedly one.

What a loss of complementarianism means for the church will be the subject of a future post.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (8)

We saw in the previous blog that both Methodists (C18) and Plymouth Brethren (C19) raised dissenting voices at IAO.  The initial teaching of J N Darby and W Kelly (that justification is located in the death and resurrection of Christ, not IAO) prevailed in Brethren theology well into the C20.  W E Vine (1873-1949), a Brethren Bible Scholar whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Brethren chiefly through his celebrated dictionary ‘Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words‘ published 1940, along with C F Hogg another Brethren commentator, writes,

Neither the incarnation of the Son of God, nor His keeping of the law in the days of His flesh availed, in whole or in part, for the redemption of men…. His redemptive work proper began and ended on the cross; …Hence it is nowhere said in the New Testament that Christ kept the law for us. Only His death is vicarious, or substitutionary. He is not said to have borne sin during any part of His life; it was at the cross that He became the sin-bearer  [C. F. Hogg , W. E. Vine , The Epistle of the Galatians, (London; GB: Pickering and Inglis, LTD.), 1959, p.186].

A contemporary of Hogg and Vine, Open Brethren writer John Ritchie (1853-1930) commenting on Romans writes,

The theological phrase, “The righteousness of Christ,” so much used, is not a scriptural term. The meaning usually read into it is, that the sinner having failed to keep the law, Christ has kept it for him, that His obedience is counted mans’ righteousness, and put on all that believe as a “robe.” But this would not be “righteousness apart from law” (Rom. 3:21). If God reckons the sinner to have kept the law because Christ kept the law for him, then righteousness surely comes by law, and the death of Christ was “in vain” (Gal. 2:21). In all this, justification by grace through redemption, has no place. The gospel is not that a sinner is made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s legal obedience on earth, and saved by His death, but rather that “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” [John Ritchie, Romans, (Charlotte, NC : The Serious Christian, 1987), p. 161].

More recently, William McDonald (1917-2007), former President of Emmaus Bible College, and Brethren writer, commenting on Romans 5:18 writes,

The righteousness of Christ mentioned in Romans 5: 18 does not mean His righteousness as a Man on earth or His perfect keeping of the law. These are never said to be imputed to us. If they were, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. The New American Standard Bible is on target when it translates: “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” The “one act of righteousness” was not the Savior’s life or His keeping of the law, but rather His substitutionary death on Calvary’s cross  [William MacDonald, Justification by Faith (Romans), (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1981), p. 62].

Clearly IAO has been resisted by mainstream representatives of Plymouth Brethren theology in the C20.

In the early C20 Brethren influence was quite wide in evangelicalism.  Many reformed churches (in the UK and USA and further afield) had collapsed under the weight of German theology with its Biblical criticism and liberalism.  Evangelical life was nourished in the (now considered) more fundamentalist enclaves influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism.  I am not for a moment saying there was no evangelical life outside of dispensational circles, clearly there was, however, these ‘fundamentalist’ strongholds of the gospel were a significant force in the evangelicalism of the first 50 years of C20. And they were, as I say, influenced by Brethren theology.

For example, in the States, William Newell, Congregational Church pastor, famed preacher, and Assistant Superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute (under R A Torrey) writes in his commentary on Romans,

Jesus’ “was always obedient to His Father, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that His life before the cross – His ‘active obedience’ … is not in any sense counted to us for righteousness.” (W. Newell Romans, Kregel (2004) Romans 5:19)

Arno C Gaebelein (1861-1945) a prominent and influential Methodist dispensationalist upon whom Wheaton College conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1922 writes,

“The term “Righteousness of God” is much misunderstood. Not a few think it is the righteousness of Christ (a term nowhere used in Scripture) which is attributed to the believing sinner. They teach that Christ fulfilled the law, lived a perfect life on earth and that this righteousness is given to the sinner. All this is unscriptural. Righteousness cannot be bestowed by the law in any sense of the word. If the holy life of the Son of God, lived on earth in perfect righteousness could have saved man and given him righteousness, there was no need for Him to die. “If righteousness came by the law then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). It is God’s righteousness which is now on the side of the believing sinner; the same righteousness which condemns the sinner, covers all who believe. And this righteousness is revealed in the Gospel. God’s righteousness has been fully met and maintained in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. By that wonderful work God is now enabled to save sinners and to save them righteously. The righteousness of God is therefore first of all revealed in the Gospel of Christ. Apart then from the law, righteousness of God is manifested, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ. And this righteousness now revealed was also witnessed to by the law and the prophets. The law of the different sacrifices, insufficient in themselves to take away sins, pointed to the great sacrifice, in which God would be fully glorified as well as His righteousness satisfied. There were many types and shadows. Now since the righteousness of God is fully made known in the Gospel we can trace God’s wonderful thoughts and purposes in the types and histories of the Old Testament.  (Isaiah 41:10; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 56:8).”

The highly influential Scofield Reference Bible, to which Gaebelein had input, avers substantially the same. In Romans 3 Scofield comments,

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

[1] righteousness of God

The righteousness of God is neither an attribute of God, not the changed character of the believer, but Christ Himself, who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the law, and who is, but the act of God called imputation Lev 25:50 Jas 2:23, “made unto us . . righteousness” 1Cor 1:30.

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Sin originated with Satan Isa 14:12-14, entered the world through Adam Rom 5:12, was, and is, universal, Christ alone excepted Rom 3:23 1Pet 2:22, incurs the penalties of spiritual and physical death Gen 2:17 3:19 Ezek 18:4,20 Rom 6:23 and has no remedy but in the sacrificial death of Christ Heb 9:26 Acts 4:12 availed of by faith Acts 13:38,39.

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

[1] Redemption

(1) agorazo, “to purchase in the market.” The underlying thought is of a slave-market. The subjects of redemption are “sold under sin” Rom 7:14 but are, moreover, under sentence of death Ezek 18:4, Jn 3:18,19 Rom 3:19 Gal 3:10, and the purchase price is the blood of the Redeemer who dies in their stead Gal 3:13 2Cor 5:21 Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45 1Tim 2:6 1Pet 1:18…

(3) lutroo, “to loose,” “to set free by paying a price” Jn 8:32 Gal 4:4,5,31 5:13 Rom 8:21. Redemption is by sacrifice and by power See Scofield Note: “Ex 14:30” Christ paid the price, the Holy Spirit makes deliverance actual in experience Rom 8:2…

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

[2] propitiation

Lit. a propitiatory [sacrifice], through faith by his blood; Gr. hilasterion, “place of propitiation.” The word occurs, 1Jn 2:2 4:10 as the trans. of hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” “a propitiatory sacrifice.” Hilasterion is used by the Septuagint, and Heb 9:5 for “mercy-seat.” The mercy-seat was sprinkled with atoning blood in the day of atonement Lev 16:14 in token that the righteous sentence of the law had been (typically) carried out, So that what must else have been a judgment-seat could righteously be a mercy-seat Heb 9:11-15 4:14-16, a place of communion Ex 25:21,22.

In fulfilment of the type, Christ is Himself the hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” and the hilasterion, “the place of propitiation” –the mercy-seat sprinkled with His own blood–the token that in our stead He So honoured the law by enduring its righteous sentence that God, who ever foresaw the cross, is vindicated in having “passed over” sins from Adam to Moses Rom 5:13 and the sins of believers under the old covenant See Scofield Note: “Ex 29:33” and just in justifying sinners under the covenant. There is no thought in propitiation of placating a vengeful God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy.

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

[3] righteousness

His righteousness” here is God’s consistency with His own law and holiness in freely justifying a sinner who believes in Christ; that is, one in whose behalf Christ has met every demand of the law Rom 10:4.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

[4] Justification

Justification, Summary: Justification and righteousness are inseparably united in Scripture by the fact that the same word (dikaios, “righteous”; dikaioo, “to justify”) is used for both. The believing sinner is justified because Christ, having borne his sins on the cross, has been “made unto him righteousness” 1Cor 1:30. Justification originates in grace Rom 3:24 Ti 3:4,5 is through the redemptive and propitiatory work of Christ, who has vindicated the law Rom 3:24,25 5:9 is by faith, not works Rom 3:28-30 4:5 5:1 Gal 2:16 3:8,24 and may be defined as the judicial act of God whereby He justly declares righteous one who believes on Jesus Christ. It is the Judge Himself Rom 8:31-34 who thus declares. The justified believer has been in court, only to learn that nothing is laid to his charge. Rom 8:1,33,34...

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

[5] Do we then

The sinner establishes the law in its right use and honour by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by it he is justly condemned. Christ, on the sinner’s behalf, establishes the law by enduring its penalty, death. Cf. Mt 5:17,18.

Imputation is the act of God whereby He accounts righteousness to the believer in Christ, who has borne the believer’s sins in vindication of the law” (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Study Bible, p. 1308).

It should be obvious from the above that for Scofield (both a Congregationalist and Presbyterian in his career) the demand of the law for a sinner (death) was met in Christ’s death.  In his death the law is vindicated and upheld.  There is no mention here of IAO. Again, it is worth underlining that the Scofield Bible notes were the source of much popular evangelical theology throughout the greater part of the C20.

Robert P. Lightner, Amyraldian Baptist and previous Professor of Systematic theology at Dallas Seminary  In 1970, commenting on IAO and the supposed vicariously atoning life sufferings of Christ, he wrote:

First, the view fails to take into account that before the fall, Adam did not have a sin nature. Instead, it assumes that to be rightly related to God, Adam and his posterity were required to render perfect obedience to the commands of God. . . .It is not too much to say that the whole concept of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience rests primarily upon the idea of the covenant of works. Since the supposed covenant promised eternal life for obedience and since Adam disobeyed and all his posterity in him, Christ, the Last Adam, came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to do. The fact that Adam came from the hands of the Creator, sinlessly perfect must not be overlooked. Thus the command of God to obey Him was not designed to produce eternal life in him or to relate him rightly to God. He already enjoyed a state of sinlessness and a proper relation to and right standing before his Creator. Contrary to the contention of covenant theologians, Scripture does not say that Adam would have inherited eternal life had he obeyed God. Human effort is never presented as a condition of salvation in Scripture for any dispensation; rather, the command of God to Adam was designed to demonstrate his submission to the authority of God.Second, the view amounts to a minimizing of the cross work of Christ. . . . Thus, according to this view, the death of Christ on the cross was not the sole basis upon which God provided redemption and everlasting life for man. If the life sufferings be viewed as substitutionary and vicarious, then the Savior’s passive obedience in the shedding of His blood on the cross must be viewed as less than the total or complete means by which God through His Son atoned for sin. The blood shed at Calvary would then constitute only part of the payment for sin.

Third, the most serious weakness of all is the stark fact that no Scripture assigns substitution to the life sufferings of Christ. On the contrary, Scripture abounds with evidence that through His substitutionary death on the cross, and through that alone, He took the sinner’s place and died in the sinner’s stead (Isa 53:6–7; Rom 3:18, 3:24–25 , 5:7–9 ; 2 Cor 5:14–21; 1 Peter 2:24). The defense of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience for His suffering in life is voluminous, but scriptural proof is conspicuous by its absence.8 Lightner, Robert P., “The Savior’s Suffering in Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 (1970) 33-34

In 1986, he made a similar argument specifically against the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer while critiquing Theonomy:

A basic premise in the theological structure of theonomy, along with covenant Reformed theology, is the belief that Christ’s active obedience to the Law during His life was as substitutionary as His passive obedience in death. . . . That Christ obeyed perfectly the Law and suffered greatly during His life is not denied or even disputed by dispensationalists. The crucial question, however, is, Why did He suffer in life? What was accomplished by His obedience to the Law? Scripture simply does not teach that the life sufferings of Christ were vicarious. Rather it stresses His death alone as a substitution for sin and sinners. To be sure, the Savior’s sinless life demonstrated that He was qualified to be the sinner’s Substitute, but He atoned for sin only on the cross, where He became a curse (Gal 3:13). Viewing Christ’s active obedience in His life as substitutionary is the natural result of believing that God promised Adam and his posterity eternal life if he would obey God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Since Adam did not obey God’s command or law, Christ, the last Adam came and did in His life what the first Adam failed to do—to earn righteousness for His own. In this view the death of Christ was not the only basis on which God made substitution for man’s sin. Theonomy and Reformed theology in general believe that through His active obedience the Savior carried His people beyond the point where Adam was before he fell to give them a claim to eternal life. Dispensationalists do not view the theological covenant of works as promising Adam and his posterity eternal life for obedience. God promised Adam death for disobedience, not eternal life for obedience. Furthermore did not Adam possess creaturely perfection as he came from the creative hand of God? Was not all that God made “very good” (Gen 1:31), including man? Theonomy teaches that the way of salvation before the Fall differed from the way of salvation after the Fall. That is a strange doctrine coming from those who falsely accuse dispensationalists of believing in more than one way of salvation. 9 Lightner, Robert P., “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143:571 (1986) 233-

Although a good number of dispensationalists did teach IAO, many were reluctant to do so and tended to emphasize simply the death of Christ.

Alva McClain, founder and first President of Grace Theological Seminary (Brethren by background) typically writes

Justification: “… deals with the guilt of sin. When a man sins, he is guilty and therefore deserves to be punished. In justification, God declares a man righteous, by virtue of the death of Christ on his behalf. … Thus justification is a declarative act of God. Justification does not make a man righteous. …. It means that God declares him to be righteous” (Alva McClain, Romans p. 140)

Thomas Constable, currently DTS Senior Professor of Bible Exposition observes,

“The obedience of Christ is a reference to His death as the ultimate act of obedience rather than to His life of obedience since it is His death that saves us.” (Notes on Romans 5:19 Pg 60)

Even George Eldon Ladd, who accepts IAO concedes in his NT Theology,

“Paul never states explicitly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament p.491)

Actually, I think it is fair to say that in the popular American fundamentalist/evangelicalism of the main part of C20, IAO, for most, was something unknown.  It was not part of the gospel as commonly preached.  The following  sermon, attributed online to Billy Graham but more probably that of Wil Pounds (since his name is injected), himself a Southerner,  a graduate of William Carey College and  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, prolific writer, preacher and missionary, seems fairly typical of American fundamentalist/evangelical  preaching even yet,

We have been saved by grace through faith. The apostle Paul emphatically states, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16).

Justification is a legal standing with God based upon Christ’s death and resurrection and our faith in Him. The word Paul uses (dikaioo), comes from Roman legal courts meaning to declare to be righteous, or to pronounce righteous. Therefore, justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God who is Judge. It is the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I died tonight and stood before the Lord God who is the Supreme Judge of the Universe. No doubt He would ask me, “Wil Pounds, why should I let you into my heaven? You are a guilty sinner. How do you plead?”

My response would be, “I plead guilty, Your Honor.”

My advocate, Jesus Christ, who is standing there beside me speaks up for me. He says, “Your Honor. It is true that Wil Pounds is a grievous sinner. He is guilty. However, Father, I died for him on the cross and rose from the dead. Wil Pounds has put his faith and trust in Me and all that I have done for Him on the Cross. He is a believer. I died for him, and he has accepted Me as his substitute.”

The Lord God turns to me and says, “Is that true?”

I will respond to Him, “Yes sir! That is the truth. I am claiming the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me of all my sins. I have put my faith in Jesus to save me for all eternity. This is what You have promised in Your Word. Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world (and this includes Wil Pounds), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'”

The Lord God responds: “Acquitted! By order of this court I demand that you be set free. The price has been paid by My Son.”

Furthermore, I get to go home and live with the Judge!

Justification means that at the moment of salvation God sovereignly declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight. The believing sinner is declared to be righteous in His standing before God. From that moment on throughout life, through death, that sinner who has believed is now and forever right before God. God accepts him, and he stands acquitted of his sins.

A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16). (Find here.)

I submit that in the States it is only the ascendency in recent years of a more confessionally reformed evangelicalism that has once again raised the profile of IAO.

The UK story of C20 evangelicalism is somewhat different to the States.  Dispensationalism never gained the hold in the UK to the extent it did in the States.  However, like the States, in the first half of the C20 mainline reformed churches were deeply compromised by liberalism.  I am unsure just how widespread Brethren theological influence was, some say significantly so.  What is clear is that there were attempts by various writers to tone down the rhetoric of IAO.

H C G Moule, Anglican Bishop of Durham from 1901, convinced and influential evangelical, in his ‘Outlines of Christian Doctrines’ he writes,

A few words may come in here on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. This phrase, once widely accepted, and not least by such Anglicans as Andrewes and Beveridge (cent. xvii.), is now much disputed, and even repudiated. But it rests securely upon Rom iv. 6, with its context. There has been a tendency to over-refinement upon it; a too elaborate distinction between our Lord’s active keeping of the moral law and His awful suffering beneath the penalty of our sins; the one considered as supplying our defects, the other as meeting our violations. But this is not the essential view of the phrase; and we see this all the more as we remember (above, p. 83) the profound connexion between the obedience of our Lord’s life and the merit of His Passion. The essential of the phrase is just this, that the Son of God, as the supremely meritorious One, as infinitely satisfactory to law, is, before the law, and for the purposes of law, accepted, reckoned as the believing sinner’s substitute. The man, incorporated in Him, is counted, reputed, as involved in His whole merit, as the Lord was counted, reputed, as involved in the man’s sin. His merit is thus imputed, that is to say, set down, to the man.  H C G Moule  Outlines of Christian doctrine 1889  Pg 188

Moule seems anxious to step back apace from a bald IAO.  James Denney, Free Church minister and Professor of Systematics at the Free Church College from 1897  until his death in 1917 seems to feel the same.  He writes in his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation’,

But in proportion as men rose above the conception of sin and satisfaction, as mere things or abstract ideas, and had their faith and attention concentrated on the personal Saviour by whom they were reconciled to God, this position became intolerable. It left no significance for salvation to anything in Jesus except His death. It almost prompts us to ask again, as Athanasius did, why He did not die whenever He was born, and make the satisfaction in the most direct way.

The Christian soul felt instinctively that the life of Jesus must come into His work somehow as well as His death; wherever we see Jesus, in whatever attitude, however engaged, reconciling virtue goes out of Him. This was recognised when the life of Christ was dragged in, so to speak, side by side with His death, and, though it had not the significance of satisfaction for sin assigned to it, was nevertheless invested with another significance equally necessary to salvation. The life was the active obedience and the death the passive obedience, and though they were alike in respect that both were obedience, each fulfilled its separate and independent function.

Thus the Westminster Confession, in c. Xi. , repeatedly distinguishes in this way the “obedience and satisfaction” of Christ, or His ”obedience and death, ” the satisfaction or death being the ground on which we are cleared from sin, while the obedience constitutes a righteousness of Christ which is imputed to believers.

The utmost refinements or discriminations in this mode of thought were probably to be found in the Puritan theologians of America.

  • “Though the Redeemer obeyed in suffering and suffered in obeying, and His highest and most meritorious obedience was acted out in His voluntary suffering unto death, and in this greatest instance of His suffering the atonement which He made chiefly consisted; yet His obedience and suffering are two perfectly distinct things, and answered different ends, and must be considered so, and the distinction and difference carefully and with clearness kept up in the mind, in order to have a proper understanding of this very important subject. The sufferings of Christ, as such, made atonement for sin, as He suffered the penalty of the law or the curse of it, the evil threatened to transgression, and which is the desert of it, in the sinner’s stead, by which He opened the way for sinners being delivered from the curse, and laid the foundation for reconciliation between God and the transgressors, by His not imputing but pardoning their sins who believe in the Redeemer and approve of His character and conduct.  By the obedience of Christ, all the positive good, all those favours and blessings are united and obtained, which sinners need in order to enjoy complete and eternal redemption or everlasting life in the kingdom of God. ” *

More important, however, than any such refinements was the persistence of the idea that the whole work of Christ, His active and passive obedience, constituted in some sense a merit or merits, in virtue of which men could be reconciled to God. It is to God, in the first instance, that the life and death of Christ have value; and it is out of regard to  their value, jointly or separately in other words, it is propter Christum that God admits men to His peace, or that men are justified or reconciled to God. Theologians, from the greatest to the least, are at one here. (James Denney: The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation   Hodder and Stoughton : Cunningham Lectures 1917: Pg 94-96)

Denney holds to the importance of active and passive obedience (as do all believers) but refuses to insist on the refinements that advocates of IAO say is vital to evangelical orthodoxy.

A more recent British theologian like I Howard Marshall (an evangelical Methodist) seeks to put the dogma of Christ’s imputed righteousness in perspective when he says, the imputed

‘righteousness of Christ may be a fair inference . . . but it goes beyond what Paul actually says” (p. 312 n. 10).

Given this diversity within evangelical orthodoxy over many centuries it is hardly surprising that the same differences regarding what is meant by imputation exist today.  The views expressed on imputation by Federal Visionists, N T Wright, Robert Gundry and Mark Seifrid are hardly novel, they simply are in line with evangelicals throughout the centuries who have baulked at the classical expression of imputation in covenant theology.  They baulked because they doubted its biblical validity. It is the same today.  Michael Bird observes,

‘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 . . . The notion is passe, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. (M Bird, Incorporated Righteousness).

Whatever may be said of how Federal Vision, Mark Seifrid, Robert Gundry or N T Wright understand other aspects of justification, on this aspect it seems crystal clear they are well within any reasonable definition of evangelical orthodoxy.  More importantly, they stand comfortably within biblical orthodoxy, that is, their view on imputed righteousness is not simply consonant with historical evangelical belief but with biblical teaching.

The litmus test for any belief must be Scripture.  It is Scripture that must test the veracity of IAO and any other theological construct.  In my view, the biblical case for IAO is less than compelling.

In summary, the case for IAO being integral to evangelical orthodoxy is found wanting.  I hope to demonstrate in future blogs that  the case for it being biblically cogent is weak.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (4)

I had intended by now to beginning addressing the three issues I said I would in the first blog (historical, biblical, and theological difficulties with IAO and attempts to make it a necessary part of gospel orthodoxy).  However, before tackling these I want to point out a couple of worries I have with where IAO seems to lead.

IAO seems to detract from the cross.

Now let me be clear.  I am not saying at all that those who champion IAO intend to detract from the cross.  Protagonists of IAO of whom I am aware are jealous for the cross and what it achieves.  Yet I notice that often when commenting on justification and gospel righteousness by far their greatest emphasis is on the life of Christ rather than the death of Christ.  Gresham Machen is an example of this.  Machen was a real warrior of the gospel who challenged the liberalism of his day heroically and in ways that have yet to be answered.  For Machen, the gospel was paramount and the cross was central.  Yet, as he lay dying (a day before his death), the American Presbyterian theologian, sent a final telegram to his friend John Murray, a fellow theologian, containing the words, ‘I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

Now I am not aware of other circumstances surrounding the telegram.  Perhaps at that point Machen was still heavily involved in debate over IAO.  Indeed, he may have mentioned the cross too in his telegram, I don’t know.  But it seems to me strange that when dying Machen’s hope focussed on the life of Christ (active obedience refers specifically to Christ’s life) rather than his death.  To my mind, to focus with gratitude at the point of death on Christ’s righteous life rather than his sin-bearing death is to put the emphasis in the wrong place.  That so many quote these words of Machen with evident approval suggests that many others do the same.  This I think is far removed from the emphasis of Scripture which lays hope overwhelmingly in the death and resurrection of Christ (as I hope to show in a later blog).

A theological construct that results in godly believers placing their central eternal hope anywhere other than the death of Christ is for me deeply worrying.

IAO seems to promote expanding Christ’s substitutionary sin-bearing death into a substitutionary sin-bearing life.

One way to make acceptable such an emphasis on the life of Christ as opposed to his sin-bearing redemptive death is to say that his life too is sin-bearing and redemptive.  Indeed, if his righteous life is vicarious then logically must it not be sin-bearing?   This is exactly what many teach.

The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asserts,

‘…during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race’.

This is echoed by Gresham Machen in “The Active Obedience of Christ,” in “God Transcendent” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 191.] where he writes,

Every event of his life was a part of his payment of the penalty of sin, and every event of his life was a part of that glorious keeping of the law of God by which he earned for his people the reward of eternal life.

Horatious Bonar wrote,

It was as the Substitute that He was the outcast from the
first moment of His birth. His vicarious life began in the manger. For
what can this poverty mean, this rejection by man, this outcast
condition, but that His sin-bearing had begun?
[Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, (London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1879),  pp. 26, 27, 29, 32].

A. A. Hodge in his work on the atonement wrote,

The Scriptures teach us plainly that Christ’s obedience was as truly vicarious as was his suffering, and that he reconciled us to the Father by the one as well as by the other [Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Atonement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1953), pp. 248, 249].

John Piper too, in ‘Counted Righteous in Christ‘ speaks of the crucifixion as ‘the climax of his atoning sufferings’.

Indeed John Calvin himself promoted this belief.

. . when it is asked how Christ, by abolishing sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness which made him favourable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by the testimony of the Paul, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And indeed he elsewhere extends the ground of pardon which exempts from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ, “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made unto the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding obedience to the command of the Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance . . .   [John Calvin, Calvin’s Institutes, vol.2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962),  p. 437].

Notice how IAO and a wrath-bearing life are allied.

Such views astonish me. We are not simply being told that the life of Christ is part of the whole of God’s redeeming plan which none dispute, nor that the victory the atonement would accomplish was displayed in his miracles that overcame the effects of sin, we are being told that his incarnation is wrath-bearing , paying the penalty for sin, and atoning. As a baby Jesus was bearing God’s wrath, sin-bearing and atoning!  Are we really to believe such views are basic to mainstream evangelical orthodoxy?  They may be part of forms of reformed orthodoxy but are they mainstream evangelical?  More importantly still, are we to believe they are biblically warranted?  Was Christ suffering vicariously for my sins throughout his life?  Was he vicariously experiencing God’s wrath against my sin as he attended the wedding at Cana, dined with Mary and Martha, rested with his disciples? As we read the epistles where are we taught  that Christ’s life was vicariously atoning, sin-bearing, and wrath-bearing (Calvin’s quoted texts are misinterpreted as I will try to demonstrate in a later blog).

It takes only a little knowledge of the Bible to know that he bore our sins on the tree (1 Pet 2:24) where also he bore the curse (Gals 3:13).  It is not his life but his blood shed in death that cleanses us from sin (1 Jn 1:7).  Scripture after Scripture in the NT makes this plain.  In the garden, his place of greatest agony prior to death, he anticipated ‘the cup’ but he did not drink it (Matt 26:39).  Christ was not forsaken by his Father in life – indeed they worked together in full and perfect communion.  It is on the cross he is forsaken as he becomes the curse.  It is there, in abandonment, that he ceases to address God as Father and calls him ‘My God’ as he becomes the sin-bearer.  It is at the cross he was ‘delivered for our offences’ (Roms 4:24).  In life he experienced the opposition and wrath of men and suffered at their hands for righteousness sake, he learned obedience and all it cost in a fallen world, but it is only in death he suffers at the hand of God and bears divine wrath.  It is shed blood that atones.    A fact the Lord deeply engraved on the hearts of Israel through the sacrificial system.

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

In my view claiming Christ’s life is vicariously sin-bearing is not only misguided but detracts from the unique glory of Christ’s death.

IAO can lead to some strange places.  Error does this of course.  A mistaken idea in one area so easily has a knock-on effect and often leads to ideas more mistaken than the first.  IAO seems to do just this.

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