Over at TGC is a review of Evangelical Theology by Matthew Barrett (California Baptist Uni). Barrett commends a few aspects of the book like it’s gospel focus, its use of historical theology, trying to bridge biblical and systematic theology, and attempting to incorporate redemptive history into a doctrine of salvation. However, he does have a number of critical things to say, which is fair enough, but I would like to respond to a couple of them.
On theological method: I understand Barrett’s defense of Grudem in light of my critique. Like I’ve always said, Grudem’s book is robustly biblical, which is its strength, but if you read Grudem’s own account of his method it is quite literally theology derived from a concordance … and you just shouldn’t do that. That is why I tend to say that Grudem’s work is a great preface to a Systematic Theology and if you use Grudem as a Systematic Theology text then you should definitely have Greg Allison’s book on Historical Theology right next to it.
On Imputation: Barrett takes issue with my rejection of a covenant works and the imputation of Jesus’ active obedience. These things apparently disqualify me from being a bonafide Reformed theologian. Well, I guess “yes,” and by “yes,” what I really mean is “no.” (1) On the covenant of works, my view is heavily influenced by John Murray, who also rejected a covenant of works, which is why I prefer to speak of a probationary period in the garden rather than a formal covenant. On the covenant of of works as implying a pelagian theology, well, listen here to the words of R.C. Sproul: “Man’s relationship to God in creation was based on works. What Adam failed to achieve, Christ, the second Adam, succeeded in achieving. Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works” (Getting the Gospel Right, p. 160). Now that is what I’m talking about! This kind of pop Reformed theology is pervasive and unimpressive when scrutinized. (2) On Jesus’ active obedience, well, the fact is that the NT always emphasizes the passive obedience of Jesus. Jesus’ active obedience is only necessary if you adopt the idea of a covenant of works where we still need an exemplary pelagian to acquire works for us. The active obedience is only needed if you think of justification consists of the forgiveness of sins (to clean the slate) and the imputation to active obedience (to make us positively righteous). But that is not how justification works, since justification can be seen as simply another way of referring to the forgiveness of sins (Romans 4) or even to reconciliation (Romans 5), albeit by using a forensic metaphor to show believers have a status of righteousness, legally and covenantally, by virtue of our union with Christ. That said, Jesus’ obedience to his messianic task is necessary for salvation, and it is counted as ours when we are counted within his own vindication. I don’t deny imputation, but like others – from Leon Morris to Brian Vickers – I’ve argued that imputation is a corollary of union with Christ. As such I’ve spoken about an “incorporated righteousness,” a concept that has met with wide approval from folks as diverse as Kevin Vanhoozer, Con Campbell, and Scot McKnight. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Pauline scholars like Tom Schreiner and Doug Moo would be supportive or highly sympathetic to the description of justification that I give in relation to imputation, obedience, and union with Christ. (3) On the atonement, I would say that Amyraldianism is a version of Reformed theology, and it is embodied in the 39 Articles, which is a Reformed Confession. (4) On atonement, yes, I do certainly affirm penal substitution, but like the first 1500 years of Christian theology, I also affirm that the Christus Victor concept is probably a more dominant motif, with good biblical, historical, and theological justification given in EvTh.
Any way, I’m grateful for Matthew Barrett taking the time to read and review the book, his affirmation of my main goal (as gospel driven theology), and his willingness to push back on a few areas which, I entirely admit, are contestable.