TGC Review of Evangelical Theology

TGC Review of Evangelical Theology January 13, 2014

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.

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  • Haven’t gotten to your sys theo yet, but a few questions:

    1. What do you do with G.K. Beale’s argument for a covenant of works in his New Testament Biblical theology. He basically argues that all of the components of a covenant are implied or present in Gen. 1-2, so it’s there. I’ve got his quote and a summary here:

    “In light of these observations, we can speak of the prefall conditions as a “beginning first creation” and the yet-to-come escalated creation conditions to be a consummate “eschatologically” enhanced stage of final blessedness. The period leading up to the reception of these escalated conditions is the time when it would be decided whether Adam would obey or disobey. These escalated conditions indicate that Adam was in a covenant relationship with God. Although the word “covenant” is not used to describe the relationship between God and Adam, the concept of covenant is there. God chooses to initiate a relationship with Adam by imposing an obligation on him (Gen. 2:16-17). This obligation was part of the larger task with which Adam had been commissioned in Gen 1.:28: to “rule” and “subdue” creation and in the process to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam’s “ruling and subduing” commission included guarding the garden from any threat to its peaceful maintenance. In light of Gen. 2:16-17 and 3:22, Adam would receive irreversible blessings of eternal life on the condition of perfect faith and obedience, and he would receive the decisive curse of death if he was unfaithful and disobedient. Thus, the discernment of irreversible escalated creation conditions discussed above is the best argument for such a covenant notion.

    Consequently, the argument that the word “covenant” is not used in Gen. 2-3 does not provide proof that there is not covenant relationship, just as Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship is not termed a “covenant” in Gen. 2:21-24 but expresses covenantal concepts and, in fact, is identified as a covenant elsewhere. Likewise, it is profitable that God’s covenant with Adam is referred to as a covenant elsewhere in the OT. The essential elements of a covenant are found in the Gen. 1-3 narrative: (1) two parties are named; (2) a condition of obedience is set forth; (3) a curse for transgression is threatened; (4) a clear implication of a blessing is promised for obedience. It could be objected that there is no reference to either party reaching a clear agreement or, especially, to Adam accepting the terms set forth in this so-called covenant. However, neither is this the case with Noah and Abraham, with whom God made explicit covenants. -A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, pp 442-43”

    http://derekzrishmawy.com/2012/10/23/g-k-beale-on-the-presence-of-a-covenant-in-gen-1-3/

    2. As for the rejection of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, I used to follow Wright here, but now that I think of it, it just seems to flow naturally from union with Christ. I mean, it’s nothing about a gas, or whatever, but rather about Christ’s accomplished obedience, or, faithfulness to the covenant, both as Representative 2nd Adam, and as True Israel. It seems to fit quite well with the idea that Christ is the true Israel, who perfectly fulfills Israel’s vocation as expressed in the Mosaic covenant, and therefore gains the blessigns associated with that covenant. Incorporation into the Messiah and the “imputation” of his human covenant-faithfulness is what enables us to participate in the blessings of obedience.

    All of that’s quite rough, but an account of imputed active righteousness dovetails quite nicely with a Wrightian account of union and an Israel-shaped Messiahship.

    • Jeremiah Johnson

      ‘ In light of Gen. 2:16-17 and 3:22, Adam would receive irreversible blessings of eternal life on the condition of perfect faith and obedience, ……’ G. K. Beale

      How can this statement be made when the text does not say this? How do you get the gift of eternal life from these verses?

    • Kenton Slaughter

      Is there any reason why Gen. 2:21-24 is more determinative of the nature of this principle covenant than Gen. 1:26-28? That is, why does Gen. 2 take priority in characterizing the covenant rather than Gen. 1, in which God declares Adam and Eve’s status [as His offspring] and blesses them prior to any mention of obligation? Considering that the end of Christ’s work is not the restoration of a command to refrain from a tree, but the restoration of that original blessing (to subdue the earth and rule it by filling it with God’s images), why is the Adamic covenant viewed as one of works?

      I think this matters because a number of covenant themes begin in Gen. 1:26-28 that are replicated throughout:

      A) the faux-restoration of Gen. 1:28 that God gives to Noah in 9:1;
      B) the promise to fully restore the Adamic blessing that God gives to Abraham in 12:3, 18:18 and 22:16-18;
      C) the seeming fulfillment of the promise in David and Solomon’s reigns, as expressed in Psalm 72;
      D) the allusions to the Abrahamic promise (and a renewal of the whole cosmos) in Isa. 60-66; the repeated mentions of the mercy promised to Abraham in Luke 1;
      E) Luke’s very interesting description of Adam as “(son) of God” in 3:38;
      F) Paul’s connected themes of sonship, inheritance, and reign in Rom. 8, Gal. 3-4, and Eph. 1-2;
      G) Rom. 8:29-30, Gal. 3:24-26, Eph. 1:5-6 and 4:13, and Heb. 2:10-11 and 12:7-10, which together cast sonship as the whole picture under which and for which predestination, justification, sanctification, and glorification are done.

      Union with Christ would then seem to be precisely the predominant lens through which to view justification (and all of salvation). Except what we are united to is not so much Christ-as-law-keeper but Christ-as-risen-Son-of-God, since what Adam and Eve forfeited was not a clean record of good works but their grace-based status as the children of God, the principle gift of God to those who believe, according to John (John 1:12-13). The distinction is profound, because while Christ certainly did keep the Law, his status as the Son of God (via incarnation, per Luke 1:35) did not come through Law-keeping but before it. It is this status which we receive through faith. For it doesn’t matter if Christ kept the Law perfectly. If he were not accounted to be the Son of God by the Father’s testimony (as Paul says, by his resurrection from the dead), we would not be sons of God, and lacking sonship, we would not be heirs of eternal life. This is why he “was raised for our justification” and why without his resurrection, “you are still in your sins.”

      That status begins with Genesis 1:26, not 2:21. It is neither merited not probationary. And therefore the content of our righteousness is not merited. Though Jesus obtained exaltation by his obedient death (Phil 2:8-11), the righteousness he bestows is the exalted sonship that he possesses as the risen Son of God. Hence, Ephesians 2:4-7, following 1:20-22, describes union with Christ above all else.

      As a side note, I think it’s interesting that Beale mentions Malachi’s commentary on Adam and Eve, which highlights 1) the Spirit’s role in uniting them, and 2) the intended purpose of their union, which was “Godly offspring”. Which I think is a wonderful commentary on the intent behind God’s words in Gen. 1:28. The intent of “be fruitful and multiply” was the multiplication of godly offspring in the earth, or, as the NT might say, the children of God. Fitting then, that the superior “marriage” of Christ and His Bride accomplishes precisely that: the bringing of many sons, conformed to the image of The Son, to glory. Which makes union with Christ all the more central to the whole Story, as we are united to the Person of Christ.

  • Daniel Fiester

    Perhaps, the problem with a “covenant of works” is not the emphasis on an Adamic covenant. I think that Beale makes a decent case for an Adamic covenant. Perhaps, the problem is the emphasis on “works.” In other words, God did indeed make a covenant with Adam, but this covenant was not based on merit. If this is the case, then the Adamic covenant was not any different from the other covenants (Abraham, Israel, David).

    All covenants have conditional and unconditional elements. A covenant is unconditional because God graciously chooses His covenant partner. However, covenants are also conditional because the reception of covenant blessings is based on obedience.

    I’m not sure how this would work in terms of the new covenant, but I thought that I would put the idea on the table.