The rejection of the biblical view of God’s justification of the ungodly is one result of the rejection of the imputation of the guilt of Adam to sinners. Michael Bird, in his “progressive Reformed view”, writes: “For some commentators, Adam’s disobedience is imputed to sinners and then believers have Jesus’ obedience imputed to them for justification…No matter how much people may try, kathistemi does not mean logizomai. The word kathistemi refers to an actual state of affairs and not to transactions. To say that believers will be made righteous is to posit a rectification in both their legal status and in their moral status.” p113
My point is not simply for you to see that justification has been defined to include transformation. My point is that this argument is based on the rejection of the legal transfer of guilt from Adam to sinners. This debate is not only about the “new perspective” (NT Wright) saying that only the status and not the legal record of Christ’s obedience is transferred to the justified elect. The debate is also about penal substitution. The debate is about a denial that the guilt of the elect was transferred to Christ. Representative “union” will be allowed, but legal substitution is rejected.
The “new perspective” wants to say that it’s not denying anything but trying to include more metaphors. Thus it defines justification as both forensic and transformative. But the new perspective does indeed have its own antithesis. The forensic can be included but it CANNOT be “hegemonic”. This is the new antithesis: legal categories cannot be controlling. It cannot be grace vs works, but grace and works. It cannot be faith in Christ vs works, but Christ’s faith which we share in also. It cannot be justification now vs justification by works then, or we will end up being “couch potatoes” (p155).
But look at the two central denials. Status can be transferred, but “righteousness” is not a property which can be imputed. Thus the antithesis—we are not allowed to say anymore that the legal record of Christ’s obedience is a property which can be transferred. That would make Christ to be the “first Pelagian” racking up frequent flyer miles (merits, p145).
And why are we not allowed to say that the righteousness is Christ’s righteousness? We are not allowed to say that Adam’s guilt is a legal property that can be transferred to sinners. Bird argues that the “made sin” is not corruption or guilt, and that this proves that the “become the righteousness” is not allowed to mean that the justified status is a result of Christ’s obedience to the death because of the imputed guilt of the elect.
Of course the Roman Catholic view in this book agrees with Michael Bird. “Original sin does not refer personal guilt but to the sinful condition in which and into which human beings are born.” (p128) This first denial goes along with an even worse second denial, that there is no penal substitution in Isaiah 53. “But what about ‘the Lord has handed him over to our sins…Through the discipline of such punishment, they can be turned from their evil ways and healed…In the sixth century bc, no distinction had yet been drawn between the absolute will of God and the permissive will of God. Such a distinction allows us to understand how God may allow even his totally innocent Son to be handed over to sufferings and to be punished by human beings…The meaning of this vivid poem should not be pushed beyond what it actually says or misread as if it were a precise theological treatise about the transfer of personal guilt.”
Notice that for all the claims of wanting to include everything and not be precise, these folks are always finally very precise in EXCLUDING PENAL SUBSTITUTION. We want more, they say, but they also always want less. They are motivated not only by a desire to say that Jews are saved apart from the obedience of Jesus Christ but also motivated by a hatred for the just God who cannot and will not justify the ungodly apart from the legal record of God having punished God for sins that God legally transferred to God. Don’t be so mechanical and precise, they say, but they routinely and specifically deny any legal solidarity with guilt or with Christ’s death as a legal satisfaction. Some will allow “punishment”, but none will talk about individual guilt being borne by Christ and then taken away.
In the process, the penal substitution view is caricatured. On p 175, the Roman Catholic view explains II Cor 5:21: “supporters of the penal substitution view understand Paul to state that Christ really became a sinner. Our transgressions were counted against him …How could God transform an innocent person into a sinner? What about the possibility of saying, without doing that, God associated Jesus with all sinful men and women and charged him with their sins? …Paul does not use a judicial vocabulary here. God is not said to accuse, charge, judge, or punish.”
Why am I not talking about the difference between Mike Horton and Richard Gaffin on union and justification? I have in other places, but the most important debate about justification is the idea of including transformation into the definition of justification. We cannot say that justification is both forensic and transforming, or we will end up saying that the final forensic verdict is based on works (or “according to works”, and there is no real difference between based on and according to, since condemnation is both based on and according to sins.)
Notice that the quotation above assumes that “really become a sinner” cannot mean “legally charged as a sinner because of imputed sins”. That idea is unthinkable. In the end, according to the new perspective, the verdict is NOT based on a “both-and”, because the verdict is NOT based on the “judicial” but on us not being couch-potatoes. As Michael Bird explains (and Tom Schreiner agrees), Romans 2 is not an empty set (Horton, to his credit, defends empty set, 158).
The idea is that we can share the verdict Christ got when Christ was justified, but not the righteousness Christ got. The idea is that the Holy Spirit will enable us to live so that we will get the same verdict Christ got. Never in view is the problem that we are born as guilty sinners. To quote from one of the five views I have not yet cited, hear Jimmy Dunn: (p119)
“Horton wrote—‘The sin of Adam was imputed to the human race as a covenantal entity in solidarity because it was imputed to each member.’ Not only do we seem to be back into the most offensive (and unfounded) ‘original sin” interpretations of Romans 5:12, but an important element in Paul’s argument is being ignored. Paul makes a point of restricting guilt to the conscious act of breaking the law: sin is not imputed where there is no active disobedience.”
I think it’s Dunn who is ignoring the context. Paul is explaining why those without the law between Adam and Moses died. Why did they die when there was no law they were disobeying? Paul’s answer is that Adam disobeyed the law to Adam. But Dunn simply assumes that Adam’s guilt cannot be justly transferred by God to those after Adam.
Dunn also rejects any idea that Christ’s death can be credited to the elect (Romans 6, placed in the death, before that free from righteousness). At best, Dunn thinks of Christ’s death as a gift to be kept or lost, and so he warns us to take the warnings against apostasy in the way he takes them or not “be serious”.
To Dunn, one of the added advantages of the “new perspective” is that it “undermines the law-gospel antithesis”. (p198) Though nobody in this volume points to Daniel Fuller’s work, they all (except for Horton) seem to think that we are the ones who fulfill the requirement of the law in us. What matters to them is not so much the demand of the commandments of Christ, but the idea that we begin to claim that are keeping those commands. And since what Christ did is not going to help us get that done, we need to get off our couch…and start talking about justice and…keeping the commands or else…