August 13, 2009

Jesus' Blood and Righteousness: Paul's Theology of Imputation by Vickers

With the present volume, Brian Vickers offers a biblical defense of the traditional Protestant understanding of the doctrine of imputation. The topic of imputation is not without controversy, and Vickers ably engages opponents with both charity and grace.

His method is biblical-theological and seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of imputation by synthesizing the relevant Pauline texts. Vickers readily admits that no single passage in Paul provides a comprehensive articulation of imputation. Thus, he proceeds by dealing with three central passages: Romans 4, 5:18-19, and 1 Corinthians 5:21. Each passage brings a different piece of the puzzle. Romans 4 articulates how righteousness is reckoned. Romans 5 articulates the foundation of righteousness. 1 Corinthians 5 articulates the provision of righteousness. Drawing from each of these texts, Vickers provides a "Pauline synthesis" to support the classic Protestant understanding of imputation.

Worth noting is Vicker's emphasis on union with Christ as essential to understanding imputation. If one has a basic covenantal understanding of salvation history where everyone is either "in Adam" or "in Christ," then imputation follows quite easily. If one believes that salvation is found in being joined to Christ such that the benefits of his life, death, and resurrection are communicated to the believer, then imputation is the word that describes the communication of righteous standing before God. Approaching imputation through the concept of union with Christ is extremely helpful, and, I think, is an often neglected component of attacks on imputation.

Another strength of this book comes in its combination of detailed exegesis and systematic synthesis of the biblical evidence. It has become popular to criticize systematics in contemporary scholarly and popular discourse. The criticism is generally overstated. Though, at times, some systematicians do fudge on the exegesis. Vickers provides a model for a theological approach to scripture. His combination of detailed exegesis and a synthetic reading of Paul is a model for doing theology.

A possible weakness of the book might be the author's understanding of the place of faith in imputation. Vickers takes faith to be basically instrumental as that which joins the believer to Christ. However, his presentation of the evidence could lead one to understand faith as having not merely an instrumental function but a causal function as well. It's not clear that he follows the evidence to its logical conclusion. Perhaps more on that at another time.

All in all, this book was quite enjoyable. I found it to be quite enlightening, and based on Vicker's argument I find myself comfortable with the language of imputation as the basis of a believer's right standing before God. This is, for me, a development. Not only did I read a number of criticisms of imputation before reading this book, but was taught by critics of imputation as well. So, I was a rather cautious and skeptical at the outset. However, Vickers was persuasive and served to placate my reservations about the language of imputation. I am happy to recommend this volume as a fine defense of the doctrine of imputation.

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