Towards the end of my justification study last fall I delved a bit to the Piper versus Wright debate. Although our move cut this study short, I remember my initial impression being that Wright had kind of a scolding, “I’m so misunderstood” tone, which I didn’t find very endearing. I didn’t think he showed as much concern as Piper did for carefully exegeting texts, and his recurring comparison of his view to heliocentrism and his opponents’ to geocentrism seemed condescending. I also found myself continually getting annoyed at a certain sloppiness of logic and language in his writing. Again and again I would read that salvation was “about” things – Abraham, covenant, story, new creation, etc. – with too many specifics left in the dark. At times a lack of emphasis on a particular theme by Piper seemed to be equated with a denial of that theme – so I was told, for instance, that because Piper has not explicated the role of the Holy Spirit in his writings on this controversy, he is “sweeping jig-saw puzzles back into the box.” And underneath it all there seemed a steady current of false dichotomies, leaving us to choose, for example, between Luther’s question (“how can I find a gracious God?”) and a God-centered biblical narrative.
At the same time as all this, however, I’ve found his book The Resurrection of the Son of God so helpful, and I vaguely had the sense that, though I increasingly find Luther’s struggle towards justification to be the dominant struggle of my life, there are legitimate insights that the New Perspective has to bring to the table.
Enter the most recent edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, which contained articles from Wright, Tom Schreiner, and Frank Thielman, based off their addresses at the November 2010 ETS meeting in Atlanta. Once again I was struck by the difference in tone between Wright and his opponents, but especially Schreiner, whose piece was clear, charitable, and helpful. Though I wished he had drawn this out a bit more, I was especially struck by his connecting the doctrines of imputation and union with Christ:
“Sometimes scholars say that those who defend imputation are importing an abstract and alien notion onto the text. But the charge can be reversed, for when believers are united with Christ, they receive all of who Christ is, both in his life and his death, both in his obedience and his suffering, both in the precepts he obeyed and in the penalty he endured” (JETS 54.1, 34).
I’ve already been convinced of imputation because of verses like Romans 4:22-24, as well as a biblical concept of righteousness (with its active and passive components), and finally because of my practical need of it in my near daily fights with accusing thoughts. But I’m now wondering how the doctrine of union with Christ solidifies the concept of imputation and sets it in a new grounding. There are a thousand things involved in the New Perspective that I don’t have the ability to get into, but this is one thing I’d like to explore more – how imputation fits within a more general framework of union with Christ, as well as Christ’s active and passive obedience.