Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Catholic misunderstanding of Imputation

A reader pointed me to this well-written critique of the Reformed doctrine of Imputed Righteousness by Catholic writer Devon Rose. As you know, Reformed Protestantism speaks of an imputed righteousness. That is, we are reckoned as righteous. The Roman Catholic view is of infused righteousness--that is we draw upon the merits of Christ and the saints to actually become inherently righteous.

Rose goes off track at the beginning and runs with his mistake. He quotes the Westminster Confession and highlights two uses of imputed:
Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
On this passage from the WCF Rose writes:
Here the authors of the Confession distinguish between “infused righteousness” and “imputed righteousness”. The Confession makes a secondary distinction on top of that, stating that faith itself is not what is imputed as righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ is. Note that there is an equivocation in the Confession on this point, since the term “imputing” is used twice in the Confession, but not in the same sense. While the latter instance of “imputing” is used to mean “transferring” an (extrinsic) righteousness, the former instance of “imputing” cannot mean this, since “imputing faith itself” cannot mean “transferring faith”. This problem of equivocation will come to greater light later in this essay.
But their is no equivocation here. He wrongly states that the second use of imputation, when applied to righteousness, is used by the Westminster divines to mean “transferring” an (extrinsic) righteousness. But it does not mean that. Nothing is transferred like a substance. There is no phlogiston of righteousness. This is the critical point: In terms of Justification, the Reformers never, ever taught that God's righteousness is transferred to the believer. They taught that God reckons us as righteous through Christ. It is a purely legal transaction.

In sanctification, which Reformed theology views as a distinct process, righteousness is acquired by impartation. Because of the original legal reckoning or imputation (justification) we are now in the position to partake of righteousness through works of merit (sanctification.) Jesus is our mediator in this process: He declares us his heirs before the court (justification) and through this rebirth we can do good works. It is parallel to Adam who as our mediator (representative) sinned and with him we, as his descendants were condemned. But there was also a change--we are corrupted. That is:

Christ's Righteousness:Justification:Sanctification :: Adam's sin:Condemnation:Corruption.

Paul, in Philemon, paints the perfect human analogy. In requesting clemency for the slave Onesimus he writes:
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. (Philemon 1:17-19)
Paul does not say that Oneisimus will pay--but to reckon with his account--and although the slave is not repaying what he took, he should be welcomed as if there was no debt. This is as good of a model of biblical justification and imputed righteousness as you could ask for.

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