A Review: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers

In light of my preparation for licensure exam, I have begun to read on various controversial discussions in the Presbyterian Church. Among them, the ever controversial question of Paul’s theology of imputation. A fine book that surveys both the historical analysis of imputation–from the Reformation onward– and exegetical treatment of crucial texts in the Pauline corpus, is Brian Vickers’s doctoral dissertation: Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness.[1]

Vickers defends the traditional view that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. Nevertheless, he is uncomfortable with general Reformed distinctions of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. He notes that the Reformed tradition has not always been united in accepting the concept of “merit” in the garden. Commenting on Reformed differences, Vickers mentions–in a footnote–that Murray “stresses the principle of grace over that of merit.” Further, Murray preferred to call the period of the first man an “Adamic administration.” [2]

Another interesting nuance of Vickers in the book is centered on his discussion of the active and passive obedience of Christ. There is no denial, in Vickers’s analysis, that the overall treatment of Pauline texts proves undoubtedly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, hence making us righteous in the sight of God; nevertheless, Vickers is unconvinced of the necessity to distinguish between active and passive.[3] Though traditional Reformed formulations refer to the necessity of the active obedience (Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God) and the passive obedience (his submission to the will of the Father unto death), there has always been vocal scholarship in the past and today, which argue that though the passive obedience of Christ is imputed to us by forgiving our sins, the active obedience of Christ is nowhere textually found. As some have argued, Christ’s perfect obedience was not imputed to us; rather it was “that which guaranteed the perfection of his sacrifice.”[4] Vickers’ own conclusion is that “Christ’s obedience need not be sharply divided between ‘active’ and ‘passive’; Christ’s obedience (as all obedience) was active and passive.”[5] He argues also, that “there is no separating one kind of obedience from another in a practical sense.”[6]

While Vickers argues intensely for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to sinners, he also engages modern scholarship, and particularly the New Perspective on Paul. This book provides an excellent treatment of the historical trajectory and essential texts related to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

[1] Brian Vickers, Paul’s Theology of Imputation: Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006).

[2]Vickers, 43.

[3] Melancthon did not distinguish between active and passive.

[4] Vickers, 227.

[5] Ibid. 228.

[6] Ibid. 228.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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