Thursday, December 29, 2005

Frank Curry on Simeon Zahl's (previously posted) "On Imputation", followed by Simeon's Response:

Before reading this, visit the post entitled: "Simeon Zahl on Imputation" (posted Dec. 22). Enjoy, JZ

From Frank Curry (currently a Doctoral student in Patristics, at Mansfield College, Oxford University):

Hey John, I prepared the below posting in response to Simeon's article on your blog. Thought I should send it to you first for vetting. Post it if you like.
Warmest Christmas Wishes, BFC

Dear JAZ,

Merry Christmas. Glad to see you're back. I was hoping to get a 'John Camp' fix before the holidays. I especially enjoyed the above article. Your brother is quite clever, and his theological opinions are thought provoking, indeed. As much as I would love to join the public display of Zahlian admiration, however, I think it would be a mistake to laud Simeon's article unreflectively. His argument draws an unnecessary dichotomy between the logic of 'imputation' and 'infusion,' which is the result of failing to give the latter a sympathetic reading. A more reasonable representation of the position can be achieved by recognizing, as Simeon seems unwilling to do, that 'imputation' and 'infusion' refer to different moments in the process of salvation and transformation. The forensic metaphor of imputation and the indwelling metaphor of infusion signify different soteriological objects, different aspects of Christ's work which can be conceptually distinguished, and therefore cannot be set in opposition, as Simeon does, in a way that suggests one can only hold to one view or the other. Nor is it possible to suggest that 'infusion' theology is logically incoherent, as Simeon does. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to hold both positions. I will explain.

Simeon nicely outlines that at the heart of 'imputation' theology lies a robust concept of God's justice. We all know the story. Humans contravene God's law and therefore deserve God's just punishment: death (Gn 2.17 ). For our sake and on our behalf God becomes human in order to pay a debt that he did not owe, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). Clearly stated, the question at issue in 'imputation' soteriology revolves around actions and consequences. It has to do with right and wrong acts and activities. Scripturally, 'imputation' theology makes sense of the strong Pauline themes of penalty, propitiation, consequences and justice. Christ pays our debt, suffers our punishment, etc. Jesus' death fulfills the just requirements of God's law.

Yet, it is important to realize that drawing a straight line from action to essential character (or being) is logically suspect. Morality and ontology are distinguishable sphere of discourse. Consider the case of a criminal. A criminal is someone who has (either accidentally or voluntarily) committed a crime. As a crime committer, that person must suffer the penalty of his or her actions and pay the debt they owe society. Yet, 'criminal' is as accidental term, it is not essential. To call someone a criminal, therefore, does not describe what they are as humans, it describes the nature of their actions. Similarly, paying 'one's debt to society' is freeing. Nothing else is owed. And, if for example, you pay my traffic fines, I am still free. The same sort of thing is being talked about in 'imputation' theology. Being a 'sinner' means having committed sins. Christ pays the penalty - Hallelujah!

Being a sinner, however, is also quite different than being a criminal. Sinfulness and death become the determinative feature of human existence, and shape our whole being qua humanity - all the way down the line, "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived" (Eph 2:1-2). Thus, there is a second issue that 'imputation' theology, properly speaking, does not, and cannot account for: ontology. Sin is, if you will, inescapably infused into the core of human life, "The human heart is deceitful and wicked above all things; it is perverse— who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). So there are two problems. One is forensic (legal); it has to do with broken laws and penalties demanded. The other is deeper; it has to do with what we are as humans under the regime of sin and death – it describes what we are ontologically. This is where 'infusion' theology actually can be quite helpful.

[Footnote: the ontological situation I am describing is not created, but is rather a perversion of the original goodness that characterized God's creation of all good things.]

But before going too much further it is necessary to get one important point on the table – a point that ranges beyond the proposal Simeon offers. Soteriologically speaking, it is necessary to see both Christ's death and his resurrection as relevant to our vision of Christian transformation. Why? Because, both Paul and the early church saw the soteriological import of the resurrection. Consider Paul's language of our being baptized into Christ in Romans 6, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:2-4). Christ's death pays the debt we owe for our wrong doing, yes. But the Easter event is bigger than that. Mysteriously, we are joined to him in his resurrection and can walk in newness of life. It grounds an entirely new mode of human existence. There is ontological transformation.

Simeon calls the 'infusion' position incoherent because "if the imputation of sin to Jesus is true, then the imputation of righteousness to us sinners must also be true. You cannot have the one without the other. Whether by imputation or by infusion, the relationship between our sin and Jesus' righteousness is a reciprocal one. You have to believe either a) that we are infused with his righteousness and he is infused with our sin, or b) that his righteousness is imputed to us and our sin is imputed to him. You cannot mix and match." He goes on to reason that theologically infusing Christ with sin would compromise the incarnate Son's perfection. That is out of bounds. Therefore, the infusion position cannon offer the kind of reciprocal righteousness available in 'imputation' theology – infusion is out q.e.d. But, I think Simeon has missed a deeper point. Recall Athanasius' words, "He became man that we might be made divine." Or Augustine, "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God." The incarnation is designed to change the whole human situation. Jesus not only changes our 'status' before God's judgment throne from guilty to forgiven, he changes what we are - from dead in a life of living death, to alive in the God of life. In baptism we are joined to, or incorporated into, the resurrected life of the living Son. In Christ's death, his righteousness is replaced by our sin, and our sin replaced by his righteousness. He pays our penalty. That is the glory that 'imputation' theology attests to. Simeon is right, "we all subscribe to a doctrine of imputed sin in relation to Jesus." In Christ's resurrection, however, his (ontological) life replaces our (ontological) death because he took on what we are so that we could be as he is. That should not be overlooked.

In the hope of receiving unrestrained Zahlian accolades I would like to add two pastoral-ish caveats. First, there is no need to conclude from what I have said that now we are perfect, all the work is done, let's have fun. Right? That was the mistake of the Corinthian church. I think Simeon is unfair to cast the 'infusion' perspective in that way. Rather, transformation is progressive and takes a life-time of graced discipline to be brought to its fullness. We are enabled by God's grace to increasingly depend on him for the mode of life that he has made available to us. It is all grace. So we still struggle with sin, still wrestle to be free to the promise of the new self. But it is a different kind of struggle. We are no longer ontologically slaves to sin and death. We are slaves to Christ who is our life and our newness of life. On the moral level, because we are assumed into him, our good works must always be seen as God's work in us, "It is God who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). We continue to struggle and sin (i.e. commit wrong acts), however, when we abandon the relationship of dependence that secures our transformation. It is also eschatological. I think the story Paul is telling, and therefore that we must tell, is that in the end we will be like him as he is, because we will see him in his glory. That is our telos.

Second, if we adopt the imputationist-incorporationist perspective I am espousing, we cannot take advantage of the easy moral loop holes afforded by either view on its own. You must have both. The life of the believer is transformed, but is also always in progress. Simul Justus et peccator (committing wrong acts) et being transformed . Or, I am saying that only by adopting both perspectives can you really cut against antinomianism. But like Simeon, I'll leave that is for another time.

Here is the crux: Christ's passion does not dress us up in new clothes that appear righteous from God's perspective, whilst leaving us fundamentally unchanged. God is not fooled when he looks at us. He sees us as forgiven for the wrongs that we have done. He sees us in our graced struggle to depend on his grace. He sees us as graciously set free from the tyranny of death. He sees us as we are, as we are in him, as we are in eternity – baptized into Christ and into his newness of life. There is freedom in that I think.

Simeon has overlooked the distinction between the forensic model of 'imputation' theology, and the ontological model of the 'infusion' theology. That leads him to see things wrongly, as dichotomous, either/or. If you recognize that both models are needed, one is left with a richer view of the Christian life. There is no incoherence. I think this good news is better than the alternative.

Thanks again JAZ.



Simeon Zahl's Response (currently a Doctoral student in Systematic Theology, at Peterhouse, Cambridge University):

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply to my little essay on imputation. It feels good for my ideas to be taken seriously by someone as obviously astute and theologically informed as you. And I am grateful for the chance to clarify some points.

Your critique, as I understand it, is this: I have failed to distinguish the areas of morality and ontology, doing and being, which are theologically separate. More specifically, the Cross relates to them in different, complementary ways. I have understood infusion and imputation as mutually incompatible, reducing them to an either/or. You argue that they are not incompatible but complementary, because they are not alternative solutions to a single problem, as I have claimed, but rather are different solutions to two different aspects of our Problem. As you put it, “the forensic metaphor of imputation and the indwelling metaphor of infusion signify different soteriological objects, different aspects of Christ's work which can be conceptually distinguished, and therefore cannot be set in opposition, as Simeon does, in a way that suggests one can only hold to one view or the other.” You describe the first “soteriological object,” or aspect of us that needs to be saved, as having to do with the sins we have committed. Our _actions_ are subject to a penalty, a death penalty, from which we must be saved. You accept the imputation process I describe, but qualify it, saying that it functions as I say but only in the “forensic” sphere, only in the sphere of our actions and the debt we owe for them. According to your analogy, we are criminals in the sense of having committed crimes, crimes for which a penalty has been incurred. Imputation clears the record, so we no longer have to pay for our crimes.

Infusion, on the other hand, deals with your second “soteriological object,” the second aspect of us that needs to be saved. This second aspect is our Being, our “ontology.” It is to be distinguished from our actions, from our doing, from the “moral” sphere. Unlike imputation, which is instantaneous, infusion is the longer process in our lives by which God transforms our very being. And our being _does_ need to be changed, because it is characterized thoroughly by sin, by the fact that we are sinners in our being, not just sinners in our behavior. So are freed from the consequences of our sinful actions by imputation, and then we are freed further, or complementarily, from sinfulness in our very nature by the transformation you say is effected by infusion.

The reason I cannot accept your critique is that I do not buy your distinction between “morality” and “ontology,” between our deeds and our being. There is no need to understand 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” as relating solely to the realm of action rather than being. He made him to BE sin, so that we might BECOME righteousness. This verse is about ontology, not just enacted consequences of our ontology. Imputation is ontological. Righteous _being_ is imputed to us, not just righteous action.

In fact, I think Jesus went out of his way to argue _against_ the doing/ being distinction. Take the Sermon on the Mount: in each antithesis in Matthew 5, Jesus says that the desire to do a thing is tantamount to doing it, so that, for instance, anger is identical before God to acted out murder. And anger, I would argue, like lust, is not an action, but a reaction over which we have no control until after it has manifested itself (if then). It is our _being_ responding to a situation (in the form of emotional reaction), not our will (in the form of overt behavior). This is why Jesus can summarize his points about lust and anger and swearing in this chapter with an _ontological_ imperative: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Similarly, in Mark 7:1-23 (also Matthew 15) Jesus criticizes those who think their standing before God is determined merely by what they do instead of by who they are: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:20-21). And there is no evidence in either of these cases in the Gospels that Jesus sees what he is saying as distinguishing between believer and non-believer.

I agree with you, Frank, that there is a problem of ontological sin that needs to be dealt with—I agree with you 100% on that! But I do not agree that there is an additional, separate, and equally significant area involving our “doing” that also needs to be dealt with. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Jesus’ teaching goes out of its way to reduce Torah teaching about action-based righteousness—insofar as that is how the Pharisees were interpreting the Torah-- to ontology. He refutes the Pharisaic idea that action is all there is, and he does so not by saying “hey, ontology is a problem too!” but by saying “the real problem is who we ARE; what we do is totally secondary to that and reducible to it.” He rejects, rather than merely qualifies, the emphasis on doing. What we do follows from who we are, period. When our ontology has been dealt with, our actions will follow (a good tree bears good fruit). As Christians we become those for whom “all things are lawful” (1 Cor. 10:23) even if all things are not beneficial. Doing is secondary to Being, to the point that it is soteriologically irrelevant. Our sin before God, for which forensic (or “legal”) satisfaction is necessary, is the sin of our being. Paul reminds us not that “no one does righteous things” but that no one “IS righteous” (Romans 3:10). Again, our admonition in 1 Peter 1:15-16 (and Leviticus) is to BE holy, not to do holy things.

Ontology is the thing, not morality. You and I agree that it is in our very nature, our being, that we must be saved; our disagreement is that you claim we need to be saved from our actions as well. I think that our actions follow from our being, and are reducible to it. And so there is only one soteriological object, one soteriological moment, not two.

If I am right about this, if I am correct in rejecting your morality/ ontology distinction, then the imputational logic I defended in my essay applies fundamentally to our being, not our actions, and my rejection of infusion stands. Soteriology has only one object, not two; one moment, not two.

A second point: you equate Paul’s descriptions of us as walking “in newness of life” (thanks to the resurrection in which we have in some sense participated) with the view that Christ’s righteousness is infused in us. Why then, I ask, is the ontological “transformation” by infusion not total? If we are to be seen as having joined Christ in his resurrection in a way that has direct positive consequences for our ontology, why theologically are these consequences limited to a slow progressive transformation? Why were we not infused entirely with his righteousness, instead of merely partially? You say: “there is no need to conclude from what I have said that now we are perfect, all the work is done, let's have fun… Rather, transformation is progressive and takes a life-time of graced discipline to be brought to its fullness.” Why must it take a lifetime? What is being achieved during that time that could not be said theologically to have been achieved at the moment we first believed? Do you appeal theologically for this point to personal existential experience—the fact that the infusion is self-evidently incomplete in our lives? I have no problem with that on a methodological level, but I am not sure that is what you were trying to do.

Again, you say, “Mysteriously, we are joined to him in his resurrection and can walk in
newness of life.” Why “mysteriously”? Is the mystery only that the fact of the obviously incomplete (at the very least!) transformation is inexplicable in terms of the mechanics of atonement as described for instance in 2 Corinthians 5:21 and elsewhere? It seems to me that, because of the logic of the Cross, a theologian who understands our righteousness as in any sense infused must appeal to “mystery” to explain the confusingly limited character of that infusion. My view-- that imputation is the whole story, including ontologically—does not require such an appeal.

Finally, you raise the common—and in a lot of ways, I confess, quite reasonable—critique that imputed righteousness is in the character of a deception, a false “clothing” that hides the deeper ontological reality. You say, “God is not fooled when he looks at us.” This critique forgets that it is GOD who put these clothes on us in the first place—no one is trying to fool God except God himself. Even if it seems unfair—or too easy—that this imputation, these “clothes,” should actually work, and should achieve all the things that a sinless life would have achieved, that is a moot point. The Bible tells us that God himself accepts what was done on the Cross. Of course it is unfair! It is unfair to Christ himself most of all! But when God says that a thing is so, then it is so. “Let there be light.” “It is finished.”

In more practical terms, there are two reasons why we know the imputation is “real” and true, even though it is never an infusion. The first is that Christ actually had to die for what was imputed to him. It was so real that it really deserved death, and really did get what it deserved. It was not a “legal fiction” or a loophole or a deceiving set of clothes—he really died because of the sin that was imputed to him. That proves that God saw the imputation as real, not just an “appearance” cloaking a different reality. When God is the one looking, appearance and reality are always the same thing.

The second reason is that the imputed righteousness to us is also true in practice. We are loved by God in real and concrete ways even though we do not deserve it on our own steam. Any moment of providential intervention is done on the basis of imputed, and therefore fully “real” righteousness. God loves us because he thinks we deserve to be loved, and that can only be on the basis of the Cross. When I am a jerk to my wife, and don’t listen to her and am so involved with, say, a blog post I am writing, that I do not notice that she has had a hard day and needs to be listened to, and she then sits down and instead of bringing up her own needs asks me to tell me about what I’m writing and what I’ve been thinking about, she is treating me as if I were being lovable instead of being an insensitive jerk. The love she expresses when she does this is based on imputed righteousness—she is treating me as I deserve to be treated only in Christ, not at all how I should be treated in myself. Even so, her love is still real. I am really treated in a certain way-- not because of what I am but because of what has been imputed to me. Imputation is real, not a convenient fiction that God “sees through.” It is real because the one who determines reality said that it is.

Again, thank you for your stimulating thoughts. I cannot agree with you, above all on the basis of your view of being and action as soteriologically distinct categories, but I do love the opportunity to discuss the issues further. I write so much precisely because I think the points you raise are so formidable! Anyway God bless and do correct me where I have misunderstood or made an error. I understand from both DZ and JZ that you and I are systematic theology brothers-in-arms in the making—I look forward to meeting you!



Anonymous said...

Simeon & JAZ,

Thanks for your thoughtful and well reasoned response. I enjoyed reading it very much. You have said a lot, so, if you are congenial to the idea, I would like to write again to clarify some of my own reasoning and to further engage with the proposal you have put forward. If that's acceptable please let me know.

I have heard a lot about you from DZ and JZ. I look forward to meeting you with great eagerness.

In Christ,

rka said...

The desire for infusion is based on a desire to have what we are changed, not just our status before God, but what we really are. I’ve said so many times, “I don’t want to be forgiven, I want to be the kind of person who wouldn’t have done it in the first place!”
There is more to imputation than being released from the consequences of my sin- it is about being LOVED. The judge may release the criminal but is quite content never to see him again; God desires our presence with him, our prayers, our thoughts, all of us, even as we are. Being wholly known and wholly loved covers both our status and our being, perfect love casts out fear.

Jeff Dean said...


I think you raise a point about which I feel quite strongly.

Forgiveness is usually not very interesting to me. I generally feel that God has set up a world with rules that condemn me, then makes the sacrifice to accept me. All the while I'm thinking, why not either change the rules or change me?

Free-will proponents notwithstanding, how on earth is it that I can hate who I am and not be given the grace to change?

The infusion position is popular because it's what everyone desperately wants. Please explain why God doesn't give that to us.

rka said...

Explain why God doesn’t give that to us… Not wanting to be one of Job’s friends, I don’t think I had better go there. But I can offer some thoughts that are not explanations.
First, I don’t think that it is a matter of changing the rules, since the law is an expression of God’s perfect will, and his desire for his people to live in harmony with him and one another and the world itself. The underlying question is why am I not made to meet the standards, and live in harmony with God and his people? Imagining a world of perfect people doesn’t add up, not as we are, for pride would rule, we would not need God and we would never be able to be open with each other. A world where we all sing “C’est moi”, as Lancelot did. Better to go all the way back, to our yearning to be in the garden - why did God not prevent Adam and Eve from being seduced by the serpent? God is God and he did it for good purpose, that is all we know. And all I know is that sin confessed and forgiven turns pride into compassion and real love, for God and for each other, in a way that nothing else does. The tragedy of our lives when lit by Jesus’ love brings about the deepest and strongest love.

cjdm said...

guys! how cool are frank and john and sim?

it is new year, and i'm too exhausted to write a full-bore response to these little essays. however, i've got an off-the-cuff thought that i have entitled "let's hear it for love" after the smoking popes tune of the same name. please look up the lyrics...they are hilarious.

here goes.

i think that being and action are sprouts of the same root. interestingly, and perhaps ironically, so does aristotle (nich. ethics mainly) and dallas willard (richard foster's philosopher sidekick). it seems to me that we are probably framing the question a bit awkwardly if we keep foundering on this formulation. perhaps a better route would be to consider, with cranmer, the relation between the loves of the heart and the dispositions of the mind and will. by giving love primacy in all things, we are being more realistic both about our thoroughgoing sinful selfishness, and the empowerment that comes to us in the love of God for us (cf. esp. 1 John).

this is the foundation for repentance, which i think never comes from guilt about a specific sin but rather from an ontological crisis about the radical divide between God and people. my best examples of that are in the call of Isaiah (Is. ch. 6) and the call of Peter in Luke(?) where he says "go away from me, i am a sinful man," at Jesus promptly hires him for life. Jesus subsequently leads Peter, quite literally, on a path of discipleship in which he inwardly transforms him by stirring love within him, love enough to get him to walk on water, but clearly not enough to get him to stick with Jesus at the hour of his death.

Not coincidentally, when Peter is restored by Jesus in John's gospel, it is language of love that Jesus uses to restore, empower, and commission him again.

Lets hear it for love.


Dylan Potter said...

Alright, let me play the diplomat here...both Simeon and Frank have points which are simmul mutually exclusive et complimentary (I couldn't resist).

What I mean is that the idea of imputation and infusion in light of ontology are complimentary (in a geometrical sense), but not coterminous realities.

In other words, Simeon is spot on as far as the chronological "already" is concerned, which is where I think Frank's intimations may be a bit premature.

I could be wrong, but it seems that what Frank is suggesting, as far as I understand Scripture, belongs to the period of the "not yet" where there will be some sort of infusionary
"transmogrification"(thanks Calvin & Hobbes!) whereby each of us will stand non posse peccare before Jesus and that great multitude which no man can number, but with whom we are forevermore joined on the distant shore, bathed in a far greater light.

To sum, imputation is the reality of the here and now which also speaks of better things when our sinfulness will be altogether discarded for an infusion of what may be properly/practically called "love"...the one thing which we all desire to project naturally but cannot do at the present--however, at the point of translation from earth to heaven it appears that we will eternally and spontaneously fulfill the Greatest Commandment without coercion, yet always by virtue of grace. 8>)

By the way, keep stoking the coals, this discussion is so great!

Jeff Dean said...

Interestingly enough, there was a post on Kendall Harmon's blog commenting about "precisely" what the Via Media of Anglicanism means. The author took Frank Curry's position: salvation is imputed by grace through faith, but sanctification is made inherent by grace through works. This author claimed that Anglicanism salvaged the best parts from Geneva and Rome.

bpz said...

In the whole debate of salvation/sanctification, I just wonder why it is so important for us to be _doing_ something so God would like us (or sanctify us). I believe that it is _God_ who sanctifies, not works. It is in this case that practice does NOT make perfect. What does sanctification look like, anyway? A lack of "bad works" and an overwhelming amount of "good works"? I also don't understand why we would claim God's sovereignty over every aspect of our lives except the sanctification aspect, that _we_ need to be the sovereign one (to will ourselves) to be doing good works that would sanctify us.

The Via Media of Anglicanism would relegate me to the latter end of the sanctification list. That's probably why I'm not Anglican. I'll stick to being a low anthropologian, and one who, ONLY by the grace of God, is able to believe that he loves _and_ likes me at any given point in time.

Anonymous said...

Trackback Pontifications

Tim Galebach said...

The link above and the comments in it are interesting. It's a good example of the danger inherent in getting too far away from experience in discussing matters of theology.

bpz said...

I want to hear from Mattie, who confesses to personally experiencing God in deep and powerful ways, is smart about these kinds of discussions, and is now Catholic.

(sorry for putting you on the spot, Mattie!)

bonnie said...

I just had another thought: if infusion (in this lifetime) is indeed true, then wouldn't every generation of people be a better one? As in, shouldn't people be producing more sanctified babies?

At our homegroup last night we talked about how one of the ways the "world" (John 15:18-21) influences us is by the standards it imposes on us (body image and beauty, success, being a good husband/wife, being a good boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.) Psychology studies show that humans automatically assume that beautiful people also have better personalities, and that (all other things equal) they would still choose to make friends with a more beautiful person over a less beautiful person. Even infants exhibit this preference for beautiful faces (they stare at it for longer). This idea of "beauty" as a form of standard by which we make our choices (and is, in and of itself, not a bad thing) is so deeply ingrained in us that we have a hard time not conforming to it, even as babies. It's not that we like beautiful and not-beautiful things equally; we _prefer_, and attribute superior qualities, to that which is beautiful.

It is in our genes to conform to these standards of the "world". In our most natural state (infancy) we do it.

If infusion of Christ's righteousness is true, over our lifetime as Christians we would become more sanctified; we would care for the world's standards less and less. But few of us would say that right now we care less about success in our careers than say, 3 years ago. Middle-aged women still care about their looks. Infusion, which implies that Christ gradually "improves" parts of our sinful selves, would suggest that a 55 year old Christian woman would care less about her looks than say, a 25 year old Christian woman. But we all know that's not true. My mom spends more money on skin care products than I do. And, if infusion is the improvement of our natural state, then why aren't I more sanctified than my Christian parents? I have their gene pools combined.

rka said...

That is a great example! I am reminded of the scene in Book II of Pilgrim's Progress, where the travelers are given new robes by Christ, and looking around they exclaim at one another's beauty. Haven't we all hat that moment?

I think that we might distinguish improvement from transformation:
Imputation transforms one, for even as I continue to fail Christ, transformation, which is knowing His love at all times and seeing His hand in all things, and being given to see how I fail, transformation makes me turn to Him in repentence, and receive his love. And in repentence my pride is exposed and taken away, but this must be a daily, hourly thing on this side of the river.

Pontificator said...

Hi, folks. May I suggest that the truth of the infusion view, which need not exclude the imputation of righteousness, is not determined by reflection upon our own moral progress or lack of moral progress. None of us are in a position to judge ourselves in this way.

I suggest, rather, that the decisive piece of evidence in favor of infusion is the fact that this is what the Church taught for fifteen hundred years. As Alister McGrath has observed in his writings, the imputation theory is a "theological novum." It only appeared on the scene with Luther and especially Melancthon. Before the Reformation, the Church knew only transformationist models of justification. So unless we are big on theological innovation, I would think that infusion wins handily. We must think think imputation, regeneration, and sanctification together. Notional distinctions can be helpful, but they remain notional. What is decisive is our new being in Christ.

bonnie said...

I don't know much about church history, or theology for that matter, but one practical/pastoral problem with the infusion perspective is that infusion-Christians are unwilling to call a spade a spade. It makes it easier for to sin, for example, to seek after success, financial gain, achievements, fame etc. in the guise of "for the glory of God". We can't help but think that "since I have been transformed, my motivations are more pure, and all the things I do are therefore inspired by God." Not so!

I post comments on this blog partly because I believe that speaking about truth glorifies God. But I also post comments in favour of imputation out of my need, to sound somewhat intelligent, and (by far the worse sin) I post because I want to be right!

Am I right or am I right? ;)

Simeon Zahl said...


First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to read through all this stuff and respond so thoughtfully and open-mindedly on your own blog to what has been discussed here. I am very flattered! And I do have some thoughts on what you wrote that I will hopefully post there before too long.

But for now, just one quick point. I suppose the classic Protestant response to your argument about how "before the Reformation, the Church knew only transformationist models of justification" is the following: who cares if the Church knew only one doctrine between 80AD and 1517AD if that doctrine is not what "knew" between 30AD and 80AD? I agree that 1500 years (or 1450) of unity is a very strong argument-- the only one that could possibly trump it, but which must trump it, is the question of the _first_ 50 years. To put even more of a Protestant point on it, who cares what the Church taught, no matter how long for, if it is not what the Bible teaches?

anhomily said...

I've been reading this blog for a while and came back from Christmas holidays to find a delightful theological debate on it (I live in a remote area where I don't have the pleasure of too many of those) which I couldn't resist commenting on. I commented on Simeon's original posting without realizing there was so much more to respond to... so here is a second attempt (I am so far behind I don't suppose anyone will be reading an anonymous post so far down the list, but I humor myself...) So I think I agree with the idea that imputation is a more comprehensive analogy to describe our salvation and sanctification, but I am not convinced by Simeon’s "logical conclusion" that imputation of sin requires imputation of righteousness. I think it is very important to recognize that both imputation and infusion are metaphors, one forensic and one ontological, as Frank points out. To say that his mélange of two complementary metaphors to describe something which is I think clearly mysterious (to say any less is to limit God’s workings in us to that which can be described) divides our salvation into two soteriological moments, is a misrepresentation, though I should let him speak for himself. I certainly think it is a simplification to say that the forensic metaphor amounts to “doing,” since it is a legal metaphor based on a law which judges not for actions but for thoughts (it is God’s court, in which anger and lust are penalized, and not the world’s court, which judges only actions-and even that based on the good of society rather than morality).
To return to Simeon’s argument, it seems very obvious and straightforward that if our sins are imputed on him, then his righteousness must be imputed on us, but its being obvious necessitates an assumption that righteousness and sin are mutually exclusive, which in this very case must not be. Christ is righteous and yet takes on our sin (and if he does not we are not saved) and we are sinful and yet made righteous. Thus I think Sim’s "general theory of imputation" is a bit too E=mc², assuming that God must impute righteousness because he imputed sin. Essentially you are saying that the absence of sin = righteousness, and that God achieves the two in one act... but that downplays the sanctification process as well as the fact that the biblical passages tend to talk about them separately (not to mention the theological traditions of interpretation). Is it not possible (even likely) that these two senses of imputation must differ because of the way in which God's relationship to time must differ surrounding them? For example, the imputation of sin upon Jesus must have happened at one moment, and yet counted for all eternity, in order to have been accomplished through his death on the cross and to be comprehensive for all believers throughout eternity. The imputation of Christ's righteousness upon us must occur at all times everywhere - it must not be bound by time in order that all be saved, and it seems from biblical passages (and both protestant and Catholic traditions, as you point out) that it is accomplished more through the indwelling of God in us rather than the incarnation of Christ among us. I think part of the reason why this is so important is because I lean towards a pretty strong sense of imputation... it is not just that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, literally thought (puto) to be true of us (forgive me if my philological analysis does not do justice to the jargon of this specific debate), not just that God considers us righteous, even though we aren't. God actually makes us righteous, though it is outside of time (we were not there to nail our sins to the cross), which allows us to be saved for all eternity, but does not contradict the empirical evidence that we do not act righteous now... that is we are not infused with a temporary dispensation of righteousness which gradually steeps to full-brewed righteousness in heaven. Maybe I am actually twisting the meaning of imputation to mean something more than it does, but I think I am consistent with how Simeon rendered it “assigned.” God assigns righteousness to us in an eternal sense, though we do not act righteous now, because our sin has been assigned to Christ and we are in the sanctifying process (through God’s spirit) through which we ultimately attain righteousness, but only to a full extent when we leave the realm of time (corporeally dying) at which point the assignation of Christ’s righteousness on us is consummated.

Pontificator said...

Hi, Simeon. I'm out of town at the moment. I hope to respond to your comment in the next couple of days.

Jeff Dean said...

Is it necessary that the one must preclude the other? Even if we believe that we receive Christ's righteousness by imputation, does that mean that the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot infuse righteousness in us?

I suppose that might mean that we became unable to sin in a given way, which I don't think there is Biblical evidence to support, but there does seem to be Biblical, traditional, and reasonable evidence to support the claim that we become capable of things we were not earlier capable of--irrespective of how fully "ours" that capability is.

Cranmer got stuck here, too. He asked, "If 'He who began a good work in you will carry it out until the day of its completion', then does this not mean that the work has truly begun?"

bonnie said...

"...we become capable of things we were not earlier capable of--irrespective of how fully "ours" that capability is."

My problem is not with whether or not the argument is theoretically sound. I just don't observe or even experience "being capable of things that I was not capable of before" without also it becoming, eventualy, "I am capable of..."

We are hard wired to attribute our strengths to ourselves and our weaknesses to the influence of our situation. We think that when things are great, it's because of our character; but when things are bad, it's because of the situation we're in. We do the same to other people: when something is bad in someone else's life, we attribute it to their personality, but when something good happens, we attribute it to their "luck". It's called fundamental attribution error (look it up on wikipedia if the link doesn't work).

What I am saying is that as a Christian, I do not experience or observe any ability in us to differentiate whether it is "our" capability or "God's". We always end up feeling that it is us even though we can rationally say it is God's work. And in our human nature, we are wired to know what we "feel" as true. We can "know" that God loves us, but we are always more convinced by how we feel. Just ask any depressed Christian.

Christianity cannot stray far from human experiences; otherwise it loses its redemptive power and becomes theorizing. As far as we know, the experience of the Christian is the most empirical proof we can get on this side of Jordan.

bonnie said...

p.s. This is why I think the idea of a low anthropology is profound. It completely attacks our human nature and forces to face our weaknesses and sin as _our own_, rather than attributing them to situational forces. When a poor person steals it is, in God's eyes, the same as when a rich person steals. Just because the poor person is needy it doesn't make the stealing any less sinful. A low anthropology forces us to be honest with ourselves in a way that we are not hard wired to do so. That kind of profound insight into ourselves is not from us, but from the Holy Spirit.

bonnie (again) said...

P.P.S. The infusion perspective, I believe, reinforces fundamental attribution error.

Sorry for usurping this place. I'll be quiet now :)

Tim Galebach said...

Is it cool if we start calling this blog "BonnieTown"?

Anonymous said...

Trackback Pontifications

Jeff Dean said...

Hey all!

Please make sure you check out all of the dialogue that Al Kimel (the Pontificator) facilitates on this topic. We're really fortune to be engaged by someone who is so knowledgeable/pastoral yet takes an opposing position. Father Kimel is the author of numerous texts that are still highly regarded among Anglican theologians, and we benefit greatly from his critique.

John Zahl said...


I find it nteresting that the Al Kimel position lines up fairly well with Frank's. Clearly Sim is a Protestant, in that he holds to imputation (i.e., his tradition), and, friends, he holds the position not just for logical reasons, so don't get too caught up in his emphasis upon logic (please, what could be less instinctual than love? He is logically arguing for that which is most counter-intuitive).

Are we really surprised that Simeon, a Protestant, and Al Kimmel, a Roman Catholic, are not on the same page theologically (not to mention vis-a-vis the sacraments, the Apocrypha, and the Pope's authority...see also: Trent)? I think it more peculiar to find such harmony between most contemporary evangelicals and the traditional Roman Catholic position on justification as it relates to ecclesiology, that so many "Protestants" have RC understandings of what church is all about. The theological emphases as they play out in church life stand more glaringly ajar than do the classic tensions that have to do with salvation of the individual (Al himself has been very helpful in pointing this out). Hmmm.


rka said...

Why was imputation forgotten? Imputation makes us children of God and it banishes pride. Imputation is about being wholly loved and “bought with a price”; infusion is asking for a change in our nature along with the forgiveness that He bought us. We are told to receive, but we want to earn, even here. Imputation was forgotten because the other gives us a sense of control.
The union with Christ verses are reflective of our love to him, the tie that binds, not of a change in our nature.

The only thing that changes our nature is being loved: “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We were made to be loved, made to be changed by being loved, and to be humbled over and over by seeing how our best efforts are only worthwhile because of His forgiving love, and in this is freedom.

Jeff Dean said...

Imputation has to be relearned by every generation.

That imputation was forgotten is no surprise. The real shock is that it was ever recovered.

bpz said...

I wish I had a t-shirt that said "I agree with Jeff."

John Zahl said...

Imangine you are on a stage, being watched by an enormous audience. How would wearing a mask or costume affect your level of comfort? If you're like me, the answer is: immensely. It's like being able to comment on a blog anonymously instead of with your name attached. You suddenly feel either detached from, or at least less associated with anything of yourself that you might regret exposing.

But what if there is no rehearsal, the performance is always going on? In a very real sense, the "covering" sets you free. Furthermore, the audience is THE LAW (as in,all standards of acceptibility, i.e., not in some particularised Second Temple Judaic context, but, rather, all demands and the extent to which they interact with human nature, be it Christian or not).

This is the tip of the imputation iceberg as it works on the human predictament of sin. Its importance, where love is concerned anyway, cannot be underestimated or exhausted. When you are given security that is not contingent upon your own intrinsic abilities (i.e., apart from your ontology, or, even better, in a bafflingly positive response to a deeply flawed ontology), fruit is born. God loves me as a mess. Simul iustus et peccator. Careful, we're getting dangerously close to THE Gospel, i.e., the one that is wholly sufficient to cover/complete all aspects of a human life.

Tim Galebach said...

John, your post actually brings me to a real question!

What does the Gospel have to say to me when I feel like God loves me, but also feel the presence of the audience still there?

John Zahl said...

Well Tim,

I obviously don't have the definitive answer, but here are my initial thoughts. I think of it like this: the extremes of your repentance and the extremes of God's Grace extend outward in a proportional ratio. That's why Luther described the state of the active Christian as simul iustus et peccator (both totally loved and totally fallen at the same time).

Similarly, good ole Clive Lewis points out that, the closer you get to the sun, the bigger the shadows. That's been true of my own life, for sure. Accordingly, the worst offender knows his sin (i.e., his need for God's gracious intervention on his behalf) far less than does the "saint". Fitz Allison speaks of a psychologist in SC who worked with a death row serial murderer, of the most nasty and violent variety; she said she never met a man with "such high self-esteem". The most humble people I know are always so quick to comment on their own lack of merit/weakness, for they know it better by God's Grace, not less.

This is why, when people use the term "forensic" disparagingly when applying it to justification, they are missing the point. They think Protestants like myself understand justification to be a thing which crucially deals with guilt (i.e., the things I have done, or the things I am doing, or the things I am still doing, etc.), but they fail to grasp that the guilt relates to the character itself -- the fallen ontology, the infected dna, the very wiring of ourselves that is so tinged with the desire to play God -- that we view justification as a love for us at our core, not just for us where we have done wrong. I'm reminded of how Paul talks about himself at the end of 2 Corinthians. Christians are much more able to "break down", be "crushed", or "surrender" to the weight of life, for they possess a God to turn to. Thus, more tears, and more laughter for Chrisitans.
I hope the two will characterize my own church some day!

So, grace naturally deepens us in the direction of (more/greater) penetance, which we find ourselves more able faithfully to probe despite what we might find. Consequently the further reaches of Grace become appreciable. Like Isaiah's call, we become men of unclean lips when we come into contact with Him who has all power, yet we also, in turn, say "I'll go" (i.e., serve/tell others) as of a reflex (on a side-note: "Fruit of the Spirit" and "reflexive response to the Gospel" can basically be used inter-changably to my way of thinking). Suddenly the hearer of the Gospel thinks: "Would that others knew the truth about God, that He (as the Christian rapper Atmosphere puts it) "loves ugly."" I have yet to escape that cycle, thanks be to God.

It makes great sense of the seeming repetive, always appropriate nature of the theology and service found in the Book of Common Prayer (pre-1979). In a sense, in that I have been freed from death, I have also been freed from some (bullshit) notion of growth / process / infusion that will always dissappoint, though it epitomize the way of the Fallen world, at least, to the extent that death has infiltrated the Creation.

Luther wrote that, "to progress is to begin again." An excellent quote (as far as I can tell)! I remember calling my father soon after my re-conversion. I told him: "Dad, I feel trapped! Every time I pray for forgiveness relating to something I've done, it seems to happen again, only worse. Or some other defect of character lambasts me right when I've forgotten about it or thought it was gone...I think I'm going to go insane!" You know what he said? "Son, welcome to the Christian life." At the time, I didn't know, nor would I have cared, that this experience is described beautifully in Article IX of the 39 Articles: "sin perpetuate in the regenerate."

As far as sanctification in particular is concerned, in AA they say, "sobriety isn't about how many days you get," and "you never graduate". you get the drift...

Also, to the extent that my concerns are focused on other human beings, I am free from the unacceptable "meditations of (my) heart", which, in turn, naturally increases my inclination to serve. Pain is a great motivator, in this respect. Some call it "fruit". Clearly not the definitive product of some kind of rational deliberation and virtuous intent, though it maybe appear as such from the outside looking in.

Those are my thoughts. By the way, Tim, I can't shake that video you posted on your blog of that Russian guy, running around like spiderman. Amazing! If I could do that stuff, I probably wouldn't be a Christian! People, you can link to his blog from my links list, "Tim's Awesome blog".

Ever in His grip, JZ