Justification and union again

I blogged a few years ago:

There is simply no getting around it: the marriage picture is a picture of precisely what Reformed Theology has taught both in Calvin and in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. And it is imputation.

The marriage picture I was defending was as follows:

So Scripture is teaching us that the faith which saves is not a work. It has no spiritual value in itself. Strictly speaking, the true Christian church does not teach justification by faith. It teaches justification by Christ. Where does the faith come in? It is simply the uniting with, joining with, becoming one with, the Lord Jesus Christ. Being married to Christ, all that is His becomes His bride’s, the believer’s. A wife becomes a co-heir of all that belongs to her husband simply by being his wife, by her union with him in marriage. That is the fact: she is his wife. There is no virtue or merit in that. She simply possesses what now belongs to her by that relationship. Marriage is not a virtue that deserves a reward, but a relationship that brings the husband’s possessions along with him.

That is the meaning of the word “reckons” or imputes or credits. The justified one “does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked.”

Wait a minute! Was I defending that particular statement?

Maybe this was the statement I was defending,

Allow me to illustrate. Suppose a woman is in deep, deep debt and has no means at her disposal to pay it off. Along comes an ultra wealthy prince charming. Out of grace and love, he decides to marry her. He covers her debt. But then he has a choice to make about how he will care for his bride. After canceling out her debt, will he fill up her account with his money? That is to say, will he transfer or impute his own funds into an account that bears her name? Or will he simply make his own account a joint account so it belongs to both of them?

In the former scenario, there is an imputation, a transfer. In the second scenario, the same final result is attained, but there is no imputation, strictly speaking. Rather, there is a real union, a marriage.

I would suggest the first picture (the imputation picture) is not necessarily wrong, though it could leave adherents exposed to the infamous “legal fiction” charge since the man could transfer money into the woman’s account without ever marrying her or even caring for her. It could become, as Wright has said, “a cold piece of business.”

The second picture (the union with Christ picture) seems more consistent with Paul’s language, and for that matter, with many of Calvin’s statements. It does not necessarily employ the “mechanism” of imputation to accomplish justification, but gets the same result. Just as one can get to four by adding three plus one or two plus two, or just as one can get home by traveling Route A or by Route B, so there may be more than one way to conceive of the doctrine of justification in a manner that preserves its fully gracious and forensic character.

The only problem I had with this was the use of the word “impute” as if it was an intrinsically a transfer term. The first statement I quoted was much more in line with the Greek word by suggesting that “reckon” was as good a term as “impute” or any other.

The author of the first quotation was John Gerstner. The second was Rich Lusk.

So, other than using “impute” as exclusively a transfer term, is there anything else different about Rich Lusk’s approach? Yes. Lusk doesn’t defend Thomas Aquinas as an orthodox teacher about justification. Also, Lusk doesn’t argue that the works of believers merit eternal rewards. Gerstner does.

Which is no doubt why Gerstner is criticized so much lately. A bunch of the NAPARC denominations have issued statements condemning his views on merit. And the PCA even erected a study committee. Finally, R. C. Sproul himself stood up at the General Assembly and begged the court to agree with the committee and defend the Gospel of free grace by denying that believers could ever merit eternal rewards.

Oh, wait a minute. I got confuse again. None of that ever happened.

3 thoughts on “Justification and union again

  1. al

    I will have to go back and check my notes, but Rich gave a talk on Justification during the 2005 Christ Church Ministerial Conference and I believe he said that we might need to “rethink justification in terms of union with Christ.” Is that the same thing as saying imputation has more to do with union than reckoning or accounting?

    al sends

  2. mark Post author

    Depends. New un-historical subcultural definition of “imputation” has actually opposed it to “reckoned” or “credited.” Consider the following:

    4:1 What then shall we say was gained by [1] Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in [2] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

    7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
    8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

    I actually know of pastors who would want to translate logizomai (“count”) as “impute” in some of these verse but object to its use in v. 8. Because it makes “impute” non-transitive…

    If “impute” is going to become such a non-grammatical shibboleth word, then Lusk is entirely right. On the other hand, I think Gerstner thought he was proposing something traditional when he used marriage and I agree with him in that instance.

    Basically, I think the tradition has always had union with Christ at the center, but has also not safeguarded that from people who didn’t understand it very well.

  3. al

    When I heard Rich talk about this in 2005 I think I was taken aback a bit, having thought in terms of transfer my whole theo-life. As I studied it, as you said, the language of marriage and union fit so much better.

    The other thing it does, for me anyway, is maintain a bit of beautiful-mystery in justification.

    Nice post.

    Al sends


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