Towards the end of his book, Brian Vickers writes, “The present work relies on a mixture of exegesis and synthesis to argue for imputation. Hopefully this synthesis is based on exegesis, because the goal has never been to argue for imputation on purely ‘theological’ or traditional grounds, though the question derives from traditional Protestant, particularly Lutheran and Reformed, categories” (p. 225). After coming to the end of this densely written tome, one agrees heartily with Vickers that his work blends exegesis and theological synthesis to defend more than sufficiently the traditional doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer in justification. Though not exactly traditional, i.e., lining up at every point with the classic Reformed model of imputation, Vickers’ conclusions about this crucial doctrine is thoroughly biblical, grounded in a deep study of the Hebrew and especially Greek of the pertinent texts, and Christ-honoring to say the least.
Vickers’ book is divided into five main sections, and a conclusion. He begins aptly by tracing the “loose trajectories” of the discourse on imputation “through theological traditions.” He begins with Luther and traces the arc of discussion to 20th century German liberal theology, the New Perspective on Paul, and those who are solidly Reformed in their soteriology but for various reasons do not hold explicitly to the doctrine of the imputation, to the believer, of Christ’s righteousness in perfectly obeying the Law. In fact, one criticism against this book would be the lack of space devoted to the idea of Christ’s perfect obedience counting for the believer.
Aside from that minor criticism, the book more than ably wades its way through the deep waters of rich “justification texts,” namely three: Rom 4:3-8, Rom 5:12-21, and 2 Cor 5:21. He begins with Abraham and the reckoning of righteousness. His main points here are (1) that “faith is not itself the righteousness” but rather the instrument that “unites the believer to the object of faith,” and that object is the only source of righteousness (p. 111), and (2) forgiveness is one aspect of Paul’s doctrine of justification, not synonymous with it. This is a point that he emphasizes as he seeks to unfold the comprehensive nature of the biblical doctrine of justification. In the section on the foundation of righteousness, he concludes that “the ground for the status ‘righteous’ had to be attained before it could be applied” (p. 157). Easily the longest chapter in the book, it goes into great detail on Rom 5:12-21, dissecting the Adam-Christ complex and confirming the word for “being made” in the Greek refers to “status, not personal actions (p. 156). This status is conferred upon a believer because of the representational nature of Christ for all those who are one with Him.
The provision and imputation of righteousness make up the final two chapters. In the former, he examines the OT background of the phrase “made to be sin” in 2 Cor 5:21. He concludes that it refers to a sacrifice for sin because of its relation to the language and concepts concerning sacrifices in the OT (pointing to the LXX translations of Lev 4:3 and 5:6 and how hamartiacan be used for both “sin” and “sin offering”), the greater context of reconciliation (again Leviticus cited as support for the concept of reconciliation in sacrificial contexts), and the context of 2 Cor 5:21 (which focuses on the vicarious nature of Christ’s death—“one died for all,” v. 14, and “not reckoning their sins to them,” v. 19, and the perfection of His sacrifice—“who knew no sin,” v. 21). He also tackles the debate over the phrase “the righteousness of God.” While examining and overturning various exegetical options, Vickers deals at length with the view that this concept refers to the covenant faithfulness of God. He concludes, “It is more accurate to say that God’s covenant faithfulness is an expression of this righteousness, or that it manifests his righteousness, rather than being his righteousness” (p. 182). He also states, “The forensic element of 2 Corinthians 5:21 argues forcefully against the covenant faithfulness view” (ibid). In the final chapter, the author examines, in synthetic fashion, the common threads in the three major imputation texts he has already studied. Upon concluding this examination, he takes up the discussion on the “active” and “passive” obedience of Christ. He states that all obedience contains both elements, and that Christ’s obedience was passive in that He voluntarily accepted God’s wrath against sin and active in that He willingly bore the just penalty for sin (p. 197). All this to say that the obedience of Christ to God on the Father, supremely demonstrated (or culminating) in His death on the cross includes both “the provision for the forgiveness of sins and a positive standing before God” on the basis of the Lord’s perfect obedience, not just in death, but in life as well.
Vickers nicely ends his book tackling several other key objections to the traditional Protestant doctrine of justification. He tackles the arguments that this doctrine amounts to nothing more than a legal fiction, that it is a systematic not a biblical idea, that Christ’s positive obedience is nowhere specifically stated as being imputed to the believer, and that imputation leads to antinomianism. In a short space, he ably refutes these objections and defends the traditional understanding of justification. His refutations themselves are noteworthy demonstrations of blending rigorous exegesis with theological synthesis and harmonization of various texts and doctrines.
Overall, Vickers’ book has taken the exposition of the doctrine of justification one step forward in our current times where it is being undermined by the New Perspective on Paul. The frightening reality that its eclipse is being ushered in and greeted by conservative evangelical theologians should not draw us out of the battle for truth, but determinedly back into it; armed with the Bible and with volumes such as this one, we are equipped with exegetical and theological insights that appeal not to theology and confessions and creeds but to the Word of God itself in the original languages. It is an academic piece, one that requires patient, methodical reading/engagement. The payoff of being enriched once again by the great justification truths emanating from some crucial portions of Scripture more than validates one’s time with the book. – Jason Park, Christian Book Previews.com
The question of whether Paul teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer has been debated for roughly four hundred years. Some of the questions that arise are: What is the connection between Adam and the rest of the human race? How did Christ fulfill the role of the second or new Adam? How can the “ungodly” stand before a righteous God?
In Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness, Brian Vickers investigates the key Pauline texts linked historically to the topic of imputation. Though Vickers spends a good deal of time on the particulars of each text, he keeps one eye on the broader biblical horizon; like any doctrine, imputation must be investigated exegetically and synthetically. This book, and its conclusion that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a legitimate and necessary synthesis of Paul’s teaching, is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on imputation.