Robert H. Gundry
Why I Didn't Endorse The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration
It all began innocuously. Someone handed me "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration" in advance of its first publication in Christianity Today (June 14, 1999, pp. 51-6;) and asked for my opinion. I examined it without knowing the names of any of its drafters or endorsers and therefore had to interpret it in a vacuum. Designed as it says to unify evangelical Christians doctrinally for the new millennium, "Celebration" (as I shall call it from here on) contains much that I affirm; and it seems to me that much of what "Celebration" contains needs reaffirmation in view of currently noticeable tendencies to water down, if not wash down the drain, certain features of the evangelical tradition that are rooted in Scripture.
On an initial reading of "Celebration," however, some of its statements struck me as questionable, some as objectionable; and both I and others to whom I have talked in the meantime got the impression of a document strongly Reformed in tone and substance. Contributing to this impression were the anti-Roman Catholic statement, "We deny that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ infused into us" (p. 55, cols. 1-2) and the disproportionate amount of attention devoted to the doctrine of justification as compared with the amount of attention devoted to other doctrines in the soteriological universe of evangelicals. "Celebration" itself makes the point when referring to "our extended analysis of justification by faith alone through Christ alone" (p. 54, col. 1).
Now all evangelical Protestants would agree to justification by faith alone through Christ alone, and would deny the traditional Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by an infusion of Christ's righteousness. But "Celebration" goes on to demand no fewer than three times the contribution of Jesus' life as well as death to Christian believers' reconciliation to God and justification by him: (1) "Yet God in grace took the initiative to reconcile us to himself through the sinless life and vicarious death of his beloved Son" (p. 52, col. 2); (2) "God's justification of those who trust him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath be cause of their sins to one of acceptance and favor by virtue of Jesus' flawless obedience culminating in his voluntary sin-bearing death" (p. 53, col. 1); and (3) "We affirm that Christ's saving work included both his life and his death on our behalf (Gal. 3:13). We declare that faith in the perfect obedience of Christ by which he fulfilled all the demands of the Law of God in our behalf is essential to the Gospel. We deny that our salvation was achieved merely or exclusively by the death of Christ without reference to his life of perfect righteousness" (p. 55, col. 1).
The equation of Christ's obedience with his life of perfect righteousness prior to dying then links up with repeated and explicitly emphasized statements defining justification in terms of the imputation of Christ's righteousness:
As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christ's righteousness is reckoned to us. This is justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. … We affirm that the doctrine of the imputation (reckoning or counting) both of our sins to Christ and of his righteousness to us, whereby our sins are fully forgiven and we are fully accepted, is essential to the biblical Gospel (2 Cor. 5:19-21). … We affirm that the righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is properly his own, which he achieved apart from us, in and by his perfect obedience. This righteousness is counted, reckoned, or imputed to us by the forensic (that is, legal) declaration of God, as the sole ground of our justification (p. 53, col. 1, and p. 55, cols. 1- 2).
Certainly evangelicals affirm that Jesus had to live a life of perfect righteous ness if he was to qualify as the bearer of our sins. But the demand that Jesus' life of perfect righteousness prior to his death constitutes an indispensable part of the righteousness that "Celebration" presents as imputed to sinners who believe in him puts on "Celebration" a Reformed stamp that many evangelicals cannot knowingly endorse. For they believe that reconciliation and justification derive from Jesus' "one act of righteousness," which contrasts with Adam's "one transgression" (to use the phraseology in Rom. 5:18) and therefore refers solely to Jesus' propitiatory death on the cross. So a legitimate question arises: Does the wording of "Celebration" keep such evangelicals outside the fold?
The strongly Reformed tone of "Celebration" next led me to interpret "fruit" in the statement that "our faith … is itself the fruit of God's grace" (p. 53, col. 1) as a figure of speech for "gift"—this in the framework of a Calvinistic doctrine of more-than-prevenient, irresistible grace—so as to rule out the Arminian doctrine of faith as an exercise of free will by human beings.
To be sure, Arminians as well as Calvinists trace their roots back to the Protestant Reformation and can speak of faith as the fruit or gift of God's grace in the sense that he gives human beings opportunity to believe and by his Spirit prompts them to do so by an act of their own free will. But context rules good interpretation, so that the strongly Re formed tone of "Celebration" raises further legitimate questions: Does the wording of "Celebration" rule out Arminians? If so, does it not redefine evangelicalism more narrowly than in the past rather than reaffirming its broader past tradition? And does not the followup, "Faith … involves an acknowledgement that we have no merit of our own, it is confessedly not a meritorious work" (p. 53, col. 1; see also p. 55, col. 2, point 16), satisfy the legitimate Calvinistic fear of works-salvation well enough to make unnecessary a denial of evangelical citizenship to free-willers?
Arminian evangelicals often fall in to the camps of Pentecostalists, other charismatics, and the Holiness movement. Those who belong to these camps, along with whatever current heirs there may be of the likes of A. J. Gordon (founder of the college and seminary bearing his name) and R. A. Torrey (founder of Biola), believe that empowerment for Christian life and witness requires a work of the Holy Spirit above and beyond justification by faith and that not all Christians have experienced this further work, perhaps even that most Christians have not experienced it.
Not that these Arminians deny the work of the Holy Spirit in believers' lives from justification onward. Of course not. And they would gladly accept the statement in "Celebration" about Christians' "looking to him ['their risen Lord'] in repentance and hope for empowering through the Holy Spirit" (p. 53, col. 1). But on face value the stronger statement, "the Gospel assures us that all who have entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ are born again … [and] empowered … by the Holy Spirit" (p. 53, col. 1), presents empowerment by the Holy Spirit as an accomplished fact, just as rebirth is, in all Christian believers—the very doctrine that Pentecostalists, other charismatics, members of the Holiness movement, and A. J. Gordon- and R. A. Torrey-types have traditionally denied, and against that doctrine have expended great effort in urging merely justified Christians to "pray through" till they receive empowerment for Christian life and witness by way of a usually delayed baptism in the Holy Spirit or "entire sanctification" by "a second work of grace" ("that second rest" for which Charles Wesley prayed to "take away our bent to sinning"). So a still further question: Does the wording of "Celebration" outlaw evangelicals who do not believe that such empowerment necessarily occurs at the point of justification?
"Celebration" states, "We learn from the Gospel that … all who do not receive Christ will be judged according to their just deserts as measured by God's holy law, and face eternal retributive punishment" (p. 53, col. 2), and, "We deny that anyone is saved in any other way than by Jesus Christ and his Gospel. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ" (p. 54, col. 2).
The statement about punishment struck me as deliberately ambiguous so as to allow annihilationism (the punishment being eternal in its consequence but not in the conscious suffering of it) as well as the more traditional evangelical view of conscious eternal punishment. The statement about devotees of non-Christian religions has struck others as demanding exclusivism (the view that presently only those of accountability who hear and believe the Gospel during their earthly lifetime will be saved) and as denying inclusivism (the view that people may be saved by Christ without having believed in him during their earthly lifetime). It struck me quite oppositely as allowing postmortem saving faith in Jesus Christ (in accordance with the predominant version of inclusivism).
I am uncertain what the drafters of "Celebration" intended at these points, and I recognize that evangelicalism has long included some annihilationists, some inclusivists, and even some who believe in universal salvation. But let me, an exclusivist, express the probably unpopular concern that—as sociologists of religion have observed in relation to the tidal wave of religious pluralism sweeping across our cultural landscape—the currently massive migration of evangelicals from exclusivism to inclusivism, and occasionally to annihilationism and to or toward universalism, carries with it enormous implications for the evangelistic-missionary impetus that has characterized evangelicalism.
To use a bit of hyperbole, time was when evangelicals hanged the question of theodicy for the sake of preaching the Gospel under the conviction that their hearers would otherwise have no chance of salvation. Let us be realistic. Zeal to rescue the perishing will wane to the extent that Christians stop thinking evangelism absolutely necessary if non-Christians are to be saved, or to the extent that in their thinking Christians reduce eternal punishment to eternal extinction. It therefore seems to me that despite attempting to define and galvanize evangelicalism for the new millennium, "Celebration" fails to address forthrightly the issue that will probably affect the foreseeable future of evangelicalism more than any other issue will affect it, and chooses instead to fight on a largely abandoned battlefield a rearguard action against a traditional Roman Catholic doctrine of justification that no longer poses a serious threat. Has evangelical unity been purchased at the cost of irrelevance?
So back to the issue of justification, on which "Celebration"—despite the commendable mention of "ransom, re conciliation, redemption, propitiation, and conquest of evil powers" (p. 52, col. 2)—confessedly centers its greatest attention. A second, slower reading of the advance copy of "Celebration" led me to a major though common inaccuracy of biblical interpretation that I myself had been guilty of. My eyes paused over the already quoted statement, "We affirm that Christ's saving work included both his life and his death on our behalf (Gal. 3:13)" (p. 55, col. 1). Wait a minute, I thought, Gal. 3:13 says nothing about Christ's "life" in distinction from his "death." The text runs, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, 'Cursed is everyone hanging on a tree.'" My confidence shaken, I set out to test the scriptural backing of other statements, too, in particular the repeated, explicitly emphasized, and (again) already quoted statements concerning justification, especially those defining justification in terms of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners who believe in him. Fine, I said to myself, I've always believed and taught that in justification my sin was imputed to Christ, and his righteousness to me. But since I'm looking for scriptural backing, where is it?
"Celebration" itself provides one possible such backing, 2 Cor. 5:19-21. But what jumps out is that this passage distinguishes Christ from God and mentions "the righteousness of God" but not any righteousness of Christ, only his innocence: "Him [Christ] who did not know sin he [God] made sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (v. 21). Why does Paul write that Christ "did not know sin" rather than simply that Christ "did not sin"? Well, to know is not only to understand and recognize but also to experience and have an intimate relationship with the object of your knowledge, as in the oft-cited Old Testament euphemism for sexual intercourse. Not to know, then, means distance, noncontact, innocence. Thus, for Christ to be made what he did not even know provides the strongest possible contrast; his not having known sin produces a contrast with his having been made sin. Nothing is said about an imputation of his sinlessness, however, or about his righteousness, which goes unmentioned and therefore is not said to be imputed.
The further phrase "for us" encapsulates the statement, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself by not counting their transgressions against them" (v. 19). Here Paul does use the language of imputation, but only in the negative, "not counting," and only in connection with the world's "transgressions." Not knowing sin qualified Christ to be made sin for us, but being made sin for us does not imply an imputation of his righteousness to us. For whatever it means to "become" the righteousness of God in Christ, the point remains that it is God's righteousness, not that of Christ, which comes into play as a result of union with Christ. Apart from the imputation of transgressions to Christ, Paul uses the language of union, reconciliation, being made, and becoming rather than the language of imputation.
Since 2 Cor. 5:19-21 did not prove to support the imputation of Christ's righteousness, I lined up the usual suspects, other passages uncited in "Celebration," and examined them one by one for support but drew a blank from each. Let us stay for the moment with Paul's Corinthian correspondence. In 1 Cor. 1:30 he tells believers, "Of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who be came for us wisdom from God, both righteousness and sanctification and redemption." That the wisdom comes from God favors that righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—which make up or parallel wisdom—likewise come from God. Thus, the righteousness that Christ becomes for us who are in him is not his own righteousness, but God's. Nor does Paul use the language of imputation.
One could, I suppose, imagine that Christ's sanctification is imputed to us in that God counts the sanctification of Christ as ours, too (cf. John 17:19). But it is harder to imagine that Christ's wisdom is imputed to us in that God counts the wisdom of Christ as ours. For wisdom is more naturally thought of as taught than as imputed. And it is impossible to imagine that Christ's redemption is imputed to us. For Christ is our redemption in the sense that he is our redeemer, not in the sense that he was himself redeemed so that his redemption could be counted as our own. Therefore we have no convincing reason to think that Paul had imputation in mind when he lumped together wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption as coming from God in the person and work of Christ.
According to Phil. 1:11, "the fruit of righteousness" comes "through Jesus Christ." But the righteousness is not said to be Christ's, and the context indicates that this righteous fruit consists of Christian conduct: abounding in love and approving the things that are excellent so as to be pure and blameless on the day of Christ (vv. 9-10). In Phil. 3:9 Paul contrasts his own righteousness, which was "from the law" (cf. v. 6, "the righteousness which was in the law"), with the righteousness that comes "through faith in Christ" (or as some would have it, "through Christ's faithfulness"). But this righteousness is not described as Christ's; and Paul goes on to say that it comes "from God on the basis of faith," so that yet again we are dealing with God's righteousness (cf. Rom. 10:3-4).
Gal. 3:6 contains the language of imputation but similarly connects righteousness with faith: "Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness" (cf. Gen. 15:6). Since Paul applies Abraham's case to Christian believers (see the context), it is notable that their faith in Christ, not Christ's righteousness, is credited to their account, and is done so instead of works of the law (v. 5). So in their account faith takes the place of those works. (It is not that faith is defined as a work.) Nothing is said about a replacement of believers' sins with the righteousness of Christ.
Now to a wider field of discussion, Paul's letter to the Romans. The ringing statement of its theme reads "the righteousness of God," not that of Christ (1:17). The theme of God's righteousness reappears prominently in 3:5, 21-31. There Paul treats it both as a divine attribute ("in order that he might be righteous") and as a divine activity ("and declaring the person of faith in Jesus to be righteous," v. 26). Christ comes into the picture as the object of faith (or doer of faithfulness), as the one in whom redemption takes place (cf. Gal. 3:13), and as the propitiation that consists in his blood. Not only does his righteousness make no appearance despite Paul's talk of justification, but also Paul ascribes "being justified freely by his [God's] grace" to "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
Inasmuch as redemption means liberation from slavery, the language of redemption implies that here justification does not have to do with an exchange of our sins for the righteousness of Christ; rather, it has to do with liberation from sin's mastery (contrast God's giving human beings over to various forms of evil in 1:24, 26, 28; and compare 6:6-7, which speaks of having been justified "from sin" as opposed to enslavement to sin—also 6:15-23; 7:7-25). And propitiation in the blood of Christ, its assuaging of "God's wrath … against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings" (1:18 et seq.), is given the purpose and result of demonstrating God's righteousness, not of making possible an imputation of Christ's righteousness. God is the one whose righteousness is at stake. For sinners, it is their freedom that is at stake, so that in their case justification translates into redemption, whereas in God's case justification translates into reputation, the maintenance of his honor in that as a slighted patron God would have suffered contempt had not a punishment been meted out, as it was on Christ, for the sins committed against God by his clients, human beings (cf. 3:4: "But let God be true and every human being a liar, just as it is written, 'In order that you [God] may be justified in your words and prevail in your judging'").
In Rom. 4 we finally come to statements which say that righteousness is imputed: "As also David speaks in reference to the blessedness of the person to whose account God credits righteousness apart from works, ' … blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not take into account'. … in order that he [Abraham] might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to their account" (vv. 6-8, 11). But these statements are bounded and interspersed with others that say faith is counted as righteousness (just as in Galatians):
"And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness." … And for the person who does not work but believes on the one who justifies the ungodly, the faith of that person is credited to his account as righteousness. … "Faith was credited to Abraham's account as righteousness." … the righteousness of faith. … through the righteousness of faith. … Therefore also "it [Abraham's faith] was credited to his account as righteousness." And this was not written because of him alone that it was credited to his account, but also because of us, to whose account it [faith] is going to be credited, us who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (vv. 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 22-24).
Since faith as distinct from works is credited as righteousness, the righteousness of faith is a righteousness that by God's reckoning consists of faith even though faith is not itself a work (cf. Rom. 9:30 and 10:6, where righteousness originates from faith, and again Phil. 3:9, where righteousness is based on faith). There is no imputation of Christ's righteousness; no righteousness of his comes into the picture at all.
We are left with Rom. 5:12-21. In it, Paul draws a parallel between Christ and Adam, so that we must add to the question whether a righteousness of Christ is imputed the further question whether Adam's sin was imputed. For if Adam's sin was imputed, it would be easier (though not necessary) to think that a righteousness of Christ is imputed. The passage starts with statements that "sin entered the world" through Adam, that death entered the world "through sin," and that death spread to all human beings "in this way" (not "so" in the inferential sense of "therefore," which the underlying Greek word does not bear). Quite simply, "in this way" means that death spread to all human beings "through sin."
Paul then identifies more expansively the ground on which death spread to all human beings. It is that "all have sinned." Does this statement mean Adam's sin counted as everybody's sin, so that we can infer God's imputing the original sin of Adam to all Adam's descendants? One might think so from 1 Cor. 15:22a, "For just as in Adam all are dying … ," by inferring that since death is the consequence of sin, dying in Adam entails having sinned in Adam. But dying in Adam does not mean that Adam's death counted as everybody's death. For Paul does not use the past tense, "In Adam all died." He uses the present tense, "In Adam all are dying." So dying in Adam means dying one's own death as a consequence of one's own sinning, which resulted in turn from sin's having entered the world through Adam.
"All have sinned" in Rom. 5:12 echoes "all have sinned" in Rom. 3:23, where the statement summarizes Paul's preceding delineation of the manifold sins committed by human beings through out history, with nary a word about Adam's original sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20). Further showing that "all have sinned" in Rom. 5:12 does not mean God imputed Adam's original sin to the rest of the human race is a followup concerning the sinning of people who committed their sins before the law was given, that is, during the period between Adam and Moses (v. 14). These people's sinning "not after the likeness of Adam's transgression" shows that Paul distinguishes their sins from Adam's original sin. So "all have sinned" means that all have sinned for themselves, not that they sinned in the original sin of Adam.
Sin got its start, then, in Adam's original sin, which consisted of a transgression of God's command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since the law was not given till much later, sins committed during the intervening period were unlike Adam's sin in that they did not consist of transgressions, which could be entered as debits on an account, but consisted of slave-service to sin as a dominating force. Likewise death, having entered the world through Adam's transgression, ruled illegally, so to speak; death usurped power outside the law or, rather, before the law. "The many died by the transgression of one" in that through Adam's transgression death entered the world as a force to which people fell subject in their own sinning. Then it turns out in v. 18 that Adam's "one transgression" in Eden contrasts not only with the sins committed between him and Moses but also with Christ's "one act of righteousness" on the cross. The first contrast has to do with transgression versus servitude, the second with disobedience versus obedience.
Verses 16-18 also speak of righteousness as a gift that originated in abundant grace and came by way of Christ's "one act of righteousness." The language of imputation is missing not only in regard to righteousness but also in regard to Adam's sin, or transgression, which Paul identifies as the source of condemnatory judgment and the means through which death gained dominion. And v. 19 goes on to say that "just as the many were made sinful by the one man's transgression, in this way also the many were made righteous through the one man's obedience." The verb translated "were made" could also be translated "were caused to be," "were constituted," or simply "became," none of which translations demands imputation.
In other words, the verse does not say that this making sinful and this making righteous happened by means of imputation; and like the verb "were made" the preceding language of giving and receiving a gift, though it would be compatible with imputation, neither demands it nor equates with it (see, e.g., Acts 5:31; 10:43, where forgiveness of sins is given and received, not imputed, for Christ did not sin, was not forgiven, and therefore had no forgiveness that could be imputed to others). Moreover, the preceding verses have put in parallel Adam's one transgression and Christ's one act of righteousness, not in that both have been imputed, but in that both have occasioned the en try into the world of ruling forces: death and life-giving grace, respectively.
Later, Paul will say that the wages of sin is death in contrast with eternal life as God's gift in Christ Jesus (6:23). But neither there do we find the language of imputation. For sin is portrayed through out 6:12-23 as a slavemaster, so that death is not the wages you get paid for sinning; rather, death is the wages you get paid by sin. Whatever other parts of the Bible may say about a relationship of cause and effect between sin and death, here sin is the paymaster of death, not its cause, just as God is the giver of eternal life, not its cause. Which fact brings us back to 5:12-14, where sin entered the world and death entered the world "through sin," not "because of sin." The entry of sin and death to take dominion exhibits the language of personified power, not of imputation, so that the sinning and dying of people between Adam and Moses were the effects of sin and death as forces, not sinning as transgression and dying as a penalty for transgression.
A number of data show that Christ's "one act of righteousness" (v. 18) equates with his "obedience" (v. 19), that the act of righteousness consisted of obeying God the Father to the extent of dying on a cross (cf. Phil. 2:8), and that this obedient act of righteousness does not refer to the totality of Christ's earthly life of obedience: (1) the references earlier in Rom. 5 to Christ's dying for the ungodly, dying for us while we were still sinners, shedding his blood for our justification, and reconciling us to God through his death (vv. 6-11); (2) the absence of any contextual indication that Christ's obedience included his previous life of obedience to the law; (3) the extremely scant attention that Paul pays elsewhere to Christ's previous life; (4) the extremely heavy emphasis that Paul lays elsewhere on the death of Christ; (5) the present antithetical parallel with Adam's transgression, which hardly refers to a whole life of sinning but refers instead to the original sin in Eden; and (6) the singularizing of both Adam's transgression and Christ's act of righteousness by the modifier "one." These data belie the notion that God imputes to Christian believers a righteousness of Christ that he built up over a lifetime of obedience to God and the law.
The one and only New Testament passage that mentions the righteousness of Christ does not deal in imputation, but locates our faith in his righteousness: "to those who have received a faith of equal value to ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:1). One could note this linkage of Christ's righteousness with his deity and argue that Paul presents the righteousness of God as worked out in the obedient life of his divine Son. Such an argument, however, would transmute the righteous ness of God that Paul does mention repeatedly into a righteousness of Christ that Paul never does mention and would thereby impose a theological construct on the Pauline texts rather than drawing a theological construct out of them.
It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians' recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ's righteousness. (I have in mind treatments by Mark Seifrid, Tom Wright, James Dunn, Chris Beker, and John Reumann, among others.) The notion is passe, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. Thus New Testament theologians are now disposed to talk about the righteousness of God in terms of his salvific activity in a covenantal framework, not in terms of an imputation of Christ's righteousness in a bookkeeping framework.
What a pity, then, that in its insistence on an imputation of Christ's righteousness as the pivot of justification by faith, "Celebration" is deeply flawed at its self-proclaimed core! That doctrine of imputation is not even biblical. Still less is it "essential" to the Gospel. If sola scriptura outweighs all human traditions, including Protestant tradition, the doctrine that Christ's righteousness is imputed to believing sinners needs to be abandoned. We do read of imputation, but in regard to counting faith as righteousness so as not to take account of sin, not in regard to counting Christ's righteousness as belonging to sinners who believe in him. It is his one act of righteousness, his obedient dying of a propitiatory death, that assuaged the wrath of God so as to make God's forensic declaration of believing sinners to be righteous both right in the up holding of divine honor and right in the fulfilling of a covenantal promise.
"Celebration" lists "the humanity of Christ," "his incarnation," and "his sinlessness" and denies that "anyone who rejects … these truths," or "who maintains that these truths are not essential to the Gospel, will be saved" (p. 54, col. 2-p. 55, col. 1). It is one thing to reject these truths, but another to maintain that one or another of them is unessential to the Gospel. Are evangelicals to deny salvation to people who themselves believe in the incarnation, for instance, but do not think such a belief to be required for the salvation of others, say, who through no fault of their own have heard and believed a version of the Gospel, such as that in 1 Cor. 15:3-5, which does not include the in carnation? And since in a closing, generalizing statement "Celebration" sees "all these Gospel truths as necessary" (p. 56, col. 2), are those who reject the imputation of Christ's righteous ness, who believe in the free choice of human beings, who think a definite work of God's Spirit beyond regeneration necessary for empowerment—are they being drummed out of the evangelical corps? Surely not. I hope not. But the wording of "Celebration," whatever the intentions of its drafters, seems to say so.
I was therefore surprised and puzzled to see later the names of drafters and endorsers (as of May 19, 1999; see p. 56) recognizable as Arminian, Holiness, Pentecostal, and otherwise charismatic. Their subscription to "Celebration" deserves respect, and so I ask myself whether I am being too picky. But one expects a document like "Celebration" to be drafted with the utmost care and theological sophistication. Whether or not it is always endorsed with equal care and sophistication is another question.
In any case, I could not have endorsed "Celebration" had I been asked to. Though I myself am neither Arminian nor Holiness nor Pentecostal nor otherwise charismatic, and though inclined toward a clarification and possible beefing up on the eternal fate of unbelievers, endorsing "Celebration" would entail for me either some undesirable shrinkage of evangelical boundaries or a careless disregard of exact wording and of its apparent meaning in context. Such an endorsement would also en tail the affirmation of a doctrine central to "Celebration" but unbiblical in my opinion as well as in that of other New Testament theologians of varying stripes. I offer these reasons for nonendorsement in the spirit of "Celebration," page 54, column 1: "Doctrinal disagreements call for debate. Dialogue for mutual understanding and, if possible, narrowing of the differences is valuable, doubly so when the avowed goal is unity in primary things, with liberty in secondary things, and charity in all things."
Postscript: People who know of the recent dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics and read "Celebration" without perusing the list of drafters and endorsers will probably think, as I originally did, that "Celebration" was designed to criticize the dialogue and those evangelicals who participated in it. People who by perusing the list discover the names of such participants will probably think, as I now do, that "Celebration" is designed in part to counter any possible compromise with Roman Catholic soteriology, and that drafters and endorsers who participated in the dialogue are declaring themselves innocent of such compromise. I believe them. Yet the heavy-handed jabbing at traditional Roman Catholic soteriology is liable to discourage what could prove a fruitful continuation of dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, especially if both sides were to give up their respective notions of imputation and infusion.
Robert H. Gundry is scholar-in-residence at Westmont College. He is the author of many books in the field of New Testament studies, including commentaries on Matthew and Mark.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture Magazine.
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