Imputation and the Westminster Divines

A few years ago a couple friends of mine and I started discussing (it was during our DTS years) the Protestant doctrine of imputation, specifically, whether or not it was in fact true. We eventually came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, not true. The fellow who was really asking the question first (Ragan) has posted his thoughts on why on our Christonomy website.

Of course, this can cause quite a problem. Lots of people out there that we actually respect would label us as heretics over this. The doctrine has been pretty important in Protestant history, so coming out and saying that we didn’t believe in imputation was actually a pretty big deal for us.

So, I was quite surprised when Ragan emailed me this morning with some information that, frankly, just made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. As it turns out, some of the authors of one of the most important confessions in Protestant history, the Westminster Confession, AGREE with us (here is one link that talks about it). Apparently Twisse, Vines, Gataker, and Lightfoot all disagreed with putting language in the confession that connected the active obedience of Christ to justification. And not only that, but the rest of the Divines gave in and made the statement ambiguous enough to allow for the possibility of disagreement on the issue. As it states now, "imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ" was apparently stated that way so one could define obedience as either just the passive obedience of Christ (Twisse, Vines, Gataker, and Lightfoot), or a combo of both passive and active (classical understanding of imputation).

Now, ultimately, my test for orthodoxy isn’t the ideas of the Westminster Divines anyway. We don’t even use that confession at my church; we use the First London Confession of Faith (link to pdf). But it is helpful anyway. Next time someone says something like "Protestants have always believed this and to not believe such says that you’re not a Christian", I can say "No, that’s not true. Not only did some of the Divines (some of the most respected theologians in Protestant history) disagree, the other Divines didn’t think it was heresy."

That made me happy.