Introduction -- By: Jonathan Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:4 (Fall 2003)
Article: Introduction
Author: Jonathan Armstrong


John H. Armstrong

Evangelical theological discussion has historically engaged in debates about sundry doctrinal emphases that grow out of the Bible and our Protestant expressions regarding the relationship between faith and works. For example, “How does obedience to the law of God (or to the imperatives of Jesus, in other evangelical traditions) relate to free grace and salvation?” Or, “Is grace infused into the hearts of those who believe, thus helping them to cooperate with God in salvation?” And, “What role does imputation play in my standing before God?” I am convinced that this debate is both helpful and necessary. I believe it has several practical and salutary implications for reformation and revival. I am also convinced that the discussion itself should never be allowed to evolve into a new expression of sectarianism. Sadly, this is quite often much easier said than done.

In recent years evangelicals have been engaging in the discussion of the law and the gospel again. This development is to be preferred over the assumptions of the previous decades in which evangelicals seemed to believe that the one thing we all agreed upon was the nature of the gospel. Evangelical theology and theologians are presently debating important biblical ideas that present thoughtful Christians with numerous theological insights that are worthy of their honest debate.

One such doctrinal issue that has received a great deal of attention from evangelicals, and thus in this publication over the past three years, is the “openness of God” debate. Another current theological brushfire, which threatens to pit one evangelical against another in the vortex of an acrimonious debate, is the doctrine of imputation. And connected to that is the debate regarding union with Christ and obedience to Christ. These debates strike at the very heart of what many of us hold dear regarding the gospel recovery rooted in the sixteenth century. When imputation is discussed among pastors and serious lay readers, there is a good deal of confusion. The tendency is to adopt the rhetoric and position of the person you most admire, whether living or deceased. A number of related issues plainly flow out of this debate, thus it is seems certain that this discussion will trouble evangelicals for the foreseeable future.

Let it be understood that orthodox Christians have differing ways of understanding how the Bible speaks of imputation and the obedience of Christians. (The fact that the Bible teaches imputation is not under debate in the light of passages like Romans 5:12–21.) Contrary to the views of some Reformed and Lutheran writers the “exact...

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