Guess the Good Guy

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Do we then discard the doctrine of imputation, as maintained by the orthodox theology in opposition to the vain talk of the Pelagians? By no means. We seek only to establish the doctrine; for without it, most assuredly, the whole structure of Christianity must give way. It is only when placed on false ground that it becomes untenable in the way now stated…The Bible knows nothing of a simply outward imputation, by which something is reckoned to a man that does not belong to him in fact…The scriptures make two cases, in this respect, fully parallel. We are justified freely by God, on the ground of what Christ has done and suffered in our room and stead. His righteousness is imputed to us, set over to our account, regarded as our own. But here again the relation in law, supposes and shows a corresponding relation in life. The forensic declaration by which the sinner is pronounced free from guilt, is like that word in the beginning when God said let there be light, and light was. It not only proclaims him righteous for Christ’s sake, but sets the righteousness of Christ in him as part of his own life.

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9 Responses to Guess the Good Guy

  1. Todd says:

    Looks like Nevin – but the quote is problematic

  2. Jonathan Bonomo says:


    The quote is only problematic if you fail to account for the author’s insistence on union with the person of Christ. That’s actually what he has in view, though the language may be a little fuzzy. Imputation of righteousness supposes a life-relation with Christ–union with him by Spirit-wrought faith. Imputation and impartation therefore come from the same source. I’d argue that the false ground the author is talking about there is the same false ground Calvin has in view when he says at the beginning of bk. 3 of the Institutes that as long as Christ remains outside us his benefits are of no value to us.

  3. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    Also, WLC 69–all benefist of redemption, *including* justification, “manifest” the deeper reality of union with Christ.

  4. Todd says:

    Oh no – debating JB on Nevin – not sure we need to do this again. I mean, if Hodge-Nevin didn’t solve it, doubtful we can.

  5. Zrim says:

    Todd, what makes it problematic to your mind?

  6. Jonathan Bonomo says:


    But there’s the rub. I would actually hold that Hodge-Nevin did (and does) settle some things, at least for the careful observer. Hodge largely misunderstood (I would argue, *very clearly* misunderstood) Nevin based on certain assumptions he held about the language Nevin used and the theological system to which he adhered, which assumptions Nevin corrected numerous times with various qualifications and clarifications, and which qualifications and clarifications Hodge seemingly just ignored.

    Listen, It’s not my concern or desire to defend Nevin at every point. I’ve said numerous times that I have trouble with quite a few aspects of Nevin’s thought, and that the language he uses isn’t ideal (no pun intended). And, too, I’d be more on Hodge’s side on a lot of matters (particularly re. covenant and predestination). This is why, in my work on the Nevin-Hodge controversy, I declined to “declare a winner,” because in reality there wasn’t one… both had valid points, and both had glaring blind spots.

    However, I am concerned to correct Hodge’s numerous uncharitable misreadings of Nevin, which misreadings are still around for some odd reason. Assuming Nevin is the enemey isn’t helpful, because Nevin (at least as I see it) has a lot of good to offer us today (as does Hodge), as long as we understand him within his historical-theological context. I wouldn’t want to take his theology in isolation and say, “here’s what we need!” But I would want to look at how he articulated his theology in his numerous critiques of 19th c. popular American religion, and work out how those critiques might relate and speak to our present context.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    It is always good to hear Jonathan pipe in- his clear thinking is always helpful and he seems to be able to hone in on the subtle distinctions that I often miss. I hope you pursue that last sentence more thoroughly and then share it with us all. Or, are you writing a book about it? If that is the case I certainly would want to buy it and read it.

  8. RubeRad says:

    It is (or at least appears) problematic because it conflates imputation with infusion, in a way that would be at odds with the whole point of the Reformation. Maybe I should read all these other comments though…

    It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the quote is Nevin, then?

  9. Jonathan Bonomo says:

    That charge is exactly what Nevin is trying to shield himself from here. Notice that imputation and infusion are kept distinct–“two cases, fully parallel…” That’s not conflation, but distinction.

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