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Wheaton Theology Conference: Kevin VanHoozer on Justification and the Neo-Reformed

Kevin VanHoozer sought to bridge the distance between John Piper and N.T. Wright on the matter of justification, saying that the bridge must continue to be built from both sides through dialogue. He concluded his lecture by outlining virtues that this sort of dialogue must have—among them, humility and love.

His was a winsome and humor-filled lecture. VanHoozer helped clarify the issues. Within the Hebrew lawcourt setting, the argument is over whether justification is a declaration of innocence or of covenant membership—that is, a criminal case or a civil case. Another way to say it is to call justification either “imputed righteousness” or “incorporated righteousness.” VanHoozer suggested that perhaps the lawcourt is an adoption court, where as I understand it, righteousness is imputed so that we become children. All this, really, is founded in conflicting definitions of “the righteousness of God.” Is it God’s own right standing, or is it his position as judge?

A friend who attended this conference with me suggested that the innocence v. covenant membership dispute may be a matter of individual v. corporate perspectives of the issue, which made some sense to me. Another possible way to look at it may be as debate over the process v. the outcome—that is, imputation is the process and covenant membership is the outcome. In all, the argument, to me, seems to be a matter of metaphors, but I’m certain I see only a small part of the picture, and a hazy one at that.

Wright has spent most of his career trying to understand the context of the historical Jesus. So it makes sense that, in his analysis and criticism of the Neo-Reformed, he would consider the context that Reformed theology developed out of. The Reformation, he believes, was addressing late medieval questions, which assumed certain beliefs about the cosmos. The Neo-Reformed, thus, are working in late medieval categories, which are insufficiently large for us today.


Dr Michael Gorman reviews Hoozer's, Begbie's, and Humphrey's papers in one fell swoop.

'Post-Apocalyptic' Theology quotes at length from the Reformation 21 blog's analysis of VanHoozer.

Mike Wittmer offers a two-paragraph summary of what he sees as the most valuable point that VanHoozer made.
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