I don’t have a lot to say about Roger Nicole’s contribution to Tabletalk. The bulk of his article was a solid, standard Reformed treatment of some of the standard questions that can be raised concerned the imputation of righteousness — does this wipe out personal responsibility? does this make sinning a matter of indifference? and so on.
But I would like to make at least a couple of comments. The first is simply an addition to a point that Nicole raises, but doesn’t answer as pointedly as I think it can be answered. Nicole says, “N.T. Wright in his advocacy of a ‘new perspective’ on Paul and his teaching makes a special plea that ‘justification’ should relate to the question ‘who belongs to God’s covenant with the world?’ rather than ‘how can you be saved?’” It is this kind of false alternative that could be exasperating if we let it be. But we won’t, for we will be spiritual this time.
It is like maintaining that “justification” is primarily about who “has a seat” on the plane to Baltimore, and not so much about “going” to Baltimore. It is the kind of question that only a theologian could love. Where is God taking this world with this covenant of His? Right. To salvation, and there is no way to get involved in it rightly without getting saved.
A second point, this one critical of Nicole. At the very first part of his article, he misrepresents how specific the Westminster Confession is on the question of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.
“The subject of our essay is to consider how the perfect obedience of Christ to the Mosaic law does apply to those who believe in Him. The answer to this question, according to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, is ‘the active obedience of Chrits is imputed to the justified believers as their positive cover in the last judgment.’ The Westminster Confession of Faith states, ‘Those whom God . . . freely justifieth . . . accepting their persons as righteous . . . by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them’” (11:1).
Now I hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and I also believe it to be very important. But it is simply false to the historical record to say that this position, which Nicole and I agree on, is the Reformed understanding, It is certainly the mainstream Reformed understanding, but it is simply false to say that affirmation of this doctrine is required by Westminster. There were men there who actively opposed this doctrine, and their position was accomodated in the final language that was adopted. If we are talking about the boundaries of the historic Reformed faith, not only is denial of this doctrine consistent with membership in good standing in an orthodox Reformed church or presbytery, it is consistent with membership in good standing at the Westminster Assembly itself.