Olevianus on the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness

An Exposition of the Apostles' CreedTodd is reading Olevianus’ Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed at In Principio Deus (in the beginning God) and he notices a strong contrast between the way Olevianus wrote about the imputation of Christ’s merits and the way the Federal Vision writes about it.

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  1. Scott,

    I’m not sure if Todd is going to respond to me or not, so I’ll ask you the same question I asked him on something Todd said in re. to his quote from Caspar. Todd says:

    . . . the grounding of salvation in God’s gracious election and the just imputation of Christ’s righteousness to His elect is an OLD idea – is not the product of any newfangled hermeneutic.

    I would not argue that this is an old idea, which is what quoting Olevianus demonstrates; but my question is more theological (rather than just descriptive or historical), which Todd’s point is to. My question is if salvation is “grounded in God’s gracious election,” and we (people) are the ‘elect’; then where does Christ come in? In other words I would think we would want the grounding and focal point of salvation to be God’s life (since His life is salvation and Jesus is the ‘Way’), and not the elect (unless of course we speak of election as grounded in Christ and His vicarious humanity, which is the way I like to frame it). Do you see my point? If salvation is grounded in the elect, then don’t we end up with a necessarily anthropocentric view of salvation?

    Genuine inquiry, not trying to start a debate; really would like to know what you think about this?

    • Christ elected us. Christ came for us. Christ was raised for us. Christ covenanted to redeem us, was sent for us, submitted to the Father for us.

      Read Muller, Christ and the Decree. It’s been availble for 30 years.

      Sent from my iPhone

    • To say that salvation is grounded in God’s gracious election is not the same as saying it is grounded in the elect as you infer. You conflate election with the elect in order to state that the elect are “the grounding and focal point of salvation”. Why do you do this? Election is God’s choosing. The elect are God’s chosen ones. Seems strange to have to clarify such an obvious distinction, yet this is where your error lies. You fail to make the basic distinction between the act of God’s choosing (i.e. election) and the result of God’s choosing (i.e. the elect). God did not perform his act of choosing based on anything in us (see Rom. 9, esp. v. 11), so the elect are not the ground of salvation as you end up stating after fusing election with the elect. To say that salvation is grounded in God’s gracious election is to say precisely that it is grounded in God and not in us. No one is saying that salvation is grounded in the elect.

    • Yo, somebody need to grow up. (Anybody got a clue who that would be?)

      “Do you see my point? If salvation is grounded in the elect, then don’t we end up with a necessarily anthropocentric view of salvation?”

      Your point is not responsive, nor is it implicit or explicit in the original post.
      Rather it is a gross misreading that betrays your competence to the question, regardless of your educational status.

      It should say:

      If our salvation is grounded in the electing grace of God, then don’t we end up with a necessarily theocentric view of salvation?

      It didn’t. Wonder why.

      If you have an axe to grind, at least grind it honestly instead of equivocating and misrepresenting what the original post was all about.

      Is that too snarky? Take a look in the mirror, please.

  2. I read Muller’s Christ and Decree 5yrs ago.

    Thanks, Scott . . . so you’re telling me salvation is grounded in us, and that Christ is the instrument of salvation; but not salvation in Himself?

    This isn’t what the Bible says, that’s how I’m checking Olevianus and Covenant theology.

    • Bobby,

      From what that I wrote makes you think that we teach that salvation is grounded in us? You and I must have VERY different principles of interpretation!

      In the sentences I wrote above Christ was the subject of most of the verbs, was he not?

      Have you decided a priori that Reformed theology CANNOT be Christ- centered? If so, then why do you bother asking me questions if you don’t want to hear or cannot hear the answers?

      • It’s not what you wrote above, it’s the point that I made on Christ as the instrument of salvation. Which then makes ‘us’ the object of salvation (per the grammar of your sentences), which further means that salvation is grounded in us (at least ‘objectively’). W/o ‘us’ (the object of salvation) there would be no ‘salvation’. Which makes me think that God’s life, then, becomes predicated by ‘us’ (i.e. He needs us to complete this aspect in His life somehow).

        No, I’m ‘Reformed’, very much so, finding my heritage in Calvin, Knox, Jonathan Fraser of Brea, Hugh Binning, the Erskines, Jonathan McLeod Campbell, Richard Sibbes, Preston (“The Spiritual Brethren”). You know as well as I do that ‘Reformed’ theology is not a monolith (but by ad hoc assertion) . . . and that WTS style only represents one ‘wing’ of what is represented in the history of the broader movement known as ‘Reformed Theology’.

        As far as who can or will hear the answers is just as easily flipped back to you, Scott.

        The fact that someone who deeply appreciates the ‘Reformed’ faith, as I do, cannot ask questions about ‘prescriptive’ points within the heritage is a bit frustrating. Just because Olevianus was one of the fountainheads of Covenant Theology, doesn’t mean that everything in his theology is necessarily ‘scriptural’. If we can’t “check” to see if what the ‘Reformed Orthodox Faith’ has said, is so, by scripture; then what difference is there between your approach and the one’s you Protested? If you can’t see how there is similarity between Roman Catholic Tradition, as far as adherence, and certain Confessions and Catechisms; then again it is apparent to me why you don’t want to hear or cannot hear any legitimate critiques of the theology itself. Once you disagree, or question, at all (The Reformed Faith); you’re no longer “in.”

        • Bobby,

          I get frustrated because it doesn’t seem like you’re being honest. You don’t have “questions.” You have objections couched as questions. You don’t like Reformed theology. Fine. I understand but don’t waste my time pretending to be interested when you aren’t.

          I can’t give you any better answers than Muller. If you didn’t like or understand Christ and the Decree why do you pester me?

          Christ submitted to his Father voluntarily to be the instrument of our redemption. It’s part of the covenant of redemption. He fulfilled multiple roles simultaneously. That’s the Reformed understanding of the nature of the intra-Trinitarian relations (pactum salutis).

          If you want an exegetical defense see the chapter in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry on the pactum salutis.

          Is the Reformed confession mutable? Sure but someone has to present compelling arguments from Scripture. So far that hasn’t happened and regurgitating stuff from the Barth-Berkouwer-Torrance mafia isn’t going to do it.

          • Scott,

            That’s fine. Yeah, I actually don’t think this is a game, at all!!! The fact that you will just caricature positions and not engage them on their own merits and further engage in we/they approach is just plaine ole’ ridiculous.

            Why do you I “pester” you, because you are one of the most high profile proponents of “Reformed Theology” online. You have a very public influence, and thus are open to public questioning. I’ve never seen you effectively handle anything from the Barth-Berk.-Torrance “mafia,” and thus this makes me think you don’t know how. In fact you don’t deal with what I just challenged you with above (i.e. the object of salvation). You don’t deal with the implications of the homoosion and hypostatic union that presents a compelling logic that is at odds with “your version of Reformed theology.” That’s why I pester you.

            Another thing your ilk is proposing is that you have THE corner on Reformed Theology; that’s just pure historical revisionist nonsense. You’re not the only proponents, and now I’m not even referring to the Barth/Torrance critique. You’re leading people astray, and you’re very vocal about it; so you need to be challenged, and I don’t really see many doing that with you here, so I thought I would pipe up a bit . . . at least to let people know you don’t represent the sine qua non of Reformed Theology. You don’t, no matter how loud you yell. It’s a self-proclaimed position, and the history simply doesn’t support you!

        • @Bobby:

          “W/o ‘us’ (the object of salvation) there would be no ’salvation’. Which makes me think that God’s life, then, becomes predicated by ‘us’ (i.e. He needs us to complete this aspect in His life somehow).”

          That logic is flawed. See below:

          Yeah, without sinners there would be no salvation. That’s seems rather obvious. That doesn’t mean however that God’s life is somehow predicated on us. See WCF 2.2. Just because someone needs saving doesn’t mean that God is incomplete without our fall. *Just because God can and does meet our need, doesn’t mean that he needs to meet our need.*

          • You didn’t show how the logic is flawed, you just made an assertion.

            You didn’t show how God’s life is not predicated on us given my logic, you just said that’s flawed logic, how?

            The Scotist hypothesis says that God always intended to Incarnate, even w/o the ‘fall’. This seems a good way to maintian God’s “freedom” within His life. Actually you’re wrong, if God’s life is not ‘salvation’ then we are eternally lost (since our salvation is grounded in the ‘power of an indestructable life’).

            • Scotus was wrong. He assumed that the human problem is a matter of being. Reformed theology rightly rejected this assumption. The human problem is sin not lack of being.

              Sent from my iPhone

            • Lack of God’s being is sin, it results in self-love. Thus the relational/trinitarian thrust of Scotism and the duty/law thrust of Thomism.

              • 1. Few of the Protestants were fully Thomists or Scotists. Most of them combined elements or aspects of both systems.

                2. We have very different understandings of Thomas! As I read him he did not escape the ontological turn. The anthropology for which you are arguing is Thomist and not Protestant or evangelical.

            • Woops, that was me, my wife was on the computer before me: the comment from Angela. 🙂


              I know what a non-sequitur is, come on man, you have to show me how I’m engaging in a non-sequitur . . . you can’t just ‘say it is’.

            • Oh, boy, I thought I was on moderation when I signed in under my wife’s name by accident, thus my clarification below.

              I was responding to Scott,

              Lack of being, or God’s life is sin (a relational notion of sin), resulting in concupiscence (thus Scotist). It is Thomism’s understandig of sin as a ‘quality’ and thus a law/duty/behaviorial/external (thus the covenant of works) notion that is at odds with a notion of God as Trinity.

              It seems like you need to provide a more robust definition of what sin is, Scott. I would say “lack of being” is quite good for starters. This would deal with the ‘heart’ problem, not just the ‘legal’ problem (which I’m not totally against) which Thomist Calvinism deals with.

              • Bobby,

                I’m just following Scripture when I say that, biblically, sin is “lawlessness” not “lack of divinity.” No where does Scripture define the human problem in terms of being. Platonists, of various sorts, have done throughout the history of the church but the Reformation rejected that proposal in favor of the doctrine of the essential goodness of creation per se. Again, Scripture says that creation was good.

                Adam did not sin because he was not divine. He sinned because he freely chose to disobey God’s law and thereby plunged himself and all humanity with him into death, corruption, and judgment. Thus Rom 5 among many places.

                It was in view of the ontological turn in theology that the Reformation re-asserted what I call (in RRC) “the categorical distinction” between the Creator and the creature. It was about as fundamental to the Protestant/evangelical theology as the law/gospel distinction or sola Scriptura or the sola gratia et sola fide.

            • This is becoming more and more bizarre. (and I’m not talking about your logging in as your wife by mistake, but rather what you said under that login name). That is, you said: “Lack of God’s being is sin, it results in self-love. ”

              What in the name of In-and-Out Burgers do you mean by that remark?? Since the Bible is what defines what sin is, can you tell me where you derive the notion that “lack of being” is what constitutes sin?

  3. Bobby –

    Check my reply at my blog, but I’m posting essentially the same reply to you here also. You seem to have misunderstood what I wrote, and perhaps also what Olevianus says. Where in my post did I say or in any way imply that salvation was “grounded in the elect”, which is how you seem to have understood it?

    All I am saying (albeit I certainly could have worded things in a way that wouldn’t have confused you) is PRECISELY that salvation has its point of reference OUTSIDE of us – OUTSIDE of the elect. I can’t see how what I wrote could be construed as saying the exact opposite.

    Olevianus affirms, and I concur wholeheartedly that we are saved

    because God elected us from before the foundation of the world

    because Christ laid down his life for the elect

    because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the elect and therefore they are accepted in the beloved.

    Check Ephesians 1 and 2, John 10, etc., and you’ll see exactly what I was talking about, and what Olevianus clearly points to – ALIEN righteousness, salvation that is fully gracious, hinging upon nothing that the elect person has brought to the table.

    I really don’t understand how my words were seemingly so misconstrued as to be interpreted as my saying (or Olevianus’s saying) that salvation is grounded in the elect. Dr. Clark’s brief comment above echoes the same exact principle. Christ is the active party. We are the recipients of the bounteous grace of God – as Olevianus says.


    • Todd,

      Did you see my response to Scott? My first response? That’s the problem. If Jesus isn’t the subject and object of salvation, in His life; then His life, in salvation, is predicated by ours.

      As soon as you or Scott can respond to that, then I’ll be happy to quit pestering. So in other words if we take the hypostatic union seriously, and the homoousion, and the thus the vicarious ‘elect’ humanity of Christ we can genuinely ground all of salvation in Christ and avoid the Nestorian implication that your view engages.

      • Bobby, I think everyone’s confusion is from your first response. You ask “where does Christ come in?” It’s not terribly clear to me what you’re getting at with that question because the quote you inquire of is explicit about “the just imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” That is about the divine life revealed in the incarnation. Where do the Reformed come short in speaking volumes of the centrality of Christ’s person and work? He was the one obedient to death, even death on the cross; who fulfilled the law and the covenant with his Father; who receives his kingdom; and confers that kingdom to his people (e.g. Luke 22:29).

        In none of this do I recognize it implied that salvation predicated on us. We are recipients by grace alone through faith alone, no? Where do you see otherwise? And can you specify how Jesus is supposed to be subject and object of salvation? To wave that as a slogan without clarification can sound like Jesus was a sinner who needs saving, and that we’re left out of the picture entirely. That would be a bummer.

      • Did you see the post to which you responded with your “first response”? In it Scott took care of the objection you made. That is, the objection you made to his comment was answered in the comment to which you responded!

        In case you missed it, here is what Scott said:

        Christ elected us. Christ came for us. Christ was raised for us. Christ covenanted to redeem us, was sent for us, submitted to the Father for us.

        Now what is objectionable about that? You say that Scott somehow misses the boat here, and does not involve Christ sufficiently in our salvation.

        I really cannot fathom what your beef is, except that I think you must have a complete misunderstanding of what is meant when we tie salvation to election. In NO WAY is Scott or am I claiming that therefore salvation does not involve Christ. Somehow, somewhere, you are completely misconstruing what we are saying and what the Reformed churches have confessed since their earliest days. The decree of election is NOT separate from the atoning work of Christ, His satisfaction for our sins, the imputation of His full righteousness to our account, the imputation of our sins to Him, etc. When God decrees to elect, He decrees to accomplish all that is necessary for the salvation of the elect. Christ is in and throughout the author and finisher. I really, truly, cannot understand what your gripe is.


        • Bobby:

          Your argument from grammar is nonsense.

          As recorded in Luke 23, he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” He didn’t pray, “Father, forgive me.” From a grammatical standpoint, it’s clear that Jesus is asking for those who are killing him (“them”) to be the object of the Father’s forgiveness. Does this mean that he is also implying that they would be the ground of that forgiveness?

          John taught that “God loved the world” (John 3:16). In a grammatical sense, “the world” is the object of God’s love. Does that mean that he was teaching that God’s love was grounded in the world?

          Moses said that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) . Is he teaching that the heavens and the earth the ground of creation?

          Finally, Paul said that “Jesus came to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). “Sinners” are the object of Jesus’ saving.

  4. My point is simply to press the logic of the Incarnation and the logic of hypostatic union and vicarious humanity of Christ. What informing that, is to further press the ‘primacy of God’s life in Christ’ as reflected in Colossions 1.

    Obviously none of you have read either Karl Barth’s or TF Torrance’s critique on this. A good place to start for all of you is Torrance’s recently released “Incarnation” (and then follow it up with his “Atonement”). Before Torrance Jonathan McLeod Campbell (an 19th cent. Scottish ‘Reformed’ theologian forwarded these same thoughts, in some ways, esp. in re. to the vicarious humanity of Christ). The idea is that Christ is both the electing God and ‘elected’ man, and that pre-destination refers to God’s ‘free self determining’ choice to become who He is including the choice to be man for us. This is what I mean by the object/subject of election (this has implications for ontology and epistemology as well). Anyway, this in no way implies that Christ became sinful, but that in the assumptio carnis He actually assumed sinful humanity (II Cor 5:21) but immediately sanctifies it by the Spirit in His archetypical humanity (i.e. imago Christi the image we are recreated in Col 1). So objectively all humanity is in ‘carnal union’ with Christ (per the implications of His primacy and the Incarnation); but subjectively only the ‘elect’ (those who believe by the Spirit) can be said to be in ‘spiritual union’ through Christ’s vicarious humanity for them. In this way election can truly be said to be ‘in Christ’, and at the same time ‘for us’ (which undercuts RL’s misunderstanding).

    This position starts with the Trinitarianism found in the Scotist thesis, if not the hypothesis; and represents a tradition within the ‘Reformed tradition’ that should not be so foreign to your ears (all of you) given the fact that you too are ‘Reformed’. Calvin was Scotist in his doctrine of God, and thus to say that this development within Calvinism is foreign or anathema in the “Reformed Tradition” is just nonsense.

  5. This approach is to think through and out of the ‘Incarnation’. It is to think through and out of what the Mediatorship of Christ means, even in re. to, and esp. in re. to His humanity for us. It is to think through what the imago dei implies, about the 1st Adam as ‘prototypical humanity’ and then the 2nd Adam as ‘arechetypical humanity’ who both the 1st Adam and all of humanity finds their image in creation and now recreation (which is what Paul is getting at with his language of the 2nd Adam being ‘greater than the 1st Adam).

    These are the points that Westminster Calvinism, fails at, and thus I opt for what I am trying to describe to you all.

  6. Let me see if I can wade through all your verbiage here. Let’s go back to something you said earlier:

    ” If Jesus isn’t the subject and object of salvation, in His life; then His life, in salvation, is predicated by ours. ”

    The logical problem with this argument is that the premise and conclusion are disconnected. You have put together an argument that is essentially the same as this:

    “If the Cubs aren’t the best team in the major leagues; then Wrigley Field is the most beautiful stadium in major league baseball.”

    The verity of the premise does NOT demand the conclusion. If it is true that “Jesus isn’t the object and subject of salvation”, then it may or may not be true that the conclusion you propose “his life is predicated upon ours”. The acceptance or denial of the premise has no bearing on the conclusion – well, that’s not quite true. If the premise were false (i.e. if Jesus IS the object and subject of salvation), then the conclusion is also false. If the premise is true, though, the conclusion may be either true or false. Your argument is grounded (pun intended) on a simple logical fallacy.

    Now, to the rest of what you’ve posted… aside from the logical problems of your initial foray into this and the confusion your verbiage introduces,

    are you arguing that Christ is the elect one, and that individual human beings are NOT elect as individuals – but as those who believe in Christ? That is, do you assert that election is merely “class election” and that individuals are not in fact chosen by God before the foundation of the world? If so, do you really think this qualifies as “reformed” since it denies the doctrine of election that is taught in every single Reformed confession, bar none?

    • Todd,

      Your Thomist Intellectualist anthropology is showing, 😉 well done.

      But what you have failed to do, although you’ve sophistacted it, demonstrating that you at least paid attention in your logic 101 class, is to show how my premise is false. Furthermore, you didn’t show, if my premise is true or false how there is a disjunction, necessarily, between the premise and the conclusion. You haven’t done anything more than what our friend wjhinson has tried to do, and that is “shift the burden of proof by assertion,” which would equally be a formal, and as you say “simple logical fallacy.”

      Major premise: If God “needs” outside His life He is predicated to be who He is by that need.

      Minor premise : Westminster Calvinism says that God needs to provide salvation to humanity per His decree (which is ‘outside His free self determining life’). [voluntarism]

      Conclusion: Therefore, God is predicated to be who He is by that need (which is to say that His life ad intra is predicated to be what it is by His life ad extra (per meeting the ‘need’ set out by the decree)

      The logic is there, it’s just that you reject the “verity” and assumptions of the premises.

      Here’s what I think about election and predestination:


      In sum, I hold to a ‘Christ conditioned’ supralapsarianism. That the eternal Logos, in his humanity as the deus incarnandus (and image of God) has chosen (and was chosen) to be elect humanity for us, while at the same time choosing our reprobation (II Cor 8:9) for Himself (the great exchange). I believe He has chosen all those who believe to believe in Himself before the foundation of the world; and ‘why’ there are reprobate can only be answered by the ‘mystery of sin’ (which scripture never explains, i.e. their rejection is akin to a ‘second fall’ of sorts, given the fact that Christ has vicariously made the choice for all men to respond positively to God). So I believe in universal atonement, but not universal salvation.

      So election and reprobation is grounded in Christ, objectively; as is the subjective side of it by the Spirit (why not all men don’t respond to Christ is, like I said, relegated to the ‘mystery of sin’ — this “way” doesn’t follow the logico-causalism that Westminster Calvinism is bound by). Why would you place the ‘Reformed Confessions’ before scripture on this, that seems like the wrong order sola scriptura (unless the ‘Reformed Confessions are scripture). And to say that there weren’t these developments within ‘Reformed Theology’, the ones I’m drawing your attention to, even contemporaneounsly with Westminster Calvinism, is to deny the reality of the history (as documented by Janice Knight or even TF Torrance).

  7. Bobby, I admit to ignorance of Torrence’s writings, and Barth has never been my favorite bedtime reading. As a youth pastor, I currently have no time to wade through these kinds of abstractions. But I find the traditional federal theology of Christ as second Adam to be quite profitable, even for the kids, in understanding how Christ is central in our salvation.

    So rather than throwing out high academic thoughts, could you please lay out simply (a) how traditional Reformed theology is deficient for this task and (b) how I might slip a useful insight of yours to a junior higher which I might not have been able to before?

    • Darren,

      It requires alot of context, I think, to try and make this makes sense; probably more than a combox actually allows for. I wasn’t going to come back, I knew if I did I would have to try and respond further to any interlocuters that might be here. I once tried to do an informative speech on the ‘Holiness of God in Leviticus’ in 3 minutes; that didn’t really work out that well either ;-).

      (a) I would just ask you to ponder on what Paul means when he says that the 2nd Adam is ‘greater’ than the 1st (and what that might mean in relation to a passage like Colossians 1:15ff and the primacy of Christ over all of creation). I think answering that will show how typical Federal Theology is deficient.

      (b) That the Lord loves them and gave His life for them, for real (not hypothetically or for a half the room that night — both efficiently and sufficiently, since He is firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything). You could just tell them the first part, w/o the parenethetical part 🙂 . But then you won’t be ‘Reformed’ anymore.

      peace, and out.

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