If anyone is considering or reevaluation traditional Protestant soteriology, or is just interested in theology and New Testament studies, then he or she must listen to Kevin Vanhoozer’s lecture on NT Wright’s theology. Vanhoozer is a gifted speaker (almost as much as Wright himself!). Vanhoozer is a Calvinist (PCUSA! Yikes!) who actually agrees with Wright’s project, but he offers (rightly, I think) some helpful corrections to Wright.
More importantly Vanhoozer realizes that while Wright does not intend to sinister(ly) reintroduce semi-Pelagian Popish errors back into the Church (he effectively clears Wright of that charge), he does admit that Wright’s own project calls for serious reworking of Calvinist theology.
For example, while the Federal Visionists and Wright himself may label themselves as Reformed Calvinists, we must also point out that Wright rejects imputation (which many consider to be even more “heart of the gospel” than justification) and Wright also rejects the Calvinist readings of Romans 9 and Ephesians 1.
Vanhoozer understands the difficulties that Wright brings to Reformed theology. Vanhoozer realizes that imputation theology as such cannot stand careful scrutiny (he does reference a John Milbank essay where Milbank runs a blistering critique on Calvin’s theology), but Vanhoozer wonders if some form of God’s righteousness being ours is still salvageable.
Therefore, Vanhoozer presents something like locutive righteousness. He is drawing from his previous works on “speech-act theory.” For example, many times when one says something, one is creating a new situation (e.g., “I pronounce you man and wife”). Therefore, when God declares us righteous, it is not a legal fiction but God is actually creating a new situation.
So will this work? (Never mind if it is actually correct for the moment). Will Reformed pastors rally to “locutive righteousness?” I say they won’t for the following reasons:
- Not only do most Reformed theologians consider the substance of their system to be the sacred gospel itself, they also consider the words that describe the system as sacred. And if you change the words, or even suggest materially synonymous words, on their gloss one is abandoning the gospel and embracing popish error.
- If one stood up before being licensed in the Reformed camp and said, “I don’t believe that the way imputation is described is theologically tenable, but that’s okay because I think we can get the same truth by calling it “locutive righteousness,” not only will one not get the job, but will probably be run out of the room! Vanhoozer is in the PCUSA and they don’t have these particular problems (though Vanhoozer would likely get in trouble for believing in…traditional Christianity or something).
- Here’s the problem with using the latest philosophical categories to explain Christian truth–especially on sensitive subjects. While your own position might be right (and I am impressed with how Vanhoozer construed it), you have to assume that your audience is up-to-date on the latest philosophical trends, but who is sufficient for that? I mean, I read this stuff for fun, and I read more than most, but I maybe read 5% of the current theological scene.
Still, kudos to Vanhoozer.