Friday, May 18, 2018

Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

Fesko, J.V. Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation (Mentor, 2016), 320 pp.

Among the more frequently revisited heresies of our time, one finds the manipulation, modification, or outright rejection of the doctrine of imputation taught in Scripture. The Scriptures teach three imputations:
1. The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to his posterity.
2. The imputation of the sins of God’s elect to Christ.
3. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ to God’s elect.
Without these doctrines, there is no Christian Gospel. For the bad news is simply this: We are born dead in trespasses and sins, having died in Adam our progenitor, and are by nature children of God’s wrath. And the good news is simply this: The Lord has laid upon Christ the sins of his elect people, Christ has suffered the wrath of God in their place, and God credits his people with not merely a clean slate (i.e. that moral state that results from having had our sins completely forgiven) but with the very righteousness of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ (i.e. all of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God is now our possession - we possess the perfect righteousness necessary to enter into heaven right now, and are not in need of doing any good works whatsoever in order to be saved).

Yet there are many in our time who deny either one or two or all three forms of imputation, some of which, erroneously, even view themselves as faithful heirs of the Reformation. Given the popularity of some of these heretics (e.g. N.T. Wright) due to their ability to reach a wider audience than the academicians and academically-oriented scholar-pastors, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear that an accessible scholarly text has been published on such a vital issue. J.V. Fesko’s Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation is a recent work that does this by presenting excellent scholarship not only in a style of writing that is accessible to most readers, but also by following its chapters with concise summaries of the content presented therein.

Fesko’s book traces the history of the doctrine of imputation from the days of the early church, to the days of the Medieval Era, through the Reformation Era, past the Modernist era, and into our own day. What the reader will learn is that the doctrine was not entirely absent from the earliest days of the post-New Testament church. Rather, over time the seeds of the doctrine grew, eventually blossoming into the doctrine as it has been articulated by such Reformed confessions as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Ausburg Confession, the Three Forms of Unity, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Contemporary denials of the doctrine, in other words, are not further reformations of our understanding of the Scriptures, but deviations from the clear teaching of the Scriptures to which the church has widely, if not universally, agreed.

Fesko covers the contemporary errors of men like N.T. Wright and Michael Bird presenting their arguments in a clear and concise manner, and refuting them in an equally clear and concise manner. Given the tendency of the enemies of the doctrine of imputation to obfuscation, this is much appreciated, and it will serve those ministers and congregants who are seeking to familiarize themselves with recent attacks on the Christian faith from within the ranks of Christianity, and know how to respond effectively to those attacks. And in this regard, while it does not aim to do so directly, Fesko’s book nonetheless also helps the Christian reader understand how the popular heresy of annihilationism is foundationally wrong in its conception of life and death. For Death in Adam, Life in Christ delves into the relationship between covenant blessings as life, on the one hand, and covenant curses as death, on the other hand, making it clear that death and life are states of existence resulting from one’s either being in the covenant of grace, or being a breaker of the covenant of works. It is an exegetically and logically precise work of theology that every believer should take up and read.