Paul writes – Aside from realising that Vanhoozer can be extremely funny in his delivery of theological papers, I’ve reflected for a few days now on Vanhoozer’s paper delivered at Wheaton’s “Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with NT. Wright (16-17 April, 2010).” I’m particularly struck by his proposed means of reconciliation (or at the very least, of bringing into conversation) Tom Wright’s categories for talking about justification, with those that might be designated as typically Reformed categories. Vanhoozer wants to talk in terms of adoption and union with Christ, i.e. our being in Christ, and in Christ our being the adopted sons and daughters of God.
Here’s how Michael J. Gorman reflects what he heard Vanhoozer say:
“…Kevin Vanhoozer’s paper was a theological and rhetorical masterpiece. If I were an evangelical reformed theologian (I’m an Anabaptist Methodist with Orthodox and Catholic interests), I would have said what he said, and I would have said a good deal of what he said even without being reformed. (But remind me that if I ever give a lecture at Wheaton to design a first-rate PowerPoint presentation—and to bring extra batteries for the remote.) Besides being a fine response to Wright, it was a noble attempt to build a bridge between the Bishop and his conservative reformed detractors.
Vanhoozer drew on his well-known adaptation of speech-act theory to argue that justification as declaration is not a legal fiction but a performative utterance, calling on Eberhard Juengel’s idea that justification effects an ontological change, and arguing that [Tom Wright's] understanding of declaration sometimes neglects this effective dimension of declaration. He suggested that NTW’s emphasis on God declaring people part of the covenant should include the effective dimension—it makes people members of the covenant community. I am with KV 100% on these points.
Vanhoozer also raised the question of whether the juridical declaration that justification is should be seen as something like a civil case or a criminal case, that is, is one declared “in” (settling a civil matter) or declared “innocent” (settling a criminal matter). (My hunch is that if one follows the juridical model, the answer should be “both,” which is where KV landed, though many, especially those who oppose NTW, stress the latter.)
Vanhoozer then offered an interpretation of imputation and union with Christ that he dubbed “incorporative righteousness,” which means that human beings declared to be justified are both “in the clear and in the covenant.” He went on to build on Calvin’s understanding of the double grace of justification and sanctification (distinct but inseparable) by speaking of the triple grace of becoming sons [sic] of God, heirs of heaven, and partakers of righteousness. Incorporative righteousness/union with Christ is forensic, ontological, and covenantal, a Trinitarian communication of righteousness that the Father declares, the Son enables, and the Spirit effects.
Finally, returning to the question of what kind of court the metaphor of declaration refers to, Vanhoozer raised the provocative question, “Is the law court an adoption court?”
This was an exciting paper in many ways. Not only did it challenge NTW on justification precisely where I think he needs to be pressed—on the question of effective declaration, ontology, transformation, union with Christ, participation—it really did open the possibility of conversation between NTW and some of his severest critics—if they (the critics) are willing to talk, that is. My own work on justification resonates with Vanhoozer’s at some very significant points, though he did not (and likely would not) use the term theosis…”
Of equal interest were these three interviews, here (PDF), here, and here (March 10) with Vanhoozer and an excerpt from the introduction to his soon to be published book Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship.