08 July 2002

There was a brief exchange in the comments between David Heddle and me, probably not an entirely satisfactory conversation. I still feel as if we were talking past each other to some degree.

In any case, the comments led to some further thoughts about how people talk past each other, misconstrue and distort one another's views, draw unwarranted conclusions from others' words, and often seem incapable of understanding what the other person is trying to say (not that David did any of this). This seems to happen more often in certain evangelical circles than one would reasonably expect (and particularly so in Reformed circles, so it appears to me). I wonder sometimes why this is and find it a disturbing phenomenon.

Perhaps an example would help me communicate the kind of thing I'm thinking of. I've had or have seen some version of the following conversation more than once in the past year:

Person A: "What do you think of N.T. Wright's views on imputation?"

Person B: "Which views would those be?"

A: "Well, he evidently denies imputation in What St. Paul Really Said and elsewhere."

B: "Really? I hadn't noticed that...and I've read the book several times. From what chapter are you drawing that conclusion?"

A: "You know...all the stuff about the 'righteousness of God.' He says that doesn't mean a righteousness from God that God imputes to us for justification."

B: "I was aware of that...He sees that righteousness as God's own righteousness in being faithful to his covenant promises by send Jesus as the Messiah in whom the covenant promises are fulfilled."

A: "Exactly! A clear rejection of imputation."

B: "I'm sorry, I'm not following you..."

A: "Well, Lutheran and Reformed exegetes have always understood the 'righteousness of God' to refer to an imputed righteousness that comes from God and is given to us. You interpret that differently and you are obviously denying imputation."

B: "Again, I'm not sure how that follows. The references to the 'righteousness of God' in Romans were never the entire exegetical basis for the doctrine of imputation...and there have been Reformed exegetes who have understood those passages differently."

A: "Oh, so you're one of those 'new perspective' people too."

B: "What I think about the new perspective is beside the point. All I'm saying is that Wright's point is that the justification we receive is Jesus' own justification by the Father into which we are incorporated and that our incorporation is marked out only by faith. I'm not sure..."

A: "So, now you deny sola fide too."

B: "No...not at all. I was trying to say that Wright's corporate christology and forensic interpretation of justification entail precisely what imputation is all about. You should read some of the Dutch..."

A: "See! You're into this 'corporate christology' stuff too, denying the individual character of salvation. I can't believe you are rejecting the Reformed faith this way. What's happened to you?"

B: "I'm beginning to feel this conversation isn't getting us anywhere."

A: "Fine. Try to change the subject. I've got better things to do anyway. Bye."

Granted, this is merely how such conversations appear from my side of them. Anyone have any great insight into the nature of this kind of miscommunication? I'd appreciate any counsel.