New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg has posted a favorable review of N. T. Wright’s book Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. In it he characterizes Christ’s active obedience as “his obedience to the law” and Christ’s passive obedience as his vicarious death on the cross.
Justin Taylor has pointed out that Blomberg’s definition is in fact incorrect and that Blomberg has reiterated a common caricature of the Reformed view. Taylor writes,
‘I did want to draw attention to one aspect of the review that represents an important but common misunderstanding regarding the doctrine of justification:
‘Dr. Blomberg glosses Jesus’ “active obedience” as his “sinless life” and Jesus’ “passive obedience” as his “atoning death.” But that’s not historically what the terms mean–though I will admit that some popular defenders of the Reformed view (though not Piper) sometimes make this mistake.
Taylor then goes on to define properly what the Protestant Tradition has really taught on this question, and I don’t have anything to add to Taylor’s correction of Blomberg. I encourage readers to read his full remarks.
I would, however, make one observation related to this whole discussion. It appears that Blomberg’s misunderstanding comes right out of Wright’s book. Wright makes the exact same mischaracterization of Christ’s passive and active obedience on page 231, where he writes
‘In line with some (though by no means all) of the Protestant Reformers and their successors, [Piper] insists . . . that the perfect obedience of Jesus Christâ€”his “active obedience” as opposed to the “passive obedience” of his death on the crossâ€”is the ground of this security. Jesus has “fulfilled the law,” and thus amassed a treasury of law-based “righteousness,” which we sinners, having no “righteousness” of our own, no store of legal merit, no treasury of good works, can shelter within. I want to say, as clearly as I can, to Piper and those who have followed him: this is, theologically and exegetically, a blind alley.’
So Wright himself has wrongly defined Christ’s active and passive obedience in the Reformed tradition, and he then makes it a focus of his critique of Piper. If ever there were a case of building a straw man and then blowing it down, this is it.
This is one of many problems with Wright’s book (and Blomberg’s endorsement of it). And it is ironic that while Wright criticizes Piper repeatedly for not understanding Wright’s views, Wright fails to comprehend how much he misunderstands Piper’s.