Can the gospel be a stake depending on where you are? Before proceeding, let me start by affirming my belief in the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and so I’m cool. But let me add that I don’t believe, just as John Owen didn’t believe, that denial of it amounts to a denial of the gospel. Here’s why.
Unless we are far gone in sectarianism, the gospel is the same gospel wherever you go in the world. It is not possible to give the Lutherans a pass on their failure to affirm the imputation of the active obedience of Christ while nailing Presbyterians who don’t affirm it. It is possible to frame the gospel more or less accurately, more or less fully, and more or less confessionally. But if one group scores 87% on their gospel purity test, and another group scores 87%, and it was the imputation of the active obedience of Christ part of the test that tripped them both up, then it is not possible to flunk the one and pass the other. If the gospel is at stake in Presbyterianism, then it is at stake across the board. If it is not at stake across the board, then the gospel is not at stake here. If we grade the tests differently, then one of two things is happening. Either this is old-fashioned favoritism (the religious form of which is sectarianism), or it is some form of postmodern relativism.
This does not mean that debates cannot or should not occur. But it means that the stakes of the debate should be represented accurately. Differences should concern whether or not the position is fully scriptural, or confessional, or right in the theological details — something ramped down. But if the Westminster Assembly contained men who disputed the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and it did, and the language of the Confession was deliberately framed in such a way as to allow these men to subscribe it anyway, and it was, then it seems to me that faithfulness to the Standards today would require the same latitude. Moreover, this latitude would not land us in the unseemly position of saying that the Lutherans were denying the Reformation, and the gospel to boot.
Like the majority of the men at the Assembly, I affirm the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. And also like the men at Westminster I do not believe that questioning it is a denial or rejection of the gospel. Who’s with me on this?