Wednesday, 6 January 2010

justification and union with Christ

In the past I have explored the relationship between justification and union with Christ. There has been a healthy debate between faculty members of WSC and WTS as to which doctrine has theological priority. For instance, R. Scott Clark argues for justification in response to a video by WTS prof Lane Tipton.

I mentioned yesterday that in the latest Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Richard B. Gaffin Jr. reviews Cornelius P. Venema's revised/updated doctoral dissertation Accepted and Renewed in Christ. The "Twofold Grace of God" and the Interpretation of Calvin's Theology. I mentioned that while Gaffin generally appreciated the work, he did have some quibbles.

One of Gaffin's concerns relates to how Venema places union with Christ within Calvin's soteriology. He says:
Where one might most expect an accent on union, however, it is missing. So for instance, the Summary (148-149) to the (important and helpful) chapter on the relation of justification and sanctification states that "these two aspects of God's grace in Christ...remain inseperably joined by virtue of their common foundation in Christ's redemptive work through the power of the Spirit." That, of course, is true as far as it goes. But for Calvin, especially by way of summary, it is true only as union with Christ is indispensable for mediating that common foundation and only as the inseperability involved exists as an integral consequence of that union; justification and sanctification (in its initiation and continuation) are inseperable (as well as distinct) only as they are, coordinately, the immediate fruit of union. (p272)
Gaffin quotes the following from Calvin as support for this statement:
...we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. (3:1:1, quoted p273)
A powerful quote indeed and at first glance seems to back up Gaffin's thesis. Yet the arguments are complex and worth ploughing through. Did Calvin hold to this? This interchange between Gaffin and J.V Fesko (of WTS and WSC resp.) will provide further food for thought.


John Thomson said...

Good blog. Keep us updated on the arguments if possible. We need someone to cut through verbiage and give us the bones.

I tend to think, naively I don't doubt, that union with Christ is probably logically prior. Our justification requires that we die, that Christ's death be our death. This implies union is prior.

However, I do tend to think these questions become a bit like which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Interestingly, if the chicken and egg question is framed teleologically rather than chronologically it yields an answer; the chicken is the purpose. Applied to justification and union I suppose union with Christ is the purpose.

Quite a bit of verbiage above, I reckon.

Anonymous said...

You might like this addition to the fray: