A Postlude to ‘Union with Christ – An Analytic Attempt at Understanding’

In light of the relative opaqueness of my last post, I thought it would be helpful to add some additional remarks to clarify and expound on some points.

Before I say anything further, it must be stated that while it is probably clear to the reader that, of the two, I prefer the WTS position, which places union with Christ as logically prior to and the cause of all other soteric benefits, over and against the WSC position which argues for, at minimum, justification being the cause of all other soteric benefits, I must stress that there position is not heretical or even sub-orthodox. The men who articulate the WSC position I greatly respect and, to a certain degree, I find their argument persuasive.

A comment from Michael Horton (2011: 708) will serve to illustrate my primary concerns addressed by my previous post:

I am suggesting that we view all the items in the Pauline ordo as constituting one train, running on the same track, with justification as the engine that pulls adoption, new birth, sanctification, and glorification in tow. “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Ro 8:30). This means that we never leave the forensic domain even when we are addressing other topics in the ordo besides justification proper.

My problem with this statement is that by making justification, as Horton puts it, “the engine that pulls” all other soteric benefits is to abstract justification from the person of Christ therefore depersonalizing it. Justification and indeed all other soteric benefits are unintelligible apart from the person who brings them to us, namely, Christ. Moreover, by placing the “new birth,” or regeneration, as logically subordinate to and caused by justification admits of incoherence, esp. when union with Christ is divided into forensic and renovative categories, which I sought to demonstrate in my prior post.

So, to clarify, it is not that the Reformed ordo intrinsically results in something akin to the Roman Catholic soteriological schema but that when one interprets it in light of the renovative/forensic distinction posited by the WSC position, the result is something close to a Roman Catholic soteriology. Put simply, it is my contention that this distinction, as it relates to union with Christ, undermines the Reformed ordo and therefore a better account of the relationship between union with Christ and the ordo must be offered. Continue reading “A Postlude to ‘Union with Christ – An Analytic Attempt at Understanding’”

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Union with Christ – An Analytic Attempt at Understanding

I remember when I first came across the idea that there is a debate with regard to union with Christ and the ordo salutis. I had written a paper on the theme of peace in Romans and when a friend had read it, he had one theological critique, namely, that I made justification the ground for union with Christ. This led me then to investigate further what exactly he was talking about. In this process, I discovered that there were two different views of how union with Christ related to the other benefits in Reformed thought. The first argued that justification (or forensic union) was logical prior to, or, at the very least, the cause of union with Christ (renovative union) (cf. Horton 2007: 129). The second argued that union with Christ was logically prior to and the cause of all other soteric benefits, including justification (cf. Letham 2011). For ease of reading, we will designate the former the WSC position and the latter the WTS position after the institutions which hold to these respective views. In light of this, our purpose here is to offer some further thoughts that will hopefully bring clarity to the subject

I. The Ordo Salutis and Union with Christ

It is commonly recognized in the Reformed ordo salutis, which presents the logical order of how salvation (with all that entails) occurs in the life of the believer (for a helpful visual of this, see Tim Challies’ representation), that regeneration logically precedes justification. The argument can be stated in this way: because humans are dead in and enslaved by their sin and can only do evil continually, they must be born again by the Spirit of God before they are able to place faith in Christ to be justified. To reverse the order of justification and regeneration is to capitulate to a non-Reformed understanding of soteriology (and, indeed, anthropology).

Yet, one must ask: if regeneration (which should be understood as falling within the category of renovative union) logically precedes justification, then how can justification be, at the very least, the cause of union with Christ? Perhaps putting it in logical fashion will demonstrate this problem more clearly:

(1) If regeneration, a renovative act, precedes faith, resulting in justification.

(2) Then renovative union logically precedes forensic union.

(3) Therefore, justification is not the logical ground of union with Christ.

(4) Therefore, renovative union is logically prior to forensic union.

But, the astute reader would recognize that, given this schema, an additional consequence arises.

(5) Thus, given (4), the subjective change in the believer entailed by regeneration is logically prior to and the ground of forensic union.

Putting (5) more boldly, we can say that the Reformed ordo, given the WSC position, results in something close to the Roman Catholic position which essentially asserts, using Reformed categories, that righteousness is infused in the believer at regeneration, resulting in justification.

Of course, the WSC position would not endorse the logical entailments of their position as outlined above for they would not be comfortable grounding the forensic union in the renovative nor would they be comfortable with the non-Reformed (or Reformational) consequences of such entailments. This would, in turn, leave them with two choices: either (1) abandon the logical priority that forensic union has in relation to renovative union, or, (2) abandon adherence to the traditional Reformed ordo.

But this raises the question—can the WTF position escape from the logical consequences that ail the WSC position? In order to answer this question, our theological parameters must be broadened, and, it is to this that we now turn. Continue reading “Union with Christ – An Analytic Attempt at Understanding”