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”