The Bride of Christ in Light of Old Testament Usage: Part II

In our last post, we presented some lexical and conceptual evidence for a connectionwedding p. 2 between Ephesians 5 and Ezekiel 16. Now, we will turn to a fuller treatment as to the bearing this connection has on Paul’s teaching in Eph 5.

Before embarking on this though, a few additional comments need to be made regarding Eze 16, especially regarding the broader context of the passage.

It is commonly recognized that Ezekiel’s ministry was situated during the time of the Babylonian captivity of Israel (Eze 1:1-3; cf. 2 Kgs 24:12-15), which has immediate bearing on Eze 16. In Eze 16, you’ll recall, the Lord is dealing with the “abominations” of Jerusalem (16:1). By the time of Ezekiel’s ministry and thus this particular prophesy, Jerusalem had already been established as both the religious and governmental seat of the Southern kingdom of Israel. It is hear where the temple resided and from where the kings in the line of David ruled. Thus, the two primary institutions of Israel, namely, the temple and the king, were integrally connected to Jerusalem. Ezekiel 16 deals most specifically with the royal institution (cf. vv. 12-14), yet, the institution of the temple cannot be far from Ezekiel’s mind (16:63; cf. e.g., Eze 40-48). So, by way of summary, as we move toward our discussion of Eph 5, we will note the various themes at play in Ezekiel 16; themes which will be important for understanding Paul’s use of Eze 16 in Eph 5.

First, we have a description of the Lord strengthening Jerusalem and, in turn, making her his bride (vv. 1-16). Second, we see Jerusalem’s descent into adultery/idolatry, compromising with the surrounding nations (Egypt, Assyrians, Chaldeans) (vv. 17-58). Third, we see a familial relationship, both paternal and sororal, between Jerusalem and the surrounding nations (vv. 44-52). Fourth, the restoration of Jerusalem is hinted at, yet, it is one alongside the restoration of those with whom Jerusalem bears a family resemblance (vv. 53-55); indeed, this will take place “in their midst” (v. 53b). Fifth, Ezekiel prophecies of the Lord establishing an “everlasting covenant” with his bride (vv. 59-62).

Because of the significance of this last point, some further observations regarding must be observed. For one, this new covenant will be built on the Lord’s prior covenant relationship with Jerusalem (v. 60). Secondly, building on our fourth point, it is prophesied that the Lord will give “your elder and your younger” sisters (Samaria and Sodom, respectively; v. 46) as daughters (v. 61). Lastly, characteristic of this new covenant is that they will “know that I am the Lord” (v. 62) and all her sins will be atoned for (v. 63). Continue reading “The Bride of Christ in Light of Old Testament Usage: Part II”


The Bride of Christ in Light of Old Testament Usage: Part I

by Thomas Haviland-Pabst

15128f6779b1b168b3b1a3994eea7e18--wedding-girl-anime-weddingEphesians 5:22-33 is a passage of Scripture that plays a large role in discussions of the role of women and men in marriage, and, by way of extension, in the church. This kind of discussion is one that needs continual attention, and, as such, has much value. But, often, these more pragmatic concerns, as important as they are, miss some of the more theological rich elements of the passage that lay beneath the surface. It is thus our purpose in this essay to attempt to draw out these theological elements, with specific attention given to a discernable OT background to Eph 5:25-27.

It is our contention that Ephesians 5:25-27 directly alludes to Ezekiel 16. The latter passage is one which is not easy reading, especially if children or the like are around. It is graphic and brutally honest. Moreover, Paul’s allusion to this passage, it is our contention, pulls in other themes found in his letter to the Ephesians. That is to say, the allusion to Eze 16 draws together significant themes in Paul’s thought thus deepening our understanding of Paul’s teaching in Eph 5:22-33.

Before commencing with an analysis and exposition of the relation between Eph 5 and Eze 16, it would be helpful to give some space to discuss the basic content and teaching of Eze 16. In this passage, the Lord gives Ezekiel a prophetic parable to deliver to Jerusalem regarding “her abominations” (16:1-2). In vv. 3-5, the Lord described the foreign, pagan origins of Jerusalem which involved her being “abhorred … on the day that [she] was born” (v. 5). In vv. 6-7, the Lord describes how he saw Jerusalem and, seeing her in her abandoned condition, caused her to live and grow to maturity (“Your breasts were fully formed”) with the qualification that she was still “naked and bare” (v. 7b). Eze 16:6-7 pictures then “the pre-Israelite” history of Jerusalem (Iain Duguid [1999: 210])

Yet, this providential care of Jerusalem is for a bigger purpose, which becomes clear as we read on. In v. 8, the Lord passes by her again and sees her. Yet, this time, there is shift from the Lord’s mere providential care for her. She is “at the age of love,” i.e., of marital age. With the Lord seeing this, numerous things result: (1) he covered her nakedness (v. 8a; cf. v. 7b); (2) he made a covenant with her and she “became [his]” (v. 8b; cf. v. 5); (3) he bathed her, washing off her blood and anointing her with oil (v. 9; cf. v. 4); and, (4) the Lord, furthermore, clothed  and adorned with her fine garments and beautiful jewels; and, fed her with delicacies befitting a queen (vv. 10-13). Hence, it comes as no surprise that she is described as “advanc[ing] in royalty” (v. 13c), with her renown (lit.: ‘name’) going “forth among the nations” (v. 14a) due to the beauty and splendor the Lord “bestowed on” her (v. 14b).

It is clear that 16:8-14 describes Jerusalem as the bride of the Lord, which stands out strikingly as the Lord proceeds, in 16:15-58, to describe with powerful imagery the adultery that Jerusalem has committed against the Lord. She is described as “playing the whore” (v. 15) and as a “prostitute” (v. 35). In fact, so heinous was her adultery (= idolatry) that Jerusalem became “more corrupt than they [Samaria, Sodom] in all [her] ways” (v. 47), which shows how far the Lord’s bride had fallen since Sodom, now her “sister,” was once a “byword [i.e., archetype of moral and spiritual depravity] in [her] mouth” (v. 55). Despite the bleak situation outlined in 16:15-58, the Lord is not finished with his bride, as is evident in the word of hope he gives to her in 16:59-62. We will discuss this concluding section of Eze 16 in more detail below.

Having summarized the content of Eze 16, we will now look at some reasons for our assertion of a direct connection between Eph 5:25-27 and Eze 16.[1] Most directly, Paul writes, “Christ loved the church … having cleaned her by the washing of the water” (Eph 5:26). Here, “the washing of the water” (τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος) parallels “bathed you with water” (Eze 16:9 LXX ἔλουσά σε ἐν ὕδατι). Now, this may not seem like much on its own, but, we have to remember the shared conceptual world of these two passages. Both are speaking of the Lord loving his bride. Indeed, the Lord bathing his bride with water in Eze 16:9 is in the context of the marital covenant he made with her (16:8). Moreover, this phrase in Eze 16:9 alludes to the state of the Lord’s bride prior to his covenant of love as not having been “washed with water to cleanse you” (16:4) (LXX ἐν ὕδατι οὐκ ἐλούσθης). The significance of this dramatic reversal will become clear as we move forward, but, it must be noted at this point that Eze 16:9, which is most clearly alluded to in Eph 5:25-27, is within the context of a marital covenant and refers to a reversal from a prior state.

Beyond this, further conceptual parallels reinforce the allusion to Eze 16 by Paul. First, Christ’s presentation of his bride “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27) appears to parallel in some significant ways, “I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness [and] washed off your blood from you” (Eze 16:8a, 9). Second, while more tentative, “sanctify” (ἁγιάζω) in Eph 5:26 could to have some conceptual overlap with “anoint” (Eze 16:9 LXX χρίω; MT סוך) as the latter can denote “anoint in token of consecration” (LSJ) and the former “to dedicate to the service of and to loyalty to” God (L&N 53.44). Third, Christ’s presentation of his bride “in splendor (ἔνδοξον)” (Eph 5:27) has some conceptual overlap with “splendor” (LXX ἐν εὐπρεπείᾳ ἐν τῇ ὡραιότητι; MT בַּֽהֲדָרִי֙) and “renown” (LXX ὄνομα; MT שֵׁם) in Eze 16:14.

So, in sum, there are lexical and well as conceptual parallels between Eze 16 and Eph 5, which, taken together support[2] our contention that Paul is alluding to Eze 16 in his discussion of Christ and the church. But, you may ask: to what end?

See part 2 of this post for the remainder of our argument.  


[1] The reader should note our early description of this connection as an allusion. An allusion is to be distinguished from a direct quotation (e.g., Eph 5:31 quoting Gen 2:24 LXX) and an echo. The latter being a more subconscious and possibly unintentional use of an OT passage by an NT author; the former being the most intentional and conscious. Thus, a quotation, allusion, and an echo, respectively, reflect, roughly speaking, different degrees of intentionality. It is commonly understood that an allusion, while not admitting to the same obvious degree of intentionality as a quotation, is nonetheless still intentional and consciously used by the author. It is our view that the lexical and conceptual connections between the two passages under question warrant categorizing the relation between Eph 5 and Eze 16 as an allusion; a view we trust our evidence demonstrates. 

[2] We recognize that not every piece of evidence for an allusion to Eze 16 by Paul is equally persuasive. But, we would argue that the cumulative weight of the evidence supports at least the plausibility of the allusion.

The Indivisible Will of the Trinity: Some Reasons Why it Matters

by Thomas Haviland-Pabst

It is been increasingly recognized in recent times that the doctrine of the Trinity (or, indeed, a Trinitarian approach to theology) is of the utmost importance. The recent popular-level debate that spread like wild fire regardtrinitying the question of the eternal subordination of the Son (a question that, prior to its popular-level expression, had been in existence for some time) is indicative of this trends as our the various recently published books on the Trinity. With this in mind, the purpose of this post is to note some ways in which one particular facet of Trinitarian theology has bearing on other theological loci, namely, the doctrine of the one will of the Godhead.

In orthodox Trinitarian theology, it is affirmed that the Godhead, which consists of three persons and one divine being or essence, possesses one will. That is to say, each person of the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is not a person in the discreet, independent sense of the word person. Or, to put it in terms that correspond with this post’s purpose, each person does not possess his own distinct will, setting him, in turn, in purposeful contradistinction from the other two persons of the Godhead. There is one will of the Godhead yet this is a threefold will, reflecting the three persons of the one divine being. Put negatively, the one will of the one divine being does not exist in such a way which conflates the three persons with the one divine being; rather, the one will is expressed in three persons.

Having summarized, however briefly, the indivisible and singular will of the Triune God, we turn now to the Trinity opera ad extra (i.e., the work of the Trinity in creation and redemption). It naturally follows that if the Triune God has one will, then the works of the Trinity ad extra are also indivisible. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not divided, nor in fact can they be, in the work of creation or redemption. This leads to a few different implications, which serve to demonstrate, in turn, the importance and necessity of affirming the indivisible and singular will of the Triune God considered both ad intra and ad extra. Continue reading “The Indivisible Will of the Trinity: Some Reasons Why it Matters”

Theology as an Act of Worship; or, the Character of Theology

by Thomas Haviland-Pabst

In a lieu of a more rigorous theological piece (don’t worry, many more of those will be forthcoming), I feel compelled to write something on the character of Christian theology. Such a piece was in fact in my mind as something that I was concerned to communicate at the outset of my blog in order to set the tone, but, it was ‘put on the back-burner,’ as it were. So, with that, I would like the readers of this blog to consider the Christian character of Christian theology.

Theological inquiry and construction are not merely intellectual exercises. Despite the sometimes heard description of theology as a “sacred science,” which gives the implication that it is a science of sacred (i.e., religious) things, it is far more, although not less thclassrooman, a “science.” Theological inquiry and construction—or, more briefly, theologizing—is an extension of one’s character. This can have both ill and beneficial consequences for if a person’s character is inclined toward in a less than desirable direction, then so will their theology be.Admittedly, though, this is to put it rather simplistically. Rather, we are, in one very real sense, a mixture of good and evil. If one is apart from or without Christ, one is, at base, evil, yet, even still, as being made in the image of God (Gen 1), there is a reflection of God’s good character. To illustrate my point, there is a code or standard of ethics even among the most heinous of murders or cunning of thieves.

And, indeed, for the one united to Christ, there is a mixture of good and evil, albeit in a far different sense than the prior example for the starting point of such a person is in Christ and therefore the indwelling sin is an aspect of that person which will one day pass away but is currently remaining, awaiting the consummation of redemption at Christ’s return. To put in scholastic terms, the sin in a believer’s life is accidental.

The purpose of this brief foray into Christian anthropology (i.e., the doctrine of humanity) is to the set the stage for our point in this post, namely, that Christian theologizing ought to be an extension of one’s Christian character. This ‘ought’ is an ethical ought. That is to say, it is not true to say that such theologizing is an extension of one’s Christian character for if this were the case than all theologizing would be, of necessity, reflecting of a person’s union with Christ, and, therefore, reflective of Christ. But we know, perhaps all too well, that this is far too often not the case.

Now, the importance of the ethical component of theologizing must not be missed. All truth, in one very real and tangible sense, is ethical in orientation. Truth is, as it were, an ought that should be affirmed and acted upon. Truth stands against lies, falsehood and inaccuracy. Truth, moreover, is deeply personal. Ethics do not stand outside of nor can they be abstracted from persons. Even a code of ethics in a particular profession (say, e.g., the medical professional) is crafted by an individual or group of individuals who have certain principles and situations in mind upon crafting such a code. Therefore, theologizing, which seeks to clear a way for theological accuracy, understanding, and, dare we say, truth is entirely ethical and entirely personal. To divorce theologizing from the ethical and, consequently, the personal dimension is to undermine the very nature of truth.

To put in more positive biblical terms, theologizing must be guided by two great commandments as taught by Christ: “[y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. … [y]ou shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37, 39 ESV). These two commandments summarize the entirety of that which God requires of humanity (cf. Matt 22:40) and hence it encapsulates and envelopes all Christian theologizing, if one grants the assumption that theologizing is necessarily ethical and personal (as I trust we’ve demonstrated, even if incompletely).

Put simply, theologizing has both a Godward and human-ward direction. Expounding on Jesus’ teaching, to love God with one’s entire being is to worship God; to love our neighbor as ourselves is to uphold the value and dignity of human beings, who are made in the image of God, and, therefore, is to worship God byFrederic_Edwin_Church_-_Vision_of_the_Cross_-_Google_Art_Project honoring and valuing what he honors and values. Put negatively, to fail to love God in such an all-absorbing way is to fail to worship God, replacing God, in turn, with something less than God: an idol. Given that love for one’s neighbor entails worshiping God, failure to do so “as oneself,” indeed self-sacrificially (cf. Lk 10:30ff; Jn 15:13; Phil 2:1-11), is to lapse into idolatry.

The height and breadth of these two commands should give any theologian, whatever his or her status or rank, some pause. If one grants the correctness of our exposition of these two great commandments, then it naturally follows that, to varying degrees and in varying ways, we are all guilty of and often lapse into idolatry. The bearing of this on theologizing should be clear. Theologizing is a task (or action or endeavor) which is, at bottom, concerned with God; whether it is God in relation to human beings, the entirety of creation, or himself. And, it is also necessarily personal and ethical; indeed, in light of the two great commandments, it is an aspect of worship.

We can all admit that we worship God imperfectly, that is, we vacillate between worship of the true God and false gods, which are in fact not gods. Therefore, we can (or should) also admit that, despite our best efforts, intellectual endowments, traditions, etc., we are, at best imperfect and consistently inaccurate or, to put it bluntly, a perpetrator of lies. For, if the two great commandments envelope theologizing, then, just as we fail to, in the plainest sense, fulfill these commandments, so we fail to fulfill them as they apply to and undergird theologizing.

We will round off our discussion here noting what the apostle Paul says in Gal 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” As was implied above, theologizing, as worship, is a spiritual activity, whether for God’s glory or for the robbing of the same. Therefore, we ought to help those who are transgressing truth, attempting to restore them (here’s the logic: truth is ethical, lack of truth or suppressing truth is a lie, therefore, theological error can be construed as a transgression), recognizing that we ourselves are in great need, oft-blind to our own moral and spiritual failures, and therefore, we should do so with gentleness. Or, as the apostle says it elsewhere, we must speak “the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Love, humility, gentleness and worship of God must be the foundation and direction toward which we press in our theological inquires and constructions.

Although much more could be said, we will conclude with a final teaching from Scripture. After noting that “all is vanity” (Eccl 12:8), the author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). Notice that the two things, “fear God” and “keep … commandments” is taken as one (“this is” or זֶה) rather than two; that is, fearing God by obeying him is our “whole duty” toward him—worship, which includes theologizing, is full-orbed (i.e., in light of the two great commandments). Therefore, failure to treat theologizing as an act of worship of the Triune God—in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father—is to undermine the very task at the outset.


G. C. Berkouwer on Sin: A Review Article


sinAlthough normally I would offer a brief review of a book, because of the depth and, I would argue, significance of G. C. Berkouwer’s volume entitled Sin (Studies in Dogmatics; trans. Philip C. Holtrop; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), an article length interaction is warranted.

To begin with, this volume is broken into two parts, which reflect the two volumes of the original Dutch. These parts are entitled: (1) the origin and knowledge of sin; and (2) the essence and spread of sin.

In the first section of the first part, Berkouwer goes to great lengths to address the, as he calls it, biblical a priori, which he describes as the church’s confession that “God is not the Source, or the Cause, or the Author of man’s sin. Deus non este causa, auctor peccati” (p. 27). Here, he navigates the difficulties that come with the existence of evil, and most especially sin, in relation to a God who is all-powerful.

The first option, namely, monism, he effectively dismantles, while recognizing that this presents the greatest theological temptation regarding the relation between God and the existence of sin in creation. This monism, as he terms it, is the desire to find the cause of all things, including sin, in God (p. 28). His reason for rejecting this theologically maneuver is that, once we cease to relegate sin to the abstract, bringing it, in turn, to its rightful place as a concrete reality, we cannot comfortably “speak of God’s willing of man’s sin” (p. 61) (italics original). Thus, the biblical picture is that God “condemns man’s sin and thus atones for man’s sin in the cross of Jesus Christ” (p. 65). That is to say, the concrete reality of sin directly conflicts with the biblical a priori.

This then brings him to another solution: dualism. It naturally follows that, if monism is indefensible, then dualism would appear to be proper solution to the difficult under view. “Dualism,” he writes, “proposes a primordial antithesis between two original principles (viz., light and darkness) in terms of which every form of good and evil is ultimately deduced” (p. 67). If monism is a synthesis of God and sin, dualism presents an antithesis between the two, hence its apparent validity at first glance. Upon engaging in a thorough discussion with various thinkers, such as Karl Barth, Heidegger, and the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad, Berkouwer comes to the conclusion that, if God created ex nihilo (out of  nothing) and this creation is good, reflecting the good character of God, “the door is forever shut to all dualisms” (p. 91). When we “seek to say something about God’s creative activity, we do so with an eye to God’s goodness,” which, in turn, sets the “‘boundaries’ for his own creation” (p. 91).

Recognizing the tension that still remains after dealing with and rejecting both a monistic and dualistic answer to the problem under question, he writes:

… in no sense can we get beyond monism by means of a dualism or a dualism by means of a monism. Very deep shadows surround the monism which the Church has condemned as heresy as well as the dualism we have looked at … The one as all well as the other tries to explain away our sin and thus to eliminate our guilt (p. 98) (italics original).

Berkouwer then proceeds with a thorough discussion and refutation of the idea that the cause or origin of our sin is found in the demonic realm (cf. pp. 99-129), arriving at a true answer, as it were, to the problem.

In the final chapter of this section, entitled, “The Riddle of Sin,” Berkouwer demonstrates a keen awareness of and pastoral sensitivity to the problems attending the question under view. It would be most helpful to quote him at length:

… the spread of sin and the power of sin participate entirely in the senseless and reasonlessness of sin. Therefore, if the biblical a priori must guard the Church against the chasms of monism and dualism (or any other “explanations”), it must also guard the Church against backsliding at this very crucial juncture of her faith. Faith must know that we are cautioned against integrating sin in a crystal-clear or rational mold. We cannot give sense to the senseless. Therefore, we confess (in an anti-dualistic way) that sin is contra voluntatem [against his (God’s) will] but never praeter voluntatem Dei [contrary to the will of God] . At the same time, we understand that this non praeter does not give sense to sin. It does not rationalize the irrational or legitimize the illegitimate. It may never detract from the reality of the contra which underscores the senselessness and riddle of man’s sin (148).

In sum, Berkouwer rightly diagnoses that our attempts to understand the existence of sin in relation to God are often born out of a desire to find a rational cause or explanation for sin outside of ourselves which would thus, as he puts it, “explain away our sin and thus to eliminate our guilt” (p. 98). Therefore, the very travesty, the very heinousness of sin, is found in this: it is completely irrational and illegitimate as it is rebellion against the good and perfect creator in whose image we have been made.

Moving on to the second section of the first part of this volume, Berkouwer thoroughly engages with how we know are sin, discussing how the law reveals our sin first and then how the gospel reveals our sin. Space and time does not an allow a detailed analysis or even summary of his discussion at this point, but, suffice it to say, these chapters are rich with biblical and theological exposition and should be consulted by any preacher or teacher of the word, and, if one can stomach it, any disciple of Christ. One quote should help to illustrate this claim:

Precisely this knowledge [of sin], as enlivened by the Spirit, obliges us to speak of the “enigma,” or the “strangeness,” or the “groundlessness” of sin. The “more and more” of our knowledge, as aroused by the “strict preaching” of the law, can only deepen our appreciation for the enigma and the riddle of our sin. This enigma is really the reserve side of a true confession of our guilt. In the light of God’s grace communion is restored, and those motives which we once saw as our own “definitive excuse” are now recognized as empty and vain (p. 230).

The second part of the book deals with areas more commonly associated with hamartiology such as the essence of sin, the gravity and gradation of sin, the unpardonable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit), and original sin. Just as with the first part of the book, this part, comprised of two sections (the essence and spread of sin), is filled with rich biblical and theological exposition. Even if one were to disagree with some of Berkouwer’s conclusions, one couldn’t help but be impressed with his breadth and depth of knowledge of the biblical teaching on sin as well as the theological discussions surrounding the topic.

Although virtually all of this book is helpful and of significant value for the interested reader, the chapter dealing with the gradation of sin, especially in light of recent discussions regarding homosexuality, will prove most insightful. Also, although not as prominent of an issue in our day, Berkouwer’s discussion of the so-called unpardonable sin is insightful, if at times unclear and inconclusive.

Regarding his treatment of original sin (under the section, “the spread of sin”), the reader may find a desire for clarity unmet. Berkouwer interacts with the realism of, most notably, W.G.T. Shedd and the federalism of Jonathan Edwards, John Murray and others. He rejects both of these understandings of the doctrine of original sin, though at times he seems to prefer realism to federalism as he reiterates at multiple points the strength of the former’s objections over against the latter’s.

The closest Berkouwer comes to a solution to the complexity that is original sin in which he is satisfied is in his brief discussion of ‘corporate personality,’ i.e., the inclusion of a group in an individual, or, all humanity in Adam (p. 514). Now, one can’t help but feel that this is quite close to the federalism which Berkouwer appears to reject. But, it must be remembered that Berkouwer is vigilant to avoid any cause of sin which would mitigate one’s apprehension of their guilt and therefore their need to confess their sin. So, while the reader may find his lack of resolution with regard to original sin anticlimactic, one must remember that the motive underlying this is a noble one, which is expressed again and in even clearer terms in the concluding chapters of this volume.

To conclude this review article, Berkouwer’s volume on the topic of sin is a robust and rich volume indeed. He leaves virtually no stone unturned, as one contemporary reviewer of the volume noted. He is conversant in the biblical data surrounding the topic as well as the historic debates and the contemporary quagmires, even if he does not neatly resolve every issue or offer something convincing for every reader. It is unfortunate that, for whatever reason, Berkouwer has been neglected in recent times as he was truly a man of significant theological learning. It would be my hope that this review would spark someone’s curiosity to seriously engage this forgotten giant again; and, if they did so, this would be a fantastic place to start.

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’”

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”