Union With Christ


I think union with Christ and how that relates to salvation is one of the key pillars upon which EC rests. This nuance, relative to Federal Calvinism, or what have you, differentiates Evangelical Calvinism from the other approaches, which gets me very excited. In that vein let me share something from Myk Habets, he is speaking to this issue in the theology of Thomas Torrance; and how our choice for God (salvation) is first grounded in Jesus’ choice for us (and is acted out in His Spirit constituted humanity in-our-stead [substitution]). I hope you find this helpful:

pentecost. . . Based upon the mutual mediation of Son and Spirit, there is both a God-humanward movement and a human-Godward movement and Jesus through the Spirit mediates both. This means, as Deddo explains, ‘the Spirit not only brings to us the objective effects worked out in the vicarious life of Christ, but also the subjective effects worked out in his humanity. That is, the Spirit enables us to share in Jesus’ own faithful repsonse to the Father’. Torrance’s doctrine of human response as previously analysed provides a foundation for what is developed here by way of the Holy Spirit.

Through the Spirit we share in Christ’s response to the Father. The Spirit empowers the believer to cry ‘Abba, Father’, in the same way that comes naturally to the Son of God; for to be ‘in the Spirit’ is to be ‘in Christ’. Deddo notes that according to Torrance, ‘our whole lives in every part are constituted a participation: a dynamic life of union and communion with God’. Torrance insists that our holiness or sanctification is realised in Christ by the Holy Spirit: our repentance, faith, and obedience are actualised in Christ by the Holy Spirit; every part of our relationship with and response to God is thus achieved in, through, and by the Son and the Spirit. Not only is the Holy Spirit instrumental in justification, but now, also, to sanctification. Critically, however, both are located in Christ. Here we have, in effect, the other side of redemption: ‘the side of the subjectification of revelation and reconciliation in the life and faith of the church. That means the Spirit is creating and calling forth the response of man in faith and understanding, in thanksgiving and worship and prayer. . . . (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” 152-53)

What is keynote here is how all of the typical concepts (i.e. election, limited atonement, “by-faith-alone”, “by-grace-alone”, “in-Christ-alone”), which are usually placed in a decree, are reframed or recasted so that it is all grounded in God’s life in Christ by the Spirit. We don’t cooperate with God through grace (as if grace is something given to us that we can cooperate with Christ through) to appropriate salvation (which is the way Classic Calvinism construes it); instead we respond through the ‘free’ response of Jesus Christ to the Father by the Holy Spirit on our behalf. We are placed into, united to Christ, by the ‘person’ (non-created) of the Holy Spirt; it is through this union that our response is first instantiated, first accomplished in Christ’s mediation (in Christ’s Spirit constituted  humanity) for us. Union with Christ (and the broader category of Theosis from which this springs) is an integral part of the Evangelical Calvinist approach; that is because it holds that God’s life itself is salvation (not meeting the dictates of some decrees), thus if we are going to ‘be saved’ we must be in union with this life. And that is what happens through Christ’s humanity by the Spirit first; then we are united to His humanity by the Spirit, and it is out of this recreated humanity that we say ‘Yes’ to the Father (‘thy will be done’).

Does this help clarify anything?

This is in response to Mike Houston’s question on the vicariousness of Christ and how that relates to our relation to or in Him. I will appeal to Myk Habets’ comment on T. F. Torrance’s understanding of the vicariousness of Christ; and then I will provide some closing commentary of my own.

According to Torrance the vicarious humanity of Christ means that only Christ’s response is ultimately valid. All other responses to God are excluded because Christ is the ground and the norm of our response to God. Torrance makes this clear throughout his essay ‘The Word of God and the Response of Man’ where we read, ‘In the Gospels we do not have to do simply with the Word of God and the response of man, but with the all-significant middle term, the divinely provided response in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ’. The humanity of Christ occupies a unique place in which he is the exclusive representative and substitute in all our relations with God, ‘including every aspect of human response to Him; such as trusting and obeying, understanding and knowing, loving and worshipping’. Indeed, this is what it means for Christ to be divinised and for believers to experience theosis in him.

Because the incarnate Son of God is fully human (enhypostasis), his response personalises ours. In all of his soteriological activity: ‘Jesus Christ is engaged in personalising and humanising (never depersonalising and dehumanising) activity, so that in all our relations with him we are made more truly and fully human in our personal response of faith than ever before. . . . (Myk Habets, “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance,” Ashgate, 76)

So when Mike asks:

Is vicarious humanity comparable to an employers liability? Kind of like employers are vicariously liable for negligent acts or omissions by their employees in the course of employment. Is what your saying is that Christ as the second Adam is the head (employer) of all mankind?

No. It is more personal than this. Christ is ‘real humanity’ and as real humanity (imago dei) he enters into *our* skin and substitutes before the Father (as real human) in ways that we never would. By so doing He elevates our humanity to His level; which is spiritually united to the Father by the Spirit. So to simply frame this in ‘federal’ or ‘forensic’ or ‘external’ or ‘behaviorial’ or ‘nomist’ ways won’t do; and that is what your employer analogy draws from. Our response is grounded in Christ’s completely, that’s what makes it all of grace.

His substitution runs deeper than the forensic model allows for; it goes all the way down through the heart that is ‘desparately sick’ and provides a ‘heart of flesh’ (His heart). There is only one humanity that Christ could substitute for; that’s why when we speak of election we must ground it in Christ’s humanity for us (it is universal). How the reprobate fit in, Mike (or anybody), is not fully comprehensible (if you need to understand this in toto, i.e. in causal/forensic ways, then I think this might continue to be a ‘stumbling block’); we can say that reprobate are fully represented in Christ’s humanity, and why they fail to respond makes no human sense.

More to come . . .

In a previous post and comment thread Mike Houston wanted clarification on this:

Christ’s Atonement was offered on behalf of all mankind through the vicarious humanity of Christ because of his qualification as the Incarnate Son of God, but effectual (actual) Atonement was limited (restricted) only to the elect because of their Spiritual Union with Christ through faith and repentance.

gardenIn other words, all men became eligible for atonement relationally because Christ took on humanity-he became the second Adam. But that in itself is not salvation. Christ actually became the substitute for the sins of those who enter spiritual union (through faith/repentance) with him as the Son of God. Basically Christ took on the sins of the elect and appeased the wrath of God.

This will be a simple response (it’s all I have time for). Actually it could be said that we are only really concerned with the big picture; that is, I would have to say no to the last paragraph. In other words, Christ actually became the substitute for all of humanity (carnal union) — we cannot separate Incarnation from Atonement — and this follows through by the Holy Spirit into Spiritual Union. Why, when confronted with this possibility some reject it (reprobate) is not explainable (there is some mystery here). I think what might need to be understood here is the idea of creation and Recreation; Christ and eschatological redemption are the purpose for creation, in Christ fallen creation is ‘recreated’ (think, in a sense, that we’re starting over), all of humanity is oriented to Christ (indeed creation). The fact that the reprobate reject their spiritual union with Christ is as mysterious as why Adam and Eve rejected their relationship with God in the Beginning.

Now, we have a choice to make; we can either ground the Fall and the Reprobate’s response in the decree (so that in the end God is the ultimate/remote cause), or we can simply say we don’t understand (cf. Deut. 29.29) — nevertheless the reprobate’s choice and thus judgement is not ‘outside of Christ’ (as the decree implies), but is grounded within God’s choice in Christ to judge sin at the cross. If we don’t ground it this way, then as I just said, the classical framing grounds the reprobates judgement outside of Christ; and in this sense Christ is not ‘supreme’ or ‘prime’ over all creation (Col. 1.15ff).

Here is a video that is quite excellent in elucidating the kind of Calvin theology that T. F. Torrance develops in his book Scottish Theology; and the thesis, in regards to understanding Calvin’s theology, that Charles Partee develops in his newer book The Theology of John Calvin. The thesis is that Calvin’s theology is oriented around Unio mystica, or “Union with Christ.” This video is also interesting, because it comes from a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in PA, his name is Dr. Lane Tipton. Ironically, but not really, another WTS professor (although this one from the CA campus) takes issue with Tipton’s statement on the forensic component of justification overshadowing the person of Jesus Christ in salvation, and in particular the theology of John Calvin (not the “Calvinists,” per se) . . . you can read what he has to say here. Watch the video, it’s only about 5 minutes, and then I’ll pick you up on the other side:

H/T: R. Scott Clark

This, if taken at face value from Tipton (which I am), writhes against dyed in the wool Federal Theologians; that is, their interpretation of Calvin, and the continuity of heritage, reads Calvin almost exclusively through forensic lenses (which is what Federal theologians must do, at least if they are going to claim to be the only living heirs of Calvin). What Tipton is saying, is what Partee is saying about Calvin, and this is what T. F. Torrance is saying about the Scottish/Evangelical Calvinists who emphasized this ‘Calvin’ theme of “Union with Christ” within their own theological development.

The question is, theologically, does Calvin ground his view of justification on the terms of the decree (Covenant of Works/Grace) being met; or does he ground it in the person of Christ? The Federal says the former, the Evangelical says the latter. Not to be too audacious, but it almost sounds as if Tipton is Evangelical, at least his interpretation of Calvin is.

The real advance has obviously been made when we come to the INSTITUTIO of 1559, in which unio cum Christo [union with Christ] has become the common denominator under which Calvin tried to range his whole doctrine of the appropriation of the salvation achieved and revealed in Christ. For now in the Third Book, before he can speak of faith, of conversion and renewal, of the vita hominis christiani, of abnegatio nostri as its sum, of the necessary bearing of the cross, of the relation between this and the future life, then — and only then — of justification, of Christian freedom and prayer, of eternal election as the ulitmate presupposition of the whole, and finally of the future resurrection, according to the view attained in 1559 he has first to make it plain how it can come about at all that what God has done for us in Christ, as declared in the Second Book, can apply to us and be effective for us. The answer given in the noteworthy opening chapter of the Third Book is to the effect that it comes about through the arcana operatio Spiritus, which consists in the fact that Christ Himself, intead of being extra nos, outside the man separated from Him and therefore irrelevant to us, becomes ours and takes up His abode in us, we for our part being implanted into Him (Rom. 11:17) and putting Him on (Gal. 3:27). (Karl Barth CD 4.3.2, 550-51 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 195)

 

Two quotes from Calvin on Union with Christ (or Unio Mystica):

First, 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 for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.

— Institutes III. 1. 1 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 40

Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts — in short, that mystical union — are accorded by us the highest degree of importance. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body — in short because he deigns to make us one with him.

Institutes II. 16. 19 cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 41

Both of these quotes illustrate something that stands at the heart of an ‘Evangelical’ approach to Calvinism; and that is the vicarious life of Christ. If we aren’t ‘really’ brought into His life, in the Incarnation and Atonement (both of these being inextricably linked), then salvation only ends up dealing with the symptoms (murders, lying, stealing, lusting, blaspheming, etc.) — the external problems — and not with the “heart problem” (where the murders, lying, etc. flow from). If Jesus didn’t get into our skin, and thus we into His, then we end up with a half baked salvation . . . which really is no salvation. More to come . . .

Here is Thomas F. Torrance critiquing George Hill’s understanding of limited atonement (you can find a fuller explication of this in TFT’s “The Mediation of Christ [must read]):

Hill seemed to have no idea of the biblical teaching about the election of one for the many found both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and of the idea that the redemptive purpose of God for all nations of the earth was narrowed down to Israel, to a remnant, and then in the most intensive way to Jesus in the midst of Israel, and was fulfilled in and through him in a universal way for all mankind. Thus in respect of the people of Israel the universalising purpose of God will lead to the point when ‘all Israel shall be saved’. Instead, Hill limited the universal sufficiency and extent of Christ’s atoning redemption by a notion of specific ‘destination’, governed by God’s eternal degree, of only certain individuals for ultimate salvation. Regarded from the end result, therefore, the penal satisfaction offered by Christ in his sacrificial death was held to be actually and finally effectual only for particular people. Thus even for George Hill, this evangelical moderate who sought to restore, in some measure at least, the place of the love and mercy of God to its primary place in redemption, the atonement was essentially and rigidly limited in its nature and extent. The question had to asked, therefore, as indeed it was by Thomas Chalmers, what kind of God does this imply? That was the great question with which the General Assembly was faced in 1830, with McLeod Campbell’s revolt against the idea of God that lay behind the doctrine of predestination and limited atonement in what George Hill regularly referred to as ‘the Calvinistic System’ that prevailed in the Kirk.

— Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” 262-63

The one for the many is a key biblical motif, and it first finds its ‘rootage’ in the antecedent life of God. In other words, who we see mediated through the national life of Israel, and then fully enfleshed in the tabernacling of Jesus (Jn 1:14); is what has always already been a reality in God’s life for us in the Son for all eternity (or ‘supra-time’). This is the some of the stuff that goes into an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of a Christ conditioned election or Christic Supralapsarianism. Salvation is grounded in God’s life, and so who we see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is who has always been in the ontological coinhering relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

All of this dovetails nicely with Scott’s recent post on election.

Next Page »