Union with Christ (Letham): 2

Incarnation

Good job describing Jesus’s real humanity.  I wonder if he will enter the debate of Jesus’s assuming a fallen nature.

He has an excursus on the Nestorian debate.  I will point out that Letham, contra to popular attacks on Reformed thought, understands Nestorius’s teaching that the prosopon was formed as a result or conjunction of the two natures (24).   No Nestorian claimed that there were two Persons of Jesus.

He does acknowledge some of the rhetorical and conceptual shortcomings of Chalcedon.   It “left the concept of the hypostatic union unclear” (28).

Enhypostasis

Drawing heavily upon Meyendorff, Letham has a lucid account of enhypostasis.  “Because Christ’s humanity has divine life hypostatically, we can–in union with Christ–receive divine life by grace and participation” (32).  This buries the contention that the Reformed reduce all of salvation to justification and forensicism.

Union with Christ: Letham (Resurrection)

Paul’s language connections “sharing” with “resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).  “Christ suffered because of who he is.  We suffer because we are one with him” (Letham 130).

Union with Christ in Death and Burial

I Thess. 4:13-17;  “hope for Paul relates not to uncertainty, but to futurity” (133).  God will make good on his promises in the future (interesting suggestions for the doctrine of assurance).

Some thoughts

The resurrection of Christ is a legal, judicial verdict.   He was raised for our justification.

 

Union with Christ: Letham (4)

Covenantal Representation

“There is a legal aspect to union with Christ” (57).  He introduces the theme of corporate solidarity: Josh. 7:1-26).  “Individuals are not identified in isolation: they are A the son of B the son of C of the tribe of D” (58).

Atonement

Substitution.  OT sacrificial ritual in Lev. 4-5

Representative.  All Jesus does he does on our behalf.

Letham finishes this chapter with a survey of Reformed and Puritan thought on Union.  Outstanding comments on Justification by faith only.  Gives a good rebuttal to Thomas Torrance who accused the Confession of bifurcating justification and union.

Union with Christ: Letham (5)

Transformation.

Lane Tipton: “Union with Christ allows Paul to speak in relational and judicial categories simultaneously, without conflating either into the other.”  “Union with Christ and Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphant (Fearn, Ross-Shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 38.

Jesus’s resurrection is a forensic verdict (Horton).

Ordo Salutis

Explores Gaffin’s comments on the ordo.

Theosis

Humans remain human while deified.  “It is union and communion with the persons of the Trinity” (92).  While Letham is giving the East a fair reading, it must be acknowledged that the Palamite strands of Eastern Orthodoxy revert to an impersonal, energetic union.  See the comments by Vladimir Moss.  Romanides writes, “But in Patristic tradition, God is not a personal God. In fact, God is not even God. God does not correspond to anything we can conceive or would be able to conceive,” Patristic Theology (Uncut Mountain Press: Dalles, Oregon, 2008), pp. 139-140.

What is truly meant by the Athanasian claim that “man becomes God?”   According to Norman Russell, “It is either to emphasize the glorious destiny originally intended for the human race, or to explain that the biblical references to ‘gods’ do not encroach upon the uniqueness of the Word made flesh” (Letham 92-93, quoting Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 168).   If that is all that is meant, then the Reformed tradition has no real argument, but would better see that under the teaching of “glorification.”

Metochoi (Partakers):  we are called to glory.  This is not alien to Reformed thought but sometimes it doesn’t receive enough attention.  It would be interesting to link this with the OT concept of the glory-cloud.  Points to our destiny.

Letham then quotes numerous sources (almost to overkill) pointing out that the Reformed had a rich and nuanced appreciation of Union with Christ (102-122).

  • Per Calvin, the Spirit unites the spatial difference between us and Christ in the Eucharist (Comm., 11 Corinthians; CO, 49:487, in Letham, 105; see also Institutes, 4.17.10).  “That a life-giving power from the flesh of Christ is poured into us through the medium of the Spirit, even though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us.”  Here Letham seems to contradict part of his narrative.   He notes (correctly) for Calvin that we participate in God’s attributes, not his being (107).  However, earlier he said that the Greek (Palamite?) view does not see theosis as participation in God’s attributes (92, “Nor, on the other hand, is it simply communion with God’s attributes.”  If, however, Letham means for the East that the communion with the persons is also a communion with the attributes, then there is no real contradiction.  Even still, I have my doubts that the East can truly avoid collapsing the communion with the Persons into a communion with the energies (see comments by Moss and Jenson).
  • Contra detractors, Calvin affirms that the body and blood of Christ are substantially offered.  He simply explains the mode: the Holy Spirit transfuses the flesh of Christ to us (Theological Treatises, 267).  We just reject a local presence.
  • Letham is aware of the Nestorian charge and sense that Calvin drifted there at times, given his comments on 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.   But see Richard Muller’s response to Jurgen Moltmann on that point.
  • Per Polanus there is a real sacramental union and a conjunction between signum and res.

While there are suggestions that Calvin was close to the East, I think Letham overplays that point (115).  However, Letham is correct to criticize Michael Horton’s claim that we participate in the energies of Christ (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 285, 302). The East does not mean by energies what Horton means by it.

Union with Christ (Letham)

Creation

“Triadic manner of earth’s formation represents God’s character. He is a relational being” (11).  We see Spirit of God and Speech of God.

Man in the image of God.   Letham spins the Greek image-likeness into First and Second Adam.  All of humanity shares the image with First Adam.   Christ, the Second Adam, is also the image of God.   Regenerate humanity participates in this image.   Letham tries to claim this is what the Greek Fathers said, but he doesn’t offer any references and it doesn’t appear that they said this.  They said all of humanity is created in the image but must achieve the likeness of God.  I like Letham’s proposal. I just don’t think this is what the Greek Fathers said.

So ends chapter 1.  It’s well-written, if somewhat simple in style, and makes good points.  I simply dispute that the Fathers mean what Letham means by it. I think Letham’s model is superior.

The real “replacement” theology

Thesis: The church doesn’t replace Israel; Jesus does.

Every spiritual blessing was won by Christ. The new testament says these blessings are “in him,” and if we are in Christ, then they belong to us. All the promises of the Old Testament now apply and are fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, if we are united to Christ, then they are ours! The kingdom that God promised his people in the Old Testament is not some fuzzy, spiritual reality now-called the church. No, the kingdom is given to Christ and we, the church, experience it through him! (Moore, 119). And what does the resurrected Jesus inherit? He inherits the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Acts 13:32-33)

The NT applies to Jesus language previously applied to Israel (Ex. 4.22; Matthew 2.15). So Jesus replaces Israel, not the church.

So it’s not the church that replaces Israel, but Jesus that replaces Israel–and the church by union in Christ share and inherit these blessings (heirs with God, fellow heirs with Jesus Christ).