Union With Christ

May 5, 2011 — Leave a comment


[This post is part of The Christian Faith series]

Now that the semester has come to an end, it’s time to resume working through Horton’s The Christian Faith.

First off, I think Horton does well to cover union with Christ first, and then turn to justification. Calvin would be proud, as would interestingly, N. T. Wright. But more on that next post.

Horton starts with some exegetical developments before moving into historical considerations. These are points A and B under The Nature of the Union. I bracketed many of Horton’s thoughts in these sections, but nothing stands out for either commendation or criticism. It’s not an outstanding treatment, but neither is it faulty. It just didn’t really capture my imagination or stir me to think in fresh ways.

In the second main heading, Horton begins more explicitly interacting with the Eastern Church, seeking to nuance his presentation of union with Christ in distinction from divinization (theosis). It is also here that Horton shows a sign of things to come when he comments in a footnote (pg. 602n41) that N. T. Wright maintains an identification between regeneration and justification. He directs the reader to Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said, pgs 113-29 for further exploration.

Now, I didn’t really see that in Wright, but the bigger problem to me is that Horton will interact with Wright extensively in the next chapter, but does so in near exclusive reliance on this older book of Wright’s. I’ll explain more next time, but if nothing else, to say that Wright holds (as in currently holds) for an identification between justification and regeneration, Horton should have produced a quote from a source written more recently (which as prolific as Wright is shouldn’t be hard).

Beyond that though, this section is rather short and Horton moves quickly along to discussing distinctions between nature and grace. It is here that he clarifies for us that his view of grace being unnecessary until after the fall is inherited from Bavinck (and from earlier than Bavinck as well). I think it is fair to say saving grace obviously wasn’t necessary before the fall, but God’s voluntary condescension to Adam prior to the fall (like creating Eve for instance) seems to be rather gracious to me. This section clarifies that Horton is not idiosyncratic, but I do not think it proves his case biblically (nor does he ever in the course of the book).

On the whole though, Horton does a good job interacting with Eastern views on the union, particularly with Vladmir Lossky. He rounds out the chapter with a discussion of covenant and conditionality. Overall, I don’t think Horton is up to date on his understanding of ancient Near East covenants, and so when he draws on that faulty background understanding to illumine the biblical text, more often than not I find it lacking wattage. When he talks at the top of pg. 617 for instance of Abraham having obligations imposed on him as consequences rather than as conditions of the promise, he seems to miss that Abraham had met the conditions prior to God’s offer. The type of covenant God offered Abraham was almost always based on the vassal meeting some kind of prior condition. This may just be a minor quibble of mine, but since Horton uses covenant so repeatedly throughout the book, I think he needs a better understanding of the background.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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