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Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church Paperback – November 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"What does the doctrine of adoption have to say to a 'moralistic, therapeutic, deistic' teenager? How does the Reformed understanding of sin actually underscore human freedom? Are we getting too loose in our talk about 'incarnational ministry'? Can we talk about a relationship with Christ without descending into sentimentalism? How does Christ's work for us connect with his work in us by his Word and Spirit? Only after reading this book will you see just how related are all of these themes. And the integrating framework is union with Christ. In this fresh, winsome, learned yet down-to-earth exploration, Billings displays the research of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. This is one of the best books available on the heart of the gospel and its relevance for our lives."
--Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California
"The beautiful, mystical, and biblical idea of Christ's union with the body of Christ--considered both ecclesially and individually--had nearly evaporated from the religious consciousness of evangelical and Reformed Christians for a while. That is no longer the case with Billings's new book. The doctrines of adoption and incarnation receive a fresh treatment in this book to open up the wide vista of application for the Christian life. Billings has done a wonderful job of weaving together a robust presentation of the heart of the gospel and the corresponding ecclesial praxis."
--Paul C. H. Lim, Vanderbilt University
"Drawing upon the likes of Augustine, Calvin, Bavinck, and others, Todd Billings ably demonstrates why the biblical truth of union and communion with God has had such historical and theological significance. Thankfully, he doesn't leave us out of the story. Along the way he highlights why union with Christ continues to matter for our understanding of the Christian life, making insightful connections between adoption and participation, incomprehensibility and accommodation, justice and Eucharist, grace and action. Let Billings take you into a deeper appreciation of what it means to be united to Christ--you won't regret it."
--Kelly M. Kapic, Covenant College
"Billings has been at the forefront of academic debates over the concept of union with Christ. With this book he shows all of us why union with Christ matters for our Christian lives and ministries and worship. Drawing on contexts as diverse as sixteenth-century Europe and contemporary Africa, Billings explores a theme that takes us to the heart of the gospel in a way that enriches and corrects our faith, our understanding, and our practices."
--Suzanne McDonald, Calvin College
"In Union with Christ, Todd Billings expounds upon an important New Testament doctrine by exploring its contemporary ramifications in light of careful historical and exegetical reflection. This is a thought-provoking book that will ignite fresh conversations about the nature of our participation in Christ."
--Trevin Wax, coauthor of Counterfeit Gospels and Holy Subversion

From the Back Cover

"This is an important book on an important topic. Billings brings his expertise regarding Calvin to bear not only on misconceptions about the great Reformer but also on contemporary misconceptions of Christ and Christian ministry. Drawing on rich personal experiences, he offers an accessible and rewarding study, demonstrating that the centrality of union with Christ can solve many theological problems in a way that has direct practical significance for today."
--George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

"If Reformed theology is going to make the comeback that many of us have been praying for, this marvelous book offers the kind of careful thinking that will make it happen. Todd Billings illuminates concepts such as adoption, divine incomprehensibility, and incarnation in a way that has profound implications for ministry in the twenty-first century."
--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

"J. Todd Billings has a wonderful grasp of theological reflection, old and new, brought into conversation with contemporary issues. He has written a breathtaking book that theologians and pastors will find provocative and instructive."
--Andrew Purves, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

"This meditation on union with Christ is a beautiful example of how careful study of the Bible, history, and theology work together to support faithful and vital ministry and life. Featuring both brief and lucid explanations of key concepts and provocative descriptions of the countercultural implications of this scriptural theme, this volume will be useful to both beginning students of theology and ministry as well as seasoned veterans."
--John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

"With a keen sense of contemporary Christianity, a deep love of Scripture, and an exceptional theological mind, Billings has written a book that retrieves the past, engages the present, and helps us to more faithfully face the future in light of the reality of our communion with Christ."
--Kristen Deede Johnson, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801039347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801039348
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. He received his B.A. in Philosophy and Literature from Wheaton College (IL), his M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and his Th.D. from Harvard. His first book, "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift," won a 2009 Templeton Award for Theological Promise. His third book, "Union with Christ," won a 2012 Christianity Today Book Award. His most recent book, "Rejoicing in Lament," gives a theological reflection on providence and lament in light of his 2012 cancer diagnosis. He is married to Rachel M. Billings, an Old Testament scholar (Ph.D. Harvard). They have a lively household with two young children, and one Welsh Corgi.

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James M Arcadi on December 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Todd Billings provides a very helpful book on an all too often neglected theological theme. The central premise of the text is that the motif of the Christian's union with Christ is "a central New Testament description of Christian identity, the life of salvation in Christ" (1) and as such, has important implications for ministry in the Church. This text, thus, deals with heavy theological concepts, but it does so always with a practical end in mind.

Billings begins his examination of this theme in response to the implicit theology of American teens that Christian Smith has termed, "moralistic therapeutic deism." The popular conception of God, according to Smith's research, is that he is an entity who generally wants people to follow the rules and be happy. This deity ends up being a rather distant fellow who isn't much concerned with the world as long as people are being nice. In contrast, Billings retrieves via John Calvin the notion of a Christians' intimate relationship with a very near God as union with Christ through adoption. This union-through-adoption affords the Christian the "double grace" of justification and sanctification.

With the conception of union-through-adoption in place, Billings turns to discuss two perennial issues in theology: the bondage of the fallen will to sin and the possibility of actually interacting with God, who is by nature incomprehensible to humans. On the former Billings' appropriates a Reformed reading of Augustine that emphasizes the fact that "to be fully human is to be in harmony and obedient communion with God" (60). Thus, the Christian's union with Christ restores the human ability to not sin; that is, "God's action by the Spirit in the human does not threaten the human's own agency but actually enables it" (60).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nate Claiborne on February 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
Early on in Union with Christ, J. Todd Billings summarizes his approach in the book:

I seek to help us hear the voices of the past in a way that illuminates Scripture's witness to the reality of our union with Christ, giving us insights for theology, life, and ministry today (p. 3).

Once we have "listened receptively to the theologians of the past," we are then able to "assess whether the new exegetical and theological possibilities discovered form this engagement with the past are valid or in error" (p. 5). With this in mind, Billings chooses the Reformation, and specifically Calvin, as the context to retrieve the doctrine of union with Christ because "Calvin also used his theology of justification and union with Christ to configure his account of divine and human agency, the law, and the sacrements" (p. 7).

Billings then gives two majors factors underlying the need for this book:

The functional or lived theologies of salvation in the West have deficiencies in the precise areas where a Reformational theology of union with Christ has strengths.
While the ecclesial left tends to identify the gospel with a certain type of ethical action (horizontal) and the ecclesial right tends to emphasize the importance of being right with God (vertical), a theology of union with Christ takes the dualism and polarities that still remain from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy and unites them into a cohesive, holistic account of the gospel (adapted from pp. 8-10)
In other words, if you've personally seen a divide between those Christians calling for social justice being the preeminent concern of the Christian and those calling for personal holiness being the preeminent concern, Billings book is aiming to unite those aims.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael in Lyons on March 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
The thing that captured me was how well Dr. Billings wrote an academic book on an accessible level. The discussion is deep but I didn't have to reach for a dictionary too often. In the past reading a book of this level would have required having a dictionary close at hand. But while there were a few terms that I had to look up it wasn't too often and it didn't take away from the book at all.

Dr. Billings set out to show both how the doctrines of Union with Christ is a Reformed doctrine and that it has very real world implications. In my opinion he suceeded in both. The extensive use of Calvin's writing (as well as many other Reformed and pre-Reformation writers) shows how this doctrine is a foundational Reformed doctrine and should be considered an essential Christian doctrine that we should do a better job of discussing within all denominations of the church. He also showes how this doctrine should have practical implications for how we live life as the church. The chapter on how our union with Christ should affect our views of social justice issues was particularly instructive but also very convicting. Dr. Billings makes a great point that our union with Christ should be the driving foundation for our helping the world.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rob Price on January 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a fantastic little book on the heart of the gospel and some of its most practical implications. Billings begins (chapter 1) with an account of our salvation in terms of our adoption into union with Christ, an adoption initiated by the Father, grounded in Christ, and applied to us by the Spirit. The four chapters that follow then explore what such an account of salvation means for how we address human sin (chapter 2), know God (chapter 3), seek social justice (chapter 4), and approach Christian ministry (chapter 5).

The publisher's page (Baker Academic) has four short video clips of Billings summarizing these themes. So I'll just burrow down into one chapter (chapter 3) in an attempt to give the flavor of the whole.

So what does our union with Christ mean for how we know God? A biblical account of knowing God will have to speak both of God's transcendence (so there's stuff we can't know about God) and his immanence (so there's stuff we can). God is only 'comprehensible' (entirely knowable) to himself; to us he is 'incomprehensible' (not entirely knowable, partially knowable--but not unknowable!). But it is God himself who has seen to it that we can have true and important partial knowledge of him. And he has done so by addressing us and becoming one with us in the Son. When the Father then unites us with the Son by the Holy Spirit, we begin to share in Jesus' own human knowledge of the Father. So both now and in glory, the way God enables us know him is not ultimately by filling our brains with information about him. The Father lets us see him as only Jesus can (87-88). What an amazing privilege!

So we only know God because he has accommodated himself to our slender, human capacities.
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