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Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology Paperback – November 10, 2011
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"We have come to expect high-quality contributions on important theological topics from Dr. Letham. This volume is no exception." --Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
"Robert Letham's Union with Christ is profound yet luminous scholarship." --Joel R. Beeke
"This is an important work on an important and timely topic vital to the church's understanding of the salvation we have in Christ. It is also a topic that has become increasingly controversial in recent years." --William B. Evans
About the Author
Robert Letham (MAR, ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary; PhD, Aberdeen University) is professor of systematic and historical theology at Union School of Theology in Bridgend, Wales, and the author of a number of books, including The Holy Trinity, The Lord's Supper, and Union with Christ.
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Top customer reviews
Certainly, in the New Testament's discussion of sanctification includes and uses this concept. One can't dispute that (nor would he want to do so!), but Scripture does not always go to "union with Christ" to help people--its original readers (and us)--with sanctification issues. Sometimes it goes to the Holy Spirit; sometimes to the example of Jesus, etc. The union-with-Christ argument in Scripture, especially as it's presented here, is highly philosophical and erudite in nature. While Paul may have had a few congregations that had some in their midsts who could follow the highly conceptual argument, I believe the argument for "union with Christ as central" ultimately fails on the "could the average person (then or today) follow this" test. Seminary students and those slightly below can get this, but how about those who today haven't been to college, much less those who didn't finish high school? To say that "union with Christ" is the key concept of justification or sanctification in Scripture is to forget that God talks to the average person in Scripture.
Sadly, for far too many Christians those words ring true. But even for those who have heard of it and are at least somewhat familiar with this vitally important doctrine of the Christian faith, there are just not that many books and other resources on the subject that are both readily available and accessible to help us grow in our understanding of it.
Robert Letham’s book, Union With Christ, is a welcome exception. It is a very helpful, but not overwhelming volume (totaling a mere 141 pages!). It’s brevity adds to its helpfulness. It is a scholarly work, but not so academic as to be inaccessible to the lay person without an advanced theological degree. As the subtitle of the book makes clear, he makes his case plainly from Scripture, history (citing various ecumenical councils and controversies in the early church), and theology (citing a multitude of Reformed theologians from John Calvin to Charles Hodge).
The layout of the book is simple and easy to follow. Letham opens with a chapter showing how the basis of our union with Christ can be found in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis and its account of creation. Man was created in the image of God in order to be compatible with God. He then moves on in the second chapter to show that “[T]he basis of our union with Christ is Christ’s union with us in the incarnation” (p.21). In chapter three he discusses Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s role in effecting or applying our union with Christ by grace through faith. Letham very helpfully and succinctly sums up the first three (3) chapters at the end of chapter 3 before moving on to the next section of the book.
In the final three (3) chapters of the book, Letham demonstrates the vital relationship that union with Christ has upon our standing before God with regard to our justification (representation – chapter 4), our sanctification (transformation – chapter 5), and, finally, our glorification at Christ’s return (resurrection – chapter 6). As he states on p.137, “Union with Christ is realized in its fullness at the resurrection itself, when we will be like Christ (1 John 3:1-2).”
If there is a weakness in the book, it may be in the somewhat parenthetical section on the doctrine of “theosis” (on p.91-102). Theosis (also known as deification) is a central tenet of the Eastern church’s doctrine of salvation, but is largely unheard of in the Western church. The terminology used can sometimes sound (especially to Western ears) as if the Creator-creature distinction were being blurred. I found Letham’s treatment of this subject here to be a bit confusing, even distracting. If you are reading through this book, and find this section to be too difficult, you could (in my humble opinion) easily skip over these pages and not miss a beat. It is interesting enough, but not in any way essential to his argument.
And on the very last page of the book, he makes a wonderful evangelistic appeal to the reader, lest anyone read this book and yet still not be united to Christ by faith. As Letham states there, this wonderful doctrine is much “more than an academic question. It is greater than life and death” (p.141).
This book covers a topic that is as important as it is neglected, and (Lord willing) many in our day may find it to be a helpful remedy for that neglect.
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A fine survey of a complicated topic. Most of it is to the point. The book isn't long and the chapters are fairly short.Read more