Saturday, February 14, 2015

Union with Christ and justification

A decisive break with the ordo salutis thinking that has vitiated Reformed thought since the early seventeenth century is clearly implied here [in T.F. Torrance's thought -DHC]. This historical record shows that as long as justification is viewed as taking place at a specific point in time (either in eternity or upon the exercise of faith) it is nearly impossible to find a meaningful relationship between justification and the economy of faith (the ongoing life of faith and obedience). Only when the traditional ordo salutis is eschewed can a truly forensic and synthetic doctrine of justification that is at the same time relational and dynamic be articulated.

...No longer is justification viewed as an abstract punctiliar decree in eternity or when a person believes. Rather, justification inheres once for all in the person of Christ, the resurrected and justified one. The believer's justification, then, is viewed as a continual and ongoing participation in the one divine forensic decree of justification—the resurrection justification of Christ. ... As to the time of justification, to speak theologically, the Christian's justification is intended in the eternal purposes of God; it is objectively declared at the resurrection of Christ; it is subjectively realized in the ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit; and it is conclusively ratified at the eschaton. [William B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 265]

...according to them [the Sophists - DHC], man is justified by faith as well as by works, provided these are not his own works, but gifts of Christ and fruits of regeneration; Paul's only object in so expressing himself being to convince the Jews, that in trusting to their own strength they foolishly arrogated righteousness to themselves, whereas it is bestowed upon us by the Spirit of Christ alone, and not by studied efforts of our nature. But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded (Gal. iii. 11, 12). For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again (Rom. x. 5-9). Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification [read "regeneration" -DHC] and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.14)

The modern idea of "union with Christ" it seems partakes of the "Calvin versus the Calvinists" paradigm, and follows the revisionist historiography of the Barthians in this regard. According to William Evans, who followed Barthian T.F. Torrance's revisionist interpretation of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, we need to reject all talk about the Ordo Salutis as being a distortion of Calvin's thought of a vital and sustantial union with Christ. Justification in this scheme is a continuous process it seems, although it must be pointed out that the continuation is not the doing of good works but of the spiritual work of faithfulness.

As I have mentioned, I do not see how John Calvin can be interpreted to have this idea of a union with Christ in nobis. This whole idea of union with Christ as being John Calvin's focus really stinks of the whole discredited central dogma theory, as if Calvin interprets all of Scripture (eisegesis) through a theological hermeneutical lens. Also, the entire "Calvin versus the Calvinists" nonsense treats Calvin as THE definition of what Reformed means, something which Calvin would be much appalled about. John Calvin, while an influential Reformed, was not the only Reformer neither did he see himself as in any way superior to the other Reformers. Disagreeing with Calvin is thus not falling away from the Reformed faith!

But let us suppose for the sake of argument that Calvin is the paradigm of Reformed thought. When we look at Calvin's view on justification, what do we see but that justification is purely through faith alone, a faith that is passive and without works of any sort. We note that Calvin even excludes evangelical or spiritual works from consideration of justification. How different is that from Evans' idea of justification requiring "ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit" or perseverance in union with Christ, which must be considered an evangelical or spiritual good work. Evans might say it is still all of grace without good works, but the question is: Can a person lost his justification if he does not continue in the "ongoing union with Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit"? If justification can be lost, then we are back with Rome and her false gospel of salvation by faith and works. But if justification cannot be lost, then justification is not really continual is it? One just has to "begin" the process and all who "begin" the "continual" process will most certainly complete it.

The entire accusation against the Ordo Salutis is bad revisionist history. While we agree that a full-orbed Ordo was still forming during the time of the Reformers like John Calvin, yet it is simply ludicrous to think that there is no sort of order between the various works of God since they are all subsumed under "union with Christ." From 3.11.14 of Calvin's Institutes, Calvin clearly saw regeneration and justification as being prior to the "blessings" that flow from them, thus showing that having some version of an Ordo is inevitable within the Reformed tradition, despite Evans' distorted historiography

In order for salvation to be by faith alone, it must have a "punctiliar" nature, in the sense that a person that has faith does not create and nurture this faith unto justification by evangelical works. That is the problem Evans does not see: that erasing the punctiliar nature of justification means that one's evangelical works contribute to one's "final" justification, and thus justification by faith alone is compromised.

In conclusion, I am not impressed with the type of irrationality behind this project of denying the Ordo. The Reformers, Calvin included, all believed in justification by faith alone apart from any type of good works, and smuggling works in the back door is not something any of them would countenance.

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