Union with Christ for Experimental Calvinists

According to a pseudonymous author, 1978 was the year Reformed theology changed:

Reformed theology has changed. And there seems to be no going back. It was in the year 1978 that a tectonic shift in the underlying structure of Reformed theology began with the publication of a small book. The changes were not only systematic, but also systemic—affecting all aspects of it. Yet, interestingly, the changes were initially imperceptible until several years later.

Dr. Richard Gaffin, of Westminster Theological Seminary published his first book, The Centrality of the Resurrection, which would later be renamed and mass published under the title Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. It was in this fine exegetical work that Dr. Gaffin unpacked the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s salvation vocabulary. Words like justification, sanctification, adoption, etc. would be understood differently in light his research. Dr. Gaffin was building upon historical Reformed theology as well as critiquing it. To do this he was deeply influenced by the work of various theologians across denominational distinctions, and in particular he was shaped by Reformed thinkers such as Herman Ridderbos and John Murray. But in the end, Dr. Gaffin would put together the exegetical conclusions in a way that had never been done before.

A recovery of union with Christ could have led to a higher view of the sacraments, the way it did for John Williamson Nevin, who also stressed union with Christ:

Most people are taught in Reformed churches and seminaries, to think linearly about salvation (e.g. Justification leads to Sanctification which leads to Glorification). A person is first justified (i.e. saved, forgiven) and then comes sanctification (i.e. growth, maturity), and then comes glorification (i.e. dying and rising from the dead at the resurrection). Other words may be added to this order of salvation (e.g. regeneration, adoption, etc.) but the historical way of looking at these words fits them in an unbreakable, linear, “golden” chain. This is called the ordo salutis (Latin term: “order of salvation”). It’s the Reformed way of explaining the application of salvation to a person from beginning to end. Once a person is justified, the other benefits follow in due course. If a person is “truly” justified, the rest will follow.

This is one reason why Reformed theology has always struggled to “fit” the sacraments into any meaningful place in its systematic theology. If the golden chain of salvation can’t break, then it’s difficult to see how baptism is really all that important or why the Lord’s Supper is necessary. While Reformed theology held to the Lord’s Supper as a “means of grace” it was rare to find a Reformed church practice weekly communion or place it on par with preaching. The sacraments were aids to faith–crutches if you will–but not really necessary in the life and practice of Reformed churches considering the logical consequences of the “golden chain.” If you focus on the linear progression of the ordo salutis, the unbreakable chain of salvation, starting with predestination and ending with glorification then, the sacraments have little need in such a theological system, logically and practically speaking.

But that isn’t where Dr. Gaffin wanted union to go:

But if soteriology is eschatology, then doesn’t soteriology also include the restoration and renewal of personal relationships in a new community? If that’s the case, then isn’t soteriology also ecclesiology? This conclusion, in particular, the “New Gaffin” in his By Faith would attempt to avoid in order distance himself from the sacramental and ecclesiological implications. While many scholars and theologians were coming to this particular conclusion, Dr. Gaffin was distancing himself away from the conclusion that soteriology is ecclesiology.

But despite his attempts to ward off the conclusions, there were clear biblical arguments that couldn’t be avoided by many. Baptism engrafts into Jesus Christ. As Dr. Gaffin had originally said, “…if ‘washing’ on which ‘regeneration’ is directly dependent in Titus 3:5, refers to baptism, then what Romans 6:3ff…teaches concerning baptism as a sign and seal of incorporation with the resurrected Christ, and so the implications of that incorporation, will have to be brought to bear here.” The implications were clear to many: All the benefits of salvation are given in baptism because baptism engrafts into Christ. Soteriology didn’t simply have “implications” on ecclesiology; it is ecclesiology. To be baptized into the Christian church is to be baptized into Jesus Christ.

In which case, how revolutionary was the recovery of union with Christ? Did its advocates simply tinker with the ordo salutis or did they seek to apply union to ecclesiology, liturgy and the sacraments? From this seat, it looks like union had a narrow application, chiefly to a discussion of the application of redemption that comes up in questions 29 through 38 in the Shorter Catechism. For union to apply to questions 88 through 97, unionists would need the Federal Visionaries.

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Where’s Waldo 2016 Update

Since some of the comments of late are echoing the union-with-Christ-centric reading of Reformed soteriology that animated many posts here, I offer a refresher on Calvin’s understanding of first-importance matters when he was explaining to Cardinal Sadoleto what Protestants believed about salvation. Note first the priority of forensics — this is about sin, guilt, law, legal verdicts:

We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

Oh, yes, he talks about communion. That’s not union, at least in the English language I use.

Second, the obedience boys should observe Calvin’s understanding of works in relation to faith:

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God bath reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

Funny how far union with Christ was from Calvin’s explicit explanation of Protestant soteriology. Maybe union comes in the Development of Calvinist Doctrine. One man’s development is another’s change.

But Won't You Still Go Into Exile?

Tim Challies channels Paul in Romans 7 even if he avoids “oh wretched man”:

I still get angry. I still lash out in anger. I still simmer in anger. I still have desires that stem from anger and suffer the consequences of my anger. And that is just one sin. I still lust and am still jealous and am still thankless and still sin in so many ways. I have died to sin but sin has not yet died within. But here is the difference; here is the change: Sin no longer has dominion. And practically I cannot relate to it as if it has dominion. I have to ensure that my experience of sin is consistent with my theology of sin.

Anger does not own me. Christ owns me. Lust does not motivate me. Christ motivates me. Jealousy does not get the final victory. Christ gets the final victory. The cross stands there as assurance that I have been saved from its power and will some day be fully and finally delivered from its presence. Sin is in me but I am in Christ. And what is in me was put upon him on the cross. He triumphed over it then. He broke its power. And now I just wait, battling all the while, for him to speak the word and bring it to an end once and for all.

But the good news is that he is united to Christ, right? So isn’t the priority of union before justification just as antinomian as the priority of justification to sanctification? Either way, the assurance of God’s favor is a great comfort for believers who still carry around sin. But let’s not conclude that somehow union fixes what justification lacks. The only remedy for sin, before or after regeneration, is not obedience but the grace of Christ.

At the same time, wouldn’t the obedience boys tell Tim that he is going to have to suffer for his ongoing sin? Can he simply get away with all this anger and lust and jealousy? Won’t he experience God’s displeasure?

If I Don't Open the Car Door for My Wife . . .

Do I risk dissolving the marriage?

This was a question I considered after reading an interview with our favorite neo-anti-antinomian, Mark Jones about his book on antinomianism. He uses this example to make his point about personal holiness improvement:

I need to be told to love my wife more. I remember being in South Africa and my friend rebuked me for not opening the car door for my wife. He was saying, “show love to your wife.” But he didn’t say, “Mark, I want you to look to your justification right now” in the hopeful expectation that I will suddenly realize that I need to open the door for my wife. And he didn’t say, “Mark, you aren’t looking to our justification because if you were you would have opened the door for your wife.” If he said that I’d think he was a weirdo. Sometimes in the Christian life we can give a rebuke without having it die the death of a thousand qualifications; and the rebuke can work wonders.

That makes a lot of sense but it is hardly a slam dunk for union with Christ or the simultaneity of justification and sanctification. Plus, would Mark think a friend weird if he said, “Mark, you aren’t looking to your union because if you were you would have opened the door for your wife”? But haven’t the pro-union folks make claims almost that odd, as if looking to our union is going to solve the charge of antinomianism?

The problem with Mark’s sensible point is that it comes with a not-so-qualified one, namely, an implicit threat:

Like Turretin, Owen affirms that good works are the necessary path believers must walk to final salvation. This is in keeping with Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 32, which speaks of good works as “the way which [God] hath appointed them to salvation.” WCF 16.2 speaks of “their fruit unto holiness” leading to the end, which likewise reflects the relationship between means and end.

Where is the language to say that yes, works are necessary but not in the sense that if you don’t open the car door for your wife you lose your salvation marriage? If the forensic character of marriage won’t let my wife divorce me for not being polite, can’t the imputed righteousness of Christ cover a multitude of sins? I sure hope so. Sometimes even the missus does also.

Talk about High Expectations

Forget about WWJD. Be Jesus.

In other words, there is more, much more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than simply trying to imitate him. How dull is that?

Instead we’re talking about becoming Jesus Christ alive in the world today. He wants to do more, much more than we can ask or imagine, and he does so through the sacramental economy.

Catholics have an understanding of the Christian life that is stranger and deeper and more mysterious than any other. This is because we have the gift of the seven sacraments.

A sacrament is not simply “an outward sign of an inward grace” that’s an Anglican definition. It is not simply a symbol or a reminder. That’s a Protestant definition. The Catholic understanding is that “a sacrament effects what it signifies.”

It DOES something, and what it does is it configures us to Christ. That is to say, through the mystery of the sacrament we are bonded with Christ and Christ is bonded with us, and this is a reality, not just a theory. It is there in the gospel where Jesus says, “Abide in me and I will abide in you. I am the vine you are the branches.”

I wonder what Mark Jones would say about such encouragement to be “the greatest believer who ever lived.”

From DGH on Which is Better Submitted on 2014/11/11 at 10:32 am

Mark,

Your post greatly encouraged me because you finally seemed to understand the import of justification compared to sanctification (if we need make such comparisons). I thought you got it right when you wrote:

I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.

I know you don’t think quoting Machen solves much (even though whether quoting M’Cheyne resolves anything), but after your admission about the centrality of justification you might appreciate this by Machen:

Regeneration means a new life; but there is also a new relation in which the believer stands toward God. That new relation is instituted by “justification” − the act of God by which a sinner is pronounced righteous in His sight because of the atoning death of Christ. It is not necessary to ask whether justification comes before regeneration or vice versa; in reality they are two aspects of one salvation. And they both stand at the very beginning of the Christian life. The Christian has not merely the promise of a new life, but he has already a new life. And he has not merely the promise of being pronounced righteous in God’s sight (though the blessed pronouncement will be confirmed on the judgment day), but he is already pronounced righteous here and now. At the beginning of every Christian life there stands, not a process, but a definite act of God. (Christianity and Liberalism, 141)

You might also like the way that Machen describes “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6):

It is a significant thing that in that last “practical” section of Galatians Paul does not say that faith produces the life of love; he says that the Spirit of I God produces it. The Spirit, then, in that section is represented as doing exactly what in the pregnant words, “faith working through love,” is attributed to faith. The apparent contradiction simply leads to the true conception of faith. True faith does not do anything. When it is said to do something (for example, when we say that it can remove mountains), that is only by a very natural shortness of expression. Faith is the exact opposite of works; faith does not give, it receives. So when Paul says that we do something by faith, that is just another way of saying that of ourselves we do nothing; when it is said that faith works through love that means that through faith the necessary basis of all Christian work has been obtained in the removal of guilt and the birth of the new man, and that the Spirit of God has been received − the Spirit who works with and through the Christian man for holy living. The force which enters the Christian life through faith and works itself out through love is the power of the Spirit of God. (146-47)

This understanding of the Spirit, I’m sure you’ll agree, puts the idea of the imitation of Christ in a different perspective. And after reading Todd Pruitt’s post about Christlikeness, I must admit that I’m not sure I have understood your series of posts that recommend Christ as “the greatest Christian ever.” Todd, after all, thinks you’re merely talking about foot-washing (I wonder if Pastor Pruitt has dipped any feet in a basin lately), humility, and suffering. But as I read you, you are talking about Christ being sanctified by the Spirit the way we are, or his living by faith the way we do, or his being tempted by Satan being similar to the temptations that confront sinners who are not the Second Adam.

Maybe you and Todd could clear this confusion up by devoting a podcast to how Jesus would discuss the contemporary church scene with co-hosts like Carl and Aimee.

Where's Waldo Wednesday: No Cherry Picking (or Flipping)

Now that I’ve finished all six seasons of the “Larry Sanders Show,” which still comes highly recommended as arguably the funniest and most poignant treatments of celebrity in Hollywood, I am free to flip channels. (Those who haven’t seen the show need to understand that after his monologue, before going to commercial, Larry would say “no flipping.)

But we still need someone like Larry to tell us Reformed debaters to stop cherry picking. In basketball, a cherry picker is someone who lingers at one of the court — the offensive one (not in the sense of being objectionable for UK readers) — and never goes to the other end to play defense.

A similar tendency exists in debates over union. Lots of pro-unionists cite Calvin on union. They hang out at the end of the court where Book III begins. Not so many of these cherry pickers lurk at that end where Calvin talks about the sacramental significance of union. But as for doing the hard work of looking beyond Calvin to other theologians who were Reformed churchmen, some would rather not do the laborious work of running from one end of the court to the other.

Calvin’s support in turn becomes a warrant for declaring that other people who claim to be Reformed are not — hence assertions about Lutheranism, semi-Pelagianism, and the like. Not only has the argument cherry picked from Calvin, but also from the history of Reformed Protestantism. For the claim that someone is Reformed, Lutheran, Arminian, Baptist is not a biblical assertion but a historical judgment. The Bible may reveal what it means to be Reformed. But Reformed Protestantism emerged and developed not by finding a creed, polity, and liturgy written down in Scripture but by Reformed officers trying to figure out what the Bible teaches and applying that teaching in a host of circumstances from 1522 to the present.

All of this is to say that the way forward in the debates about union — a question that emerged at the end of Mike Horton’s interview at Reformed Forum — is to let the historians decide. Of course, this sounds self-serving (which it isn’t because I am not a historical theologian). It is actually a realistic assessment of the most contested claims made by all parties in the discussions of union. Everyone wants to be biblical and execute the best exegesis. But interpreting the Bible is not the way you understand or define Christian past. To know the Reformed tradition, you need to study the past. That way you can see which theologians held what views, which churches professed what creeds, which synods or assemblies excluded what teachings as erroneous.

Historical investigation will never satisfy the bibilicist (just ask John Frame). But it will teach everyone to be more careful about the use of words like Reformed.

The alternative is to abandon words like Reformed, Lutheran, Pelagian, and Baptist altogether. “Hmmmmmmm, no denominations.” Imagine a world separate communions. I think John Lennon (and Frame) would go for that.

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Can You Handle Calvin on Union?

The Frenchman’s discussion of union at the beginning of book three of the Institutes is slight compared to his treatment of union when explaining the Lord’s Supper. I have often wondered why the unionists who give so much weight to Calvin in discussing the doctrine are not leading a program of liturgical renewal that would included — at least — the administration of the Lord’s Supper weekly. I also know that for most low church Protestants, Calvin’s views of the Supper are downright spooky. They even led Charles Hodge, in debate with John Williamson Nevin, to conclude that Calvin was an aberration within the Reformed tradition.

So to the end of fairness and balance, here are a few quotes from Calvin on union that seem to be unimportant compared to the task of micromanaging the ordo salutis:

. . . the signs are bread and wine, which represent the invisible food which we receive from the body and blood of Christ. For as God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption, so we have said that he performs the office of a provident parent, in continually supplying the food by which he may sustain and preserve us in the life to which he has begotten us by his word. Moreover, Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to him, that, refreshed by communion with him, we may ever and anon gather new vigour until we reach the heavenly immortality. But as this mystery of the secret union of Christ with believers is incomprehensible by nature, he exhibits its figure and image in visible signs adapted to our capacity, nay, by giving, as it were, earnests and badges, he makes it as certain to us as if it were seen by the eye; the familiarity of the similitude giving it access to minds however dull, and showing that souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine. We now, therefore, understand the end which this mystical benediction has in view—viz. to assure us that the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us, so that we may now eat it, and, eating, feel within ourselves the efficacy of that one sacrifice,—that his blood was once shed for us so as to be our perpetual drink. . . (IV.17.1)

. . . I see not how any one can expect to have redemption and righteousness in the cross of Christ, and life in his death, without trusting first of all to true communion with Christ himself. Those blessings could not reach us, did not Christ previously make himself ours. I say then, that in the mystery of the Supper, by the symbols of bread and wine, Christ, his body and his blood, are truly exhibited to us, that in them he fulfilled all obedience, in order to procure righteousness for us— first that we might become one body with him; and, secondly, that being made partakers of his substance, we might feel the result of this fact in the participation of all his blessings. (IV.17.11)

Where's Waldo Wednesday: What's At Stake?

The recent show at Reformed Forum on union with Christ has generated a lively exchange (some of which spilled over to Old Life). As he did at Old Life, David has produced a number of quotations from Reformed theologians on the ordo salutis that suggest the unionists have their work cut out for them if they are going to claim that John Murray or Dick Gaffin hung the union moon. For instance (thanks to David):

Berkhof wrote:

The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense.

A. A. Hodge wrote:

The second characteristic mark of Protestant soteriology is the principle that the change of relation to the law signalized by the term justification, involving remission of penalty and restoration to favor, necessarily precedes and renders possible the real moral change of character signalized by the terms regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation excludes the exercise of grace in the heart. Remission of punishment must be preceded by remission of guilt, and must itself precede the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Hence it must be entirely unconditioned upon any legal standing, or moral or gracious condition of the subject. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. We are freely made co-heirs with Christ in order that we may become willing co-workers with him, but we are never made co-workers in order that we may become co-heirs.

These principles are of the very essence of Protestant soteriology. To modify, and much more, of course, to ignore or to deny them, destroys absolutely the thing known as Protestantism, and ought to incur the forfeiture of all recognized right to wear the name.

And James Buchanan wrote:

It has sometimes been asked—Whether Regeneration or Justification has the precedency in the order of nature? This is a question of some speculative interest, but of little practical importance. It relates to the order of our conceptions, not to the order of time; for it is admitted on all hands that the two blessings are bestowed simultaneously. The difficulties which have suggested it are such as these,—How God can be supposed, on the one hand, to bestow the gift of His Spirit on any one who is still in a state of wrath and condemnation,—and how He can be supposed, on the other hand, to justify any sinner while he is not united to Christ by that living faith which is implanted only by the Spirit of God? But such difficulties will be found to resolve themselves into a more general and profound question; and can only be effectually removed, by falling back on God’s eternal purpose of mercy towards sinners, which included equally their redemption by Christ, and their regeneration by His Spirit. The grand mystery is how God, who hates sin, could ever love any class of sinners,—and so love them, as to give His own Son to die for them, and His Holy Spirit to dwell in them. The relation which subsists, in respect of order, between Regeneration and Justification, is sufficiently determined, for all practical purposes, if neither is held to be prior or posterior to the other, in point of time,—and if it is clearly understood that they are simultaneous gifts of the same free grace; for then it follows,— that no unrenewed sinner is justified,—and that every believer, as soon as he believes, is pardoned and accepted of God.

All of which leads to the point that the Reformed tradition has not been uniform on the ordo salutis. How could it be since the ordo is one of the great mysteries of the faith — the Spirit of God working invisibly in the hidden corners of the human soul?

If the Reformed tradition has witnessed (and by implication tolerated) a variety of views on the ordo salutis, what is so crucial to the unionist position? One answer might be historical. Today’s church has neglected a doctrine that has been central to the Reformed tradition. But is union solely the possession of Reformed Protestantism? Last I checked, Luther believed in and taught union with Christ. And so have various Reformed theologians who then proceeded to situate union in relation to the application of redemption in a variety of ways.

Another answer is that the gospel is at stake in the doctrine of union. I sometimes believe that unionists sound as if getting union right is on the order of fidelity to the gospel.

Or it could simply be a matter of doctrinal fine tuning. If we spend a little more time on union then other matters of the faith become clearer or pastorally beneficial.

But given the decibel level of unionists’ arguments (not to mention the length of their interviews), I am not sure that historical accuracy or a doctrinal tune-up is an adequate explanation. That would leave the gospel as the matter at stake in debates over union.

If anyone can help me understand the union ruckus, I’d be grateful.

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Can Biblical Theologians Do Historical Theology?

In my ongoing search for historical evidence to prove that union with Christ is crucial to Reformed Protestantism and distinguishes the Reformed tradition from Lutheranism, I did a word search in the Canons of Dort. Lo and behold, I discovered that the patriarchs of the Dutch Reformed tradition (from whence Gerheerdus Vos cometh) did not use the word “union” once (or at least their translators found no reason to use the term).

This is fairly remarkable since the Third and Fourth headings in Dort address specifically the nature of conversion, regeneration, and the role of faith. If union were going to be an important piece of Reformed orthodoxy in understanding the ordo salutis, Dort would be the place to find it since the Synod took place at a time when Reformed scholastics were beginning to engage in high level polemics. And yet, we can’t find Waldo in Dort.

Here’s an excerpt:

Article 10: Conversion as the Work of God

The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.

Article 11: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Conversion

Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work

And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man’s power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

Article 13: The Incomprehensible Way of Regeneration

In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.

Article 14: The Way God Gives Faith

In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent–the act of believing–from man’s choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.

Does this mean that union with Christ is wrong or that those who argue for its importance are wrongheaded? Of course, not. History doesn’t work that way. But claims about union have escalated to levels that rely on historical judgments. It is not simply a question of what the Bible says. Unionists are making assertions that affect the way we read the history of the Reformation (how did the Reformers read Paul and did they get it right?) and the history of Reformed Protestantism (what was basic to the way that Reformed pastors and theologians explained the Reformed faith?).

So far, the unionists appear to be overreaching. I understand the appeal of finding your cherished doctrine safe near the core of Reformed Protestantism (hence the appeal to Calvin). But sometimes your belief in the truth means you need to say that the tradition has been wrong and that your insights are right. Maybe if we could clarify the history of Reformed thought, the debates over union could be more fruitful than they are now when exegetes are making historical claims they appear to be unable to support.