A Biblical-Theological Review of Michael Allen’s Sanctification: Part 7: Chapter 6: In Christ

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Allen surveys the biblical data, metaphors, and broader canonical themes which inform the doctrine of union with Christ only briefly (143-47). Calvin’s synthesis of this biblical data receives extended attention (147-55).[1] Allen then turns to the wider Reformed evaluation of union with Christ, noting particularly the idea of participation in God and giving special attention to the Westminster Confession’s treatment. Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance’s critique of Rationalistic vs Evangelical Calvinism serve as foils for his argument for a traditional understanding of particular redemption. He concludes by affirming that all blessings as well as the being of believers come through union with Christ. “In that gracious and life-giving union, … all he has is ours: his name, his inheritance, his glory, his righteousness, and even his holiness.”

Affirmation

My agreement here is both wide and deep, as befits the reality that Wesleyan-Arminianism shares a great deal of common ground with Reformed theology, Dordt notwithstanding. One need not be a Calvinist to affirm that the salvific benefits of the atonement apply solely to those in Christ nor Barthian to affirm that election is primarily covenantal and corporate, and secondarily individual. While I part company with Allen regarding the intent of the atonement, I find that does not hinder my ability to affirm all he says regarding union with Christ.

Critique

Two features of this chapter struck me as peculiar, though it may be just my theological ignorance. First, it seemed odd, given the standard Reformed ordo salutis, that Allen insisted that justification precedes sanctification logically (157), yet includes regeneration within sanctification (149).[2] Is the Reformed tradition widening on this ordo? Second, Allen asserts that participation, which he has defined throughout in terms of union with Christ, is “the goal but not the basis of the Christian life, and [is] the end but not the entryway into the gospel” (157). Perhaps I am misunderstanding him, since he concludes, “Union with Christ provides the context within which all gracious blessings are enjoyed” and “John Murray claims rightfully that ‘union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.’” I don’t see how union with Christ can be the “context of all gracious blessing” and but not “the basis of the Christian life.” Additional clarification here would be helpful.

Extension

The relationship between sanctification and our union with Christ deserves more attention. Answers to questions such as How are we sanctified through union, What is the nature of our sanctification through union (positional, personal, progressive), What is the relation of corporate and individual union with regard to sanctification, and How does one appropriate Christ’s holiness for progressive sanctification, would enrich this chapter.

 


 

Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

[1] Allen argues that “Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ … remains governed by the catholic rules of the Creator-creature distinction, the Trinitarian grammar of inclusion in God’s family specifically in and through the incarnate Son, the christological distinctions of the divine and human natures along the lines of Chalcedon, and the Reformed rule of distinguishing justification and sanctification as well as expressing their indissolubility in union with Christ” (153).
[2] “The twofold grace can be described in various ways: forgiveness of sins and regeneration, primarily, or justification and sanctification” (149). His later comment, “God’s regenerative work serves as the precursor to his sanctifying action” doesn’t adequately clarify his position for me (200).

Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).