In my previous post I cited two recent works that include a substantial amount of Reformed thinkers during the 16th and 17th centuries who understood union with Christ as the most basic category for individual salvation. These Reformed figures believed that union with Christ is foundational and that the benefits of justification, sanctification, and adoption flow from that union.
What was the point of the post? Two points: first, understanding union with Christ as the most basic category for salvation has just about as much precedent during the 16th and 17th century as one could hope for. This was not an understanding of salvation by a few fringe theologians, but the mainstream understanding at the time of Calvin and his contemporaries through the era of the English Puritans and the Westminster Confession. When Reformed trajectories were being established, the bulk of Reformed thinkers understood Scripture to teach that our union with Christ grounded the benefits of salvation.
Second, it’s important to know what a list of quotations does accomplish and does not accomplish. Though historical quote piles can sometimes seem intimidating and/or appear to settle a theological discussion, the most a quote list can do is establish weighty precedent for a position. That precedent can often be extremely important in a discussion, but it is not the same thing as establishing whether a theological belief is, in fact, true. Historical precedent from Reformed thinkers is often related to whether a theological belief is true, but it is not identical to a theological truth claim.
Demonstrating the truth of a theological belief involves exegetical support, biblical-theological work, and systematic-theological integration, in addition to historical precedent for the position. Any of these methods used in isolation from the others will leave gaps in the integrity of the theological truth for which one argues. Exegesis in total isolation from systematic, biblical-theological, and historical concerns leaves an interpreter vulnerable to repeating the mistakes of those who have dealt with the same material in the past (historical theology), and it unnaturally divorces a text from where it stands within the history of special revelation (biblical theology) and the whole of biblical teaching on the topic (systematic theology). To argue a theological point accurately and effectively, all these elements should organically be involved.
Though I am personally thrilled to see recent publications fill a gap and address the Reformed historical precedent for understanding union with Christ as most basic to our salvation, these crucial historical works must be understood within the broader thrust of works that argue for the same position exegetically, biblical-theologically, and systematically. Much work has been done on these topics (here, here, and here [with a republication from P&R coming soon]), but more work remains.
What does all this talk of “union” matter for our daily walk? We’ll look at that question in the next post.