This is not a book review (I have to read it in full!). That may come later.
One of the perks at work consists in attending presentations or lectures that strike my fancy, schedule permitting. Last week, Associate Professor of New Testament Con Campbell gave a presentation on his award-winning book Paul and Union with Christ (read the TOC and Introduction).
In this book, Campbell offers (according to the publisher) "a thorough exegetical exploration of the Greek phrases Paul used to express the idea of union, or participation, with Christ, and injects solid biblical insight into ancient and recent debates on the topic. His careful handling of the Greek text flows into theological and pastoral reflection on the importance of the believer’s union with Christ, and thus also serves as a helpful reference tool for students, scholars, and pastors to consult its treatment of any particular instance of any phrase or metaphor that relates to union with Christ in St. Paul's writings."
During the presentation, Campbell noted that since the Reformation the phrase "union with Christ" was often thought to have only one meaning. But he demurs, arguing that the phrase has multiple emphases, depending on its context. They are:
- Union: spiritual, nuptial, modeled on the mutual indwelling (perichoresis) of the Trinity—it's real (though spiritual, i.e., effected by the Spirit) and corporate
- Participation: sharing in the events of Christ’s mission—law-fulfilling, dying, rising, ascending, ruling, etc.
- Identification: belonging to the realm of Christ rather than the old realm of Adam
- Incorporation: built together into the body of Christ, the temple of God
- How Paul's "union with Christ" is inextricably and incessantly trinitarian. The Father is in Christ and by the Spirit we are in Christ. In other words (if I take his meaning correctly), "union with Christ" is shorthand for "union with the Holy Trinity."
- On the issues of justification and imputation: Are we justified via imputation or union? Campbell said he held to the former prior to this study. But the Pauline corpus clearly assumes that we are justified via our union with Christ—not through imputation (see pp. 399ff.).
Where, then, does this leave the doctrine of imputation? It still has a place theologically, argues Campbell, in that it protects the idea that the righteousness with which we are given is an alien righteousness, i.e., not self-generated or infused. But "en Christo" allows us to better understand that Christ's righteousness now belongs to all those who are in union with him. To be sure, there is a legal and forensic element to justification (so long as we don't construe it as a material transaction in which righteousness can be passed around a courtroom), but primarily it has to do with a declared status—a vindicated status. Being raised with Christ, we now share in that vindication.
Campbell went on to say that a lot of the contemporary debate is built on false dichotomies and mischaracterization. He found that for the early Reformers (not least both Luther and Calvin) it was obvious that justification is mediated via union with Christ (He cited Mark Seifrid's article "Luther, Melanchthon, and Paul on the Question of Imputation" as a helpful and clarifying work in this regard). In short . . .
Imputation ought to be understood as the unmerited reception of a righteousness that belongs wholly to another, and this reception of 'alien' righteousness is facilitated through the 'un-alienation' of two parties; once believers are joined to Christ, his righteousness is shared with them. In this way, imputation and union with Christ coexist, with one flowing from the other. (401)