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Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology Kindle Edition

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Length: 178 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 828 KB
  • Print Length: 178 pages
  • Publisher: P&R Publishing (21 Oct. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007HPCH7A
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #590,702 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Letham writes well and I like the fact that (as he did with his book on the Trinity) he surveys the material both from a biblical and an historical perspective. One caution (for those who but books on the strength of endorsements, is that I am not sure everyone would understand the "pastoral sensitivity" that Packer refers to in the same way as he does. I think he is right but some may be expecting something different than what they get. But what you get is worth it. And full marks to Letham for reminding us of the importance of this aspect of biblical doctrine. I highly recommend it.
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Amazon.com: HASH(0x984b3ba0) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x986d79cc) out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to a very important doctrine 10 Feb. 2012
By Nate Claiborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Letham is exploring what we can learn of the doctrine in Scripture, in history and in theology. In this light, one could see the focus of his work to be theoretical more than practical, more constructive and aimed at making doctrinal connections rather than practical applications.

Additionally, Letham's focus in history and theology is limited to primarily Reformed theology (as one might expect in a book published by P&R) though he picks conversation partners like Hieronymous Zanchius, Amandus Polanus, and Rowland Stedman who are not quite the mainstream names that Calvin, Luther, and Bavinck are. Granted, the latter authors are given more space to share their ideas, but since Letham's overall objective is to trace the doctrine from Scripture through history, he needs more than just the big names to show its development.

To give you an idea how the Letham's thought flows in this book, chapter one begins with creation. Here, Letham sees union with Christ resting "on the foundation of man's nature as created," and "seen in the light of God's end purpose for man" (p. 18). Indeed, as the chapter opens, he says "union with Christ rests on the basis of the creation of man to be compatible with God" (p. 9). If God and man are ultimately incompatible, there is no possibility of a union with Christ.

What I found particularly striking in this chapter was Letham's contention, following Paul, that "Adam was created in Christ and then fell from that condition, but now, by grace, we are being renewed in the image of God, in Christ the second Adam, and thus in knowledge, rightouesness, and holiness" (p. 14). Or in other words, the union with Christ is restoring a union that was God's original intention in the creation of Adam. I think I had latently understood this, but I just hadn't connected Adam's creation in the image of God to our re-creation in the image of Christ, much less how that connected to union with Christ as a doctrine.

To further flesh out this connection, Letham moves from creation to incarnation in chapter 2. If the possibility of our union with Christ is illustrated in creation, the "basis of our union with Christ is Christ's union with us in the incarnation" (p. 21). As Letham continues, "We can become one with him because he first became one with us. By taking human nature into personal union, the Son of God has joined himself to humanity," and then later summarizes, "since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spirit" (p. 40). In order to ground these points more fully, the bulk of chapter 2 is composed of an excursus on the development of Christological thought up to the 2nd Council of Constantinople. Considering the space Letham works with, I thought he did an excellent job of summarizing some of the major developments in the church's understanding of the Incarnation.

Chapter 3 then moves forward to discuss Pentecost. Building on the initial foundation of God and man being compatible (chapter 1) and Christ's union with humanity in the incarnation (chatper 2), Letham observes that "Christ, the eternal Son, having united human nature in himself, now unites us with himself by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit draws us to him in faith" (p. 54). Because of this, "the Holy Spirit enters, indwells, saturates, and pervades countless human persons and so brings them into union with Christ the Son." This then completes Letham's groundwork on the foundations of the doctrine of union with Christ, and so that the next three chapters can unpack the content of that union.

First, in chapter four we see that union with Christ means that Christ is our representative before the Father. It is in this and the next two chapters that Letham does more historical survey work. While this chapter discusses the relationship of union with Christ and the doctrine of justification, many readers may be disappointed that Letham doesn't interact with any current trends in the discussion of justification. However, given his overall purposes and focus, this shouldn't be viewed as a deficit of the book itself since it falls outside its scope. As Letham himself notes, "the purpose of this book is to present a picture of how I understand union with Christ to relate to the broader theological context" (p. 82). In that light, Letham provides this summary of Christ's representation of us in the union:

Union with Christ is based on Christ's being our covenant head and is established by his sharing our nature
Since he is our head and representative, who shares our humanity, all that he did in his earthly ministry was done as a substitute and representative.
Since he share our nature, and since the Holy Spirit unites us to him, all that he did and does is in union with us.
This union is the ground of our whole salvation, justification, included. We receive a right status before God, since we are incorporated into the Son of God himself.
One analogy Letham uses to capture some of this is that of a team captain. When the captain of a team scores a goal, or when the quarterback of a football team throws a touchdown pass, it counts for the whole team. While imperfect, the analogy does capture much of what is meant by Christ being our representative.

Chapter 5 shifts the focus from Christ as our representative to the transformative effects of our union with him. This chapter covers perhaps the most ground, discussing everything from sanctification in general, to theosis, to the ordo salutis, to extensive discussion of Calvin on the Lord's Supper. In the end, Letham concludes with 10 theses on union with Christ and our transformation:

The union we enjoy with Christ is more real and more fundamental than the union we have with members of our own bodies
This is not a union of essence - we do not case to be human and become God or get merged into God like ingredients in an ontological soup. This is not apotheosis.
We do not lose our personal individual identities in some universal generic humanity.
Union with Christ comes to expression in, and is cultivated by, the Word and sacraments.
The body and blood of Christ are not materially, corporeally, or physically present in the Lord's Supper.
In the Lord's supper we are lifted up by the Holy Spirit to feed on Christ.
We are not hypostatically united to the Son.
We are united with Christ's person.
It is effected and developed by the Holy Spirit through faith.
It will eventually lead to our being "like Christ."
In some ways, this chapter is the kind of climax to the book with chapter 6 being more like a denouement. However, it is in the final chapter that Letham turns his focus to union with Christ in death and resurrection. Because of our union with Christ, we are united with him in his death and burial, as well as his resurrection and ascension. As Letham notes, "the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection stand or fall together" (p. 135). Because of this, "at our resurrection there will be the same engagement of the whole Trinity as there was when Christ himself resurrected. The two resurrections are identical in theological terms as well as identical in the outcome they produce" (p. 136). Christ's resurrection is then paradigmatic and "shapes the whole of salvation in union with Christ" (p. 137). As Letham concludes, this is found in already-not yet expression in our baptism.

And with that, Union with Christ comes to an end. This may be perhaps my only real quibble with the book. While Letham's style of writing is clear and crisp and his insights penetrating, the book seems to come to a rather abrupt end with no real conclusion beyond just a short summary statement at the end of chapter 6. I would have liked the book itself to be longer, but it's relatively short length (just over 140 pages) definitely makes it more accessible. Though it may be theologically dense at times, most people would do well to spend some time digging through the treasures Letham has gathered concerning our union with Christ.

Particularly this time of year, we do well to remember that Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation, as we saw above, it is precisely that Incarnation that makes our union with Christ possible. And it is this union with Christ that restores our communion and fellowship with God. We do well to emphasize that Jesus came to save us from our sin, but what we miss sometimes is that he came to unite us to himself and to bring us back into our originally intended communion with God. As this week leading up to Christmas progresses, I'll have more to say on this, including another review of book with the same title as this one.

[A review copy was provided to me by the publisher]
HASH(0x98021a5c) out of 5 stars Good presentation, lots of repetition from earlier works 1 July 2014
By Jacob - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A fine survey of a complicated topic. Most of it is to the point. The book isn't long and the chapters are fairly short.

Letham spins the Greek image-likeness into First and Second Adam. All of humanity shares the image with First Adam. Christ, the Second Adam, is also the image of God. Regenerate humanity participates in this image. Letham tries to claim this is what the Greek Fathers said, but he doesn’t offer any references and it doesn’t appear that they said this. They said all of humanity is created in the image but must achieve the likeness of God. I like Letham’s proposal. I just don’t think this is what the Greek Fathers said.

The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ (48). He is the agent of the indwelling (Jn. 14:20). Letham notes that the Holy Spirit makes a permanent residence (mone) within us (50). Quoting the English Puritan Rowland Stedman, he notes, "There are 'two great bonds or ligaments' of this union. On Christ's part, he dwells in believers by his Spirit. On their part they apprehend Christ by faith and 'take him home, as it were, unto themselves'" (Letham, 51).

What is truly meant by the Athanasian claim that “man becomes God?” According to Norman Russell, “It is either to emphasize the glorious destiny originally intended for the human race, or to explain that the biblical references to ‘gods’ do not encroach upon the uniqueness of the Word made flesh” (Letham 92-93, quoting Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 168). If that is all that is meant, then the Reformed tradition has no real argument against it, but would better see that under the teaching of “glorification.”

While there are suggestions that Calvin was close to the East, I think Letham overplays that point (115). However, Letham is correct to criticize Michael Horton’s claim that we participate in the energies of Christ (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 285, 302). The East does not mean by energies what Horton means by it. They mean the peri ton theon (cf. David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West, pp. 132-136 and Colin Gunton, Act & Being, 112.

I've listed some of my criticisms above so I won't repeat them here. The book is short, focused, and easy to read. There is a lot of repetition, sometimes almost whole chapters, from every one of his earlier works (!), which admittedly made it easier to read if you have already read those other works. As usual, Letham represents mature, balanced scholarship.
By David B - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wish every Christian would read this, full of lovely gems--of course its topic is earth-shaking, profound, ecstatic, riveting, gorgeous: Union with Christ. Too short, of course, there is so much (infinitely) more to this. And not all will like all of his emphases, or the sometimes academic tone (to me this adds coolness, in the modern sense: the way he says in an academic way these delicious jubilant truths that make one want to get up and dance). But in short, this is the thing every human soul needs, and what the believer was created for, and should live in each hour. Certainly the most important book I've read in a long time.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98140c60) out of 5 stars Learn how union with Christ is the central truth of the whole biblical teaching about salvation. 27 Jun. 2012
By Dave Jenkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Union with Christ is one of the most neglected doctrines in Christianity today and also one of the one of the Gospel's greatest mysteries. In his helpful book Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology, Dr. Robert Letham notes that "Union with Christ is right at the center of the Christian doctrine of salvation" (1). Calvin agrees with this comment and notes that, "For we await salvation rom him not because he appears to us afar off, but because he makes us, ingrafted into his body, participants not only in all his benefits but also in himself."[i] The Westminster Larger Catechism describes our entire salvation as union and communion with Christ in grace and glory. Dr. John Murray considered that "nothing is more central of basic than union and communion with Christ,"[ii]for it "is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation."[iii] In the words of Dr. Lane Tipton, "there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ."[iv]

Union With Christ covers topics such as creation, incarnation, Pentecost, union with Christ and representation, union with Christ and transformation and union with Christ in death and resurrection. Since the entirety of the Christian's relationship with God can be summed up in union with Christ this review could be quite long to examine everything Dr. Letham teaches in this book, but in an effort to remain focused I am only going to touch on chapter five, which I believe is the most helpful in the book.

In chapter five after discussing the external aspects of union with Christ, Dr. Letham turns to examine how union with Christ transforms us from within. He notes that "when Christ died and rose from the dead, we died and rose with him, and so our status and existence was dramatically changed" (85). The author doesn't stop at the death and resurrection but continues with the ascension explaining that "following Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit was sent to bring us to spiritual life and indwell and renew us, our participation in Christ's death and resurrection is vitally dynamic and transformative" (85).

The believer's union with Christ will lead to our being like Christ "for it is the intention of the Gospel to make us sooner or later like God" (Calvin). The Christian is now a "partaker of the new nature," (2 Peter 1:4) having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. At His Parousia we will see Him as he is, in his glorified humanity, and will be finally and climatically transformed to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:20-21).

Union with Christ is an important book that will help Christians to think through one of the most neglected doctrines in Christianity today. Union with Christ would be a good book not for a new believer but for the intermediate to advanced student of theology. Union with Christ is a well-written, biblically faithful and Gospel-centered book that will help Pastors and seminary students understand the importance of their union with Christ. This book will help its readers explore from Scripture, and church history what union with Christ is and what the Church has taught on this vital topic. I recommend you pick up a copy of Union With Christ and learn how union with Christ is the central truth of the whole biblical teaching about salvation.

Title: Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology

Author: Dr. Robert Letham

Publisher: P & R (2011)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the P & R book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

[i] Institutes, 3.2.24

[ii] John Murray, Redemption Accomplish and Applied (London: Banner of truth, 1961), 161)

[iii] Ibid, 170.

[iv] Lane G. Tipton, "Union with Christ and Justification," in Justified in Christ: God's Plan for Us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 34.
HASH(0x978ab2f4) out of 5 stars enlightening. especially on the Lords Supper and Baptism. 8 Jun. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a baptist and had a different views on the Lords Supper and Baptism than Letham. However, after reading this book I feel I was not thinking correctly before and the Lord really use this book to help me understand.
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