Highly Controversial Book

This book will undoubtedly spark a great deal of controversy. Already, the differences between WSC and WTS are coming to the fore. This book will propel those differences into the limelight, I hope, such that fruitful discussion will result.


  1. tim prussic said,

    January 30, 2008 at 8:12 pm


  2. thomasgoodwin said,

    January 30, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Can’t wait to get my hands on it … and you’re right about (potential) divide.

  3. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 30, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    I missed a beat … is the “difference between WSC and WTS” evident in the fact that Westminster is stocking the book, or does Garcia have a degree from one of the two, or what?

    Sorry to be out of the loop…


  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 30, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Right now, Garcia and WSC are having a spirited debate on the relationship of union with Christ and the rest of the ordo salutis. Put briefly, is union with Christ the center of the wheel, out of which the spokes of the rest of the benefits come (WTS)? Or is justification the judicial grounding of union with Christ (Horton especially, but also some of the rest of the WSC faculty)? Garcia is definitely on the WTS side of this debate.

  5. barlow said,

    January 30, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    And on the side of the angels?

  6. tim prussic said,

    January 30, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    ISTM that to claim that justification is judicial ground of union is quite to reverse the Westminster (L.Cat.) order of things:

    Question 66: What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
    Answer: The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

    Question 67: What is effectual calling?
    Answer: Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he does, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

    Question 69: What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
    Answer: The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and: Whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

    Union and communion: Union in our effectual call (regeneration), from which flows our communion in grace, which includes justification et al.

  7. January 30, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    A new controversy? And it’s not even Christmas yet! :-D

  8. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 30, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    A. A. Hodge, in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith 33.1, on the last judgment, says, “The saints will not be acquitted in the day of judgment on the ground of their own good deeds, but because their names are found “written in the book of life,” or the book of God’s electing love, and on the ground of their participation in the righteousness of Christ. Their good deeds will be publicly cited as the evidences of their union with Christ. Their union with Christ is the ground of their justification. Their faith is the instrument of their union with Christ; and their faith, as the Apostle James says, is shown by their works. Phil. iv. 3; Rev. iii. 5; xiii. 8; xx. 12, 15.”

    Note the sentence “Their union with Christ is the ground of their justification.” So this is not merely a WSC versus WTS argument.

  9. thomasgoodwin said,

    January 30, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of Reformed theologians are of the WTS persuasion. I can prove this pretty easily. Horton knows that what he is doing is novel, but he thinks it is exegetically more sustainable and protects the forensic aspect of justification better.

  10. Tom Wenger said,

    January 31, 2008 at 12:25 am


    First of all, let me say that I really appreciate your work here on this blog and frequently find myself in hearty agreement.

    Being a WSC alumnus (2003) and someone who has followed this controversy closely, (I have an article responding to Garcia coming out soon) I would describe the parameters of the disagreement a bit differently.

    We were definitely taught in our ST classes that the benefits of Christ’s work, or the aspects of the ordo salutis, were all ultimately aspects of our union with Christ. And Horton is not saying (in Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ) that justification is the ground of our union in a vacuum. Rather he takes great care to explain that the fact that we are united to Christ at all is a result of our election and God’s keeping of the Covenant of Redemption which precedes both our union and justification.

    So we are not united to him because of justification because that would preclude the reception of His imputed righteousness and substitutionary death in order to make justification possible. Rather, what he argues is that the reason that God is able to accept us and keep us in union with Him is the fact that we are credited with His righteousness and thus not liable to the sanctions of the Covenant of Works. I don’t think he claims any innovation at all (sorry, Goodwin) as he cites many other reformed theologians who say the same thing.

    I think that the main source of the controversy is Garcia’s rather wild claim that there is no such thing as a “pan-confessional” agreement between the Reformed and Lutherans on justification. And what is more, disregarding Calvin’s claims of agreement with the Augsburg, Garcia then tries to affirm his case by saying that Calvin shows his real feelings about the Lutheran doctrine of justification in his condemnation of Osiander. Garcia argues that Calvin viewed Osiander as the only consistent Lutheran and thus his arguments against him should be viewed as cloaked attacks on Lutherans in general.

    When one would quote, say, the Heidelberg catechism in favor of WSC’s formulations, Garcia claims that it is really a Lutheran confession and thus, doesn’t count. I think the nearly 450 years of continental Reformed theology would beg to differ. The crux of all this can be read at http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=66

    So the controversy is essentially this: Garcia does not care for WSC’s arguments that Sanctification follows after Justification in the traditional reformed ordo salutis. He claims that such an arrangement is Lutheran and that the truly Reformed stance claims that Justification and Sanctification are separate benefits that come simultaneously from union with Christ. No one at WSC argues that justification produces sanctification as though is it separate from Christ. Rather, it can be clearly seen that all they were arguing in their book Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry, was that one cannot place sanctification before Justification (contra NPP and FV), and that the finished work of Christ on behalf of the believer is what fuels one’s Sanctification.

    Ultimately, Garcia falls into the category that so many from WTS fall into (Gaffin, Green, Trumper, Craig Carpenter, David Garner, Jae Sung Kim, Kevin Woongsan Kang, William Borden Evans) what I have called elsewhere the “New Perspective on Calvin”, which tries to make Union with Christ Calvin’s “central dogma”, “organizing principle” or “architectonic principle”. Such a claim is not only rather severely anachronistic, but also contrary to obvious readings of Calvin’s context, historical influences, and his own declarations.

    You’re dead on that the book may cause serious controversy, but Garcia’s claims cannot stand up to good historiography or traditional Reformed theology.

    Thanks again for your work here!

    You’re dead on that the book may cause serious controversy, but Garcia’s claims cannot stand up to good historiography or traditional Reformed theology.

  11. Tom Wenger said,

    January 31, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Oops. that last paragraph was mistaken re-run, sorry.

  12. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 7:03 am

    How can we be justified without being joined to the source or ground of our justification? The other alternative does sound Lutheran. Theodore Mueller in his Dogmatics says that justification occurs outside of and leads into union.

  13. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Also, I might add, that the view that holds that justification must be construed apart from union seems to understand union principally or primarily as sanctification. This is not Calvin’s view, or the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy. To ground justification in union does not undermine the forensic nature of justification one iota. It just gives the forensic declaration its proper context.

  14. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:07 am


    Two points:

    1. The presence of a central dogma indicates that all other doctrines in a system are deduced from that central dogma. To say that Calvin saw union as central is not the same thing as to say that it was for him a central dogma. The term central dogma is a loaded term as Richard Muller has shown.

    2. Calvin himself states that the duplex gratia dei (justification and sanctification) are simultaneous.

    So I suggest that historical revisionism is going on somewhere other than with WTS or Mark Garcia.

  15. its.reed said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Ref. #14:

    Jeff, hmm … your good.

  16. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Here is a quotation from Calvin on the simultaneity of the duplex gratia dei:

    But since the question concerns only righteousness and sanctification, let us dwell upon these. Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces. Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.” Institutes III.16.1

    Notice the sentence, “…he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other.” The last time I checked, “at the same time” is equivalent to “simultaneous.”

    We may not agree with Calvin. We may think him all wet on this, but this is what he has said. None of these remarks undermines the absolute forensic nature of justification. That can only happen if you assume that union simply IS sanctification.

    Also, there was a fluidity in the language used in earlier stages of the Reformation. Sanctification can be spoken of in the wide sense to include regeneration and in the narrow sense to involve growth in holiness (progressive) after justification.

    Again we are free to disagree with Calvin, but it does not help anyone to remake him over in our own image.

  17. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:29 am


    Late me be clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for WSC, so my comments should not be construed as anything other than a disagreement on the particular point of the simultaneity of the duplex gratia dei.

    The WSC faculty stand as a bastion of Reformed orthodoxy (surely by God’s good grace) in an ecclesiastical world of shifting sand.

    So I say to us all (including myself!), let’s keep this in perspective.

  18. GLW Johnson said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Jeff W.
    As Andy Webb has noted on this blog- the FV love to go around ‘cherry-picking’ isolated remarks from Calvin to support this or that plank in the FV treehouse, even if it means covering up the entry way by doing so.

  19. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I have no love for the FV or the NPP. Period.

  20. GLW Johnson said,

    January 31, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Jeff W.
    I know, and folks should know that the two of us are involved in a couple of book projects- I was simply going about my usual morning routine of throwing cold water in the faces of our FV sympathizers .

  21. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 9:07 am


    Yes. Let me join join in splashing cold water on their faces!

  22. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 9:07 am

    My typing skills are pathetic.

  23. greenbaggins said,

    January 31, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Tom and Jeff: thank you extremely for your stimulating comments. Please continue the debate, as I obviously have much to learn from this.

  24. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 10:58 am


    One thing I can say is that not all formulations of the doctrine of union with Christ are the same. I think that is evident from our discussion here. So let us aim for clarity and mutual edification.

  25. thomasgoodwin said,

    January 31, 2008 at 11:16 am


    I think it’s perfectly obvious he is claiming innovation. And I’m surprised that someone, like yourself, who is writing an article on this cannot pick up on that.

    Have you spoken with Horton? I’ve had some pretty detailed dealings with him and his student who edited ‘Covenant and Salvation’ and they admitted to innovation.

    What Horton is doing is different to Calvin, Owen, Goodwin, etc.


  26. thomasgoodwin said,

    January 31, 2008 at 11:32 am


    Horton argues that the ground of applied redemption (justification by declaration and imputation) needs to be clearly distinguished from the covenantal context (participatory union with Christ) within which this redemption is worked out. Horton argues that Gaffin’s/WTS’s position collapses the two, or rather folds the former into the latter, making justification one aspect of the center of union with Christ.

    For Horton, the problem with the WTS position is that the ground is now obscured, and the reason for this is not that Gaffin is a bad interpreter of Paul, but that Gaffin is not accounting for the scriptural recognition of the declarative Word of God as ontically primary—as constitutive—in his work of recreation, announced to us by the Father because of the imputed righteousness of Christ for us.

    Founded upon this immovable footing, our union with Christ as our head and communion with one another as his members is the covenantal context within which we are ushered into the life of the age to come by the Holy Spirit among and within us.

    Horton argues that Gaffin’s position is: the “real” is the foundation for the legal—even vis à vis declarative justification, the most thoroughly forensic element or aspect of applied redemption. The same supposition is present, as evidenced throughout Gaffin’s work, in defending the notion that participatory union with Christ (the real) must be the foundation for declaratory justification as a benefit of Christ’s accomplished work (the legal).

    But in making God’s declaration of justification dependent upon our existing union with Christ, there is tension between justification as a forensic declaration extra nos and participation as a mystical relation intra nos, especially since the former is claimed as a benefit of the latter.

    But in recreation as in creation, the Creator’s “Let there be” always precedes the creaturely “And there was.” The justifying God is the God who calls things into existence that were not before (Rom 4 passim). In pronouncing us righteous because of Christ’s work on our behalf, God thus brings to pass the reality he announces—it is not the case rather that our participation in Christ by faith therefore motivates God’s declaration. The extrinsic, forensic nature of applied redemption must be recognized as primary, for Paul as for us, rooted in God’s justification of the ungodly on the sole basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness. This imputation and declaration (and its vast ontic consequences), received by faith, is the basis, or ground, or source, or foundation of applied redemption. It is at the very same time, as God’s announcement, the effective word that does what it says—again, declarative justification is as such CONSTITUTIVE.

    Covenantal union is therefore in turn the matrix or context within which God in Christ by his Spirit brings to pass in and among his people the eschatological reality constituted by this pronouncement. Justification is the ground, participation is the context of applied redemption.

    What does this amount to? Well, as one WSCAL prof wrote: “Yes, we are united to Christ by faith and yes, he does work within us by his Spirit. Calvin said in book 3 of the Institutes that if Christ remains outside of us, then we are no part of him but this aspect of union, the vital aspect, is the result of justification. Sanctity must occur, but it must flow from justification.”

    So the difference is: Horton argues that we ‘claim’ and ‘enjoy’ this salvation upon the basis of declaration and imputation through faith– WSC say that we claim and enjoy this salvation upon the basis of union with Christ through faith.

    So in ordo terms, for Horton, it would go faith–>justification (ground) and covenant union (context).

    This all is from the Horton camp! I could go into further detail.

  27. Dustin said,

    January 31, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Over the last two years I have tried to read anything I can find on the related issues, especially those written by the authors mentioned above (Gaffin, Horton, Calvin). It seems clear that Goodwin is reading the sources properly and that Tom’s initial comments are unsustainable. Concerning Calvin, how one can read him and not see the emphasis of union with Christ at almost every point shocks me. I have over thirty pages of quotes from him on union that I have come across just in the last six months. Furthermore, the fact that union with Christ is a central doctrine for Calvin is evident in how much it is emphasized amongst the Reformed Orthodox/Puritans who are following him. Tom, I anticipate your article and especially am curious as to how you can accuse Garcia (and others) of being anachronistic or guilty of bad historiography. He might not be correct on every point but his basic arguments on the duplex gratia and the relationship between union with Christ and justification in Calvin appear right on.
    Concerning Horton, I’ve reading almost everything put out by him and completely agree with Goodwin’s comments. A careful reading of Horton plainly demonstrates that he is arguing (at least at times, I’ll admit he says some inconsistent things) that in the ordo salutis justification precedes and actually provides a basis for union.

  28. tim prussic said,

    January 31, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I love that Calvin studies, over the course of decades, float from one to another of Calvin’s supposed “central dogmas” or “organizing principles.” In my little mind it sends up red flags whenever any scholar says, “The doctrine of X was really the center of Calvin’s theological thought. Doctrine X is the hub of his thought to which all other doctrines function as spokes.” All that type of scholarship really seems to do is allow the scholar to reshape Calvin’s thought after his own.

  29. tim prussic said,

    January 31, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I love that Calvin studies, over the course of decades, float from one to another of Calvin’s supposed “central dogmas” or “organizing principles.” In my little mind it sends up red flags whenever any scholar says, “The doctrine of X was really the center of Calvin’s theological thought. Doctrine X is the hub of his thought to which all other doctrines function as spokes.” All that type of scholarship really seems to do is allow the scholar to reshape Calvin’s thought after his own.

  30. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Again, saying that a doctrine is central is NOT the same thing as calling it a “central dogma.” Perhaps a better term would be that a particular doctrine is pervasive or prevalent.

    So Tim, are you saying that there is nothing central to Calvin’s thought? And if there is something central, who amongst the august body of Calvin scholars is capable of determining it to your satisfaction? Just curious.

  31. thomasgoodwin said,

    January 31, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Yes, it’s been done with all the big thinkers; Cocceius, especially. Muller has shown how detrimental that is. But, notwithstanding that fact, I think it’s possible to say that union with Christ can be at the center of the ordo/reception of soteric blessings.

  32. tim prussic said,

    January 31, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Jeff, you don’t sound just curious. I agree with you first statement. As to the rest, you’re just being silly.

    Richard Muller has dismantled the central doctrine approach to Calvin’s theology. He’s august enough all by his little self. That said, there are numerous “central” things in Calvin’s theology – union with Christ being right up there on the list. It the hub-and-spokes centrality that’s been so problematic – and pervasive for years.

    I thought I was clear enough on that score above.

  33. January 31, 2008 at 7:58 pm


    The discussion here focuses on, ISTM, benefits of a Christian’s union with Christ and the relation of those benefits to each other. But here is what I want to know. On your respective views what actually constitutes a Christian’s union with Christ? Given that there is a plethora of notions of union, what exactly is meant in using that term? People throw the term “union” around quite a lot, but I am not clear on exactly how that term is being employed here. What is the union constituted by? What kind of union is it?

    Thanks in adavnce.

  34. Jeff Waddington said,

    January 31, 2008 at 9:07 pm


    Thanks for correcting me. I have been in the dark for so long…

    You have made my point.


  35. Andy Gilman said,

    January 31, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Maybe I’m not understanding the nuances of this argument. I confess to not having read Horton’s book, but I get the impression that this debate about “union with Christ” boils down to an attempt by each of the two sides to add a “unification” step to the ordo salutis.

    FVists insist upon making “union with Christ” the “means of imputation.” For the FV scheme baptism, or faith (they seem to vacillate between baptism and faith, depending on their audience), leads to union with Christ, and union with Christ results in justification, sanctification, etc. In a previous thread here on Lane’s blog, back in October, I said that “The FV union scheme is a denial of Murray’s statement that “Union with Christ…embraces the wide span of salvation from its ultimate source in the eternal election of God to its final fruition in the glorification of the elect.” Is Murray’s view of Union with Christ, as articulated in “Redemption Accomplished and Applied,” a hotly debated topic, or is it the widely accepted view?

    Jon Barlow didn’t reply to my argument back then, but since he has visited this thread maybe he would respond to it now. Responses from all and sundry would be welcome. I would like to know if my thinking is unsound and, if so, where did I go wrong. The thread is here:


  36. David Gray said,

    January 31, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    >Jon Barlow didn’t reply to my argument back then, but since he has visited this thread maybe he would respond to it now.

    Andy, as you are in a querying mood perhaps you can answer my question which you’ve neglected for so long?

  37. Tom Wenger said,

    February 1, 2008 at 8:17 am

    I tried posting this yesterday afternoon but for some reason it didn’t take; sorry for the delay.
    Wow, there are too many things for me to respond to all at once here, so let me simply attempt to clear up a few misunderstandings.

    First of all, Jeff, I’m not sure you understood my point about the illegitimacy of claiming union with Christ as one of Calvin’s central dogmas (probably becasuse I was not clear enough). My point was NOT that there should be another doctrine that is central for him, but that claiming ANY doctrine as “central” or “architectonic” for someone in the 16th century is anachronistic. Tim Prussic’s comments about this are right on. I am in full agreement with Muller and others that this sort of historiography reads 19th century enlightenment concepts back into eras when no one thought this way.

    Additionally, what the New Perspective on Calvin (NPC) tries to do is deduce (from Inst. Book III alone) a somewhat formal ordo salutis from Calvin’s ordo docendi (order of teaching). This too is anachronistic because such formulations and debates about the proper ordo salutis did not occur until decades later. And what is most glaringly inaccurate is how they have overlooked the mountain of scholarship from Muller, Parker, Pauck and others, which shows that Calvin clearly organized the Institutes (even the 1559 version) around the ordo docendi of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. So he was not structuring an ordo salutis, or crafting such things in light of a central organizing principle of Union with Christ, but rather, he was following the outline of Romans that he borrowed from Melanchthon. So the fact that he may list the dotrines he discusses in a certain order does NOT mean that he believed they OCCUR in that order.

    Now, how does this specifically relate to the disagreement between Garcia and WSC? Well, no one at WSC actually argues what Garcia caricatures them as saying: that justification PRODUCES sanctification. Nor would anyone there argue that they are not simultaneous benefits bestowed via union with Christ. No one is arguing for receiving Christ’s benefits APART from Christ Himself as Garcia claims and as I made quite clear in my previous post. In fact here is Horton on the matter:

    “The theme of union with Christ brings together the temporal senses of our salvation – past, present, and future, as well as the objective and the subjective, historical and existential, corporate and individual, forensic and transformative, and a unilateral gift that establishes a reciprocal relationship of faithful speaking and answering within the covenant as the nucleus of the cosmic renewal. Although each element of the so-called ordo salutis must be allowed its own distinct role in what William Perkins called ‘a golden chain’ of Romans 8:30, the chain itself is greater than the sum of all its parts” [Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 131]

    All that WSC has claimed is that union cannot, as the NPC does, blur the distinctions between justification and sanctification, and that, experientially, we do move from justification to sanctification because our new life is grounded upon Christ’s finished work on our behalf.

    While the NPC is not trying to make connections with the NPP (although Craig Carpenter does encourage comparison) the NPC does make claims that blur the clear distinctions that Calvin makes about the relationship of justification and sanctification. Gaffin’s quote here is paradigmatic for the rest when he says:

    “Calvin destroys Rome’s charge [of antinomianism] by showing that faith, in its Protestant understanding, entails a disposition to holiness without particular reference to justification, a concern for Godliness that is not to be understood only as a consequence of justification. Calvin proceeds as he does, and is free to do so, because for him the relative “ordo” or priority of justification and sanctification is indifferent theologically. Rather, what has controlling soteriological importance is the priority to both of (spiritual, “existential,” faith-) to union with Christ.” [Gaffin, “Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards,” WTJ 65 (2003): 165-79].

    Not only does this assume the improper notion of an ordo salutis in Calvin and the “controlling” nature of union, but it ignores Calvin’s clear statements to the contrary. Though he did not adhere to a formal ordo salutis, that does not mean that Calvin was, as Gaffin claims “indifferent” about the “priority of justification and sanctification.” Here is one of many possible examples tht illustrate just how far he was from being indifferent:

    “In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause. THEREFORE, IT IS NECESSARY THAT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH ALONE SO PRECEDE IN ORDER, AND BE SO PRE-EMINENT IN DEGREE, THAT NOTHING CAN GO BEFORE IT OR OBSCURE IT.” [Calvin, “Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote,” Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 3, ed. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 128]

    And Calvin speaks the way that WSC does concerning the priority of justification sanctification experientially for the believer. And the following quotation (though long) is crucial because you see Calvin utilizing union language, to CLARIFY the relationship of justification and sanctification rather than blur it:

    “Paul consistently denies that peace or quiet joy are retained in consciences unless we are convinced that we are “justified by faith” [Romans 5:1]. At the same time he declares the source of this assurance: it is when “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” [Romans 5:5]. It is as if he had said that our souls cannot be quieted unless we are surely persuaded that we are pleasing to God. Hence also in another passage he exclaims on behalf of all the godly, “Who will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ?” [Romans 8:35,39, conflated]. For we shall tremble even at the slightest breath until we arrive at that haven, but we shall be secure even in the darkness of death so long as the Lord shows himself our shepherd.

    Therefore, those who prate that we are justified by faith because, being reborn, we are righteous by living spiritually have never tasted the sweetness of grace, so as to consider that God will be favorable to them. Hence, it also follows that they no more know the right way to pray than do the Turks and other profane nations. For, as Paul attests, faith is not true unless it asserts and brings to mind that sweetest name of Father—nay, unless it opens our mouth freely to cry, “Abba, Father”. He expresses this more clearly elsewhere: “In Christ we have boldness and access with confidence through… faith in him” [Ephesians 3:12]. This surely does not take place through the gift of regeneration, which, as it is always imperfect in this flesh, so contains in itself manifold grounds for doubt. Therefore, we must come to this remedy: that believers should be convinced that their only ground of hope for the inheritance of a Heavenly Kingdom lies in the fact that, being engrafted in the body of Christ, they are freely accounted righteous. For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack.” [Calvin, Inst., 3.13.5]

    Well, this post is already way too long and I apologize for that. I’ll try to respond more specifically in a bit. But I have to say, that I too appreciate the manner of this discussion so far and heartily agree with Goodwin that we try to keep it that way. I hope this was in some way conducive to that end.

  38. Ron Henzel said,

    February 1, 2008 at 9:35 am


    In comment 37 you wrote: “My point was…that claiming ANY doctrine as ‘central’ or ‘architectonic’ for someone in the 16th century is anachronistic.”

    This assertion sounds difficult to prove. In fact, assuming that no 16th century theologians explicitly identified a doctrine to be central to their systems, it also sounds difficult to disprove, which makes me wonder what criteria we might use to attempt to either demonstrate or falsify this assumption.

  39. Jeff Waddington said,

    February 1, 2008 at 10:10 am


    Thank you for your helpful post.

    I must demur on your view that the “NPC” blurs the distinction between justification and sanctification. In other words, the dispute may be about the order of the benefits in the duplex gratia dei, but not whether they are distinct. Gaffin and Garcia are clear about the concern to distinguish justification and sanctification. So the issue boils down to whether there is an ordering of the benefits received in union.

    We still need to deal with the fluidity of terms at earlier stages of theologizing. Does Calvin use the term sanctification to cover what we now distinguish as regeneration and sanctification?

    Thanks for the discussion.

  40. Jeff Waddington said,

    February 1, 2008 at 10:13 am

    A note of clarification:

    The terms regeneration and sanctification both had more fluid usages at earlier stages of theological development. How does that play out, if at all, in Calvin?

  41. Jeff Waddington said,

    February 1, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Another note of clarification:

    I agree with Calvin in the quotation Tom provided. Our peace of conscience and joy derive from our having been justified (per Romans 5:1-11), and that our justification is NOT based upon the work of the Holy Spirit (regeneration and sanctification) in us but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. However, it is not clear to me that an ordering of the benefits within union even speaks to this issue.

    There are, after all, different aspects to union (eternal, historical, and experiential). Perhaps further discussion and clarification on these would help.

  42. February 1, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Re. # 33,

    “People throw the term “union” around quite a lot, but I am not clear on exactly how that term is being employed here. What is the union constituted by? What kind of union is it?”

    ~ If everyone could agree on this, we could shut this blog down.

  43. February 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I think that Berkhof’s distinction between our legal union with Christ (by which he is our federal head) and our spiritual union with Christ is helpful here:

    The mystical union in the sense in which we are now speaking of [the subjective aspect] it (sic) is not the judicial ground, on the basis of which we become partakers of the riches that are in Christ. It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal union [federal union – DG] with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justifications is always a declaration o f God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation, – a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.

  44. February 1, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Rev. Dr. Garcia came and spoke in chapel at RPTS about a month ago teaching on Philippians 2. Now that I know what his take on this is it makes his chapel message a tad bit more understandable.

  45. February 1, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    How so? What did he say?

  46. tim prussic said,

    February 1, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    David, help me understand what Berkhof’s saying, please. I think the last sentence is the clincher. Aside from that last sentence, I’m struggling to understand. It sounds like he’s positing a judicial ground for all special grace and that is the imputed righteousness of Christ. That judicial ground he distinguishes from spiritual oneness or unity, which obviously must flow from that judicial ground, correct?

    If that’s the case, then he seems to me to fly in the face of the catechism passages I’ve quoted above (#6), which clearly state, “The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”

    ISTM that this means that justification is part of our communion with Christ, and it (along with the other special graces) manifests our union with him. What have I missed? I’m asking quite seriously, as it seems that Berkhof accuses my thinking of falsifying the doctrine of justification, which as we all know, is a serious charge. It’s enough to make you run to the CREC! Joke.

  47. February 1, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    While awaiting David’s answer, I would say that we need to remember that contra Rome, our justification is synthetic rather than analytic.

    In other words, God does not pronounce us righteous because of some condition that exists and which makes it true. If that were the case, he would be recognizing us as just rather than reckoning us so.

    If we truly receive a iustitia alienum, an alien righteousness, then that would seem to make justification the forensic ground of everything else.

    That’s how I understood Horton in his book.

  48. February 1, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    David Gadbois,

    So if I am reading this correctly, the legal union is an extrinsic union, but Berkhoff doesn’t seem too helpful with respect to what constitutes the “spiritual oneness.” Since Christ is deity, certainly our union with him can’t be of participating in the divine essence. Yet what Berkhoff seems to after is more than a mere indwelling. The notion of “union” sees quite fuzzy and rather unsatisfactory. Perhaps clarifying that would advance the converstion past some current roadblocks.

  49. tim prussic said,

    February 1, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Mr. Stellman, thanks for the discussion. I quite understand the distinction ‘twixt recognition and reckoning. Here’s a question: Why cannot God unite us to Christ, then within that context (but not upon that basis), impute Christ’s righteousness to us through the instrument of faith alone and reckon the unrighteous just? The basis of our justification is neither our union with Christ nor our faith, but Christ and his work alone. The union is the federal context and the faith is the alone instrument.

    Alien righteousness, sola fide, and justification as a whole are all still preserved in that scheme, no? I don’t see how that scheme falsifies the doctrine of justification, but I ain’t the coldest beer in the fridge.

  50. thomasgoodwin said,

    February 2, 2008 at 12:26 am


    You’re in good company; some pretty good guys would echo a loud “amen” to that.


    You (Horton, as well) argue that if one receives an alien righteousness, then that would seem to make justification the forensic ground of everything else.

    Could you explain why? And, what do you mean by ‘everything else’? I’m pretty sure I know Horton’s answer because I’ve debated this issue for a while now. But I’d like to know why *you* think this is so.


  51. February 2, 2008 at 2:12 am


    Well to be honest, I can see the merit (ahem) both in seeing justification the forensic ground of all Christ’s blessings, and union the overall rubric under which to consider the various elements of the ordo.

    So basically, to whatever degree those are contradictory is the degree to which I am either undecided or confused (probably a bit of both).

  52. February 2, 2008 at 2:45 am


    Well to be honest, I can see the merit (ahem) both in seeing justification the forensic ground of all Christ’s blessings, and union the overall rubric under which to consider the various elements of the ordo.

    So basically, to whatever degree those are contradictory is the degree to which I am either undecided or confused (probably a bit of both).

  53. February 2, 2008 at 2:45 am


    Well to be honest, I can see the merit (ahem) both in seeing justification the forensic ground of all Christ’s blessings, and union the overall rubric under which to consider the various elements of the ordo.

    So basically, to whatever degree those are contradictory is the degree to which I am either undecided or confused (probably a bit of both).

  54. February 2, 2008 at 2:59 am

    There. I thought my comments were so important that they deserved to be posted three times….

    Gotta love WordPress.

  55. Jeff Waddington said,

    February 2, 2008 at 10:16 am


    This is a very interesting discussion. However I have not yet read Michael Horton’s latest book. I have it on my night stand, but have not yet gotten to it to read thoroughly (I have done some spot checks). And I do believe in trying to interact with different views intelligently. So I will go back to lurk mode.

    I do think this topic is important and is in need of further reflection. I think we do need to distinguish two tasks. One is to ascertain what earlier theologians have said. That is one thing. And the second is to formulate a clear, biblically and confessionally sound formulation of a doctrine.

    It is possible that we are seeking further clarification where earlier generations did not achieve it or we may be ignorant of our own heritage and need to get up to speed. That is why I personally find reading the Reformed Scholastics so helpful. They are precise and thorough. We may also find that various theologians do not agree in the details while they may agree on the big picture.

    For whatever it is worth…

  56. its.reed said,

    February 2, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Ref. #55:

    Wise and humble response Jeff; well worth emulating.

  57. Joseph Minich said,

    February 2, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Hey folks!

    Great discussion going on here. Is it possible that there is a position that would satisfy all parties involved? Perhaps not, but IF SO, maybe it would look something like this…

    God’s declaration of justification is not analytic, or based upon any observed state of the sinner as considered in himself. It is truly a justification of “the ungodly.” However, I am not sure that declaring justification to be the “legal basis” for union preserves this any more than saying that God’s declaration is based upon an imputation. In each case, God first does something (either imputes or considers us in union with Jesus), and THEN considers us with favor. It seems to me that historical hesitancies concerning an analytic aspect of justification have more to do with the desire to preserve justifying righteousness as completely extra nos. But the union theology does not undermine this. Our union with Christ does not mean that His righteousness is ours in some infusionistic sense. Even while we are united to Christ, all that is His remains completely outside of us.
    That said, the “ex nihilo” metaphor that appeals to Horton does preserve an element of the truth. God’s declaration that we are just brings about the reality of union with Christ and our justification. Indeed, Paul even reminds us to agree with God’s creative fiat and “reckon” ourselves in union with Christ, just as God does. But, even with this element of truth…I think we can still say that there is an element of “union with Christ” even in this creative reckoning. Part of the problem here, as already noted, is that there is a failure to distinguish our “experiential” union with Jesus from other aspects of our union with Jesus. God’s creative reckoning is a reckoning with a legal basis in the cross and resurreciton of Jesus, but it is also inseparable from God’s “considering us” in union with Jesus even while we remain ungodly and do not share experientially in this union. Put more succinctly, God’s considers us righteous (in Christ!) before we are experientially in Christ in the ordo salutis. God’s considering us to be righteous in union with Jesus is justification. That justifying decree produces the effect of a vital union which God’s word brings into effect. It is not two unions…but a single union at two stages. (Being spoken into existence, and actually existing)
    Maybe I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. I struggle with these issues too. My intuition says that Reformed theologians need to examine and elaborate upon exactly what “union with Christ” is. For instance, there is a dimension of “union with Christ” even in eternal election. (Eph. 1:4) There is a dimension of union with Christ during His earthly ministry in that the Father has given His Servant a seed and people to redeem. (Isa. 53, John 6) These dimensions of union with Christ become His creative reckoning and result in our experience of communion with Christ in all of His benefits.

  58. Joseph Minich said,

    February 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

    As a clarification, when I said “God first does something (either imputes or considers us in union with Jesus), and THEN considers us with favor,” I did not mean to suggest that the “union” crowd does not believe that imputation is part of justification. I was trying to contrast the metaphor to which each camp gives relative priority, not to suggest that “union” folks don’t believe in imputation.

  59. thomasgoodwin said,

    February 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    One of the problems is that few have been able to (lucidly) deal with our pretemporal soteric blessings, which includes union with Christ, and our temporal soteric blessings, which also includes union with Christ, in a way that does justice to the exegetical data. Horton’s exegesis of Rom 4-6 is crucial, esp. Romans 5. If you don’t get what he’s saying about Rom. 5 and the declarative word, you’ll be wondering what planet he’s on.

  60. Grover Gunn said,

    February 2, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    I just checked the OPC paper on justification. It argues both that “justification and sanctification flow out of the same union with Christ” (p. 60) and that “justification is prior to sanctification” and “justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of santification” (p. 60).

    Click to access JustificationBook.pdf

  61. Tom Wenger said,

    February 4, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I think that a lot of the confusion about the temporal/logical/experiential/
    ontological discussion of union with Christ and the ordo salutis may indeed have to our ectypal and God’s archetypal knowledge of these thins. .

    Joe’s post hits a lot of these nails right on the head. There is not a lucid taxonomy in Scripture or in our tradition which clearly parses out the exact points of difference in the God’s saving decree vs. our experience of that decree. This is why I think that Horton, in line with our tradition, is on the safest ground when he posits the Covenant of Redemption as the storehouse the majority of these mysteries.

    However, I think that we can bring a bit of clarity to this issue by thinking about how “grounds” function in a process such as this.

    We have to ask what Scripture proposes are the requirements for God to unite us to Himself through His Son. Is it possible that we could be united to Him and yet remain damnable and unrighteous? If so, then Christ’s atoning work was unnecessary and Gal 2:21 must echo in our ears.

    But if God is unable to accept us into a position of union (which includes the adoption as sons) without punishing someone for our sins and crediting us with the righteousness necessary for such fellowship, then the union we experience must be based upon such a work on our behalf.

    So God chooses to save us by uniting us to His son; but He cannot do so without violating His own character, unless that union is made permissible by the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience.

    The crucial role played by God’s covenantal election of His people then gives us a glimpse or rather, an analogy of “when” the Christian is united to Christ in the plan of God; though we do not experience such a thing until we are effectually called. Thus it is not improper to say that election is the cause, or that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is the cause, depending on what kind of causality we are defining.

    And while union language can often serve as a means of uniting these concepts under one head, the NPC’s complaints about not always strictly referring to justification or other benefits of the ordo salutis in light of that specific language ought not to be heard. Calvin has no problem discussing these things from multiple angels with varying terminology and he is obviously not guilty of saying that these benefits are then giving to us while we remain apart from Christ.

    Just listen to the freedom of his language in his classic description of the causalities of our salvation:

    “The philosophers postulate four kinds of causes to be observed in the outworking of things. If we look at these, however, we will find that, as far as the establishment of our salvation is concerned, none of them has anything to do with works. For Scripture everywhere proclaims that the EFFICIENT CAUSE of our obtaining eternal life is the mercy of the Heavenly Father and his freely given love toward us. Surely the MATERIAL CAUSE is Christ, with his obedience, through which he acquired righteousness for us. What shall we say is the FORMAL OR INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE but faith? And John includes these three in one sentence when he says: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”[John 3:16]. As for the FINAL CAUSE, the apostle testifies that it consists both in the proof of divine justice and in the praise of God’s goodness, and in the same place he expressly mentions three others. For so he speaks to the Romans: “All have sinned and lack the glory of God; moreover, they are justified freely by his grace” [Romans 3:23-24]. Here you have the HEAD AND PRIMAL source: that God embraced us with his free mercy. There follows: “Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” [Romans 3:24]. Here you have, as it were, the MATERIAL CAUSE by which righteousness is brought about for us. In the words “through faith in his blood” [Romans 3:25 p.], is shown the INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE whereby the righteousness of Christ is applied to us. Lastly, he adds the final cause when, to demonstrate his righteousness, he says, “In order that he himself may be righteous, and the justifier of him who has faith in Christ” [Romans 3:26]. And to note also, by the way, that this righteousness stands upon reconciliation, he expressly states that Christ was given as reconciliation. Thus also in the first chapter of Ephesians he teaches that we are received into grace by God out of sheer mercy, that this comes about by Christ’s intercession and is apprehended by faith, and that all things exist to the end that the glory of divine goodness may fully shine forth [Ephesians 1:3-14]. Since we see that every particle of our salvation stands thus outside of us, why is it that we still trust or glory in works? The most avowed enemies of divine grace cannot stir up any controversy with us concerning either the efficient or the final cause, unless they would deny the whole of Scripture. They falsely represent the material and the formal cause, as if our works held half the place along with faith and Christ’s righteousness. But Scripture cries out against this also, simply affirming that Christ is for us both righteousness and life, and that this benefit of righteousness is possessed by faith alone.” [Calvin, Inst. 3.14.17]

    Thus, just as he is free to say that the material cause is Christ’s righteousness and then to say that “Here you have the head and primal source: that God embraced us with his free mercy. There follows: “Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus”; so also there is then no problem for him to conclude that “every particle of our salvation stands thus outside of us” because none of it depends on us.

    Horton and WSC have said nothing different.

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