John V. Fesko
Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ, by J. Todd Billings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, xii + 218 pages, $120.00.
Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology, by Mark A. Garcia. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008, xxiv + 356 pages, $46.00, paper.
Two recent entries into the vast sea of Calvin research address the same subject, namely the place of Calvin's doctrine of union with Christ. Both books address the subject with slightly different foci and in places come to decidedly different conclusions. In some respects it is almost as if one watches two talented conductors orchestrate a symphony of primary sources, secondary sources, and analysis; at many points they agree, but at other key points a decidedly different tune emerges despite the fact that they are playing from the same musical score.
Both books are published versions of the authors' doctoral dissertations, Billings from the University of Cambridge and Garcia from the University of Edinburgh. Billings's work surveys Calvin's understanding of union with Christ and relates it to Calvin's context and to patristic and medieval theology. He traces the doctrine through the various editions of the Institutes and Calvin's commentaries, relates it to prayer and the sacraments, and then shows how Calvin's doctrine interfaces with the law of God and Calvin's doctrine of the "two orders," or as it is more popularly known, the doctrine of the two kingdoms. By comparison, Garcia's work is more narrowly focused upon Calvin's soteriology, and specifically the duplex gratia, or the twofold grace of justification and sanctification. It is Garcia's goal to show the relationship between justification and sanctification. He does so by establishing the historical setting for Calvin's theology and focusing upon Calvin's Romans commentary in its successive editions. Garcia also covers the debate between Calvin and Andreas Osiander (1498-1552). Both studies are the academic products of two of Europe's finest universities and are therefore well-written and well-researched. However, what accounts for the differing portraits of Calvin's doctrine of union with Christ?
All doctoral dissertations set out to prove a thesis, to prove a point. What are the two theses, and does this give us a clue as to the differing conclusions? Billings sets out to prove that Calvin's understanding of union has been misrepresented and misunderstood by critics. Radical Orthodox theologians such as John Milbank have criticized Calvin's understanding of union arguing that it is unilateral, exemplified in Calvin's use of imputation and predestination, and therefore renders humans as merely passive agents. They have also claimed that Calvin empties the language of participation, or its related concept of union, and of its pre-nominalist theological significance, undercutting an Augustinian-Thomistic model of reciprocity (12). Similarly, Feminist theologians have argued that Calvin's understanding of God is governed by themes of domination and control, which again render the human as passive, eliminating reciprocity in the divine-human relationship (13). Billings's goal, then, is to set Calvin in his theological context and show how his doctrine of union with Christ has been misunderstood (16). Billings's theological foils account for the broader sweep of his book, one that not only covers the duplex gratia but also delves into Calvin's doctrine of the two kingdoms. Billings writes: "Participation in Christand hence the richest language about union with God in Christ through the Spiritis always connected for Calvin with the life of horizontal love" (16). In this respect Billings's case is oriented in a historical-theological direction, one that wants to show how Radical Orthodox and Feminist theologians have misunderstood Calvin's theology of union with Christ.
By contrast, though Garcia is careful to stipulate that his is a work of historical not systematic theology (xvii), his thesis nevertheless turns on a dogmatic question. Garcia writes: "How can a definitive pardon, freely bestowed on the basis of a righteousness imputed from outside us (extra nos), be tied meaningfully to the divine promise and demand of a holy life, understood as something very much within us (in nobis)" (2)? He seeks to answer this question by turning to Calvin's doctrine of union. His argument is that Calvin provides a unique answer to this question, one that is distinctly set apart from his Lutheran counterparts. In fact, showing how different Calvin's soteriology (especially with respect to the relationship between justification and sanctification) is from his Lutheran counterparts, is something of a leitmotif of Garcia's work (xv, 3, 7, 75-77, 241, 251-52, 260). The crux of Garcia's argument is contra popular expressions that sanctification is grounded in justification, or that justification is the cause of sanctification. Calvin, according to Garcia, believes that there is something more fundamental to both justification and sanctification, namely union with Christ (3, 264, 267 n.7). In this regard, one finds that Garcia differs from Billings in his appraisal of the place of union with Christ in Calvin's theology.
Both Billings and Garcia place their tithe at the feet of the doyen of Reformation and post-Reformation historical-theological studies, Richard Muller, by rejecting the problem-laden central dogma theory. Billings is not willing to accord any doctrine, including union with Christ, the place of a central dogma: "With Richard Muller, I do not think that Calvin has a 'central dogma' from which his system as a whole can be deduced. As such, I do not think that 'participation in Christ' or the related concept of 'union with Christ' are 'central dogmas' for Calvin" (19). He does stipulate, however, that union with Christ "has undeniable importance for an examination of his theology of participation in Christ" (19). Similarly, Garcia also rejects the idea that any one doctrine is the key to unlocking Calvin's theology as a whole. However, he does believe that "the doctrine of union with Christ does appear to stand as a singularly determinative idea in Calvin's soteriology" (18). What does Garcia mean by this statement? "By 'singularly determinative,'" writes Garcia, "I intend to emphasize the controlling significance for Calvin of the truth that the Holy Spirit unites believers savingly to Christ by faith. It is the role of this union-reality in Calvin's exposition of the duplex gratia that I suggest is 'singularly determinative'" (18).
In this regard, it seems fair to summarize the thrust of Garcia's argument by saying that justification does not have any sort of priority, logical or temporal, as Garcia understands the Lutheran tradition to argue, but on the other side of the coin, neither does sanctification have any sort of logical or temporal priority, as say legalists of various stripes might try to maintain. Rather, Garcia's reading of Calvin has the Reformer arguing that the duplex gratia of justification and sanctification are received inseparably and simultaneously, but at the same time should not be confused. Like the Chalcedonian christological formulation of the hypostatic union, the two natures of Christ are joined together in one person and are therefore inseparable but nevertheless distinct. In other words, union with Christ is controlling and singularly determinative (133, 162-63, 235, 248, 250). Garcia further argues that Calvin's own understanding of the unio Christi-duplex gratia (3) merely reflects the Pauline ordo of Rom 8:29-30: "Theologically, this ordo reflects the union believers have with Christ by the Spirit through faith" (253). Garcia's argument becomes especially evident in contrast with Billings's understanding of the relationship between union and the duplex gratia. Billings explains that the first grace of the duplex is justification. The second part of the duplex is regeneration and sanctification (106-07), though one should keep in mind that for Calvin regeneration is the term that contemporary theologians now call sanctification. Notice, in contradistinction to Garcia, Billings prioritizes justification as being first. In fact, he goes as far as to say, "The first grace of free pardon provides the indispensable context for the second" (107). However, with Garcia he also affirms that the duplex gratia is inseparable and simultaneous and along the same lines as Garcia, Billings uses the same christological analogy: "Just as one cannot divide the two natures in the person of Christ, so the grace of justification and sanctification can be distinguished, but not divided" (107). What accounts for the different readings of Calvin on this particular point?
The most obvious is the different emphases that both scholars place upon the role of union with Christ in Calvin's theology. Billings sees it as an important theme, whereas Garcia sees it as the controlling factor for Calvin's soteriology. In addition, Garcia has dogmatically employed his understanding of Calvin's unio Christi-duplex gratia. At its best, historical theology exists as a discipline unto itselfits task is to perform theological archaeologyit is a descriptive enterprise. What often happens, however, is that theologians develop ideas, but especially within the Reformed community, the words of Charles Hodge echo through the halls of the Reformed academy, "There are no new ideas in theology." So, theologians look for precedents for their views or discoveries. In many respects, the relationship between dogmatic and historical theology exists in a careful balance. While one does not want to distort the sola Scriptura principle and turn it into a "me and my Bible" approach to theology and therefore ignore the theological past, neither does one want to eisegete the past to establish the legitimacy of one's own theological idea. The most notorious instance of the abuse of historical theology in Calvin studies has been the much vaunted but now highly criticized efforts of Karl Barth and the Barthian historical-theological school who claimed Calvin as the Barth before Barth. This brings one to the following observation.
Garcia's reading of Calvin is based on that of Richard Gaffin, one whom Garcia acknowledges has greatly influenced him and to whom Garcia dedicated his book (xii, xx). This raises a legitimate question pertinent to the present review, one that provides a possible answer to the divergent readings of Billings and Garcia. Gaffin published his doctoral dissertation in 1977 in which he called for a restructuring of the ordo salutis along Pauline lines, namely ensuring that the ordo reflected the centrality of union with Christ. Gaffin writes, "Everywhere Paul speaks of the believer's justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification ..., there the more basic underlying consideration is resurrection with Christ, that is, (existential) union with Christ as resurrected." In this respect, Gaffin sees Paul's ordo not as a sequence of events, whether temporal or logical, but as a single actnamely, union with Christ. What is of particular interest to this review, is that in Gaffin's dissertation, there is no mention of Calvin vis-à-vis the ordo salutis or the priority of union with Christ.
Perhaps Dr. Gaffin or others familiar with the Gaffin corpus can answer this question more definitively, but it appears that Gaffin's own personal understanding of the union priority antedates his discovery of the same pattern in Calvin. For example, it is not until 2002 that Gaffin writes: "This, in a nutshell, is Calvin's ordo salutis: union with Christ by (Spirit-worked) faith." Beyond this, one also finds the same characterization of Lutheran theology that appears in Garcia's work in this same lecture as well. There are also echoes of Gaffin's reading of Calvin in his other former students. For example, in an essay by Craig Carpenter that both Garcia and Gaffin cite as part of their case for the centrality of union in Calvin, one finds the following: "As important as justification by imputed righteousness is for him, it is not justification by faith but union with Christ that is the controlling principle of the Reformer's doctrine of applied soteriology." Or there is the following similar statement, "It appears that Calvin's ordo salutis does not require the logical or temporal priority of a forensic act to a renovative act. Although he does speak of one's progressive sanctification following in time one's justification, the legal and the transformative blessings of salvation are given together in the Spirit's act of uniting the sinner to Christ."
It appears that there is a distinctive school of thought associated with Gaffin's doctrine of union with Christ, particularly regarding its logical priority and the rejection of any logical or theological priority of justification to sanctification. As a matter of historiography, it appears that proponents of this school also find the very same features in Calvin's doctrine of union with Christ. However, this also poses another question. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Was Gaffin influenced by Calvin or did he later find his own understanding of the Pauline ordo in Calvin? This is not in any way to suggest that Drs. Gaffin or Garcia maliciously or irresponsibly eisegete Calvin. That Dr. Garcia's dissertation sustained examination for his doctorate is certainly evidence that it is in-depth research and deserves a careful readingthe exhaustive footnotes certainly bear this conclusion. Moreover, one can also safely assume that Dr. Garcia studied the primary sources for himself and was convinced of his own conclusions and is not merely parroting an esteemed professor. However, though one's research can be thorough, it does not mean that all of his conclusions are correct. Everyone brings assumptions and presuppositions to any enterprise, nevertheless these assumptions and presuppositions must be tested against the evidence.
There seem to be key statements scattered throughout Calvin's writings that point away from Garcia's conclusions and harmonize with Billings's assessment. For example, in Billings's coverage of Calvin's debate with Osiander, he concludes, "If salvation is to be truly a gift from Godand sanctification a life of gratitudea forensic notion of pardon is the necessary prerequisite for such a life of sanctification" (58). Again, Billings writes: "God's free pardon in justification is essential for participation in Christ through sanctificationso that the Christian life can be a life of gratitude and voluntary obedience to God" (61). Or, "Justification always and necessarily leads to real sanctification" (57). In terms of the duplex gratia Billings explains: "The wondrous exchange in imputation draws believers into a transforming union with Christ, even as the transformation of believers does not provide the ground for this union" (71). This analysis seems to explain better a number of statements that one finds in Calvin.
Both Billings and Garcia draw attention to the importance of Calvin's commentary on Romans for understanding his doctrine of union with Christ. Billings states, "The themes of participation, adoption, and engrafting in Romans become crucial for Calvin's theology" (51). Garcia devotes an entire chapter of his book to a case study of the editions of Calvin's Romans commentary instead of the Institutes to support his thesis of the union priority (36-41, esp. 37, and 89-148). Yet, what does Calvin identify as the main theme of the whole epistle: "Thus [Paul] enters on the main subject of the whole Epistle, which is that we are justified by faith." To be sure, this is a point that Garcia acknowledges (39, 94-95), but for some reason it does not bear enough significance for him to pause and consider the statement as counter evidence to his thesis.
Another statement that one finds comes from Calvin's response to the pronouncements of the Council of Trent where he writes:
We, indeed, willingly acknowledge, that believers ought to make daily increase in good works, and that the good works wherewith they are adorned by God, are sometimes distinguished by the name of righteousness. But since the whole value of works is derived from no other fountain than that of gratuitous acceptance, how absurd were it to make the former overthrow the latter ... 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.
Here it appears that Calvin does assign a priority to justification over sanctification and even uses language of causality to do so. In this regard, it seems crucial that one note that when Calvin explains the duplex gratia, the first grace is justification and the second is sanctification. If there is no priority of justification, as Garcia maintains, does one ever find Calvin reversing the order of the duplex gratia? In other words, does Calvin ever call the duplex gratia, sanctification and justification? It would seem that the answer to this question is a definite no, though Garcia in one place does reverse them (96-97). If one turns to Calvin's sermons, there is further evidence to consider.
In one of Calvin's sermons, he explains the sola of fide as it pertains to justification in the following manner:
But it is said, that faith and works can never agree together: and therefore this must be our conclusion, that when we are justified by faith, works must needs cease and be nothing worth [sic]. Now this at the first sight, may seem to be an hard kind of speech, to wit, that faith and good works can never go together: for it might seem, that if faith only justifies, that the reins are slacked and let lose to all iniquity. Now Saint Paul speaks this according to a certain quality and regard, as he also speaks of the law and faith: the law, says he, can no way agree with faith, for they are two incompatible things. And in what sort? For is not God as well the Author of the law as of the Gospel? Is there any contrariety or repugnancy in him? Without doubt no, for he is unchangeable. Why then finds Saint Paul such a contrariety between the law and the Gospel? Forsooth, it is in respect of our justification.
So, then, Calvin explains that faith alone is the instrument of our justification: "Faith must go before righteousness: for it is the mean cause, the instrumental or formal cause we call it." Works play no role, as it pertains to one's justification. This is not to say that Calvin excludes works, as it pertains to one's sanctification: "And without doubt, we can never be said to be right Christians, without we be after that manner renewed, and be made the workmanship of God, created in our Lord Jesus Christ: to do the works which God has prepared." In these statements from Calvin's sermon he clearly places a priority of justification over sanctification, uses causality language, and even does so using the law-gospel hermeneutic, something Garcia argues is non-existent in Calvin (75-77). What sort of priority does justification have over sanctification?
In Calvin's understanding, the believer is not accepted on the basis of his own good works (read sanctification), but on the basis of Christ's works, which comes by faith alone (read justification). This is why, as Billings has argued, justification creates the context for sanctification (106-07). To fail to acknowledge this priority in favor of leveling justification and sanctification fails to account for what Calvin himself has written. Garcia does this by emphasizing the simultaneity of the duplex gratia (96-97, 250), as if this somehow eliminates any possibility of logical or theological priority, perhaps relying upon the mistaken idea that the ordo salutis is a sequential application of redemption. It seems to be the priority of justification that lies behind Calvin's famous statement that justification "is the main hinge on which religion turns" and that apart from it, man does not have a foundation on which to establish his salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God. Calvin does not say sanctification is the hinge, nor does he say union with Christ is the hinge or foundation for piety (read sanctification) but gives this role to the doctrine of justification.
In the end, these two books raise important questions regarding the role of union with Christ in Calvin's theology. Is union with Christ an important theme for which one must account or is it the singularly determinative element of Calvin's soteriology? The small bits of gathered evidence seem to point away from Garcia's conclusions. Another question is, How widespread is this particular reading of Calvin? Can one find it prior to 1977 and the publication of Gaffin's doctoral dissertation? Is there a Gaffin-school reading of Calvin, one driven by Gaffin's reading of Paul? These questions are important on several levels.
First, there is the historical-theological significance. It is important that the proper reading of Calvin be established. It is certainly possible that Gaffin's reading of Calvin that Garcia offers is correct, and if so, then others should follow suit.
Second, there are the dogmatic, or systematic-theological, implications. While one wants to maintain the careful balance between historical and dogmatic theology, if Gaffin's reading of Calvin is correct, and as Garcia has argued that Calvin has simply reflected Paul's ordo salutis (255), then it means that many within the Reformed community need to reconsider their understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification.
Third, there are broader ecclesiological implications, namely, the relationships between a number of ministers and theologians within the broader Reformed church. Perhaps it is impolite to point at the large pink elephant, but there is an ongoing debate between the Westminster campuses in California and Philadelphia as well as among some of their graduates on union with Christ and the ordo salutis, particularly the relationship between justification and sanctification. The difference of opinion has for the most part been cordial, but at times there have been pointed exchanges.
In many respects, the answers to these questions will likely not come any time soon. It can sometimes take a generation or more to establish a historical-theological corrective reading. In this regard, the test of time often, though not always, determines the validity of a thesis. Time will tell whether the Gaffin-school reading of Calvin that Garcia has put forth will endure scrutiny. It does appear, however, that Billings's reading of Calvin is a more accurate portrait. Others have arrived at similar conclusions. Cornelis Venema writes: "In my judgment, Garcia and Carpenter overstate the extent to which union with Christ 'coordinates' its two benefits of justification and sanctification, and do not do justice to the careful way Calvin also maintains the (theological, not temporal) 'order' of justification in relation to sanctification." Nevertheless, one should obtain copies of both Billings's and Garcia's books and study them to see which of the two Calvins emerges as the more accurate portrait. This task is not merely one for ivory tower theologians, but is an exercise of standing upon the shoulders of a giant. As one cannot help but be drawn into the primary texts of Calvin to determine which of the two books best represents the Genevan giant, and in such a journey one can learn from one of the church's greatest minds. Therefore, tolle et lege!
 See Mark A. Garcia, "Imputation and the Christology of Union with Christ: Calvin, Osiander, and the Contemporary Quest for a Reformed Model," WTJ 68 (2006): 219-51.
 Originally published as Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) and now re-titled as Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1987), 129.
 Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, 135-36, 142.
 Richard B. Gaffin, "Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards," WTJ 65 (2003): 172. Gaffin has also argued this same point in idem, "Justification and Union with Christ (3.11-18)," in A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes: Essays and Analysis, eds., David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2008), 248-69.
 E. g., Gaffin, "Biblical Theology," 173.
 Craig B. Carpenter, "A Question of Union with Christ? Calvin and Trent on Justification," WTJ 64 (2002): 380-81.
 John Calvin, Romans and Thessalonians, CNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 5.
 John Calvin, "Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote," in Selected Works, 7 vols. ed. & trans., Henry Beveridge (1851; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 3.128.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, LCC, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed., John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.11.1.
 In one sense, this is something that Garcia does not do concerning the structure of the Institutes, as he focuses upon the successive editions of Calvin's Romans commentaries, but Gaffin does try to argue this case. Gaffin writes: "What is remarkable here is the 'ordo' (!): Calvin discusses the change that takes place within the sinner, our ongoing inner renewal and personal transformation, before the definitive change effected in the sinner's legal status, our forensic standing coram Deo... All told, he treats sanctification, at length, before justification. Such an approach contrasts conspicuously with subsequent Reformed and Lutheran theology, where justification always (without exception?) precedes sanctification" (Gaffin, "Biblical Theology," 176). There are several points that warrant comment. First, it is anachronistic to argue that the structure of Calvin's Institutes reflects his ordo salutis. The ordo salutis is a terminus technicus that did not develop until well after Calvin's death. Second, there is a difference between the ordo salutis and the ordo docendi that Calvin adopts. In other words, the Institutes is a catechetical work that is organized upon pedagogical concerns. In this regard, one must note that Calvin does mention the doctrine of justification in book two (e.g., 2.17.2-3). Third, Gaffin's question of whether this pattern exists in subsequent Lutheran or Reformed theology suggests that Calvin is the lone outpost of this union priority. What seems more likely? That the whole Reformed tradition has missed this structurally significant point and has argued for the priority of justification, or that Gaffin's reading of Calvin is incorrect? It seems that the latter is far more likely, unless, of course, one can produce other scholars pre-Gaffin, who have also independently come to this conclusion. On the first two points raised, see Thomas Wenger, "The New Perspective on Calvin: Responding to Recent Calvin Interpretations," JETS 50/2 (2007): 311-28. Wenger's overall case appears to be cogent, though perhaps it requires some nuance regarding his reading of Gaffin regarding the central dogma theory. Like Garcia, Gaffin would likely also reject union with Christ as a central dogma, but would nevertheless agree that union is singularly determinative for Calvin's soteriology.
 Calvin, Sermons on Melchizedek and Abraham: Justification, Faith, and Obedience (1592; Audubon: Old Paths, 2000), 128-29 (CO 23.703-04).
 Ibid., 185 (CO 23.731-32).
 Ibid., 158 (CO 23.718).
 What is peculiar about Garcia's claims regarding the law-gospel hermeneutic is the manner in which he describes it: "The effect of this hermeneutic is the relegation of 'conditional' passages of Scripture to the category of Law as distinct from Gospel" (75). Yet, this is not how Lutherans or Reformed theologians have defined it. It is not the conditional passages of Scripture, but recognizing the difference between a command, or the demands of the law, and a promise, the promise of the gospel. This division is clearly evident in Calvin's statement from his sermon. One can find the law-gospel hermeneutic in a number of Reformed theologians such as Zacharias Ursinus, Theodore Beza, or William Perkins (Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism [1852; Phillipsburg: P & R, n. d.], 1; Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. James Clark [Lewes: Focus Christian Ministries, 1992], 41-43; The Art of Prophesying [1606; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996], 54-56). One can also find the law-gospel hermeneutic in contemporary Reformed theologians such as Herman Bavinck and Louis Berkhof. Berkhof, for example, writes: "The churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identified with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New" (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 612). Bavinck writes, "God uses his word to make his will known in the area of morality and spirituality, and it must be differentiated as law and gospel" (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003-08], 4.450).
 Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.
 Cornelis Venema, Accepted and Renewed in Christ: The "Twofold Grace of God" and the Interpretation of Calvin's Theology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 136 n. 9. Venema draws attention to the more balanced assessment of Paul Helm, John Calvin's Ideas (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 405-06. One should note, though, that Garcia sees significant problems with Venema's overall thesis. Garcia believes his own work is a corrective to Venema: "At several points in this investigation, the textual, contextual, and theological arguments put forward serve to advance, clarify, and occasionally correct Venema's more general assertions" (Garcia, Life in Christ, 34 n. 76).
John V. Fesko is presently Pastor of Geneva OPC in Woodstock, GA and an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary-Atlanta. On July 1, 2009 he will begin to serve as Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA. Ordained Servant, March 2009.