19 October 2011

A Perennial Oscillation

I found this statement interesting in light of recent discussion concerning the relationship between justification and sanctification. It's from Bill Evans' published dissertation on union with Christ in reformed theology since Calvin, which rightly wants to re-establish the centrality of union with Christ (subsuming both justification and sanctification) for reformed soteriology.
If there is both a federal union and a spiritual or mystical union, the question of the relationship between the two will inevitably be raised, hence the endless debates over various ordo salutis constructions in which the precise sequential order of the soteriological benefits was at issue. It is interesting to note that the British Reformed communities were torn by recurrent conflicts between Antinomians and Neonomians from the mid-seventeenth until the mid-eighteenth centuries, with antinomian parties emphasizing the priority and supremacy of justification at the expense of sanctification, and Neonomians reacting to antinomian excesses by emphasizing sanctification at the expense of forensic justification (note that this period was the heyday of the ordo salutis/federal theology model). Given the dualistic character of the federal paradigm, satisfying answers to this dilemma were difficult to find, and the Reformed federal tradition has tended to oscillate between the twin poles of legalism and antinomianism ever since.
--William B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2008), 82

2 comments:

Drew said...

Evans is right to be critical of the federal paradigm, for it is rooted in a Nestorianizing Christology - an extrinsic relation between the two natures in Christ where one nature uses the other in an instrumental manner. Given this Christological model, it is easy to see how much of Reformed soteriology follows: the human will is an instrument of the divine will; the human will is passive, whereas the divine will is active.

I am curious to see if a rejection of the federal paradigm (and a regaining of the paradigm of mystical union) will gain much traction in the Reformed community. If it does, I'm guessing it will affect how soteriology is understood.

Drew said...

By the way, have you ever read any John Williamson Nevin? He's one of my favorite Reformed theologians, and he addresses this very issue in his writings.