Archive for May 10, 2013

How Could Questions about “The Order of Salvation” Be Practical?

May 10, 2013

Edwards puritan: The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. I am not sure how we can be united to one without being united to the other.  There is no  imputation of the righteousness of Christ before the actual union with Christ.

mark:  The puritan continues to say “actual union” in a question-begging fashion, and the problem is that he does not define what that means, except for his assumption that the “actual” is not the legal (which he does not deny). What he needs to do is find a term for what he’s calling “actual”. Is what he’s calling “actual” regeneration? Is what he’s calling “actual” the indwelling of the person Christ in us, so that (as in Luther), when faith is in us, Christ is in that faith and thus in us? In any case, he needs to explain what he means. Faith is an experience. Imputation (God’s legal sharing of the merit of Christ’s work) is not an experience.

I certainly agree that nobody can be united to Christ without also being united to the Holy Spirit. But the question concerns the Spirit’s priority in the “application”.  Calvin assumed this. But does this mean that the elect are united to the Spirit logically before they are united to Christ, and then the Spirit binds Christ together with elect persons? This is not a technical query about the order of salvation application (or even about the order of redemptive history). Rather, it’s a basic exegetical question about baptism in and with the Holy Spirit. Though the puritan agrees that Christ purchased the work of the Spirit for the elect, he still seems to think that the Spirit baptizes into Christ, but exegesis of all the seven texts (including Corinthians 12:13) tells us that Christ is the one who baptizes in and with the Spirit.

But how could this possibly be anything but a technical scholastic “order” question? Gaffin and all who dismiss the order question (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Ferguson) as of no importance tend to have their own order, at the end of the day. Yes, you can’t have the Spirit without Christ, or Christ without the Spirit, but then it turns out that, when it comes to “actual union”, the priority always goes to the work of the Spirit in us, to faith as that which ‘applies” Christ. And this is practical, because that gets us away from thinking about the atonement or about the atonement being only for the elect, and gets us back to the place where we can work with Arminians–ie, the place where the atonement is for those who believe (whatever), the place where atonement is for those with the Spirit, the place where the atonement is not back there then but here now, so that the atonement becomes the application of the atonement, so that the “real” atonement becomes what the Spirit does with Christ.

if indeed the order is not practical and important, why is it that Gaffin and others spend so much time insisting on the priority of union with the resurrected Christ over any “legal union” with what Christ did in the past? If it doesn’t matter, then why not let us other folks keep on talking the way we do?

But the Confession says the Spirit applies, and Calvin did also. I won’t take the time to talk about the ambiguity in Calvin (or the Confessions), but I think the reason Calvin gives priority to the Spirit uniting to Christ has something to do with the way Calvin thought he had been baptized (in water). But why do puritan credobaptists also give the priority to the Holy Spirit? Some of them think water baptism is about Spirit baptism (or about both that AND baptism into the death of Christ, but my guess is that these puritan credobaptists give priority to experience. Imputation is not an experience..

A lot of the discussion of this is simply question-begging (probably mine also!).  Reasserting again that imputation can’t take place logically before the experience of faith. the puritans say imputation would be a fiction because imputation does not take place before the “actual union”. But if the Spirit (the blessing of Abraham) is given to sons, not in order to constitute sons (Galatians 3-4), then God’s imputation is first.

The puritans agree that Christ purchased the Spirit. they also agree that faith is not really the righteousness. But nevertheless they thinks it acceptable for us (and the Bible) to say that God counts our faith experience as the righteousness, and acceptable to say that the Spirit gives Christ (at least when it comes to “union”, as opposed to Christ giving the Spirit). But the result of that is always going to be us talking about regeneration and indwelling and our hearts instead of about Christ’s guilt-bearing for those elected in Christ.

I ask that we define “union”. It does no good to agree that “union” has various aspects (ie, it’s by election and it’s legal also) if we then go on from that to use the word “union” to mean “experimental break with the pattern of sin”.

Romans 6 is certainly a key text on the relationship of justification and the Christian life. Many read Romans 6 as if it were saying: don’t worry about that two legal heads stuff in Romans 5, because there is another answer besides justification as to why we don’t sin, and that is “union”. Or don’t worry about justification of the ungodly now, because God is not only looking to Christ’s death but also looking to what the Spirit is going to do in us in the future.

Others (like Robert Haldane) read Romans to say that the answer to the question about the Christian life is not something else besides justification, legal identity with Christ’s death and resurrection. We read Romans 6:7 as saying that the answer continues to be “justified from sin”. We insist on that because Christ became dead to sin, was justified from sin, and that certainly was NOT “regeneration” or the work of the Spirit in Him. We insist on reading Romans 6 in terms of “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law”.

Others of course read Holy Spirit baptism into Romans 6. They don’t talk about Christ giving the Spirit (which also is not in Romans 6). They talk about the Spirit giving Christ (which is not in Romans 6). Others talk about the sacramental water of the church. But it is no way acceptable to these folks to think that Romans 6 is about justification and legal identification. They already have their minds made up that imputation is not a good enough answer to the question of Romans 6.

If this topic is not practical, don’t waste your time on it. If you spend time on it, let’s agree that “order” questions are important even for you.