"In Christ" in Paul

Explorations in Paul's Theology of Union and Participation

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Constantine R. Campbell,, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Michael J. Thate
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    , February
     577 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


“In Christ” in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation is a collection of essays from leading biblical scholars and theologians. This edited volume opens with a tentative summary of the state of scholarship on “union with Christ” by Kevin Vanhoozer. Here, Vanhoozer spends some time on historical developments, while also trying to correct some over-realized ontological readings such as that of Thomas Torrance (18).  Vanhoozer ends with his classical model of “theo-drama” as a way to conceptualize union with Christ. 

“In Christ” in Paul is divided into three parts. The first part of the book deals with New Testament perspectives on union and participation. Here, the figure of E. P. Sanders looms large: practically every author is in some way indebted to his work. Grant Macaskill and Michael Gorman’s essays are lucid and bring some clarity to the issue of participation in the New Testament. Both show how theosis is not an antithetical concept to salvation, but at the same time does not imply a blurring of the creator-creature distinction.

The second part of the book highlights the reception history of union and participation in Paul. Ben Blackwell examines participation under Richard Hays’s four models of participation, and in the end, evaluates Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria as a way to move beyond the Latin-based tradition of participation. With other articles by Darren Sarisky, Stephen Chester, Julie Canlis, Robert Baylor, and Keith Johnson, this part of the book is very learned, containing several insights on biblical interpretation and theological retrieval. One example of this is Julie Canlis’s article on Calvin. Canlis believes that, for Calvin, in the incarnation what was hidden (the Father-Son relationship) is revealed. Furthermore, in this man—Jesus Christ—we are united by the spirit of adoption. Canlis uses this interpretation, in contradistinction to other emphases in Calvin’s forensic theology. 

The last part offers some theological reflections. Ashish Varma directs the reader’s attention to Paul’s epistle to Colossians. Reflecting on how union with Christ has tended toward passivity, Varma states that Paul’s aims are fully endowed with virtue, rooted in fellowship and dependence upon the Trinity. Mary Baker deals with the Lord’s Supper, focusing on the eucharist as a “celebration of the sacrifice of Christ that [in itself] secured this union. And yet, the sharing itself is an event of the present” (526). Playing on the static conception of union and the dynamic of participation, Baker’s article brings some clarity to the discussion of the Lord’s supper.

“In Christ” in Paul is a good volume that goes beyond the mere word study and grammar of the doctrine as previous books have tended to do. I am especially indebted to the history of participation section, where the authors carefully but fearlessly exegete historical figures,  moving past classical representations while remaining faithful to the historical figures themselves.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rafael Bello is Professor of Systematic Theology at Martin Bucer Seminary and a doctoral candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
July 3, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Constantine R. Campbell is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His other books include Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Among his many books are Biblical Authority after Babel and Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible.

Michael J. Thate is Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Institut für antikes Judentum und hellenistische Religions geschichte at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen.


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