For one wanting to understand more about the history of salvation, how it is accomplished and applied, and for those struggling between the Lutheran view and the Calvinistic view of the subject, this book appears in good timing. I think the statement on the book’s cover sums it up, “Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole biblical teaching about salvation. The entirety of our relationship with God can be summed up in this doctrine.” It continues, “Yet when people ask what this union actually is, we flounder.”
Robert Letham uses Scripture, theology, and church history (fathers) to develop this topic and he does so in a way that enables us to have a clearer understanding of how and why God made us to be united with him. Though the atoning work of Christ is the heart of the gospel and other things are merely parts and applications, we need to understand that salvation stems from our union with Christ. Our justification, our adoption, our sanctification result from our union with Christ.
Years ago, I came to appreciate this doctrine in studying John Murray’s Redemption, Accomplished, and Applied. Murray said, and Letham reminds us of his words, “nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.” He quotes Lane Tipton, theology professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.” Sadly, Letham is correct when he says that not much is heard about “union with Christ” from today’s pulpits, and that is a pity because it is so central and basic to salvation.
Some following a more Lutheran view of salvation maintain that union with Christ is the result of our being justified by faith; however the Calvinistic focus maintained that our justification by faith is grounded in our union with Christ. Letham leads us through those kinds of issues in this book. It is technical, yet very readable. Letham develops the teaching that Paul sets forth in Romans 6, that “our union with Christ is the foundational basis for sanctification and the dynamic force that empowers it.”
In the chapter, “Union with Christ and Transformation,” Letham sets forth what he calls ten theses. The first of the ten is enough to whet your appetite to read and study the others-The union we enjoy with Christ is more real and more fundamental than the union we have with members of our own bodies. In these theses, Letham opens up topics such as the Word and Sacraments, important topics especially in today’s liturgical malaise. He concludes with the reminder that our union with Christ will continue “in unbroken and unsullied fulfillment.”
You will not regret reading and studying this book. It will be a good reference for you as you think about, teach, and preach about salvation and our relationship to the Triune God.