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Does Union with Christ Make the Imputation of His Righteousness Redundant? Con Campbell Gives an Answer

Categories Theology

Paul and union
If you've been following along here the past few weeks you know we've been showcasing a few interviews with Constantine Campbell on his new book Paul and Union with Christ. We've heard about the key influences that impacted his research. We've also had Campbell engage and answer the question "Does Paul have an ordo salutis?".

In this final video interview we let Campbell engage and answer another crucial question regarding union with Christ: "Does union with Christ make the imputation of Christ's righteousness redundant?"

This question is a tricky one because it gets at the heart of how it is that believers are declared righteous. Is it through imputation or through union with Christ?

You're probably aware of the recent debates between Reformed theologians and scholars in the so-called New Perspective Paul regarding this very issue. The discussion regards this question: "How do we receive righteousness in Christ?" On the one hand the Reformed tradition emphasizes imputation, that Christ's righteousness is taken from him and put on us. On the other side is the idea that because of union with Christ we share in his righteousness and are justified by that union, thus imputation is unnecessary.

But are the two views mutually exclusive? Or is there a way to cut through the false dichotomy into a more biblically, theologically rounded understanding of our question? Campbell thinks so.

In his book he answers the dilemma in this way:

Imputation ought to be understood as the unmerited reception of a righteousness that belongs wholly to another, and this reception of 'alien' righteousness is facilitated through the 'un-alienation' of two parties; once believers are joined to Christ, his righteousness is shared with them. In this way, imputation and union with Christ coexist, with one flowing from the other. (401)

As someone who has studied the historical development of justification, I appreciate Campbell's analysis of what Paul is doing with his theology—not to mention what Christ does for the believer!

I've often wondered why we should have to choose between the two, and Campbell helps us understand why we don't in his book as well as in the enclosed video. The short clip extends these remarks with an astute biblical, theological, and even historical examination of a term (imputation) that's not a bit foreign to Paul's theology, as well as to Luther's and Calvin's.

—Jeremy Bouma, ThM (@bouma)

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