“A Spiritual Feast on Our Union With Jesus Christ”
Book Review By David P. Craig
Marcus Peter Johnson is to be commended for providing us with the equivalent of a spiritual banquet of solid and tasty food in this offering. Admittedly this work is very ambitious in that it covers eight monumental topics with reference to our union with Christ: (1) Our nature and union with Christ; (2) How our union with Christ matters with reference to our sin and His incarnation and the doctrine of imputation; (3) Justification and our union with Christ; (4) Sanctification and our union with Christ; (5) Adoption and Sonship in union with Christ; (6) Preservation and Glorification because of our union with Christ; (7) The mystery of the church’s union with Christ; (8) The Word and the Sacraments with reference to our union with Christ.
Johnson’s writing style is theologically dense, profound, and rich. Reading his book reminded me of being at a luxurious banquet with an abundance and variety of delicious “spiritual” foods. I felt like I couldn’t assimilate everything that the author prepared for me – it was too much, too rich, and too thought-provoking. However, the good news about all this spiritual food – is that it will never spoil. It is a meal that I can come to again and again. It’s too much to assimilate quickly, but what Johnson has written about must be digested slowly, thoughtfully, meditatively, and applicationally.
I believe that Johnson’s work is a condensation and summary of his doctoral dissertation whereby he discovered the delightful and practical ramifications of John Calvin’s understanding of what it means for the Christian to be joined to Jesus Christ. Johnson interacts with many of the Reformers such as Calvin and Luther, but also of other weighty theologian’s treatments on the Christian’s union with Christ. He interacts with theologians ranging from Augustine to Edwards and many of the modern’s as well. He essentially mines a ton of “union with Christ” gold that many Christians and Theologians have flat-out missed over the years. The good news is that he takes the weighty and abstract concepts of the theological giants throughout history and breaks them down so that they are understandable and applicational.
Here is just a sampling of some of the gems I gleaned from Johnson’s book:
“The mysterious reality of our union with Jesus Christ, by which he dwells in us and we in him, is so utterly essential to the gospel that to obscure it inevitably leads to an obscuring of the gospel itself.”
“Salvation is often conceived of as the reception of something Christ has acquired for us rather than as the reception of the living Christ. In other words, salvation is described as a gift to be apprehended rather than the apprehension of the Giver himself…the gospel is portrayed as the offer of a depersonalized benefit (e.g., grace, justification, or eternal life) rather than the offer of the very person of Christ (who is himself the grace of God, our justification, and our eternal life).”
“A retrieval of the central significance of union with Christ will provide a way for the evangelical church to see once again why the work of Christ cannot be separated from his person; why the gloriously good news about salvation rests in the church being joined to the One who is salvation himself; and why Jesus Christ is the essence of the church, or else the church is no more than a voluntaristic religious club of like-minded folk.”
“The great mystery of the incarnation is that God, without ceasing to be God, became what he created in order to join us to himself. Thus, the Son of God entered into human existence to dwell among and in us, assuming our humanity into union with himself.”
“The church does not await the return of Christ so that we may be united to him; rather, the church is united to Christ, and so eagerly awaits the consummation of this union.”
“By virtue of being incorporated into the life of Jesus Christ, we participate in the life, love, and fellowship of the Trinity. Because the Son is one with the Father, our being joined to the Son means we are joined to the Father. And because the Spirit exists as the bond of communion between the Father and Son, he brings us into that communion by uniting us to Christ.”
Johnson has written a robust theologically rich feast. It is a book that I will read again and again. Whenever I teach on the themes in this book I will be consulting this book for quotes, illustrations, and sound biblical exegesis. It is essentially an accessible encyclopedic resource on what it means to be united with Christ – theologically, historically, in the future, and practically in the now. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone who wants to understand, contemplate, and apply the riches of our salvation because of the union we have in Christ Jesus.
*I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher and was not required to write a favorable review.