Paul's theme of union with Christ is prevalent in his writings but nowhere does he actually define it. This book covers two topics – what union with Christ really is and what role it performs in Paul's theology. Campbell's approach is exegetical and theological.
The book is in three parts: introduction and survey of developments to the present, exegesis of the relevant texts, an attempt to integrate the results of the exegetical studies into the broad sphere of Paul's thought.
Campbell's task is not easy. He notes, “...a majority of scholars have recognized that Paul's 'in Christ' language serves more than one purpose and enjoys a wide range of use.” (60)
In the exegetical section, Campbell looks at all 73 appearance of “in Christ.” He then investigates all the variations of “in Christ,” “with Christ,” and “through Christ.” He also explores the metaphors Paul uses to express his thoughts, such as “body of Christ,” marriage, a building, and new clothing.
In the theological study, Campbell shows that every work of salvation is related to union with Christ. “The ways in which the various elements of Christ's work relate to union with Christ differ according to the nature of the work and the language employed.” (332) In some cases Christ performs the will of God toward the people. In others a participation with Christ in various elements of his work is indicated. “As Christ performs his works, he represents believers while in some spiritual sense they partake in the events that he undergoes.” (332) The use of metaphors indicate a “static” union where believers are in a state of benefiting from work Christ has done. Campbell spends some time on “dying” and “rising” with Christ, reviewing other authors.
In his review of the first two parts of the book, he reminds us, “It is apparently necessary, therefore, to acknowledge that union with Christ does not merely address believers' union with him; it also addresses Christ's union with his Father and with the Spirit.” (356) He investigates all the issues within the topic of the Trinity in connection with union with Christ, including theosis.
He investigates what union with Christ means with respect to Christian living. The activities of Christians are conditioned by their union with Christ. “...[T]he very terminology Paul uses to call someone a Christian is taken directly from the vocabulary of union with Christ since the reality of their connection to Christ is of such significance that it summarizes their entire Christian existence.” (374)
He then turns to union with Christ, justification and imputed righteousness.
He reviews his definition of “union with Christ” showing it is a result of the exegetical and theological studies. He uses union, participation, identification, and incorporation to give justice to the widespread variety and nuance of Paul's language theology, and ethical thought. (420)
He ends with a chapter on the implications of the study and suggestions for further thought. He proposes and uses a web-shaped model for Paul's thought, “union with Christ” being the “webbing” holding it all together.
Campbell hopes that the conclusions of this study “will shape subsequent discussions of Paul in general and union with Christ in particular.” (443)
As Campbell notes, there has not been before such an ambitious study of union with Christ in scope, nor in the attempt to integrate exegesis with theology.
I certainly look forward to someone following his suggestion to explore the pastoral and devotional implications of union with Christ. As he suggests, this would be on a more popular, rather than academic, level. “It ought to be clear that union with Christ offers a wealth of pastoral and devotional potential and should be extolled from every pulpit and basic to every believer.” (444)
Campbell stated early on that this work “is not for academia alone. It is also for the church.” (28) A pastor will certainly find a wealth of information here.
However, this book is quite academic. A layperson would be overwhelmed with this work, I think, without a background in Greek studies.
Constantine R. Campbell is a senior lecturer in Greek and New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of several books on the Greek language.
Zondervan, 480 pages. Publisher's product page.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.