Monday, November 12, 2007

Gaffin on the Resurrection

In anticipation of the Fall 2008 SAET symposium, I’ve been working on a paper regarding Calvin’s doctrine of justification, specifically the extent to which he incorporates Christ’s resurrection into his soteriology. My working thesis is that Calvin does not assign the resurrection any real instrumentality in his doctrine of justification, focusing exclusively on the cross as the primary means of salvation. This one-sided soteriology is, I believe, a weakness of Calvin’s thought, and one which has steered contemporary evangelical thought in an anemic direction.

In preparation for the paper I’ve been working my way through the Institutes, but was momentarily sidetracked by New Testament scholar Richard Gaffin’s, The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. Gaffin’s thesis—which is now thirty years old, but new to me—is that Paul’s soteriology is grounded squarely in the resurrection of Christ. I’ve been working toward the same general conclusion, so I was interested to see how Gaffin got there.

The basic gist of his argument runs thus: Christ, in taking on fallen humanity, was in need of dying and rising just as much as the rest of humanity. For Paul, Christ’s resurrection was transforming in respect to his humanity—a release from the mortal flesh he incarnated. Gaffin writes,
For as 1 Cor. 15:45 and 2 Cor. 3:17 make clear, the resurrection produces a real transformation in the person of Christ, a change which is analogous to that experienced by believers (cf. esp. 1 Cor. 15:51 with vv.45 ff.). Christ’s resurrection is not evidential with respect to his divinity, but transforming with respect to his humanity (105).
In dying to the old order and rising to the new order, Christ is the firstfruits of the new humanity. Union with Christ, then, figures prominently in Gaffin's soteriology, for it is in the believer’s incorporation into Christ that he or she experiences the redemptive nature of Christ’s atoning work—both his dying to the old order and rising to the new.

Gaffin gets to my general conclusion via Paul's Christology--an avenue that I hadn't yet given significant thought to. I found Gaffin’s exegesis generally compelling, and the length of his book—a short 143 pages—helps it go down easily. I’d be interested to hear from any NT scholars about how Gaffin’s thesis has been received by the NT guild. Professor Bird?


David Stefanini said...
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Exiled Preacher said...

Hi there,

I think that the resurrection of Christ may have more importance in Calvin's theology that you suggest. I've been doing a little series on this:

Parts 1 & 3 may be especially relevant to your concerns. In Part 3 I show that Calvin recognised that justification is as esential as the cross for justification.