My love of the doctrine of our union with Christ began about a year ago. I was taking a class on the atonement with Oliver Crisp, and I was assigned to present a paper on T.F. Torrance’s Atonement. It was supposed to be an exposition and critique of Torrance’s doctrine of the atonement. However I found Torrance’s understanding of atonement so compelling that it was hard to form a substantial criticism of it. In that book I found the a glorious presentation of the gospel through the lens of our union with Christ, more specifically through the hypostatic union. Torrance argues that the mechanism of our salvation is the vicarious humanity of Christ. It is a glorious truth, and Fitzpatrick relies quite a bit upon Torrance’s theology in this book.
Then I came upon James Torrance’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. In it, I found everything from Thomas Torrance’s work applied to a ministry context. The doctrine was made practical!
Finally I have come upon another practical exposition of the doctrine of the incarnation and union with Christ, this time coming from the hands of Elyse Fitzpatrick a professional biblical counselor. I knew I had to get my hands on it. Boy am I sure glad that I did!
When most people think about doctrine they think about a set of cold, heart-freezing propositions. The truth couldn’t be further from this, Fitzpatrick proves that this is so. She takes us deep into two separate but very related doctrines: Incarnation and Union with Christ. She shows us how these truths relate to us personally and how they affect our lives.
Fitzpatrick spends the first six chapters on the doctrine of Incarnation. This is the wondrous doctrine that Martin Chemnitz wrote was the “greatest and sweetest” consolation that we can know. (20)
In the second part of the book she spends four chapters on the awe-some doctrine of union. This is the same doctrine that John Murray wrote was “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” (21) Fitzpatrick takes us on a journey into the practical application of our union with Christ as individuals and as a body, his bride.
If you ever wondered if doctrine could ever be fodder for biblical counseling, look no further. Incarnation and Union with Christ are invaluable tools for counseling people and Fitzpatrick shows us how to do that.
- Theologically Robust – I have already mentioned this above, but its rare to find a book that is both theologically deep and heart moving. It boggles my mind why that is so since theology should always lead to doxology. Nevertheless Elyse Fitzpatrick takes us deep into the doctrine of the Incarnation – Christ’s birth, his condescension, his perfect life, his passion, his ascension – and deep into the doctrine of our union with Christ.
- Pastoral Passages – There are many great pastoral passages in this book, at times I feel as though I am being preached to or personally spoken to. For instance on page 180 she tells the reader “He is not waiting to visit wrath upon you. No, his compassion toward us is warm and tender. Over and over he woos us, reaching out hands of love to embrace us in full marital bliss.” On page 199 she says to us “You can rest, finally rest. Sweet pure rest is yours through the work that Jesus has already done.” The whole book is filled with sweet truths like these that make you want to pause and give God thanks for what he has done for us through Christ.
I had a few issues with this book theologically, but its nothing that would keep me from strongly recommending this book. The first issue is with her theology of sin. On page 201 she says “Just think for a moment about the sins you struggle with, whatever thy may be. I guarantee that at their root is a desire to approve of yourself, to have others approve of you, or to anesthetize your soul to the reality of your failure to be okay.” This might be true at times, but reducing sin down to an attempt to justify oneself or find one’s own righteousness seems to be a reductionist view of sin. Sin is more a more complicated beast…. The second issue is with her theology of gender. I have interacted a lot with feminist theology (I sympathize with the issues but I am not sympathetic with the project, for a great assessment ant critique see Linda Peacore’s The Role of Women’s Experience in Feminist Theologies of Atonement) so I am quite sensitive to those sorts of issues. On page 173 Fitzpatrick says something that I believe many feminist theologians would love “The truth is that in Christ we must all think of ourselves as feminine….” Many feminist theologians would see this as “leveling the playing field” between men and women, shifting the priority of perspective from male to female. Great. I don’t think that is necessary, but okay. Then a few sentences later she says something bothered me quite a bit. “God himself is they archetype of masculinity, and every way that we think about true masculinity flows from the nature of who he is. He is what it means to be masculine….” Stop right there. God is the essence of masculinity. That is flat out wrong. God is not gendered. God has traits that we have called “masculine” an he has traits that we have called “feminine.” In fact scripture does talk about how God is also the feminine archetype. God is like a mother nursing us. God is like a hen, taking care of her chicks. Although Scripture does use Father as its primary way of talking about God, we need to be careful of anthropomorphizing this attribute.
Robustly theological. Pastorally sensitive. This book belongs on every pastor and preacher’s library. I would even venture to say that this book belongs on every biblical counselor’s library as well. In addition to being a helpful resource for teaching and counseling, you will also find this book to be personally moving. The pages are filled with the sweet truths of a multi-faceted gospel – incarnation, passion, ascension, union, justification, sanctification – if you let those truths sink in then you will be drawn to worship and rest in the one who has united himself to us, at least that’s what it did for me when I read it.Note: I received this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive or negative review of this book.