It has been a while since I have done a proper book review but this book I discovered recently demands being reviewed! The first time I actually heard this book mentioned was during Ern Baxter's memorable sermon "The Neglect of Resurrection" at Earl Paulk's conference. The quotes that Ern brought from Gaffin's book really impacted me so I was thrilled to find a copy of the book at the wonderful Geneva Books (a Reformed conservative second hand book shop) in London. I've read it and it is incredible. So;
"The Centrality of the Resurrection - A Study in Paul's Soteriology" by Richard B Gaffin Jr.
This book was actually Gaffin's doctoral thesis published by Baker Books. He begins the book by making an important point - "Biblical interpretation never takes place in a vacuum". This seems to be so true. It has always puzzled me why Arminians and Calvinists, Cessationists and Pentecostal/Charismatics, Premillenials and Postmillenials, Baptists and Paedobaptists and so on all believe and look to the one same Bible for what we all call ultimate truth. We all approach the Bible with pre-concieved ideas from whatever our backgrounds present. It is with that in mind that Gaffin presented a disturbing result from his study;
"Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology) - Volume 2 - devotes four pages to the resurrection in contrast with a lengthy treatment of the atonement (pp464-591). W G T Shedd (Dogmatic Theology) - Volume 2 - passes directly from a discussion of "Vicarious Atonement" to "Regeneration". The major writings of B B Warfield in this area concentrate exclusively upon the death of Christ understood as atonement ... The approach of Louis Berkhof (Systematic Theology) is similar to that of Hodge. After a brief discussion of the resurrection he moves on to a lengthy treatment of the atonement (pp361-399). The approaches of Abraham Kuyper (Dictaten Dogmatiek) and Herman Bavinck (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek) provide no significant exceptions to this general pattern.
This viritual equation of the accomplishment of redemption with atonement which characterises traditional Reformed dogmatics is nowhere made more clear or expressed more programmatically than in the opening sentence of John Murray (Redemption - Accomplished and Applied); 'The accomplishment of redemption is concerned with what has been generally called the atonement".
Richard Gaffin then sums up what he has studied:
"In calling attention to this preoccupation with the atonement, my purpose is not to challenge the validity and necessity of this development, far less to call into question the conclusions reached. I wish to point out that the dominating interest in the death of Christ has had assoicated with it a relative neglect of the resurrection".
Gaffin then examines the Resurrection of Christ in Paul's Soteriology in two key parts. 1. The Resurrection of Christ and the Future Resurrection of Believers and 2. The Resurrection of Christ and the Past Resurrection of the Believer. After examining the Scriptures associated with these two areas, he then moves on to examine; 1. The Activity of the Father and the Passivity of the Son and 2. The Agency of the Spirit.
"For Paul, "life" in the soteriological sense ... is grounded specifically in the resurrection of Jesus and it's manifestation is always an expression of that resurrection. Life for Paul is pointedly resurrection-life".
Just as Dr John Stott's contribution to Christian life has been helpful in restoring the aspect of the Cross of Christ to something more than a historical moment but rather usefulness in day to day life - so Richard Gaffin holds a similar view on the Resurrection;
"Resurrection with Christ involves an existential component. The believer's continuing walk in newness of life is based upon resurrection with Christ as that has taken place in his actual life history".
The recent debated issue of baptism in water most certainly carries importance in existential resurrection life. How can an infant understand the implications of this truth that Gaffin writes of?;
"Baptism signifies and seals a transition into the experience of the recipient a transition from being (existentially) apart from Christ to being (existentially) joined to Him".
There may be some arguments from some who's concern is that the Cross is the central component of redemption, that the ressurection is "naturally" included in the whole scope. Gaffin would not agree with this. He said;
"The resurrection is not an aspect or component of the death. Rather ... each has a meaning of its own which is supressed at the risk of seriously distorting Paul's Gospel".
His argument is this - if we abandon or neglect the truth of the resurrection and assume it is "all included" then we risk distorting the truth and true glory of the Gospel of grace. I am always excited to learn or read new insights into understanding the Person and work of Jesus Christ. I found Gaffin's thesis carried just such insights.
"The resurrection is the salvation of Jesus as the last Adam; it and no other event in His experience is the point of His transition from wrath to grace".
With all the recent popularisation and recent debate concerning the Cross and the atonement it is interesting that there isn't as much actual insight into the actual events of what happened on that fateful day on Calvary. It was the resurrection that marked the point of wrath to grace. Gaffin writes again;
"Strictly speaking not Christ's death but His resurrection (that is His exaltation) marks the completion of the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption".
The implications of ignoring this are note-worthy;
"In fact only by virtue of His resurrection is His death, a dying to sin. A soteriology structured so it moves directly from the death of Christ to the application to others of the benefits purchased by that death, substantially short-circuits Paul's own point of view".
Now lest Gaffin (or myself for reviewing this book so enthusiastically) be accused of attempting to down-play the importance of the Cross, Gaffin goes on to make an absolutely excellent point that fits both the Cross and the Resurrection into context.
"This does not imply that Paul compromises the absolute necessity and intrinsic efficacy of Christ's death (as an atonement). It does mean however that he does not confuse the ransom price, no matter how sublime and precious with what is secured by it's payment".
Let us make every effort to not become so overly focused on one aspect of Christ's atoning work that we miss the broader, more glorious strokes of what He did by coming to earth. Let us also not forget that He no longer lies in a crib as an infant, or walks the earth with His disciples. Let us not forget that He doesn't hang on a Cross broken and alone anymore but He has risen from the dead and triumphed over principalities and powers! He has ascended gloriously into the throne room of Heaven and has sat down at the right hand of the Father where He has been given the government of the universe - yet is daily interceding for those of us He is pleased to call sons! Let us not forget that one day He will return again in glory to receive His glorious and wonderful Bride who has been chosen from every tongue, tribe and nation for Himself!