Review: Life in Christ from Mark A. Garcia

715-ee55d1LFor ages debates have abounded as to where the center point of Calvin’s theology lay. Was he a Lutheran at heart? Were his followers a divergent group of Calvinists who went directly against his teaching? Questions like these and countless others have been raised by scholars throughout the centuries. Though many views of Calvin circulate the halls of academia, one topic seems to stand out above the rest, as being the closest to a theological center point which one can find in Calvin. It’s studies like, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theologywhich shine a much-needed light on crux of Calvin’s theology.

When looking at a volume like this one, the title is enough to scare away even the most timid of uneducated laymen. What does “Twofold Grace” even mean? Is that some sort of dual portion of grace which God lavishes on his children? Mark Garcia does an excellent job, not only to define his terms in understandable language, but has also done extensive research to make sure his conclusions are on point. This text works itself out in three parts as one travels the yellow brick road on the way to finding out what theology really lay behind the curtain which is Calvin.

Part One begins us on our trek by focusing on the Duplex Gratia and Paradigms of Interpretation and Methodological Considerations. Here we view several methods for translating Calvin in the context of his consideration of Justification and Sanctification in the mind of a Covenanting God. Garcia places his study in the midst of these discussion as an alternative to mere surveys of Calvin. He notes that there is a, “Prevailing uncertainty in the existing studies” on Calvin and his idea of Union with Christ. He goes on to say, “There is a need for the kind of study, which, through a context-sensitive investigation of those specific texts which touch directly on the question, exegetical as well as theological and polemical, in light of the event-history of the period, would serve to illuminate further the nature of this complex of ideas in Calvin’s soteriology”.

As Garcia continues to wrestle with Calvin, Part Two introduces us to Calvin’s magisterial treatment of Romans and the topic of Good Works and Union with Christ. It is here where the Lutheran view comes into light and Garcia works to show us how the paths of Lutheran and Calvin are not path but two very different ones. We walk along trails in this section which lead us to views of the sacraments from both sides and where Calvin would have cast his lot. We are left at the end of the trail with a comparison of Osiander and Calvin and their use of the biblical texts which focus on union with Christ.

Part Three begins to pull back the curtain in summarizing the trail that has just been traveled. We once again see the differing views of Lutheran and Calvinism next to each other and Garcia points us the way forward,  noting that this study is not the final and authoritative word on Calvin. He raises new questions in this study but also solidifies and strengthens views of Calvin on union with Christ and what that means for the believer.

Mark Garcia has produced an excellent study here and it should have a wide reading among those who call them by the name Calvinist. The wording in this volume is technical and unrelenting as the pages go on but the fruit at the end is worth the planting in the beginning.

Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology
Mark A. Garcia/Paternoster, 2008
Review Copy Courtesy of Wipf & Stock Publishers

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