“Partakers of his divine nature”: the reality of union with Christ in Thomas Goodwin’s Defence of reformed soteriology
Carter, Jonathan Mark
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This thesis examines Thomas Goodwin’s (1600–1680) doctrine of union with Christ within his soteriology. It builds upon Michael Lawrence’s historical reassessment which uncovered that, contrary to previous scholarly assumptions, the majority of Goodwin’s treatises were composed during the 1650s and intended to form a grand project defending Reformed soteriology against the new threats of Socinian and radical teachings as well as its traditional opponents, Catholics and Arminians. Goodwin considered this grand project to be his life’s work. It represents the longest exposition of Reformed soteriology composed by an English puritan. However, no modern critical study of the soteriology of his grand project has appeared to date. This thesis, therefore, offers a theological examination in light of his immediate historical context. The study focuses on union with Christ, because Goodwin assumed it occupied a fundamental role in salvation and, therefore, it allows identification of the architectonic structures of his soteriology. The immediate historical context is privileged, because union with Christ (and related loci) was a point of sharp dispute in the 1640s–1650s. By offering a careful examination of this theme in an important individual theologian, this study also aims to make a significant contribution to recent controversy over union with Christ in the post-Reformation period. At stake are two competing visions of the structure of Reformed applied soteriology: some scholars contend that the Reformed tradition granted priority to union with Christ; others contend that priority was granted to justification. The former commonly argue that seventeenth-century divines allowed the priority of union with Christ to be displaced by a causal chain of application; the latter, disputing this claim, argue for continuity within the tradition and that the priority of justification was held alongside broader notions of union with Christ. The main argument of this thesis is a demonstration that Goodwin founded the application of every aspect of salvation upon a ‘real’ union with Christ (i.e., mystical union forged by Christ’s indwelling within the believer) rather than upon a mere ‘relative’ union (i.e., legal union external to the believer). Moreover, Goodwin contended that real union with Christ must involve the indwelling of the uncreated grace of the person of the Holy Spirit. This, he believed, was essential to maintain a trinitarian, federal, high Reformed soteriology in which redemption from the problem of sin is set within a Reformed scheme of christocentric deification. Goodwin’s conception of union with Christ and his high soteriology departed from the views of the conservative majority of seventeenth-century Reformed puritan divines who denied the indwelling of uncreated grace. Instead, his conception often resembled the teachings of antinomians and radicals, though Goodwin remained within the bounds of orthodoxy by repeated application of key theological distinctions. These findings support the view in recent controversy that Reformed applied soteriology was governed by the priority of union with Christ. Yet, neither side accurately construes seventeenth-century views on union with Christ, because disagreement amongst divines over the nature of real union with Christ has not been adequately recognised. Chapter 1 establishes the case for this study from a literature survey. The argument then unfolds in four main chapters. Chapter 2 establishes the nature of real union with Christ embraced by Goodwin. Chapters 3 and 4 demonstrate that Goodwin advocated high doctrines of transformation and forensic justification respectively and determine how each was founded in his conception of real union with Christ. Chapter 5 advances the argument by demonstrating that real union with Christ occupied a fundamental place in his soteriology as a consequence of his conviction that salvation principally consists in participation in Christ and his divine nature. Chapter 6 concludes by assessing the significance of Goodwin’s doctrine of union with Christ in his grand project, in his immediate historical context, and for the recent controversy over union with Christ.