by David B. Garner
eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017
Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016
At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.
I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.
You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.
Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.
He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.
Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.
In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.
Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).
It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.