Salvation Applied by the Spirit by Peterson“The most important work of the Holy Spirit in the realm of salvation is union with Christ.” (319)

For several years now the theme of union with Christ has been the focus of a number of great books. Like with most themes in Scripture, no one book or author can capture all there is to know biblically, theologically, exegetically, historically, or practically about union with Christ. There is still more room to write on this deeply rich biblical theme.

That is why students of Scripture and the theme of union with Christ should be excited to read Robert A. Peterson’s new book Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (Crossway, 2015). Peterson’s book is unique among others like it in that he discusses union with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation as applying the work of Christ to believers. This book is a work of soteriology, Christology, and pneumatology.

The book is divided into two major sections. After a short chapter on the Old Testament background for union with Christ and the Spirit, the first section deals with all of the New Testament verses Peterson believes address union with Christ. Most of the NT books are dealt with individually while the Gospels and some of the smaller NT Epistles are grouped together. Additionally there are two chapters summarizing union with Christ in Paul’s letters. Peterson is quick to point out that much of his work in these two chapters is built on the excellent book Paul and Union With Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study by Constantine Campbell (185).

Essentially, the first section is a catalog look at all of the relevant passages of Scripture related to union with Christ. The format is simple: the text is quoted and then commented on. The text is explained as it relates to union with Christ and, at least this far into the book, very little theological significance is given. The layout of the first section makes it very easy to track with the theme. The reader will quickly see that the theme of union with Christ pervades all of the NT. You will come away from the book wondering how you did not hear more about this theme throughout your years in church under regular preaching and teaching. Preachers take note!

When it comes to union with Christ there are basically three stages to its development in the NT: Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. The first stage takes place in the Synoptic Gospels (John’s Gospel rides the fence between the focus of the Synoptics and the Epistles). Peterson notes that the synoptic Gospels say little to nothing about union with Christ. This is because union with Christ “is a doctrine rooted in Christ’s death and resurrection.” He goes on to say, “It would be unusual to expect a full explanation of union before those events occurred.” (33-34). So the Synoptics give us the life of the one to whom we are united along with the events that make the theme possible. The second stage is in Acts which begins with Pentecost. “Pentecost marks the public announcement of the indwelling of the Spirit and the beginning of his ministry of uniting people to Christ.” (42) Acts shows us the Spirit uniting people to Christ and is the “redemptive-historical prerequisite for the Spirit’s ministry.” (42). The third, and final stage, is seen in the NT Epistles. Peterson says that, “the rest of the New Testament functions to explain what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in Acts – the Spirit’s uniting believers to Jesus.” (42)

The second section tackles the theme of union with Christ through a theology of the Holy Spirit and then closes with some chapters on application of things learned. The chapters on pneumatology are basically a synthesis of the teaching from the passages considered in the first section of the book. In chapter twenty one Peterson looks at union with Christ from eternity past (pre-creation) to the new creation (eternity future). This views the theme from how God planned the Spirit’s role of applying salvation to believers before creation to how union with Christ looks like for believers and creation alike in eternity.

The next few chapters present a basic sketch of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as seen through His personality, deity, and work (not limited to union with Christ). A complementary chapter is written on Christ since it is to Him the Spirit unites the believer to. The final three chapters discuss the implications of our union with Christ in the Church, the sacraments, and the Christian life.

Salvation Applied by the Spirit is a biblically driven, theologically focused, and practically minded book on union with Christ. Peterson’s wedding of Christology, pneumatology, and soteriology is an excellent example of how to present the interrelation of various theological areas.

In addition to being academically driven this book is spiritually enriching as it calls the reader to reflect on so great salvation as found in the believers union with Christ. You will be moved to devotion, reflection, and meditation of these great truths. This is a book for everyone!

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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