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By Hans Burger / Wipf & Stock / 2009
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Being in Christ presents what the author believes is a central theme in the message of the gospel: ‘being in Christ.’ Burger expresses that it is central for understanding the relation of Christian believers and the church with Jesus Christ, their Lord. It also determines the identity of a Christian. It is helpful for understanding the presence of Christ and his salvation in the present. It can be developed as an element of a theological ontology. Finally, it is a theme with a great integrating power.
In this book, the theme ‘being in Christ’ is analyzed in different perspectives. The attention is focused on the reality of ‘being in Christ’: its ontological implications. First, two representatives of the Reformed tradition are investigated: the English Puritan John Owen and the Dutch Neo-Calvinist Herman Bavinck. Second, a reconstruction of the Pauline and Johannine perspectives on ‘being in Christ’ is provided. Third, the theme is examined in the work of the English ethicist Oliver O’Donovan and the German-Swiss theologian Ingolf U. Dalferth. In the final chapter, the author gives his own systematic-theological proposal of a concept of ‘being in Christ.’
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What does it mean to ‘be in Christ’ is a question that goes to the heart of Christian identity. To answer it with fresh insights from Scripture (Apostles John and Paul), classic Reformed theology (John Owen and Herman Bavinck), and to do so addressing contemporary challenges, is a notable achievement. And Hans Burger has pulled it off by refusing to set key themes such as representation and participation over against each other but embracing them in a fuller portrait. For breadth of scope, depth of insight, and helpful pastoral application, works by two other Reformed theologians come to mind: Donald M. Baillie’s God Was in Christ and Lewis B. Smedes’s Union with Christ. This inaugural publication is a promising public beginning for this young Dutch Reformed pastor/theologian.
—John Bolt, professor of systematic theology, Calvin Seminary
Burger’s Being in Christ is Reformed theology at its best. It engages the Reformed tradition—witness the in-depth analysis of John Owen and Herman Bavinck. It studies the relevant New Testament material—notably the Pauline and Johannine writings. And it enters into fruitful dialogue with contemporary theology—interacting both with Ingolf Dalferth and Oliver O’Donovan. In the process, Burger pushes Reformed theology beyond theoretical reconstruction and highlights the effective character of the speech act of the gospel promise.
—Hans Boersma, J.I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College
This is a thorough-going study in which the voices of Scripture, the Reformed tradition, and contemporary theological thinking are brought into interplay with each other in a very careful and creative way. The drive behind the probing historical, biblical, and theological analyses is crystal-clear: the author’s wish to remedy the ‘neglect of Christ’ in post-Barthian theology and to retrieve a clear sense of the way in which Jesus Christ determines not only the past but also the presence of the believer’s relationship with God. In this connection, Burger’s proposal for enriching classical Reformed theology with a biblically informed notion of participation in Christ deserves serious consideration, to say the least. For clearly, Jesus Christ is just too important for faith to remain merely a figure from the past.
—Gijsbert van den Brink, associate professor of theology, VU University, Amsterdam
Hans Burger is minister of the Reformed Church (liberated) ‘De Voorhof’ in Franeker, the Netherlands.