Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

Program

Religion, Theological Studies PhD

First Advisor

Denis Fortin

Second Advisor

Jerry Moon

Third Advisor

Allan Walshe

Abstract

Building on the work of nineteenth-century theologian Augustus Strong, five historical approaches to union with Christ identified by Bruce Demarest in the late twentieth century include: an ontological union, a sacramental union, a covenantal union, a moral or filial union and an experiential union. Given the identification of multiple approaches to union with Christ, my dissertation attempts to clarify Ellen G. White’s concept of union with Christ using Demarest’s categories as an evaluation tool. I traced the development of her writings on union with Christ from 1860 to 1898 to ask whether White’s approach is best described as an ontological, sacramental, covenantal, moral or filial or experiential union. While elements of some of the approaches Demarest identified are evident in White’s writings, such as the need for believers to experience Christ for themselves, no one category fits White’s approach exclusively.

White’s approach can best be described using her own language. Union with Christ is a spiritual, vital, heart, mystical, indissoluble, moral union that connects repentant sinners to Christ and other believers. Her key metaphors used to describe the nature of this relationship are the vine and the branches, the mystic ladder and the golden chain. The vine and the branches explain how believers are intimately connected to Christ, receiving moral and spiritual power through the Holy Spirit who makes Christ present within. The mystic ladder illustrates Christ’s incarnation that makes union with Him possible. White also used the mystic ladder to describe the progressive nature of sanctification, ascending the ladder by faith and perseverance. The golden chain illustrates the love of the Father poured into the hearts of believers. For White, Christ metaphorically is the true vine, the mystic ladder and the golden chain. Believers partake of the divine nature and by exercising faith in Christ, become one with God.

In my conclusion, I answered the following additional questions in relation to White’s writings: What is union with Christ? What is the nature of union with Christ? How is it formed? How is it maintained? What are its consequences? In brief, union with Christ is a believer’s free will, spiritual relationship with Christ. It is formed by repentance and faith and is maintained by living, active faith. Engaging in spiritual disciplines, may strengthen a believer’s union with Christ through prayer and Scripture reading, the daily surrender of the will, engaging with others and faith in Christ. Its consequences are multiple resulting in a transformed life and character. They include justification, sanctification, obedience and participation in the mission of Christ to redeem humanity. Christ’s goal is to reunite the inhabitants of heaven and earth by an indissoluble tie through a vital, spiritual relationship with Himself and the Godhead.

Subject Area

Union with Christ, Jesus Christ, White, Ellen Gould Harmon, 1827-1915--Views on union with Christ, Mystical union, Spiritual life

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