Book Review – Sons in the Son by David B. Garner
Sons in the Son by David Garner is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting theological works to be published in a very long time. The subtitle of this book is, The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ, and I can’t think of a more suitable subtitle for this monumental work. I have always had a certain affinity for the doctrine of adoption but like so many other Christians I feel as though I have only scratched the surface of what appear to be a pivotal doctrine in understanding this great and wonderful salvation we have in Christ. After spending a few weeks in this book I am starting to grasp its importance a little more and am starting to see just how profound this doctrine really is.
Sons in the Son is divided into three movements: In the first movement, Garner starts us off by providing a well needed review of the history of the doctrine of of adoption including key interpretive and etymological highlights from the history of Christian theology. However, before getting to the historical and hermeneutical background of adoption in Christ, Garner issues as well articulated warning against common interpretive errors which have contributed to the neglect of this doctrine. I’ve written on the dangers of relying too much on quantitative analysis in our hermeneutics in the past and was glad to see that Garner also recognizes the shortcomings of giving too much importance to quantitative rather than contextual analysis in assessing the proper weight of a doctrine’s place in our theology. It is possible that an over-emphasis on quantitative analysis has lead to the relatively low place that adoption has played in our theologies up until now.
I really appreciated Garner’s historical analysis of the doctrine of adoption. I was surprised to learn just how little attention the church fathers gave to the huiothesia [adoption] in their writings. Garner reveals that the notable exception to the church fathers’ writing on adoption was Irenaeus. After Irenaeus, Garner says , “Appearing only sporadically, adoption remained essentially hidden until it surfaced again at the pens of certain Reformers”. From here Garner explains how the necessary work of forensic justification overshadowed Luther’s treatment of adoption and how Calvin, in his wake took up the doctrine with much interest. Contra Robert Webb, Garner correctly asserts that for Calvin, adoption plays a central role in his theology. From there, Garner takes us to the Confession, the Puritans, and to its relative clandestinity after that. From there Garner takes us deeper into the history of adoption in scripture and into the cultural and etymological background of huiothesia and what informed Paul’s understanding of it. This leads perfectly into the second movement of the book in which Garner dives into an exegetical and theological analysis of key texts on adoption.
In this second part of the book, Garner examines the key texts as they relate to the purpose of adoption, how it was accomplished through Christ, and the application of adoption. The purpose of adoption as Garner reveals is deeply filial and doxological. This is in keeping with Ephesians 1 and is key to placing the doctrine in its primary place of importance in or theology. From here Garner moves to how our adoption was accomplished and ultimately what it means to us who have the Spirit of adoption and who cry, “Abba! Father!”. This ,in Romans 5:17-17, taken together with Romans 8:22-23 in which we groan inwardly while waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons leads us to an explicitly eschatological application of adoption and the Spirit’s central role in applying our adoption.
Garner engages in a fascinating discussion on the relationship between adoption and redemption; and here is where the book gets really good. Are we to treat adoption as separate from or somewhat identical to justification? How does scripture treat our adoption? What Garner sets forth here in this book is a thoroughly convincing argument for treating adoption as something deserving of being treated separately from our justification.
To be honest, I kept finding myself reverting back to my old understanding of adoption though this seems to blur the distinction between two different aspects of our salvation. After reading Sons in the Son, this doesn’t meld well in my mind. While there appears to be be biblical harmony between the two, after reading Garner’s work on the Spirit’s work in our adoption I am inclined to believe that while these two are closely related in that they both play an important role in our salvation, they are indeed distinct aspects of salvation and adoption must be understood to be distinct.
There are so many other fascinating discussions in this section including one on the role of adoption in Romans 9:4 and how, while Piper and Hodge have differeng opinions on the meaning of adoption here, they both have the same effect of discounting the epochal framework. Garner argues instead that the best aproach is to “accentuate the epochal and Christo-pneumatic contours of Paul’s thelogy”. This seems to make sense given the covenantal continuity in scripture and the progressive revealing of Christ.I could probably say so much more on this part of the book (Part 2) but given the need for brevity I’ll simply say that your inner theologian will be simply giddy as Garner unfolds this doctrine before you.
The final movement (Part 3), having just unpcked all the biblical passages and the difficulties inherent within them, Garner unfolds the place of adoption in thelogy. This centers around a wonderful discussion of the ordo salutis and its historical and contemprary debates as well as a wonderful section on sonship and union with Christ.
Sons in the Son is a wonderful book and is nothing short of a theological masterpiece. As I stated earlier there is so much I can write about and I’m certain that there are some very important parts that I didn’t even get a chance to touch on. This is a book that should appeal to a wide range of readers. Cartainly those who have an interest in soteriology will appreciate it and thoroughly enjoy this book. However, I believe it should, and will have a much larger reach. Those who are interested in participating in earthly adoption will have much to appreciate as they probe the depths of our own adoption. No matter what your intrest in adoption might be , Sons in the Son will enrich your understanding of this profound truth of the triune God whome we serve.
Where to Purchase
About the AuthorDavid B. Garner (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter @davidb_garner.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from P&R Publishing in exchange for an online 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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