Review of Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne
Kevin DeYoung said union with Christ “may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.” And if you have heard of it, you might not know exactly how to describe it.
But this underrated and often neglected doctrine is at the heart of the Christian faith, and is something you have likely wondered about. (How can Galatians 2:20 say I “have been crucified with Christ” and that Christ “lives in me”?)
Perhaps Rankin Wilbourne’s simple definition of union with Christ in his new book Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God, will make it clear: “union with Christ means that you are in Christ and Christ is in you” (43).
Wilbourne’s burden for the book lies in the fact that union with Christ, a central Christian doctrine that has been treasured throughout the church age, has largely been forgotten by today’s evangelicals. That is why the author, a pastor in the Los Angeles area, wants to “excavate a forgotten treasure” (19) with this book.
Union with Christ is divided into four parts, each comprised of three to five chapters:
- Union with Christ: What is it and why do we need it?
- Union with Christ: Where did it come from? Where did it go?—unpacking biblical data, the doctrine in historic tradition, and reasons why it has largely disappeared. (Wilbourne says this 50-page portion is optional for those with some knowledge of the subject.)
- Union with Christ: What problems does it solve?—digging into how union with Christ changes our identity, destiny, purpose, and hope.
- Union with Christ day by day, examining five practical applications of union with Christ.
This book seeks to give a well-rounded volume on union with Christ for laypeople—and it hits the bullseye. Wilbourne skillfully explains and applies union with Christ to much of the Christian life and often exposes erroneous and unbalanced thinking.
If you love a good illustration (and who doesn’t), you’re in for a treat. Wilbourne is a master illustrator. I remember a few times reading in bed next to my wife and stopping to share a brilliant illustration with her. Wilbourne shares a memorable illustration of a friend who wore a Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyland. People (young and old alike) approach Mickey for hugs and pictures, not because of anything the person inside the costume had done, but because he was ‘in Mickey.’ In a similar way, being ‘in Christ’ means that the affections God has for His beloved Son are available to us, because we are in Him.
I initially felt disappointed the practical section had no “silver bullets” for immediate transformation for the Christian. But the disappointment wore off as I remembered that the Bible doesn’t either and pondered about abiding in Christ in all situations of life by hearing His Word and through prayer—that is where true spiritual power and transformation comes from. Straying from that is a recipe for fleshly living and crashing and burning.
Every Christian would value reading this book to go deeper on a crucial topic that is both so misunderstood and so transformative. I expect this to be a very helpful book for small groups that will spark many fruitful discussions.
Union with Christ is immensely practical, well-written, and Tim Keller-esque—it presents a complex issue in compelling clarity, interacting with a number of sources, both secular and sacred, to present readers with a book that powerfully speaks to our situation and daily lives.
Wilbourne confesses in the acknowledgements that Tim Keller’s “fingerprints are all over this book” (288). I’m not sure of their exact relationship, but that’s a good endorsement if I’ve ever heard one. Then again, Keller’s official endorsement of the book is pretty helpful as well: “This is simply the best book for laypeople on this subject.”
Title: Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God
Author: Rankin Wilbourne
Publisher: David C. Cook
Pages: 285 (or 235 if you skip Part Two)
Rating: 5 Stars