Sons in the Son: A Book Review
This is a book review done by Joshua Sommer of the Reformed Collective. The book reviewed is titled ‘Sons in the Son’ and the author is David B. Garner. For your own edification and review, you may purchase a copy here.
When we hear the word adoption we immediately begin to think of contemporary examples of the definition. Perhaps we think of the foster care system in which parents are sometimes granted the opportunity to adopt a child. Maybe we think of parents who can’t bear their own children, for various reasons, and thus choose to adopt a child from an orphanage.
Still yet, we may think of the genocide of abortion, and how many adoptive parents there are, parents who would labor night and day just to adopt one of those little ones before they are taken to the murder mill.
Adoption is a good thing. Every situation in which we think of adoption, in the sense of potential familial relationships, adoption is a blessing.
However, when we think of the adoption Christians have in Christ, we may hold on to the analogy of ordinary adoption as it’s helpful, but the depth of heavenly adoption far surpasses the normal ways in which adoption is used.
A MUCH NEEDED DEVELOPMENT
“By grace, the Creator of all becomes the Father of his elect, transforming spiritual orphans and rebels into his blessed and holy children.”
— David B. Garner (xiii)
As Bible-believing Christians, we know that theology has always existed in the mind of God. For He knows Himself exhaustively, and knows all real and possible situations exhaustively. God is omniscient. Thus, when a theological concept is said to have “developed” we merely mean that it has been uncovered and made clearer in our understanding than it was before.
The concept of adoption has existed in the mind of God eternally and, in the fullness of time, has been revealed in the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, many have had low thoughts of heavenly adoption because it hasn’t always been a doctrine in the spotlight.
Indeed historical theologians have written marvelously concerning it, yet their work on adoption rarely sees the light of day, especially within mainstream evangelicalism.
This is an issue that Dr. David B. Garner has recognized. In his book, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ, Garner points out the need for the church to recognize the importance of adoption, and to understand its meaning insofar as we are able.
Sons in the Son is not a book full of mostly fluff with a little bit of laborious expositional and theological material. This is a book full of solid, Reformed thought on the theological theme of adoption. In his work, Garner brings to bear, in the first chapter, the Christological, soteriological, and eschatological significance of adoption.
I found this mightily helpful and very telling. Helpful in the sense that Garner is not shy in presenting the material the reader needs in order to understand the importance of adoption, and telling in the sense that Garner obviously has a lot of information to convey.
The amount of information Garner is conveying in this medium-sized book is so rich, I believe, because of the neglect of the proper study of adoption in Christ. His labor on the topic definitely shows in this volume. It sets forth a thoughtful and informative exposition of the doctrine of adoption.
I believe that Garner has started a trend, within this very locus of theology, which will spark other great scholars to continue in the study of adoption. He’s built an excellent framework for scholarly and devotional authorship in the future by developing the doctrine of adoption within the historical, biblical, and systematic categories of theology.
AN INFORMED WRITER
I started this book in the introduction. There, I was captured by Garner’s language. He blends the genres of technical and artistic making for a scholarly, yet devotionally valuable, book.
Garner jumps right into hermeneutical discourse at the outset. He’s ready to admit the lack of the use of the term adoption throughout the New Testament canon. Some, he notes, have prioritized the notion of word counts leading them to faulty exegetical conclusions.
However, he is quick to bring up the fact that, “Such a simplistic approach would suffer from the word-concept fallacy and ignore the more important questions of how a word is employed and how a concept can explicitly and implicitly shape an entire paradigm.”
I really appreciated the fact that he points this out, for two main reasons:
1) by pointing it out he exposes the importance of key biblical terms allowing for further theological study. This is something that would never happen if we prioritized theology according to the amount of times certain words are used in Scripture.
2) I have seen other books use the word-count philosophy to build an entire theological case (most of the time they were verifiably wrong!).
Another aspect of Garner’s book, which I really appreciate, is the fact that he covers the three categorical approaches to what we call theology: historical, biblical, and systematic.
In chapter two, he begins his excursus on the historical aspect of adoption. Here he follows the thought of historical theologians such as John Calvin, the Westminster Assembly, and the Puritans. He writes concerning the early church fathers:
A survey of the church fathers shows little attention to huiothesia, with the notable exception of Irenaeus. “It is true that nowhere can we find a more emphatic and constant reference to the ‘adoption as sons’ than in Irenaeus.” This early father surely stands out because of adoption’s frequent appearance in his thought (21).
Thus, with the exception of Irenaeus, adoption seemed rather absent in the church fathers. This shouldn’t alarm anyone granted early church development. The 1st and 2nd century church was worried more about early heresies such as Gnosticism. Therefore, it makes more sense for the majority of theology in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries to develop in a direction opposing men like Valentinus.
No study of adoption, a reality caused by the Son of God, can do without a study on the Son Himself. In chapter seven, Garner discusses Nicene orthodoxy, and subsequently, “contemporary challenges to orthodox Christology (176).”
He interacts meaningfully with D. G. Dunn, a contemporary adoptionist. Adoptionism, the view that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at the point of His resurrection, is an old heresy appearing at about the 8th century. Dunn is a contemporary scholar who espouses such a view.
Garner provides an effective response to Dunn’s view, standing on the shoulders of men like John Murray and the Princeton divines Geerhardus Vos and B. B. Warfield. He even interacts with N. T. Wright and the differentiation of his thought over against Dunn’s. This section proved to be a fruitful journey through orthodox Christology, which really forms the basis of an orthodox doctrine of adoption.
Garner makes use, not only of helpful language, but also of diagrams in the tenth chapter titled, The Sons in the Son: Adoption, Systematic, Theology, and the Ordo Salutis (301-303).
Garner’s language, at times, takes a turn toward the more academic side of things, which is normal for a book of this caliber. However, it could be difficult for new Christians, or entry-level students to grasp. Even though this is the case, Garner has articulated lofty thought in a more understandable way, which is not common in works like this one.
Nevertheless, it never hurts to read with a dictionary in hand!
WE NEED MORE
Finally, I’ve walked away from this book with the conclusion that we need more like it. It seems like today the church either has the conventional text-book style theological literature, which no lay-person has the time to read, or we have books written a dime-a-dozen which have almost no valuable content whatsoever.
Garner has found a medium between theologically rigorous writing, and understandable, devotional, exploration. We need more content like this, from the topic of adoption to other topics such as Covenant Theology or church polity.
I recommend this book with a five out of five rating. This is a significant contribution to the church and to the invaluable doctrine of adoption in our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.