For the last 10 years there has been a debate, largely being carried on between certain faculty members of the two Westminster Seminaries, over justification and union with Christ.
On the east coast, there are a number of individuals associated with Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia. The principal architect of this position is Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., who since 2008 has been emeritus professor of biblical and systematic theology at WTS. Gaffin’s former students like Lane Tipton (who currently holds the Charles Krahe Chair of Systematic Theology at WTS), Mark Garcia, and William B. Evans are continuing his thought.
On the west coast, there is Westminster Seminary California (WSC), with John Fesko, Michael Horton, and R. Scott Clark as the primary interlocutors. They are critical of Gaffin’s construction of the ordo salutis and have attempted to provide a different interpretation of Calvin and of the Reformed tradition on the issue of union with Christ.
The debate arguably has antecedents, but Mark Garcia’s 2007 sharply critical review of Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry (a collection of essays written by the WSC faculty and edited by R. Scott Clark) seems to have been the spark. Robert Godfrey and David VanDrunen wrote a response to Garcia’s review. After that initial 2007 exchange, John Fesko and Michael Horton seem to be the most active published debate partners from the WSC side. Dr. Fesko has written by far the most on the topic and is a vocal critic of Gaffin and Evans, particularly of the way they read Calvin in relation to the entire Reformed tradition. His marvelous book Beyond Calvin (V&R, 2012) brings together many of his previously published peer-reviewed journal articles and mounts a forceful response to Gaffin, Garcia, and Evans.
The debate centers on the relationship between union with Christ and the double benefit of justification and sanctification. Gaffin has singled out the mystical, vital, or existential union with Christ and elevated it to a level of priority, primacy, and all-embracing significance for the ordo salutis. The debate is complex because it involves not only exegesis but also different interpretations of Calvin and the historical development post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics.
It should be acknowledged that there are different nuances held by the various scholars in each camp. On the WTS side, for example, William B. Evans has been a vocal critic of federal theology. In a manner reminiscent of the Torrance brothers, Evans argues that 17th century federal theology is a declension from Calvin due to the way it allegedly “bifurcates” forensic/federal union and vital/mystical union. It is hard to tell how much the others affiliated with WTS sympathize with Evans, but I have not seen Gaffin and Tipton attack federal theology in their published writings the way Evans does. In the WSC camp, there is likewise not perfect homogeneity of theological formulation. Michael Horton, for example, is unique, as far as I can tell, among the WSC faculty in advocating speech-act theory to explain the forensic foundation of union with Christ.
It’s also not clear how unified the two seminaries are among themselves with regard to this discussion. WSC seems more unified than WTS, but that could just be my subjective impression. Some faculty members at both schools haven’t participated in the debate in terms of publication. For example, the position of Carl Trueman is a mystery to me. He did write a contribution to the WTS book Justified in Christ (Mentor, 2007), but his focus was on John Owen’s doctrine of justification and he didn’t directly address the issues under debate.