We live in an American culture where it is fashionable to make Jesus everything you want Him to be. Unfortunately, the Jesus of too many American’s, and Christians none-the-less, is not the Jesus presented in the Bible. If the Burger King slogan “Have it Your Way” were to have a Christological bent, then the slogan for the Jesus of America would be “Jesus, Have Him Your Way.”
The Deity of Christ (Theology in Community Series) ed. by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson is a clear call amidst the often confusing voices claiming to present the Jesus of the Bible and history. Amidst the quagmire of the ‘everyone Jesus’ and in a world where Jesus has been reduced to my homey and ‘BFF’, this book brings us back to the center of Christology. This book draws us to one of the most foundational attributes of the Jesus Christ the Son of the living God – his deity.
In the opening chapter, The Deity of Christ Today, Stephen J. Nichols bounces off the work of Stephen Prothero and argues that we have gone from a creedal Jesus, to a human Jesus that is close and ended up with a Jesus that has liberated itself from Christianity and the Bible (p. 27). Stephen points out that there have been many attempts within our American culture to present Jesus. Movies like The Passion of Christ, consumerism and our nifty slogans and even politics where Jesus is somehow on everyone’s side, show us that our cultural attempts to display Jesus have left us with “personal Jesuses who look far more like their makers than like the Jesus of sacred Scripture and the historical creeds (p.31).”
So how do we save ourselves and our culture from the Jesus of our own making? Nichols suggests that we need to get back to the tradition of the creeds and the tradition of Scripture. We need the creeds because they have helped to solidify the teaching of Scripture pertaining to, of many things, the deity of Christ. While creedal tradition can help we must ultimately rest our understanding of Christ on Scripture. When we rest on Scripture we cannot help but conclude that Jesus is God.
In The Deity of Christ there is much that is to be commended. In his chapter, The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, Stephen J. Wellum rightly points out that it is Scripture that gives us the material from which we formulate our articulation of Jesus and not the fashionable opinions of the day. Wellum states,
Scripture provides not only the raw data for understanding who the historical Jesus is but it also provides the God-given interpretive framework, structure, and categories by which we grasp his identity and thus construct an objectively grounded and warranted christology. In this way, Scripture serves as our epistemological norm for understanding who Jesus is apart from all historical-critical reconstructions of the text (p. 64).
Wellum’s no nonsense words set the foundation for the rest of the book. It is Scripture and not man’s culturally changing opinions that shape and inform our understanding and presentation of Jesus.
Of particular notice is Stephen J. Wellum’s chapter entitled The Deity of Christ on the Apostolic Witness. Among many things, Wellum does an excellent job explaining the christological aspects of Philippians 2:5-11. His explanation of the kenosis is spot on and even well informed readers will find it helpful.
Concerning Christology within church history, Gerald Bray presents an even handed description and explanation of the churches formation and articulation of the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Bray’s discussion is a dose of good medicine for those who want to cast doubt on whether the early church fathers ‘invented’ the deity of Christ. Bray rightly points out that their debates were not hinged on questioning the deity of Christ but rather they assumed and affirmed the deity of Christ. “The issues debated during the decades of classical creedal formation were more about how belief in his deity should be expressed and harmonized with monotheism then whether he was divine at all (p. 169).” Concerning the correlation between the churches formation and development of the doctrine of the deity of Christ Wellum’s words are worth quoting at length:
If human beings had invented the deity of Jesus, we would expect them to emphasize his miraculous deeds as the main evidence for this, and the more improbable the miracles were, the better. There would have been little reason for them to have added the more mundane details found in the Gospels if they had not been part of Jesus’ claims about himself. The conclusion must be that Jesus taught these things about himself, and it was for that reason that his disciples worshiped him as God. For all their reflection on the person and natures of Jesus Christ, none of the fathers of the church ever believed that, in confessing the deity of Christ, he was adding anything to the teaching of Jesus himself. Their aim was to explain the evidence that had been set before them in the historical events of the life, death and resurrection of the man whose claims they believed and whose teaching the followed. What that explanation was is the substance of the development of the doctrine of Christ in the history of the church (p. 175-76).
The concluding chapter by J. Nelson Jennings tackles the ever timely issue of the preeminence of Christ among the religions of the world. Jennings challenges the church and the missionary abroad to proclaim Christ as God in the flesh and as the only God worthy of worship. Christ is not whoever each religion worships for this demolishes the necessity and imminent need of missions, not to mention the many aspects of the doctrine of Christ and salvation. “Rather, the relationship between Christ’s deity and Christian missions consists primarily in Jesus Christ the ascended God-man orchestrating, empowering, and intruding into people’s lives through his followers’ cross-/intercultural witness (p. 267).” In regards to religious pluralism, Jennings addresses its foremost contemporary proponent John Hicks. Hicks contends that there are many ways in which people can find a point of contact through which they can be saved and know God – not just Jesus. Hicks further believes that each religions communication of truth demonstrate the many ways in which divine truth can be believed and found (p. 278). Jennings rightly counters Hicks by reminding us that man does not have to search in his own for his own truth formation of God and salvation. The Bible clearly teaches us that God has come in the flesh for all through the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1 & I John 1). The counter claim to religious plurality is the incarnational reality that Jesus is God!
Overall, The Deity of Christ is an engaging, insightful and reader friendly guide through the multifaceted doctrine of the deity of Christ. This is not an esoteric work but rather a book that is aimed at the laymen, pastor, Sunday school teacher and student of the Bible. This book serves as both a refresher course on the deity of Christ as well as a timeless reference guide to explaining many of the great Christological passages and phrases of Scripture. As the third contribution to the Theology in Community series from Crossway, The Deity of Christ is a welcome addition to the much needed area of contemporary expressions of the doctrine of Christ. This book will serve the church well for years to come.
Other book in the Theology in Community series are:
NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.