God the Son Incarnate – Stephen J. Wellum (2016)

god-the-sonStephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 496 pp, $40.00

God the Son Incarnate by Stephen J. Wellum is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. This outstanding series, edited by John Feinberg was first introduced with the publication of No One Like Him back in 2001.

The author notes that “Jesus himself understood and taught that both Scripture and God’s plan of salvation are Christocenric.” J.I. Packer adds, “Christology is the true hub round which the wheel of theology revolves, and to which its separate spokes must each be correctly anchored if the wheel is not to get bent.” Thus, the stakes could not be any higher as readers wrestle with the weight doctrines that concern the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book contains four sections, each with a specific topic that relates to the overall matter of Christology:

Part 1: Epistemological Warrant For Christology Today

The first part should be considered the theological rebar of the book. The author explores Christology and its relationship to the Enlightenment. After sufficiently exhausting some of the major challenges to a biblical Christology, Dr. Wellum presents a biblical epistemology that will serve readers well for the remainder of the book.

Part 2: Biblical Warrant for Christology Today

The biblical plot line is presented (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) which gives readers a helpful overview and places Christology in its proper theological context. The concept of “kingdom through covenant” is discussed which ultimately leads to a rigorous discussion of Christology.

Once the biblical and theological parameters are in place, the author moves forward and discusses the self-identity of Jesus. From there, some of the crucial Christological data is ready to be revealed, including the deity and humanity of Christ and the incarnation.

Part 3: Ecclesiological Warrant for Christology Today

Part three includes some of the weighty matters that surround the discipline of Christology including the nature-person distinction and the Ante-Nicene Christological formulation.

Part 4: A Warranted Christology for Today

The final section discusses some of the more recent Christological controversies, most notably the problem of the so-called kenosis. Dr. Wellum fairly evaluates kenoticism, alerting readers to the many problems it contains.


Dr. Wellum nicely summarizes his work: “Ultimately, the thesis of this entire work is one theological conclusion with many parts. Based on the warrant and critique of the previous chapters, we must confess that the identity of the Jesus of the Bible is that he is God the Son incarnate.”

God the Son Incarnate is a much-needed work as the doctrinal winds continue to blow in every direction, which threaten the biblical and historical Christological. This work is a bulwark of certainty and a prompter of praise. My prayer is that it receives a wide readership, both in the church as well as the academy.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: The Responsibility of the Church in Post-Modern Culture – PART 8

Francis Schaeffer has an extremely high view of the church and great expectations as any Christian should.  He details some solemn responsibilities that the church of Jesus Christ must consider.

We Must Adhere to the New Testament Boundaries for the Local Church

Schaeffer’s primary assertion is that Scripture mandates  eight specific norms for the New Testament church (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 51-60).  The first norm: Local congregations are to exist and should be made up of Christians.   Schaeffer would have clearly opposed the so-called seeker sensitive movement that is so prevalent in the church today.  While he believed that the church ought to evangelize the lost, he would have had real problems with the present day fascination of catering to the non-believer.

Second, Dr. Schaeffer believed these congregations ought to meet in a special way on the first day of the week.  He clearly has Sunday as the specific meeting day in mind, although I am inclined to think that Schaeffer would be comfortable with the new trend toward Saturday evening services and the like.  The critical issue for him was that the church met regularly each week.

Third, the church should have elders who have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.

Fourth, there should also be deacons responsible for the community of the church in the area of material things.

Fifth, Schaeffer strongly believed that these elders and deacons should be qualified in accordance with the Pauline standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The sixth norm is that the church must engage in church discipline.  Schaeffer goes to great lengths to show the necessity and benefits of church discipline in accordance with the principle set forth by Jesus in Mathew 18.  Schaeffer explains, “The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an amoeba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world.  There is to be a sharp edge.  There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).  He  writes in no uncertain terms: “For a church not to have discipline in life and doctrine means that it is not a New Testament church on the basis of the New Testament norms” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).

Finally, Schaeffer declares that a vital mark of the church is the administration of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These seven norms are non-negotiable principles in the thinking and ecclesiology of Francis Schaeffer.  These norms are commanded by God.  Any church that fails to engage in even one of these crucial norms forfeits  the right to be called a true church.  However, Dr. Schaeffer believes there are many areas in which the church is left free.  There is a form and there is also a freedom.  “It is my thesis that as we cannot bind men morally except where the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly anything the New Testament does not command concerning church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place” (The Church At The End of The Twentieth Century, 59-60).

In many ways Francis Schaeffer may be considered very conservative in his approach to “doing church.”  But in other ways, he is a bit of a radical.  His views on form and freedom leave room for creativity, spontaneity and a wide variety of ministry options.


Over the years, I’ve grown weary reading books that relate to ecclesiology.  Recent works that focus on the church are either driven by pragmatic presuppositions, man-centered principles, or church growth techniques that compromise the essence of the gospel, not to mention the mission of the church.  Mark Dever’s newest book, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible is a totally different kind of book.  He steers clear from the usual drivel that saturates many books devoted to ecclesiology.  Indeed, the church is should be thankful for such a work.

Part One: What Does the Bible Say?

The first section focuses on the nuts and bolts of the church.  Dever leaves no stone unturned.  The nature of the church is explored, membership is reviewed, polity is discussed, church discipline is covered, among other things.  Each section is rooted in the biblical text.  The writing is clear and compelling.  The reader walks away from the first part with a clear understanding on what Scripture says concerning the church.

Part Two: What Has the Church Believed?

Part two explains the classical distinctions between the visible and invisible church and the local and universal church.  The author includes a helpful discussion on the rise of denominations.

Also included is an illuminating discussion on the history of ordinances.  A wide variety of traditions are surveyed.  And the various positions are presented for the Lord’s Supper as well as baptism.

Part Three: How Does it All Fit Together?

The final section discusses the marks of the church, namely – the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the faithful administration of the two ordinances.  Dever includes a helpful section on church membership.  He writes, “Churches that submerge difference of age, race, status, background, or employment give witness to the power of the gospel.”

One of the most helpful chapters is devoted to developing a biblical leadership model.  Dever’s holds to an elder led/congregationally affirmed leadership structure.  He adds, “The most coherent way to understand the New Testament’s presentation of local church polity is to recognize the role of both individual leaders and the congregation as a whole.”  He does not minimize the role of the congregation.  Dever writes, “The congregation is not in competition with the elders.  The congregation’s authority is more like an emergency brake than a steering wheel.  The congregation more normally recognizes than creates, responds rather than initiates, confirms rather than proposes.”

In the final analysis, “a right ecclesiology matters for the church’s leadership, membership, structure, culture, and even character.  Ultimately, a right ecclesiology touches on God’s glory itself … Therefore, getting the doctrine of the church right becomes a benefit to the people, as the truth about God and his world is more correctly known, taught, and modeled.”

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible should receive a wide readership and will be a tremendous tool in the hands of faithful pastors and shepherds!

4.5 stars


Reformed theology has been on the rise for several years now.  Some pastors are discovering the doctrines of grace for the first time; others are waking up to the beauty of Calvinism, the dogma that Spurgeon called a “nickname for biblical Christianity.”  However, whenever a movement of God ascends, opposition tends to rise.  Consider the push-back from the Roman Catholic Church during the days of the Reformation.  Or who can forget the negative reaction to the work of God’s Spirit during the Great Awakenings.

While a new Reformation is afoot in the contemporary church, there appears to be opposition at every juncture.  The newest public attack on Reformed theology comes from the pulpit of Ed Young, Senior pastor of Fellowship Church.  Several days ago, Young took the last twelve minutes of his message to unleash a vicious attack on Reformed theology.  This assault was not only directed at the doctrine; he also set his sights on churches and pastors committed to Calvinism.

This venom is nothing new.  Spurgeon was constantly attacked for his preaching that was soaked in the doctrines of grace.  Jonathan Edwards was scorned for his Calvinistic framework.  And most recently, the Southern Baptist Convention is showing signs of division on matters that pertain to Soteriology.

But what is most troubling about Pastor Young’s rant is the personal nature of the attack. His chief contention: “Reformed theology leads to a deformed  ecclesiology” – strong words, especially in light of Calvin’s strong ecclesiology.  It was Calvin who rightly argued that the true church includes three critical components, namely – the right preaching of God’s Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.  So Young’s words should not be taken lightly.  The essence of his charge is that Reformed-minded churches have distorted the truth, a serious accusation to be sure.

Pastor Young essentially argues that Calvinists have placed “God in a box.”  He says, “Most of the Calvinistic churches don’t reach anybody …”  He accuses Reformed believers of being apathetic at the plight of people who have yet to meet Jesus: “They pimp God not to reach people who are dying and going to hell.”   He warns the young people in his church, “You are prey for these churches … It’s sexy, it’s cool, you’ve got God in a box.”

Additionally, Young accuses Calvinists’ of being arrogant:  “Why are these people so mean-spirited, most of them?  Why are they so Pharisaical?”  This banter continues as Young fires his guns directly at the Reformed community: “Don’t you blaspheme the name of God and use God not to reach people for Jesus Christ.  And if you don’t like the message, there’s the exit.

But the accusation that will draw some of the greatest heat is Young’s contention that Calvinism presents a different gospel.  He instructs his congregation, “When they say gospel [speaking of Calvinists], they don’t mean the same gospel that we do …”  Young’s contention is this: Reformed theology is “ruining the church.

Reformed is deformed, most of it” argues Young.  Pastor Young obviously has a twisted perception of Reformed theology.  That much is true.  But as I listened to his message, I wondered, “How shall the Reformed community respond to Pastor Young?”  “What would be the most fruitful way to counter some of the claims that reflect poorly on Christ-followers who embrace a Reformed approach to Scripture?”  Note three specific responses.

We must respond with graciousness and humility

The Scripture is clear on this point: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).  Roger Nicole wisely writes, “We have obligations to people who differ from us.  This does not involve agreeing with them.  We have an obligation to the truth, and that has priority over agreement with any particular person.”  We must be careful that our response is bathed in prayer and soaked in humility.  It would be so easy to “lob a bomb” over the fence.  But the Scripture demands a different kind of response.  Ad hominem  attacks are cowardly and lack the force of biblical conviction. The Word of God demands a gracious and humble response.

We must clear up any misunderstandings

First, historic Reformed theology does not limit God.  Young is quick to accuse Calvinists of having “God in the box.”  But nothing could be further from the truth.  It is true that Calvinists are careful to worship God in a way that is prescribed in Scripture.  It is true that they vigilantly guard the attributes of God and promote his character in a way that is in keeping with Scripture.  But Calvinists do not limit what God can do.  Young’s “God in the box” accusation does not square with the facts.

Second, Young accuses Reformed-minded churches of neglecting the plight of the lost and remaining passive in the evangelistic enterprise.  This accusation has some validity to be sure.  Indeed, some of these churches are content to sit on the sidelines and as a result are marginalized.  In these cases, then, Young’s charge should be taken into account.  However, many Calvinistic churches are reaching people by the droves.  This notion that the doctrines of grace discourages evangelism must be dismantled and cast aside.  Some of the most mission-minded evangelists in church history were Calvinists including William Carey and George Whitefield.

David Mathis, a committed Calvinist, is passionately committed to world missions and evangelism: “Missions is about the worship of Jesus.  The goal of missions is the global worship of Jesus by his redeemed people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  The outcome of missions is all peoples delighting to praise Jesus.  And the motivation for missions is the enjoyment that his people have in him.  Missions aims at, brings about, and is fueled by the worship of Jesus” (John Piper, Ed. A Holy Ambition: To Preach Where Christ Has Not Been Named).  Mathis continues, “Our churches should both pursue mission among our own people as well as missions among the world’s unreached peoples.  One way to sum it up is to say that we can’t be truly missional without preserving a place for, and giving priority to, the pursuit of the unreached.”  This sentiment is expressed in Reformed-minded churches around the globe.  So let us dispense with the notion that Calvinism discourages evangelism.

Third, a belief in predestination does not preclude choice.  Young quips, “I believe in election.  I also believe in choice.”  This subtle jab promotes a common caricature that Calvinists reject the notion of free will.  But Reformed thinkers have held a robust theory of free will since the days of the Reformation.  Jonathan Edwards held that one chooses according to his “strongest inclination.”    Herein lies the essence of free will!  Edwards held, “A man never, in any instance, wills anything contrary to his desire, or desires anything contrary to his Will.” So the unregenerate choose freely.  The unregenerate chooses according to his strongest inclination.

But here is the rub.  Freedom does not imply ability.  And this appears to be the main bone of contention between Arminians and Calvinists.  G.I. Williamson adds, “With sin’s entrance man lost ability to do good, not liberty.”  For example, sinful creatures are free to fly – but they are unable to do so.  Sinful creatures are free to swim under water without oxygen for an extended period of time – but they are not able to do so.  A paralyzed man  is free to jump out of his wheel chair and dance – but he is utterly incapable of performing this activity.  Most important, sinful creatures are free to come to God – but they are not able apart from God drawing them.  J.I. Packer writes, “We have no natural ability to discern and choose God’s way because we have no natural inclination Godward; our hearts are in bondage to sin, and only the grace of regeneration can free us from that slavery.”  So totally depraved people are free to do good or evil but only able to do evil due to the radical nature of his sinful condition (John 6:44; 8:34).

Fourth, God’s election takes place in eternity past.  Several Scriptures bear this truth out:

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (Ephesians 1:4–5, ESV)

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV)

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,” (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29–30, ESV)

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16, ESV)

Yet Young maintains in his sermon, “We keep on nominating them and God keeps electing them.”  Even an Arminian would reject this kind of thinking.  At least an Arminian embraces election according to foreknowledge, namely – God elected some in eternity past on the basis of foreseen faith.  While clearly distinct from the Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election, it must be admitted that in both schemes, election takes place in eternity past.  God’s electing grace is not carried out as the people of God “nominate” people that appear to be fit for the kingdom.

We must respond decisively

One of Young’s chief arguments is that “Reformed theology is deformed.”  He adds the disclaimer, “most of it” [speaking of Reformed theology].  But the most distressing aspect of this sermon concerns the heart of the gospel.  He charges Calvinists with believing a different gospel.  Young says, “When they say gospel, they don’t mean the same gospel that we do.  Its different.” This kind of preaching is simply indefensible.  Calvinists and Arminians have been debating theological matters for almost 500 years.  However, this kind of banter crosses the line.

Frankly, Pastor Young’s presentation is grieving.  His arguments are not only theologically wrongheaded; they are irresponsible and careless.  The irony is that every time he steps into the pulpit he stands on the shoulders of a long line of godly men; men who fought for, taught, and preached the doctrines of grace.  Men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Spurgeon, Edwards, Bunyan, Watson, Sibbes, and Owen raised the banner of Reformed theology which proclaims that Christ is the Savior for all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10, ESV).  They proclaimed with Christ that “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35, ESV).  And yes, they proclaimed the gospel that says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).  These men proclaimed the sovereign grace of God – the grace that sets the prisoner free (John 8:36).  They proclaimed the sovereign grace of God that removed the enormous barrier between a holy God and sinful people (Rom. 5:10, Col. 1:19-23).  They proclaimed the sovereign grace of God that redeems unclean people from their sins (Eph. 1:7).  These men of God proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ; the gospel that tells us the good news of Christ’s incarnation and his death on the cross, his burial, and his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

When Pastor Young tosses out Reformed theology, he undercuts the very foundation of the Christian faith.  For the essence of the Reformed faith is that sinners may be forgiven their sin – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  The challenge for Calvinistic pastors, therefore,  is to listen carefully to Young’s charges.  Perhaps adjustments can be made along the way.  If any of the accusations stick, repentance may be in order.  But we must refuse to respond to Young in a way that is arrogant or demeaning.  We must love our brother and promote a spirit of unity.  Roger Nicole writes, “It is remarkable that committed Calvinists can sing without reservation many of the hymns of Charles and John Wesley, and vice versa that most Arminians do not feel they need to object to those of Isaac Watts, Augustus Toplady, or John Newton.”  Perhaps we need a meeting of the minds – in order to generate more light than heat!

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, ESV)


One of the most genuine and repeated phrases I hear again and again is “No creed but Christ.”  It sounds slick.  It sounds trendy.  It even sounds biblical and evangelical.  However, I believe it is time to rethink this so-called Christian mantra.

Initially, the slogan seems innocent enough.  It appears to give Christ his proper place in the church.  And it seems to rightly place Christ in the center of the Christian life.  But is it possible that this slogan is at its root the very antithesis of all that is Christian and all that honors Christ?

Consider some of the serious implications of the slogan, “No creed but Christ.”  First, imagine where the church would be if Athanasius adopted this mantra.  Clearly, Athanasius wouldn’t have quibbled over one iota.  And Arianism would have assaulted the church with its godless Christology.

Second, one wonders which “Christ” the slogan appeals to.  Is this “creedless Christ” the figure portrayed in Islam, who is regarded as a mere prophet but stripped of his deity and majesty?  Or is he the Christ of Arianism, a mere created being whose blood is unable to forgive sinners?  Is he the Jesus of modern-day liberalism; you know the “cool Jesus” who tolerates sin and changes his mind about hell and eternal punishment?

If the thought of comparing this “creedless Christ” to a hodge-podge of world religions sparks concern, consider the essence of the phrase.  It could actually mean just about anything.  The term, “creed” comes from the Latin, meaning “I believe.”  Therefore, this “creedless Christ” could mean anything one wants to believe!

Third, if “No creed but Christ” is truly valid, then this notion renders the imperative to catechize believers utterly meaningless.  Scripture stands opposed to such a view:

“Build yourselves up in your most holy faith” (Jude 20, ESV).

“[Get] rooted and built up in him [Christ] and established in the faith (Col. 2:7).

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1).

“Apollos was instructed (catechized) in the ways of the Lord” (Acts 18:25).

Additionally, the great gladiators of the Christian faith agree that catechising is an essential element of the Christian faith.  John Bunyan wrote, “But the composition of a catechism was found to require the clearest conception of truth, and the fullest command  of simple, expressive phraseology.”  C.H. Spurgeon added, “I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times.”  And J.I. Packer has wisely stated, “The greatest challenge for the twenty-first century church is to re-catechize and disciple believers.”

Next, the slogan “No creed but Christ” is self-refuting.  The statement uttered is in fact a creed, dare I say, a proposition.  Yet, this creed bemoans propositions, reacts to doctrinal statements, and discounts theological systems.  In the final analysis, the dogmatic slogan, “No creed but Christ” becomes a sort of theological system!

At best, the slogan, “No creed but Christ” is naive and has been embraced by well-intentioned Christians who have failed to think through the implications.  And the fertile soil of naivety, though well-intentioned, may easily grow into grievous theological error and produce thorns and thistles in the Christian life.

At worst, the slogan is arrogant.  To discount the foundational creeds of historic Christianity is always a step in the wrong direction.  Indeed, to cast aside the historic creeds is to do violence to the nature of faith itself.  Consider the following creedal statements that describe fundamental Christological components:

“… Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made” (The Nicene Creed, 325 A.D.)

” … Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body …” (The Chalcedonian Creed, 451 A.D.)

“The Father uncreated: the Son uncreated: and the Holy Spirit uncreated” (The Athanasian Creed, 4th-5th centuries A.D.)

The subtle trend in the church is to move away from doctrine.  We see this at every juncture, especially in churches where postmodernity has taken root.  Spurgeon stated emphatically, “Those who do away with doctrine … are the worst enemies of Christian living.”  A creedless Christ is in fact a creedless Christianity which is something akin to a toothless tiger whose motives may be noble, but will, in the final analysis be ravaged by his enemies.

The next time you hear a well-intentioned person promote a “No creed but Christ” worldview, remember that godly people gave their lives to hammer out the creeds and confessions to protect the church from theological wolves.  The creeds were carefully and prayerfully fashioned so we might know and worship Christ rightly.  This Christ is the uncreated One who himself created all things (Col. 1:16).  He was born of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-35), the Savior who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:21-24).  This Christ perfectly obeyed the law of God, died on the cross for sinners, and rose on the third day for our justification (1 Cor. 15:3-5; Rom. 4:25; Acts 2:22-24).  This Christ is fully God and fully man and stood in the place of everyone who would ever believe (Gal. 3:13; Isa. 53:4-6), bearing their sins (2 Cor. 5:21), satisfying the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23-26), redeeming them from hell (Col. 1:13-14), and reconciling them to a God (Rom. 5:10).  And this Christ is worthy of our undivided allegiance, devotion, and worship!