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.

Conclusion

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.

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NO CREED BUT CHRIST

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!