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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Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower

secularTom Krattenmaker, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower. New York: Convergent, 2016, 245 pp. $18.75

Jesus Christ stands at the very center of human history. He has inspired and transformed millions of people from the small town of Nazareth to the great cities of the world. He has revolutionized the humble and humbled the affluent. Church historian Jaroslav Pelican writes, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries.”

Tom Krattenmaker acknowledges the influence of Jesus on our world and would like to see more people emulate his example and embrace his teachings. Yet the proposal which is advanced in the book under consideration is different than most people might expect.

A MODEST PROPOSAL

We live in an unprecedented time of secularism. A growing tide of godlessness is on the rise and the corresponding rejection of absolute truth and exclusivity are quickly fading in the dark cavern of relativism. This reality is echoed in Tom Krattenmaker’s latest book, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower. The author rightly describes the cultural milieu and evaluates the spirit of the age with a stunning degree of clarity.

The author addresses real concerns and offers meaningful solutions. He advocates loving and valuing fellow human beings. His inclination is to be empathetic and generous. He strongly opposes violence. He encourages radical hospitality and is quick to offer a “second chance” to the marginalized and the oppressed.

As a self-confessed liberal thinker, Tom Krattenmaker will surely surprise many readers as he commends people from all backgrounds to consider the option of following Jesus. He writes, “In the end, I hope you will see the ways in which this adds up to a surprising conclusion about Jesus: that his way can be helpful and, indeed, available to non-Christians, and that no one can stop us seculars from following this ethical leader even if we do not or cannot believe the religious aspects of the story.”

The modest proposal to “follow Jesus” and accept him as “the answer” is both refreshing and perplexing. On the one hand, it is refreshing to hear an avowed progressive writer give credit to Jesus and pay homage to him in some respects. But this proposal is also perplexing because it confuses what it truly means to “follow” him. For example, while Krattenmaker is impressed with Jesus’s teaching and credentials, and even considers himself a “secular Jesus follower,” he repudiates the most important aspects of his person and work. For example, Krattenmaker does not believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sinners. He does not believe that Jesus is God. He rejects the resurrection of Jesus. He rejects the doctrines of hell and heaven. And he refuses to believe a “discrete set of theological propositions.”

Krattenmaker leaves no room for ambiguity. After jettisoning some of the most important aspects of Jesus’s person and work, he writes, “And despite my inability to accept the religious claims about his cosmic status, I believe Jesus is the answer, or at least a large part of it – if only we can work out what question we are asking and the language we are using to address it.” So a “secular follower of Jesus” appears to accept what one deems acceptable and rejects what goes against the grain of contemporary progressive thought.

A MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE

The modest proposal in Confessions of a Jesus Follower invites meaningful dialogue. I suspect the author appreciates a good debate and would welcome opposing views. Liberal writers are champions for tolerance so there should be little risk in opposing his views and offering humble, yet direct criticism. But first, a commendation is in order.

COMMENDATION

Tom Krattenmaker is a gifted writer whose heart for people is clear throughout the book. I thoroughly enjoy his writing style and the passion he shares with his readers.

I would enjoy the chance to sit down with Tom Krattenmaker over a large cup of coffee and discuss his book. Given that opportunity, I would seek to listen and learn. My desire would be to build a bridge of friendship with someone I have a genuine disagreement with, yet respect nonetheless. I would seek to apologize for any hurt that he has experienced at the hands of Christians. It is very clear that the author has been wounded by Christians, a travesty which needs to be reconciled. More than anyone else, Christ-followers should be quick to admit fault and seek the forgiveness of an offended party.

As a part of this exchange, I would offer several lines of thought in the hopes of sparking deep discussion and genuine response.

I would commend Krattenmaker for forcing readers to think critically. I would also thank him for his willingness to dialogue about controversial themes with grace and tact, a rare art form in a culture that claims to value tolerance and diversity but is, in the final analysis, deeply judgmental when the “chips are down.” My suspicion is that he would receive this as a great compliment, and indeed it is.

I would compliment Krattenmaker for his eagerness to “follow Jesus.” Ours is a cynical world where most secular progressives are quick to marginalize Jesus before a discussion even begins. Such an arena only breeds contempt and stifles honest conversation.

Critique

But a critique is also in order. I would challenge Krattenmaker’s worldview by pleading with him to reconsider the person and work of Jesus Christ through a biblical filter.

First, it is untenable to “follow” the socially acceptable teachings of Jesus, yet at the same time, reject his soteriological demands. The author writes, “It doesn’t matter whether you think Jesus is the true son of God, or whether you buy the Christian doctrine about his sacrificial death washing away your sins (and I wish to disabuse no one who believes it).” The truth is, however, that everything hinges on embracing Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God. Everything hinges on Jesus’s claim to be God!

Jesus spoke plainly to Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37, ESV). The credentials of the One who “bears witness” are undeniable:

  • Jesus is eternal. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
  • Jesus stood face-to-face with the Father. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).
  • Jesus is a member of the Trinity which has been in fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

Additionally, Jesus is a loving king (Matt. 11:28-30), a saving king (Luke 19:10; John 3:17), a ruling king (John 18:36), a forgiving king (Col. 1:14), a creator king (Col. 1:16), a sovereign king (Heb. 1:3; 1 Tim. 6:15). Indeed, this king is fully God (Col. 2:9; John 10:30). This king, as Jesus testifies, is the embodiment of Truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).

The irony of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate is this: It is Jesus himself who graciously gives Pilate the breath which was used to question his identity and his kingly authority. Yet, this man has the audacity to ask Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

Second, it is untenable to “follow” the ethic of Jesus, yet and at the same time, reject the eschatological reality of Jesus. Krattenmaker says, “If you’re like me, the notion of Jesus as your savior, as the formula to wipe out your sin and secure your ticket to heaven, leaves you unmoved.” But it was Jesus who said, “I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to me” (John 18:37). It would seem reasonable, then, that we listen to and embrace everything that Jesus taught. Simply put, we do not have the option of picking and choosing what we like about Jesus. We do not have the luxury of “swallowing the meat” but “spitting out the bones.” Jesus Christ is an all or nothing proposition.

Yet, Krattenmaker is content to “cherry-pick” what he likes about Jesus and discard what he finds either offensive or unreasonable. For example, he denies the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, Scripture is clear on this matter: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). The apostle Paul continues, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). The upshot is that if the resurrection never happened, all the other teachings of Jesus are invalid. All the teaching that the author finds so appealing collapse and are rendered null and void.

My humble appeal to Tom Krattenmaker is to fully accept and embrace the whole of Jesus’s teaching. “The truth”, writes Sinclair Ferguson, “ is that unless the significance of what Christ did at the first Christmas shakes us, we can scarcely be said to have understood much of what it means or who He really is.”1 My hope is that Krattenmaker would be moved by the notion of Jesus as Savior; that he would rest in that great reality and rejoice in the promise of eternal life!

SUMMARY

What emerges in Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a view of Jesus which has been inspired by theological liberalism. Stephen Wellum observes, “Classical liberalism rejected the historic position of the church in regard to Christ, but it still tried to maintain a unique identity for Jesus Christ in moral categories.”2 Liberalism creatively repudiates what appears unsavory in Jesus and replaces the biblical portrait with an imposter. Gresham Machen reminds us that the real nemesis for Christians is not secularism. The real problem is liberalism: “The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism,’ not secularist thought, for ‘Christianity is founded upon the Bible,’ while liberalism is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.” John Frame writes with similar passion: “The very nature of liberal theology, for the past three hundred years, has been to assert human autonomy.”3

While Krattenmaker’s version of a “secular follower of Jesus” is the minority report, his proposals in Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower will no doubt, appeal to some people. Indeed, the liberal “Jesus” does appeal to many people. Yet David Wells reminds us, “Their christ’s might be admired, but they cannot be worshipped.  They might inspire religious devotion, but they cannot sustain or explain Christian faith … Their appeal is not that of the biblical Christ, the One who was God with us, the means of forgiveness for our sin, and the agent of our reconciliation.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are what we need centrally.  We need to know there is someone there to forgive us, someone who can forgive and heal us, and that was why the Word was incarnate.” (David Wells, Cited in God the Son Incarnate, 91).

Like many today, Pilate was unwilling to accept the identity of Jesus and his claims. He suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18) and exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). And in the final analysis, he refused to listen to the truth. Jesus says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).

Our challenge is to fully embrace the Jesus of the Bible. That is, we not only embrace his teachings, we embrace his claims, most notably to be the God-man who came to die for the sins of everyone who would ever believe. To believe anything less fails to honor the Savior, Jesus Christ!

Plato said, “It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Jesus Christ is that Word. Christ has revealed the mystery of the Gospel. He has clearly revealed God the Father. The quest for truth ends with Jesus. Indeed, he was born in order to bear witness to the truth!

John Piper observes, “Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ.” This is precisely what the psalmist calls us to: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV). May we stand with millions of men and women and boys and girls who demonstrate faith in the Son of God. May we truly believe the claims of Jesus. May we turn from our sins and trust in his all-sufficient work on the cross. May we bank all our hope and future on an infinite Savior who has an infinite love for his people. Then and only then can we call ourselves followers of Jesus!

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

  1. Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 18.
  2. Stephen Wellum, God the Son Incarnate (Wheaton: Crossway Book, 2016), 76.
  3. John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 12.

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES – Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson (2013)

1433537753_l“Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?”  These were among the first words I heard from the lips of Dr. John G. Mitchell, founder of Multnomah School of the Bible – recently renamed Multnomah University.  I’ll never forget the time Dr. Mitchell walked up to me, a man in his mid 80’s with clenched fists and asked if I wanted to fight!  Joking of course, the elder Scotsman truly loved the student body at Multnomah.  Not many months before he went to be with the Lord, we were instructed to stop applauding him as he took to the lectern.  The sound of 800 students clapping jangled his nerves and wreaked havoc on his hearing aids.  So in those last days, we merely stood as a sign of respect as the great teacher made his way to the preachers desk.  “Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?” he would ask, with a glimmer in his eye.  He would challenge us with fiery passion to preach Christ faithfully and  to pursue holiness – all to the glory of God.  Dr. Mitchell would constantly encourage us, “I want you to know the glory of the Savior.”  He knew the Savior; he knew the saving benefits of his cross-work; and he wanted everyone to experience the same.  He wanted us to know the name above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson, who like Dr. Mitchell also hail from Scotland have an identical passion.  They want the world to know, embrace and worship –  The Name Above All Names.  The Crossway title is a solid offering that explores some core components of Christology.  The authors do not intend to present a full-orbed Christology; rather their aim is to present seven snapshots that concern the person and work of Christ:

1. Jesus Christ, the Seed of the Woman

2. Jesus Christ, the True Prophet

3. Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest

4. Jesus Christ, the Conquering King

5. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man

6. Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant

7. Jesus Christ, the Lamb on the Throne

The book while intensely theological, is written is a devotional tone that is suitable for beginners and veterans of the Christian faith.  Like Dr. Mitchell who went before them, these Scottish writers have a passion for Christ that needs fanning in America.  Perhaps the flicker will turn into a flame!

SIMPLY JESUS – N.T. Wright (2011)

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, by N.T. Wright surveys the historical background of Jesus and presents our Savior from a variety 0062084399_lof angles.  There are a few features that make it worthwhile.

The Emphasis on the Kingdom of God

Wright’s focus on the kingdom of God is refreshing as he promotes an all-ready, not yet framework.  For instance, he adds, “The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people.  They are not simply about how to behave, so that God will do something nice to you.  They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.”  He continues, “The Sermon on the Mount is a call to Jesus’s followers to take up their vocation as light to the world, as salt to the earth – in other words, as people through whom Jesus’s kingdom vision is to become a reality.”

The emphasis on good works is refreshing component that emerges in Wright’s eschatological framework: “In the New Testament, ‘good works’ are what Christians are supposed to be doing in and for the wider community.  That is how the sovereignty of Jesus is put into effect.”

Rejecting the Platonic Vision of Heaven

I especially enjoyed Wright’s frustration with the so-called Platonic vision of heaven that is embraced by so many evangelicals.  In many ways, he picks up where Randy Alcorn left off in his magnificent work, Heaven.  Wright helpfully notes, “Heaven in biblical thought is not a long way away from ‘earth.’  In the Bible, ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ overlap and interlock, as the ancient Jews believed they did above all in the Temple … Most people in today’s Western world imagine that ‘heaven,’ by definition, could not contain what we think of as a solid, physical body.  That’s because we are Platonists at heart, supposing that if there is a ‘heaven,’ it  must be nonphysical, beyond the reach of space, time, and matter.”

While much of  the work in Simply Jesus  is helpful and encouraging, as a premillenialist, I found the ammillenial eschatological framework interesting but not very helpful, in the final analysis.  Wright has a way of making his readers think, especially readers that disagree with him.  His writing is winsome, thought-provoking and worthy of a careful read.

THE MAN JESUS CHRIST – Bruce A. Ware (2013)

The Man Jesus Christ is the latest installment from the pen of Southern Seminary professor, Dr. Bruce Ware.  The subtitle accurately describes the essence of the book – Theological 1433513056_lReflections on the Humanity of Christ.  The author sets the tone for the book in the preface by reminding readers that the purpose is to examine the humanity of Christ.  While never minimizing the deity of Christ, the author intends to unfold the facts of Christ’s humanity in a way that is understanding, compelling, and biblical.  What follows is eight chapters of thought-provoking, Christ-exalting reflections on the humanity of Christ.

The nature of the kenosis (self-emptying) of Jesus is explained and the typical errors that surround the kenosis are confronted: “It is a ‘subtraction’ (i.e., a pouring out, an emptying) by adding human nature to his divine nature.  He came, then, to become the God-man – the one whose very divine nature took on fully the existence of a created human nature.”  Ware also addresses the erroneous notion that Christ’s submission to the Father began at the point of the incarnation.  Much to the contrary, we find that Jesus has submitted to the Father from all eternity: “In short, the eternal Son submitted to and obeyed the will of his Father prior to his becoming incarnate.”

The author discusses the importance of Christ’s Spirit-empowered earthly ministry.  Here we find that while the Spirit does not contribute anything to the deity of Christ, the Spirit does contribute to the humanity of Christ: “The only way to make sense, then, of the fact that Jesus came in the power of the Spirit is to understand that he lived his life fundamentally as a man, and as such, he relied on the Spirit to provide the power, grace, knowledge, wisdom, direction, and enablement he needed, moment by moment and day by day, to fulfill the mission the Father sent him to accomplish … At the heart of who he is, we must see him [Jesus] as coming in the power of the Spirit.”  Surely, readers will not only be encouraged to gaze upon the God-man as he relies upon the Holy Spirit during his earthly ministry and seek to emulate Christ’s dependence on the Spirit.

Additionally, readers see how Jesus grew in wisdom as a man during his earthly ministry.  “… His knowledge was not out of his divine nature per se.  Rather, his human nature had to acquire the knowledge and wisdom that he later evidenced, whether at the age of twelve or thirty.”  And as Jesus grew in wisdom, so must we –  always remembering that the Spirit of God, uses the Word of God to transform the people of God.

Several subjects are explored including the impeccability of Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, and three crucial realities – the resurrection, reign, and return of Christ.  Over and over again, the author reminds readers about the importance of Jesus’s humanity.  For example, the author writes the following about the death and resurrection of Christ: “Just as God as God cannot die, so God as God cannot be raised from the dead.  But in Jesus, the God-man, we see that God as man has died for our sin, and likewise God as man has been raised from the dead.  The atoning death of Christ requires his full humanity, and the resurrection of Christ does likewise.”

One of the greatest strengths of The Man Jesus Christ is that it addresses some common Evangelical presuppositions that have been smuggled into the church.  These presuppositions are graciously exposed and the biblical worldview is advanced.  Dr. Bruce Ware presents a side of Christology (the humanity of Jesus) that has been neglected both in the church and the academy.  Joel Beeke rightly remarks, “… Christology must affect not only the mind but also take aim at the heart” (A Puritan Theology:Doctrine for Life, 977).  In  The Man Jesus Christ, Ware targets the mind with scholarly precision and sets his sights on the heart with the Godward affections of a caring shepherd.

This is a book that seeks, in the final analysis, to encourage and motivate believers to  live a Christ-centered life.  One of the final pages summarizes these thoughts nicely: “Oh, how our obedience matters!  So, how wrong it is of us to appeal to grace as license to disobey,  just as it is equally wrong to appeal to our obedience as the basis for our right standing before God! … May we see that just as his relentless and perfect obedience, rendered in the power of the Spirit and in faith, brought him the full approval of his Father and the reward of his exaltation, so our obedience, rendered in the power of the Spirit and in faith, likewise, will be seen and rewarded by our gracious and benevolent God.  Let us learn from Jesus that obedience matters.”

5 stars

THE SEVEN SAYINGS OF THE SAVIOR ON THE CROSS – A.W. Pink

The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink is a devotional look at the final words uttered by Jesus on Calvary’s tree.  But these meditations are more than mere musings.  To the contrary, Pink’s insight is theologically charged, mind altering, and heart transforming.

Pink turns the heart of the reader to the person and work of Christ.  He skillfully explains each of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross and makes direct application to Christ-followers and calls the unregenerate to repentance.

Pink’s work is an excellent introduction to the basics of Christ’s cross work.  Readers would do well to proceed to The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris and Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach.

4  stars