When The Deity of Christ, a book sent by Crossway for me to review, was delivered to my house I was in the backyard roasting coffee. I was in process of creating a blend to commemorate a friend’s wedding. A blend in the world of coffee is a mixture of coffees from multiple origins and is typically blended to produce a balanced cup. As I perused the volume that had just arrived I was intrigued by the concept behind the book and the similarities between that and the coffee blend I was working on. The Theology in Community series “assembles teams of scholars to explore key theological themes and apply them to contemporary themes.” It seems this series of books is a blend of authors, from various origins, that would result in a balanced book on a particular topic. I generally enjoy these types of books as they expose one to multiple authors with multiple perspectives. With coffee beans cracking in the heat of the roaster, I cracked open The Deity of Christ.
The deity of Christ, in the eyes of the editors, is a topic of paramount import; “The deity of Christ is vital to Christian faith and practice. In fact, nothing is more important than whether or not Jesus Christ is God. If Jesus is not God incarnate, then Christianity is not true; if he is, then it is true. The critical importance of Christ’s deity is sufficient reason for this book.” (20) Though no further defence for a book of this sort is needed, the editors share several other reasons this volume is important; an increase in popularity of ‘gospels’ denying the divinity of Christ, the worldwide expansion of Islam which denies Christ is God, religious pluralism which undermines the exclusivity of Christ’s salvation, and the proliferation of cults whose status as cults is a result of their denial of the central doctrine of Christ’s deity.
With so much at stake, a book of this sort is more than a nicety; it is a necessity. And though there have been many written works on this topic, a fresh, contemporary look at this integral doctrine should not be overlooked.
It occurred to me that the editors and others of this volume, in producing this book, are raising a standard. A quick glimpse in a dictionary for the definition of standard resulted in over 30 definitions. Nevertheless, several of them pertain directly to this book. The deity of Christ, and hence this book, is a doctrine that embodies several of the definitions I came across. The editors and authors of The Deity of Christ employ this doctrine as a standard for the Christian church. How is this doctrine a ‘standard’? The doctrine of Christ being divine is a standard in the sense that is something to conform to and a basis for comparison. A Christian church, to be truly Christian, must conform to this doctrine and if an individual Christian’s beliefs are found lacking when compared to this doctrine, the designation of Christian is speculative at best. A standard is also a flag representing a sovereign which one can rally to, and the writers call the church to rally to Christ, the second person of the trinity, our sovereign Redeemer. Finally, the truth of Christ’s divinity is a standard as in a support; Christ as God provides an unfaltering practical support to the believer and to the church. Practically speaking, Christ’s divinity is a necessity for our daily walk of faith.
The Deity of Christ as a book raises a standard in the multifaceted ways described above and presents a myriad of applications. The various authors serve their purpose well in providing a collection of chapters that rally Christians around their King and Saviour, explain and elucidate the doctrine which historic Christianity has used as a means of comparison and conformity, and strategically support the saints in their safeguarding of this tenet of their faith. This book, and the others in this series, attempt this this by approaching the topic through biblical, historical, systematic and practical perspectives.
A Biblical Viewpoint
The deity of Christ as it is revealed to us in Scripture is deftly handled by Ray C. Ortlund Jr., Stephen J. Welllum, and Andreas J. Kostenberger. Of the three, I had only read work by Ortlund, but recognized Kostenberger and Wellum by name and looked forward to their contributions. If this book is to be considered a significant contribution on the subject at hand, then a solid and insightful dealing with the doctrine as it is presented in the Bible is essential. Ortlund, pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, provided the chapter on the deity of Christ in the Old Testament.
Ortlund develops this topic by considering eight significant passages from the Old Testament. Ortlund’s careful handling of the topic is evident as he provides three categories to distribute the passages under consideration to: passages inaccurately construed to reveal the deity of Christ, passages accurately construed to reveal his deity, and passages that are unclear concerning Christ’s deity. Ortlund’s cautious approach sets a serious tone for the biblical perspectives and he leads us into consideration of the New Testament declaring “the deity of the Christ is unmistakably, if mysteriously, revealed in the Old Testament texts.” (58)
Wellum grabs the reigns with his look at the Synoptic Gospels and further on in the book deals with Apostolic witness. Having never read Welllum before, I was unsure of what to expect. I must admit, I was quite pleased. He has organized his chapters in a manner that aids in understanding and his easy-to-read style adds to their readability. I would not hesitate to read more of him in the future. Wellum examines the divinity of Christ in the Synoptics by discussing the implicit and explicit clams to deity. Wellum shows how these gospels implicitly present Jesus as the incarnate God in his fulfilment of the Old Testament, his baptism, his life and ministry, and his own understanding of his death and resurrection. Wellum continues by showing how the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke explicitly portray Jesus as understanding himself to be God through his use of Abba, his self-identity as the Son and the Son of Man, and his statements that declare he does the to works of God.
Wellum also provides an analysis of the evidence of the deity of Christ in the Apostolic witness. This is accomplished by looking at four crucial texts; Romans 1:3-4, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:1-4. The thorough explanations of the passages are both enlightening and enjoyable. Again, Wellum’s organizational choice of focusing on significant passages, as opposed to categories he used in the earlier chapter, was a welcome change that I found encouraged me to keep reading.
The writings of John are left in the capable hands of Kostenberger. Though I had not read any of his materials, his expertise on Johanine writings is well-known and I anticipated his chapters more than any of the other writers. He did not disappoint. With chapters entitled The Deity of Christ in John’s Gospel and The Deity of Christ in John’s Letters and the Book of Revelation, Kostenberger completes this book’s biblical perspective on the deity of Christ. Kostenberger writes in an engaging manner and I read both of his chapters without putting the book down. Richard Baxter has said, “It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others.” Contrary to the quote, it is clear Kostenberger has digested this material and his command of it results in a clear and comfortable read. Topics covered in the investigation into the gospel of John include Jesus as the Word, the One and Only Son, Son of God, Son of Man, the I Am, Lord and God, the resurrection, and Jesus’ foreknowledge. The other chapter by this Johanine scholar looked at relevant passages and concepts from the letters of John and in Revelation he considers depictions of Christ-trinitarian, the first and last, the eschatalogical king/judge/warrior, returning judge and saviour-which are thoroughly convincing. I will definitely be reading more books from this author.
As people of the Book, Christians should expect the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ to be the backbone of any inquiry into the doctrine of the incarnate God. The Deity of Christ definitely emphasizes the Word as it pertains to this topic. It is full of biblical passages and their explanations. These chapters alone would suffice for a book on this topic. Their handling of the deity of Jesus in the Bible is not exhaustive, as that would require many volumes, but it is convincing.
A Historical Viewpoint
The Deity of Christ in Church History is the chapter dedicated to a historical look into the deity of Christ. This was a fascinating look at some of the pivotal issues in church history pertaining to the Son of God. Gerald Bray takes the reader through various eras and errors. The eras include those around the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds. The errors the church confronted include Arianism, Apollinarianism, and kenoticism. Bray reminds us that despite the fact that “ none of the fathers of the church ever believed that, in confessing the deity of Christ, he was adding anything to the teachings of Jesus himself” (176), the fight for Christ’s divinity is an ongoing battle, with a long history, that resurfaces regularly. This chapter was an interesting perusal of the issue in the annals of the church’s history.
A Systematic Viewpoint
In an effort to synthesize and systematize the earlier investigations concerning the deity of Christ, Robert A. Peterson arrays five arguments: 1) Jesus is identified with God, 2) Jesus receives devotion due to God alone, 3) Jesus brings the age to come, 4) Jesus saves us when we are spiritually united to him, and 5) Jesus performs the works of God. I found Peterson’s categories interesting and in particular his explanation of how Jesus’ inauguration of the age to come proves he is God was unexpected and stimulating. This chapter does an efficient job of providing the reader a summary of issues discussed in the book. It also provides the reader a framework with which to harmonize the various strands of argument and evidence promoted.
A Practical Viewpoint
The practical perspective that the affirmation of the divinity of Jesus Christ brings us to as presented by The Deity of Christ is twofold. The first issue of application pertains to the relation between the deity of Christ and cults. This chapter, written by Talbot School of Theology professor Alan W. Gomes, presents a repository of information on Christian Cults and their deficient stance on Christ as God. His method is inviting. He considers the different historical christologies and then classifies modern cults in relation to the cristologies advanced. By explaining polytheism, dynamic monarchianism, gnosticism, Arianism, and modalistic monarchianism, Gomes exposes Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarianism, Oneness Pentecostalism, Christian Science and other belief systems as cults for it becomes evident that all these belief systems undermine a central doctrine of the Christian faith; the deity of Christ. This chapter is an excellent initial resource for further study on the cults.
The second practical perspective concerns itself with missions, world religions, and pluralism. I found this chapter by J. Nelson Jennings the most difficult to read. I think this was because the author brings some unexpected, yet provocative, outlooks and insights into these topics. This is a chapter which I need to re-read, but it was intriguing enough that I will re-read it. Of particular interest to me was the paradigm through which to consider other religions. Jennings suggests that a healthy approach when considering other religions is threefold; consider how sin is involved, consider how Satan is involved, and consider how searching for truth is involved. That concept alone will be very helpful.
One of the positives that I have yet to mention is that many of the chapters have “bonus” material. Whether it is Wellum explaining the Promise-Fulfilment Motif, Kostenberger’s overview of First-Century Jewish Monotheism, or Gomes’ defining of cults, this book contains plenty of helpful material beyond what might be expected. I have also failed to touch upon Stephen J. Nichols chapter which the book essentially begins with. This is an honest look at the contemporary condition of the church’s view of the deity of Christ. Like a good doctor, Nichols observes some symptoms of what ails us, diagnoses the problem, and then prescribes a remedy. I suggest you read this chapter before you decide to buy the book. You’ll buy the book if you do.
Some books are classics that you will read many times over your lifetime. This is not that book. Some books are barely worth reading, and having read them, you’ll never crack them open again. This is not that type of book either. But, some books are valuable in that they provide you with a resource for future reference that you will consult at different times for different reasons at many times. That is this book. Though I do not foresee myself reading this book from cover to cover again, I am quite certain I will revisit this book for numerous reasons on various occasions. Like a good cup of your favourite blend of coffee, this book will always leave you wanting another sip.