ETS Live-Blog: Bruce Ware’s 2009 Presidential Address

ETS Live-Blog: Bruce Ware’s 2009 Presidential Address November 20, 2009

I am live-blogging the 2009 Evangelical Theological Society Presidential Address by Dr. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY).  Dr. Ware’s message, entitled “The Man Christ Jesus,” looks to be customarily rich and insightful.

It is an honor to attend this address in New Orleans and to share this exciting moment with Dr. Ware, my mother-in-law, Jodi Ware, and the ETS community. Unfortunately, my wife, Bethany Strachan, oldest daughter of Dr. Ware, and her sister, Rachel Ware, are not able to attend.  But they are with us in thought and prayer.

What follows is a recap of the talk, featuring lengthy sections of Dr. Ware’s address, with a bit of commentary spliced in.  This is not the full text; you’ll need to look at a future episode of JETS for that.  This live-blog will, however, give you a sense of the message and allow you to soak up some of the richness of this talk.

With thanks to Jacob Shatzer, this is my best attempt at a faithful live-blog.  It represents less than 50% of the message, so keep that in mind. All errors are mine, and all insights are Dr. Ware’s.


It is 8:05pm here in  New Orleans.  The room is packed to the gills with evangelical theologians and those who wish to eat chicken and beans with evangelical theologians.  The banquet has concluded, and Dr. Ware has just recognized a number of key ETS players: J. Michael Thigpen (Executive Director), Craig Blaising (past President), and James Borland (longtime Secretary).  We are about to begin the address.  Eugene Merrill of Dallas Theological Seminary is introducing Dr. Ware, and doing so with graciousness and depth.

The Man Christ-Jesus

Dr. Ware began the address by posing the question that drove the formation of his paper:

The theological question that has given rise to the reflections of this paper is as follows:  What dimensions of the life, ministry, mission, and work of Jesus Christ can only be accounted for fully and understood rightly when seen through the lens of his humanity?  Put differently, while Christ was (and is) fully God and fully man, how do we best account for the way in which he lived his life and fulfilled his calling — by seeing him carrying this out as God?  or as man?  or as the God-man?  I would argue that the most responsible answer biblically and theologically is the last, “as the God-man,” but that the emphasis must be placed on the humanity of Christ as the primary reality he expressed in his day-by-day life, ministry, and work.

Ware continued by making a major claim–that the New Testament emphasizes Christ’s humanity more than His deity:

The instinct in much evangelical theology, both popular and scholarly, is to stress the deity of Christ, but the New Testament instead puts greater stress, I believe, on his humanity.  He came as the second Adam, the seed of Abraham, the son of David, and he lived his life as one of us.  Now again, he was fully and unequivocally God, and some of the works of Jesus, in my view, displayed this deity — e.g., his forgiving of sin (Mark 2), the transfiguration of Christ (Matt 19, Mark 9, Luke 9), his raising of Lazarus from the dead as the one claiming, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11), and most importantly the efficacy of his atonement whose payment for our sin, only as God, was of infinite value — these and others show forth the truth that he lived among us also as one who was fully God.  But while he was fully God, and while this is crucial to understanding rightly his full identity, life, and the fulfillment of his atoning work, the predominant reality he experienced day by day, and the predominant means by which he fulfilled his calling, was that of his genuine and full humanity.  Paul captures the significance of the humanity of Christ with his assertion, “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

Update: Al Mohler, faithful Tweeter (is that a word?), caught wind of this live-blogging.

Ware then suggested two major points that he would cover in the paper:

First, we will consider what it means that Jesus came as the long-awaited Spirit-anointed Messiah.  Second, we will explore the reality of Jesus’ impeccability and consider the means by which he resisted temptation.  In both of these features, while the deity of Christ certainly is evident, his humanity is prominent such that apart from his full and integral humanity, we cannot account for these central and pivotal identifying features of his person and work.

What, Ware asked, is the significance of the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s ministry?

The answer is:  Everything of supernatural power and enablement that he, in his humanity, would lack.  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.

Point One: Jesus as the Spirit-Anointed Messiah (Textual Support)

First, the ETS President looked at Isaiah 11:1-3 to support his claim.  He suggested that this passage teaches that

The Spirit rested on him and granted him wisdom, understanding, knowledge, discernment, strength, and resolve to fear God his Father.  In other words, these qualities did not extend directly or fundamentally from his own divine nature, though divine he surely was!  Rather, much as the “fruit of the Spirit” of Galatians 5:22-23 are the evidences outwardly of the Spirit at work in a believer inwardly, so too here, these qualities are attributed to and accounted for by the Spirit who rested upon Jesus, empowering him to have the wisdom, understanding, and resolve to obey that he exhibited.

Next, Ware looked at Luke 2:40 and 2:52.  From these texts, Ware argued that Christ had to learn just as we learn, and that the Spirit superintended this learning:

“All who heard him,” Luke comments, “were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:47).  Now, the common evangelical intuition for accounting for this event in Jesus’ boyhood is this:  of course Jesus astonished these teachers of the law in Jerusalem; after all, he was God!  And while he was God, this answer misses the very hints Luke himself has given in the verses that bracket this account.  Jesus astonished these Jewish teachers, not because he was God, although he was; rather, he astonished them because as a 12 year old human boy, he had devoted himself to the mastery of the law of the Lord, and the grace of God by the Spirit had given him extraordinary insight, so that at merely 12 years old, he could astonish these greatest of all teachers in Jerusalem by the questions he asked and the answers he gave.  He truly was, then, the Psalm 1 prototype.

Ware moved next to Acts 10:38, where Peter speaks of the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus:

Peter was granted revelation from the Father that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16); and Peter was present with Thomas and the other disciples when Jesus appeared in the room, and Thomas responded, saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:26-29).  Peter knows Jesus is God — which is what makes this statement in Acts 10:38 all the more remarkable.  As Peter contemplates Jesus’ day-to-day life, the good deeds he did and the truth he taught, the exorcisms and miracles he performed, and when Peter considers how Jesus did these things, he says that, “God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power,” and thatHe went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38)….Jesus was the Christ, a man born in the line of David, anointed and empowered by the Spirit to live out his life and carry out his mission.

Point Two: Jesus Christ, the Impeccable, Temptable, and Sinless

Ware moved to his second point.  He noted that he might have coined a new word–“temptable”.  I’m not sure, but I like the word.  If it catches on in the broader culture, well, now you know its origin.

The second line of support for the central importance of understanding Jesus’ life and ministry being lived fundamentally as a man is this:  he was really, genuinely tempted.   Immediately we understand that Jesus’ humanity must be involved in his temptations in a way in which his deity could not be, for James tells us, “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1:13).  But Jesus was tempted.  In fact, Hebrews tells us that he was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).  But there is more:  Jesus was also fully God, and as such it has seemed to most theologians (myself included) that he was impeccable, i.e., he could not sin.

The paper next considered a number of proposals by prominent theologians that offer suggestions for how to understand the interaction between the human and divine natures of Christ.  Ware looked at the thought of Louis Kerkhof, W. G. T. Shedd, Herman Bavinck, Thomas Morris, and Gerald O’Collins.  I am not going to quote this section extensively.  Let me give a snapshot from the conclusion of this section, where the theologian considered what it would mean for Christ to actually commit a sin:

But, hypothetically, what would have been involved in the event that Christ had sinned?  Since God cannot sin, the deity of Christ could not have been involved in the act of sin that Christ, in this hypothetical scenario, would have committed.  But how not, since the divine and human natures are joined in the one Person of Jesus Christ in the incarnation?  Erickson suggests, “At the very brink of the decision to sin, where that decision had not yet taken place, but the Father knew it was about to be made, the Second Person of the Trinity would have left the human nature of Jesus, dissolving the incarnation.”  So, apparently Erickson considers as hypothetically possible one of the horns of the dilemma that Bavinck had wanted to avoid.

An Alternate Proposal

In this section, Dr. Ware suggested his own proposal for resolving the matter of impeccability as related to the divine and human natures.

Essentially this proposal runs as follows:  Jesus was genuinely impeccable owing to the fact that in the incarnation it was none other than the immutable and eternally holy Second Person of the Trinity who joined to himself a full human nature.  Nonetheless this impeccability of his Person did not render his temptations inauthentic or his struggles disingenuous.  How so?  Jesus resisted these temptations and in every way obeyed his Father, not by recourse to his divine nature but through the resources provided to him in his full humanity.

The ETS President then moved on to offer three major ideas.  Remember, as with the talk in its entirety, these are just summaries–there is much more to these arguments than appears here. Here’s the first:

First, we begin by affirming what is in some ways both the clearest and most important truth in the whole of this discussion, viz., that Christ in fact did not sin.  Scripture here is abundantly clear.  2 Cor 5:21, “God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him”…

Here’s the second:

Second, the impeccability of Christ is a reasonable inference from Scripture’s teaching about who the incarnate Christ is, and an inference so clear and compelling that it is unreasonable to imagine Jesus not considering this inference thereby knowing the truth of his own impeccability.  I agree here with Shedd who argued that if Christ could sin, in this hypothetical act of sin “the guilt would not be confined to the human nature” but the divine nature also would be stained.  Since this cannot occur to the immutably holy divine nature, once the union of human and divine natures has occurred, the human nature is rendered impeccable by virtue of its union to the impeccable divine nature.  Or one might think of the issue in these terms:  Since the holy One born of Mary was fully God as well as fully man, this would imply, it would seem, some limitations in expression both for his divine and human natures.

Here’s the third:

Third, and most important for the position I am here arguing, the impeccability of Christ by virtue of his impeccable divine nature united to his human nature, has nothing directly to do with how he resisted temptation and how it was that he did not sin.  Yes, Christ was impeccable, but his impeccability is quite literally irrelevant to explaining his sinlessness.  The common evangelical intuition seems to be this:  if the reason Christ could not sin is that he is God, then the reason Christ did not sin must likewise be that he is God.  My proposal denies this symmetry and insists that the questions of why Christ could not sin and why he did not sin require, instead, remarkably different answers.

Ware, a true teacher, then expanded upon this third point with an illustration:

To understand better the distinction here invoked between why something could not occur and why it did not occur, consider this example:

Imagine a swimmer who wanted to attempt breaking the world’s record for the longest continuous swim (which, I’ve read, is something over 70 miles).   As this swimmer trains, besides his daily swims of 5 to 10 miles, he includes weekly swims of greater distance.  On some of the longer swims of 30 and 40 miles, he notices that his muscles can begin to tighten and cramp a bit, and he becomes worried that in attempting to break the world record, his muscles may cramp severely and he could then drown.  So, he consults with friends, and they decide to arrange for a boat to follow along behind the swimmer 20 or 30 feet back, close enough to pick him up should any serious problem arise, but far enough away so as not to interfere in any way with the attempted historic swim itself.  On the appointed day, conditions being just right, the swimmer dives in and begins his attempt at breaking the world record.  As he swims, all the while the boat follows along comfortably behind ready to pick up the swimmer, if needed.  But no help is needed; with determination and resolve, the swimmer relentlessly swims, and swims, and swims, and in due time, he succeeds in breaking the world record.

Two questions require pondering from this illustration:

Now, consider two questions:  1) why is it that in this record-breaking event the swimmer could not have drowned?  Answer:  the boat was there all the while, ready to rescue him if needed.  But 2) why is it the swimmer did not drown?  Answer:  he kept swimming!  Notice that the answer to the second question has nothing at all to do with the boat, i.e., it has nothing to do with the answer to the first question.  In fact, if you gave the answer of “the boat” to question 2, the swimmer would be both astonished and dismayed.  It simply is not true that the swimmer did not drown because the boat was there.  The boat, quite literally, had absolutely nothing to do with why the swimmer did not drown.  Furthermore, although the swimmer knew full well that he could not drown due to the boat following along behind him, that knowledge had nothing to do with why he did not drown, since he also knew that if he ever relied on the boat his mission of breaking the world record would be forfeited.  So although he knew that he could not drown due to the boat, he also knew that he could only accomplish his goal by swimming as if there were no boat there at all.

The theologian then connected the main point of this illustration to Jesus:

Jesus lived his life in reliance on the Spirit so that his resistance to temptation and his obedience to the will of the Father took place through, and not apart from, the empowerment provided him as the second Adam, the seed of Abraham, the son of David.  Recall again Peter’s claim that God anointed Jesus “with the Holy Spirit and with power,” and that he went about doing good (the moral life and obedience of Christ) as well as healing all who are oppressed by the devil (the miracles he performed), “for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).  Although he was God, and although he was impeccable as the God-man, nevertheless he did not resist temptation and obey the Father by his divine nature but by the power of the Spirit who indwelt him….He knew that to rely on “the boat,” i.e. on his own divine nature, would be to forfeit the mission on which he was sent.  Hence, he had to fight temptation as a man, in dependence on his Father and by the power of the Spirit, and so he did, amazingly, completely without ever once yielding to any temptation.

Conclusion: Relevance to Related Areas

Ware closed by first addressing what Hebrews 5:8-9 mean.

These verses read, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered.  And having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation.” Hebrews 5:8-9 means this:  through the things that Christ suffered, through the trials, temptations, and afflictions of life, he learned to obey increasingly difficult demands of his Father until at last, he was prepared—made mature, if you will, strengthened in faith and character—to go to the cross….His resistance of temptation and obedience to the Father was not automatic since these were not brought about from his impeccable divine nature.  Rather, he learned to obey as a man, and as a man he fought temptation and sought to obey in increasingly demanding situations of life.  But he always did obey, and through this regular obedience he was made ready, strengthened, for the biggest challenge of all, death on the cross, in order that he would be the source of our eternal salvation.

He then looked at how 1 Peter 2:21-22 relates to our lives:

Christ left us an example that “we should follow in his steps, who committed no sin . . . .”  If Christ resisted temptation and obeyed the Father out of his divine nature, how could he be an example for us?  If Christ lived out his life and carried out his mission in the power of his divinity, how could we be commanded rightly to follow in his steps?  But if Christ lived the prototype of new covenant life, by prayer and the word and the power of the Spirit, and then if he shared those same resources with us, his followers, then we can rightly be called to live like him.  Indeed the expectation is so fully right and real that Peter has the audacity to say, as we’ve seen, “follow in his steps, who committed no sin.”


The message, in my initial judgment, was typical Dr. Ware: full of fresh thinking, full of Scripture, and thoroughly doxological.  With you, I look forward to the publication of this address, and to the stimulation it will engender among evangelicals, those who worship the God-Man, Christ Jesus.

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