‘The Deity of Christ’ Edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson

Deity of Christ This volume, as the title clearly indicates, is a collection of essays on the deity of Jesus Christ.  The book begins with a brief introduction the editors, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson, in which they discuss the vital importance of this topic and the need for fresh discussion.  Morgan and Peterson cite with approval Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli’s work, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, stating that the divinity of Christ is the “most distinctively Christian doctrine of all” (19).  The centrality of the doctrine, according to Morgan and Peterson, is not the only noteworthy reason for the publication of this particular book: contemporary challenges to Christ’s deity expressed in popular fiction (like Dan Brown’s, The DaVinci Code), the growth of Islam, the reality of religious pluralism, and preponderance of Christian counterfeits necessitate a solid, biblical defense of the deity of Christ and a thoughtful response to the current challenges (19-22).

The book proceeds with an essay by Stephen Nichols in which he surveys the current theological and sociological scene, providing a concise narrative on the development of what he calls a “contemporary Christology” which has left present-day culture with an assortment of “personal Jesuses” that fall far short of the biblical witness (26-31).  The answer to such confusion, according to Nichols, is an exposition of the biblical teaching that submits both to tradition and to the text of Scripture.  Submitting to tradition means, primarily, listening to the early creeds that articulated the truth that Christ was fully God and fully man; submitting to Scripture requires us to draw from the whole of God’s Word, not merely those passages that reinforce an image of Jesus that we, for whatever reasons, prefer (32-38).

The following essays, then, approach their discussion and defense of the deity of Christ on the assumption that the ancient creeds do express accurately the biblical teaching.  Ray Ortland Jr. examines the Old Testament for evidence of Christ’s divinity, carefully navigating between overly zealous proof-texting and undue skepticism.  Thus, Ortland advances his investigation by dividing the biblical data into three categories: 1) Old Testament passages that are inaccurately interpreted to refer to Christ’s deity; 2) Old Testament passages that are appropriately interpreted to refer to Christ’s deity; and 3) Old Testament passages that do not provide conclusive evidence one way or the other.

Stephen Wellum’s two chapters investigate the synoptic gospels and the apostolic witness found in Acts and the epistles, respectively.  Wellum’s inquiry into the synoptic gospels examines the implicit and explicit statements about Christ’s divinity, while his study of the apostolic witness focuses on several crucial texts that speak directly to the person of Christ (e.g. Romans 1:3-7, Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4, Titus 2:13 and I Peter 1:1).  Andres Kostenberger, in two separate chapters, fills in the New Testament gaps by digging into the apostle John’s writings.  In his chapter on John’s gospel, Kostenberger notes the many ways in which the apostle refers explicitly to Christ as both God and the Son of God.  In his study of Revelation, Kostenberger observes how John links Christ with both the God of the Old Testament and the Son of Man described specifically in Daniel.

Gerald Bray bolsters and confirms the previous biblical study with his analysis of church history.  Bray concludes that the doctrine of the deity of Christ is a teaching that, while being strongly contested by various heretical teachers and movements, has enjoyed strong testimony and affirmation throughout church history.  Robert Patterson follows Bray’s historical discussion by seeking to synthesize the previous theological and biblical efforts.   Here, Patterson develops a systematic presentation of the doctrine that takes into account the whole of the biblical data, structuring his chapter around five major arguments that demonstrate that Christ is identified with God, is worshipped as God, and performs works that can only be attributed to God.

The subsequent chapter, written by Alan Gomes, considers the problem of Christian cults, demonstrating the primary ways in which Christian counterfeit groups have wrongly conceived of and sought to explain the doctrine of Christ’s deity.  J. Nelson Jennings concludes the book by applying the previous biblical, theological, and historical efforts to world missions.  In this chapter, Jennings argues that the doctrine of Christ’s deity is significant to missional work not only in efforts to persuade unbelievers to embrace the God-man, Christ Jesus, but also by helping us understand how the religions of the world can reflect, in some measure, the truth of the one true God.

Strengths
Morgan and Peterson’s edited work on the deity of Christ has a number of strengths.  The primary strength, in my opinion, is the book’s careful blend of scholarship and accessibility.  Although the individual authors approach the given doctrine within their particular discipline with intellectual and theological precision, one does not get the impression they are writing, chiefly, for the scholar; they appear to be exercising scholarly rigor for the benefit of the church.  Thus, arguments are based in and flow from Scripture; chapters are thorough yet not cumbersome; and footnotes are utilized only sparingly and intentionally.  Consequently the book is something that will both challenge and equip the Christian lay-person.  Also, J. Nelson Jennings chapter was especially helpful for considering how the reality of Christ’s Lordship should affect our global efforts.  Jennings takes us beyond the obvious implications of Christ’s deity (Christ is God so Christians must evangelize the world) to consider how the doctrine of Christ helps us formulate our understanding of other religions.  One excerpt is representative: “One helpful image for identifying and examining various . . . responses to God . . . is a three-legged stool.  The three legs represent sin, Satan and searching. . . . one must not view Islam simply as Muslims searching for (and perhaps adhering to) the truth.  Islam, like all religious traditions, evidences morally sinful, deceptively satanic, and genuinely searching (and true) aspects.  Keeping all three types of traits in view is needed to view religions fairly and accurately” (271).

Weaknesses
Perhaps the main weakness in the book comes in one particular chapter.  Robert Peterson’s chapter, “Toward a Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ,” was more of a summary and repeat of the previous chapters than it was a synthesis of the biblical teaching.  I did not find that his chapter contributed anything new to the previous discussion.  Peterson’s chapter was mainly a recitation of key biblical texts—texts that had been thoroughly dealt with in previous chapters—and his overall handling of the doctrine in his chapter appeared to merely follow the traditional pattern of other systematic treatments.

Conclusion
Despite a few minor weaknesses, Morgan and Peterson’s work is an excellent treatment of the deity of Christ.  It is both scholarly and accessible; deep yet easy to navigate; thorough but not overwhelming.  It is a solid resource that will edify the scholar, pastor, and layman and I highly recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s