Review: The Paradox of Sonship

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson, foreword by Simon J. Gathercole. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A discussion of the use of “Son” in Hebrews proposing that it is a paradox, that Jesus is the divine Son who became the messianic “Son” at the climax of his saving mission.

The very first verses of the book of Hebrews present us with a challenge. What does the author mean when he refers to Jesus as “Son”? Verses 1-3 seem to describe one who is the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, eternally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet verse 5, quoting Psalm 2:7 and the parallels in 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13 seem to suggest that Jesus is given the title “Son” at the point of his enthronement, after resurrection and ascension. This has resulted in at least three approaches: 1) that Jesus only becomes the Son, an adoptionist, less than eternally divine, approach, 2) being the Son and becoming the Son are irreconcilable, resulting in a Christology at tension with itself, and 3) Jesus is always and already the Son, a divine Christology approach.

In this work, R.B. Jamieson proposes an alternative. He sees a paradox in which both meanings are true. Jesus is the Son who became the Son. Jamieson begins his argument with highlighting six Christological concepts that he contends are part of the classical Christological toolkit: 1) Who Jesus is? A single divine subject, 2) What Jesus is? One person with two natures, 3) When this Jesus is? Eternal divine existence and incarnation in time, the last times, 4) Theology and economy, or “partitive exegesis,” that is distinguishing passages speaking of Jesus as eternally divine, and those speaking of his incarnation, 5) Twofold or reduplicative predication, a complement to number 4 in focusing on the incarnate state, and distinguishing what passages reference Jesus divine nature an what his human nature, and 6) paradoxical predication: the communication of idioms, that seemingly incompatible qualities must be ascribed to the single person of the Son. He roots these in conciliar Christianity and proposes that these, although an unusual exegetical strategy, actually allow one to read with the grain of Hebrews.

In succeeding chapters then, he unpacks his argument of the Son who became the Son. Chapter 2 focuses on the use of Son as a divine designation of his mode of divine existence, distinct from the Father and the Spirit, and as a reference to his deity. Chapter 3 turns to the Son’s incarnate mission, fully divine and fully human, and that his life, suffering, death, and resurrection are not fissures in Christology but reflect tension and resolution. Chapter 4 focuses on the enthronement of Jesus upon completion of his saving mission, confirming his messianic rule, in which he is designated messianic Son. Then, the unique twist of chapter 5 is that Jesus could only become the messianic Son because he is the divine Son incarnate–only the God-man can fill this office.

In the conclusion of the book, he first returns to the “toolkit” and shows how the Jesus of Hebrews is the Jesus of Chalcedon. He then proposes in brief that one might extend his approach to at least two other passages: Acts 2:36 and Romans 1:3-4. Finally, he points to the pastoral implication of his argument, that in the Son who became the Son, we have been given all we need in Christ.

I thought this book a marvelous example of theology and biblical studies in conversation. We see in careful study of Hebrews the questions and data about the nature of the Son that became the substance of conciliar discussion. And we see how the “Christological toolkit” of the councils offers resources for making sense of the biblical data. What I also appreciated was the carefully organized and articulated argument of this book. Jamieson “shows his work,” enabling us to follow him with clarity of language and steps in his argument. Scholars of other persuasions will have to show why theirs is a better construction of the text than this well-argued case.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Confessing Christ for Church and World

Confessing Christ

Confessing Christ for Church and World, Kimlyn J. Bender. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A collection of essays in Barthian theology, exploring his ecclesiology, his confessional theology, particularly as it bears on the canon, and his understanding of the relationship of Christ and creation.

Most will concede that Karl Barth was one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest theologian, of the twentieth century. During his lifetime, however, even while he was challenging the liberal, higher critical-oriented, theology of his day, he was not necessarily given a sympathetic hearing by evangelicals. Kimlyn Bender, the author of this collection of essays, recounts how Barth was at one time approached by Geoffrey Bromiley to see if he would respond to questions from three evangelical theologians for a Christianity Today article. He quoted Barth’s response:

“The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly (van Til) the worst heretic of all time. So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgment they have already passed on me. . . . These fundamentalists want to eat me up. They have not yet come to a “better mind and attitude” as I once hoped. I can thus give them neither an angry nor a gentle answer but instead no answer at all.”

Fortunately, the atmosphere has changed since this time (in 1961) and Barth receives a much more sympathetic hearing and many, like the author of this collection of essays have taken the approach Barth commends of “seek[ing] with me the truth that is greater than us all.”

This collection of essays is organized around three of the key words in the book’s title. The first section focuses on “church” and Barth’s engagement with Catholic ideas of the church, dissenting from while holding in tension the strong identity between Christ and church. Bender also explores what his understanding of Christ and church may contribute to evangelical and Free Church traditions in which ecclesiology (the theology of the church) are often lacking.

The second section focuses on “confessing” particularly as this bears on the canon of scripture. There is a fascinating essay here on his relationship with Harnack and Barth’s deep dissatisfaction with the separation between professor’s lectern and pastor’s pulpit, between “the assured results of modern scholarship” and the church’s confession of Christ incarnate, crucified and raised. There is also a fine chapter worth the price of admission of itself drawing on the work of Barth in answering the writing of Bart Erhman which has cast so many aspersions on canon, as well as the church’s confessed understanding of Christ. This section closes with a study of Barth’s response to atheism, which in one sense was not to take it seriously, but in another sense to engage it, not on philosophical terms but rather a clear presentation of the Christian revelation centered in the person and work of Christ.

The third section is focused on the “world”, the creation and Christ’s relation to it. Perhaps the most interesting essay here is one on Barth’s Gifford Lecture. The Gifford Lectures were created as lectures on natural theology. Barth’s lecture amounted to answering the question of why he had no place in his own work for a natural theology, focusing on both the need for revelation and for the redemption of reason. He concludes with a kind of “postscript” on the Christology of Friedrich Schleiermacher in relation to that of Barth.

Apart from shorter works, I’ve not read much of Barth. Bender’s work whets my appetite for more. Maybe in retirement I’ll have to take on Church Dogmatics perhaps in preparation for meeting the great theologian and his Greater Lord.

The Month in Reviews: April 2015

April’s book reviews covered both a significant span of time and geography as well as genre. I reviewed an academic debate on free will from the sixteenth century and a conversation about Christology published last year. There was a decided international flavor to these books, whether it concerned a historical novel of the British campaign in Flanders during World War II, a discussion of immigration, narratives of nonviolent action around the world in the last fifty years, or the last fifty years of African history. I reviewed genres as diverse as Walter Wangerin’s fantasy taking place in a barnyard of animals to Max Planck’s scientific autobiography and essays. I explored both the formation of the inner virtues of faith, hope, and love, and the interesting idea that the complexity and beauty of the world is a profound apologetic for the Christian faith.

As always, the links on this page are to my full reviews. Many of the reviews have links to the book publisher. So, without further ado, here’s the list:

True Paradox8th Champion1. True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of our Complex World by David Skeel. David Skeel argues that far from being a problem for Christians, the complexity of the world is in fact something best explained by the Christian faith.

2. The Eighth Champion of Christendom by Edith Pargeter. A historical novel set at the beginning of World War Two exploring the growing realization of the horror of war that “heroic warriors” face. The plot centers around Jim Bennison, an English soldier and Miriam Lozelle, a Jewish refuge farm holder in Boissy whose husband is away at war.

Jesus without BordersEducating for Shalom3. Educating for Shalom by Nicholas Wolterstorff. This collection of essays and talks written or given over a 30 year period traces Nicholas Wolterstorff’s journey of thinking about Christian higher education, the integration of faith and learning, and his growing concern that education result in the pursuit of justice and shalom.

4. Jesus without Borders ed. by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, K.K. Yeo. Eight theologians from different parts of the world came together for a theological dialogue on Christology, engaging the Chalcedonian definition of Christology and reflecting on the unique perspective they bring on Christology from their part of the world.

ImmigrationPlanck5. Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers by Dale Hanson Bourke. Third in “The Skeptics Guide Series” and like others in the series it provides a concise overview of basic facts about immigration and discusses the challenges of immigration policy in the United States.

6. Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers by Max Planck. This is a re-issue in e-book form of Planck’s Scientific Autobiography and other papers on some of the “big” issues of science including causality, the limits of science and the relationship of science and religion.

Luther Erasmusnonviolent action7. Nonviolent Action by Ron Sider. Ron Sider argues from a number of instances over the past seventy-five years that nonviolent action can work and bring about political change.

8. Erasmus and Luther: The Battle over Free Will edited by Clarence H. Miller, translated by Clarence H. Miller and Peter Macardle. This work is a compilation of the argument between Erasmus and Luther over the place of free will and grace in salvation, excluding most of the supporting exegesis but giving the gist of the argument.

Christ Shaped CharacterDun Cow9. Christ-Shaped Character by Helen Cepero. Cepero, through personal narrative and formational teaching and practices, traces a path of growing to be more who we truly are as reflections of Christ through the embrace of love, faith and hope.

10. The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. This modern animal fable portrays a conflict between the beasts of the Earth and Wyrm of the underworld and his evil surrogates, and the heroism of a rooster, a dog, and the other beasts.

Fate of Africa11. The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith. Meredith, a foreign correspondent who has made a lifelong study of Africa, chronicles the last 50 years of African history from the hopes of independence from colonial rule and promising beginnings through the heartbreaking instances of corruption, economic pillaging, and various slaughters and genocides including that of AIDS.

Best of the Month: This is a tough pick this month, but on the basis of the “I will read it again” test, I have to go with The Book of the Dun Cow. This apparently simple fable has layers of meaning and depths of insight into the struggle of good and evil, and the qualities of character and grace needed to meet that struggle.

Best quote of the Month: I would choose this quote from Max Planck’s essay on science and religion. While I did not agree with all he wrote, I think he gets the balance right here:

“Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against scepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: ‘On to God!’ “

I so appreciate all of you who read and comment on my reviews! I appreciated the comment I received today on Facebook from one reader: “I like your habit of reading books with view of reviewing for the benefit of community @large (I am a beneficiary of it).. I am trying to make it a discipline .. Thanx 4 da work.. Keep doing Bob…”

One of the delights of blogging and the internet is to find oneself part of a global community. I really do hope these reviews are a benefit, whether in finding your next “good read” or in becoming familiar with writers and writing of whose work it is helpful to know more.

All “The Month in Reviews” post may be accessed from “The Month in Reviews” link on the menu bar of my blog. And if you don’t want to wait a month to see my reviews, consider following the blog for reviews as well as thoughts on reading, the world of books, and life.

Review: Jesus without Borders

Jesus without BordersJesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority WorldGene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, K.K. Yeo eds. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014.

Summary: Eight theologians from different parts of the world came together for a theological dialogue on Christology, engaging the Chalcedonian definition of Christology and reflecting on the unique perspective they bring on Christology from their part of the world.

One of the most exciting developments of the last fifty years is the rapid growth of Christianity outside of Europe and North America. With this growth has come thoughtful scholars and church leaders representing these movements in the Majority World. What they bring is the unique perspective of each of their cultures that brings fresh light and fresh insight into theological discussions, which in the past, have only been shaped by a western Christian intellectual tradition. This book represents the first in a series of books on Majority World Theology that came out of a theological consultation focused on Christology, what we believe about who Christ is and what he has done.

The organizers of this consultation decided that they would consider the Chalcedonian definition of the person of Jesus as one person existing in two natures, human and divine that are neither mixed nor separated. They were then asked to reflect on the unique contribution each participants cultural perspective brings on how they understand Christ. Kevin Van Hoozer begins with a paper outlining the Western theological discussion of Christology from Chalcedon to the present considering the “Christ from within” Christologies of Schleiermacher and Ritschl, kenotic theologies, the “Christ of history” theologies, down to the narrative approaches of Hans Frei. and Barth’s approach of understanding everything else through the lens of Christology. What he contends is necessary for the global discussion is to “go on in the same way” from Chalcedon, and yet with a plurality of tongues and voices speaking of the One Lord.

The essays then follow in two groups, first focused more around systematic theology, and second around biblical theology. Victor Ezigbo reviews African Christologies, which he categorizes as “neo-missionary” Christologies which retain some reservations about African culture while attempting to relate to the African context; ancestor Christologies, likening the mediatory role of Christ to that of ancestors, and his own approach of revealer Christology which emphasizes Christ’s sufficiency to communicate and interpret life. Timothy Gener surveys Christologies in the Asian context, building off of the multiple perspectives on Christ in the gospels and New Testament. He contends for multiple Christologies that reflect local contexts and multiple religious traditions so long as these aid in Christian discipleship. Jules A Martinez-Olivieri then addresses the Latin context where liberation Christologies give weight to the actions of Jesus over the transcendent aspects of his nature.

The second half of the book then turns to biblical theology. Yohanna Katanacho surveys the gospel of John and the New Beginning that consists in cleansing, a new Holy Space, Holy Time, Holy Experience, Holy People in a new Holy Land, that while rooted in Jewishness represents humanity as a whole in radical inclusiveness. Aida Besancon Spencer considers the veneration of Mary in Latino/a contexts reflecting a false perception of the unapproachability of Jesus when he is in fact intercessor par excellence. Andrew M. Mbuvi discusses African elements in a reading of 1 Peter around blood sprinkling, the lamb of God, and the “spiritual state” of Jesus between death and resurrection and the hope this gives for ancestors.

K.K. Yeo concludes this volume with a review of the discussion reminding readers of the different Christologies of the four canonical gospels and makes his own contribution of directions in Chinese Christology focusing on dao, a Chinese version of logos, renren (meaning “who loves”) a Christology of relationship, and image of God Christology.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Trinitarian theology, reflecting the idea that the conciliar formulations are not the final word on the Trinity. Likewise, I was impressed in these papers that the theological work of these scholars from the Majority world can greatly enrich our conception of the person and work of Christ, bringing to our attention neglected aspects. At the same time, both Van Hoozer and Yeo bring up the issues of orthodoxy as we explore plural expressions of Christology. It actually seems that conversations like this theological forum are crucial of sharpening and balancing different expressions and looking at the common scriptures together as we do so. As the opening work of the series on Majority World Theology, this volume set a high standard of rich and vigorous discussion we might have around our One Lord.

Review: Jesus The Sage: The Pilgrimage Of Wisdom

Jesus The Sage: The Pilgrimage Of Wisdom
Jesus The Sage: The Pilgrimage Of Wisdom by Ben Witherington III
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3, NIV).

A number of years ago, C. S. Lewis framed the Liar, Lunatic, Lord argument that asserted that Jesus could not possibly have been merely a good teacher–either he lied about his own identity which would make him not good, he was deluded about his own identity (also not good) or he was truthful in his claim to be the Lord of all. An unintended consequence of that argument is that we may deprecate Jesus standing as a teacher in our efforts to assert his Lordship.

In Jesus the Sage Ben Witherington III brings Jesus as Teacher and Jesus as Lord together in his exploration of Wisdom writings and how these influenced Jesus himself, and how they influenced the view of Christ, or Christology of the earliest Christians and the New Testament writers.

The first part of this book traces the trajectory from Solomon and the earliest Wisdom literature up through Ecclesiastes and extra-canonical books like The Wisdom of Solomon and Ben Sira. In this we see a development from Wisdom as Lady Sophia, with God at the Creation, to Wisdom as the Spirit of God. Witherington also argues in this section that these Jewish wisdom sources, and not Greek Cynics influenced Jesus and the early church. He draws the parallels between wisdom sayings in these works and the teaching of Jesus, particularly his use of parable and aphorism.

The second part of the book looks at the movement from Jesus to the early church and how these wisdom traditions influenced Q and James, the earliest hymns of the church, the writing of Paul, and the Gospels of Matthew and John. The basic trajectory is to see Jesus as not only incarnate God but as incarnate Wisdom, the one “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42). One of the great services Witherington does is to show not only the linkage of the wisdom traditions to the early hymns of the church such as Philippians 2:5-11 (which very likely preceded Paul’s writing by some time) but to show that these indicate that the church’s view of Christ, or Christology, was a high one from the beginning–not a late development. I also found his treatment of both Matthew and John as Wisdom books illuminating because, while they do not depend on each other, they both portray Jesus as the wise teacher or logos, they emphasize discourse, and discipleship, among other parallels.

This is but a cursory survey of a rigorously scholarly work that makes an important contribution in reconciling the ideas of Jesus as Lord and Teacher, the one who is Wisdom in human flesh, not the builder of the temple as was wise Solomon, both “God with us”, the living temple. Years ago, Dallas Willard challenged a number of us with the Colossians verse at the beginning of this review and the implications of this truth for every academic discipline in the university. Do we truly believe Jesus knows physics, or law, or business, or history? Do we believe that his wisdom can illuminate our understanding as we wrestle with the deepest questions the academy can pose? What Witherington has done is lay out the biblical (and extra-canonical) case for answering these questions with a resounding “Yes!”

View all my reviews