Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: The Man Christ Jesus by Bruce A. Ware

Bruce Ware's new book The Man Christ Jesus isn't theological caviar like reading Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics can be. It isn't even a night at P.F. Chang's with your wife like reading Beale's New Testament Biblical Theology is. The Man Christ Jesus is like your first hamburger from Five Guys: it's a revelation. Your hamburgers should have always tasted like this. It's what you should have been eating all this time. It isn't fancy, it isn't huge, and it isn't purporting to be something that you haven't already had. If you've been a believer all this time, this book is really pretty important, basic, essential stuff that we all need to know from the beginning.

Frankly, unless they've taken seminary systematics classes in high Christology, most readers' Christological worlds will be turned upside down by this book. It's unfortunate for the Church that this is the case. It is a problem that really points to a Christological anemia in our pulpits and Sunday Schools classes. Hopefully this book, which is certainly written at a popular level, can help to correct this.

The state of Christology in evangelicalism is one characterized by immense defensiveness. Evangelicalism is constantly in a posture of defending the deity of Christ to such a degree that when any question of the uniqueness of Christ's ministry in its totality is always explained in terms of Christ's deity. Why didn't Jesus sin? Well, because he's God of course! How could he do miracles? Well, because he's God, of course! How on earth was Christ able to rise from the dead? Well, because of His divine nature, of course! (You get the idea.)

Ware's book is essentially an attempt to recapture the humanity of Jesus in a Christian mileu that has forgotten what it was for Christ to live a life of obedience in dependence upon the Spirit, without recourse to his Divine nature. Here is Ware's core claim in the book, which colors everything he does:

Although he came as one who was both fully God and fully man, he also lived his life as one indwelt with and empowered by the Spirit of God. We shall here suggest that understanding Jesus as the Spirit-anointed Messiah requires that we also see his humanity as prominent in the life that he lived. Apart from his full and integral humanity, we cannot account for this central and pivotal feature that Jesus manifested, namely, that he lived his life, obeyed the Father, resisted temptation, and so fulfilled his calling all in the power of the Spirit who was upon him. (P. 33)
My guess is that chapters 2 and 5 will be the most revelatory and perhaps even scandalous for some readers. Chapter two discusses the fact that Jesus' life was one of Spirit empowerment (not of Divine empowerment) as he dwelt among the people of Israel as the anointed Messiah. Chapter 5 tackles the difficult theological question of how Jesus could be genuinely impeccable and also genuinely tempted. Ware's answer is essentially to say that while he did have the possibility of recourse to his divine nature, he never availed himself of it, but instead lived by the Spirit and therefore lived a life faced by temptation just as we do (Hebrews 4:15) and yet without sin. Here he interacts with Shedd, Bavinck, and Millard Erickson.

Perhaps most importantly, Ware takes his cues from Anselm's seminal work on the incarnation and atonement, Cur Deus Homo and argues that a proper understanding of the humanity and divinity of Jesus and the relationship of the natures to one another underlies a healthy understanding of the atonement. Without a fully human Jesus (who did not exercise recourse to his divine nature) we have a Lord who did not fully identity with us. We have a sort of super-man who is like us, only better, but who was certainly not really one of us. And without a divine Christ who is fully Divine, there is no atonement for the infinite demerit of mankind's sin.

Ware's application is just as important as the ideas that precede it. The notion that the same Holy Spirit dwells in us who indwelt the Lord Jesus and empowered him to do mighty miracles, to raise the dead, to turn water into wine, to walk on water, to teach with such profound insight, to chastize the Pharisees, to comfort the repentant, and to rise from the dead is an empowering notion. That the same Spirit who did all of these things in and through Jesus dwells within us should encourage and build up the Church.

The Man Christ Jesus is not a long book. In fact, if you put your head down and move through the book you can finish it in a few hours - depending on how fast you read. It is short and sweet. It is a book to make you love Jesus. For some readers, it is not overstatement to say that this may be the first time that they will really see Jesus as the Apostles saw him - as the Spirit-empowered Son of God, fully God and fully man.

[I received this book as a review copy from Crossway. I was not required to provide a positive review by the publisher.]

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