Stephen J. Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ

Genre. Wellum’s book is a scholarly argument. While readable and understandable, it is comprised entirely of an analysis of both Christology proper and the history surrounding the doctrine. As such, it is suitable for people already familiar with the landscape of Christology and a general knowledge theological history.

Organization. In the introduction, Wellum stated that the purpose of his work was to argue that the classic formulation of Christology is the accurate formulation of Christology. To do this, he develops a three-part argument from epistemology, Biblical theology, and historical theology. Then he applies his argument to current Christological issues.

In part one, Wellum discussed the epistemology of Christology. Chapter one surveyed enlightenment and postmodern approaches to Christology. Against these approaches, he gave his own view in chapter two that insisted on an epistemology “from above.” This approach used the Scripture as the authoritative means of developing an accurate Christology.

In part two, Wellum developed his view of “Biblical” Christology. He began in chapter three with a survey of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Inauguration scheme of Scripture and the major covenants. In chapter four, he noted how Jesus fulfilled both the Adamic and the Davidic types because he is the incarnated imago Dei. Then he developed the case for the deity of Jesus (chapter five) and the humanity of Jesus (chapter six).

In part three, Wellum argued that the historical formulations of the church were necessary to adhere to when developing an orthodox Christology. In chapter seven, he recounted how ante-Nicene church had to build orthodox theology in the face of growing heresies. Then he moved in chapter eight to the formulation of Chalcedon which sought to finetune the Christology of Nicaea. He finished this section in chapter nine with the further finetuning of Christology by the post-Chalcedonian church.

In part four, Wellum brought his argument to bear on modern theology, especially kenoticism. He presented the history of kenoticism (chapter ten) and it’s two basic forms: ontological and economical kenotiscim (chapter eleven). Chapter twelve is Wellum’s critique and rejection of kenoticism. He then moved to a formulation of an orthodox Christology in chapter thirteen. Finally, he defended the logical coherence of this formulation in the last chapter.

Unique Features. One of the unique features of his work is his discussion of the epistemological basis for Christology. Many other books either ignore epistemology or do not spend much time with it. His discussion laid the foundation of Biblical epistemology which is so desperately needed in post-enlightenment theology. Another unique feature is his whole-Bible Biblical theology of Christ. Instead of only reciting prooftexts on various aspects of Christology, he began by showing how the metanarrative of the Bible pushes for the coming of Christ. Finally, the overall structure of his book is unique. Wellum was not content with just presenting the systematic categories of Christology. Instead, it was an argument. And because of this argumentative structure, he was able to craft the book to touch on current issues in theology and avoid issues that are not at the forefront of the debate.

Strengths. Many of the above features are strengths of his work. In addition to those, his work is thorough. Yet in his thoroughness, he remains on target, not getting distracted by rabbit trails. Also, he set his arguments in their historical context, helping his readers appreciate the significance of the doctrine which he was presenting. Finally, his ability to maintain his argument for over 900 pages was refreshing. Few people can do this feat. And fewer can hold the reader’s attention the entire time. He did both.

Weaknesses. His position on the Adamic covenant was weak, because it was more theologically driven then exegetically driven. He took the position that God covenanted with Adam in chapters one and two of Genesis. He concedes that Genesis does not speak of a covenant with Adam, but he pointed to Hosea 6:7, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant.” The problem with this view is that it is an ambiguous text. It can also be rendered “Like men, they transgress a covenant” or “But as at [the city of] Adam, they transgressed the covenant.” Given the context of Hosea, this last rendering is preferable (NICOT: Hosea, p. 297).

Along the same line, he said that the covenantal name of YHWH was used in the context of the covenant. I assume he was referencing Genesis 1:27-28 as the covenant. However, to support his view, Wellum cites verses from 2:4b ff . This method overlooks fundamental differences between Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b ff. The differences include word choice, sentence structure, and subject matter. Most notably, the covenant name YHWH does not appear in Genesis 1:1-2:4a at all. Thus, the name YHWH is not connected to Genesis 1:27-28.

His exegesis of the Adamic Covenant illustrates a greater issue: sometimes his theology drove his exegesis. Granted, there are ambiguities in the text where theology is the deciding factor. But like in this case, the exegesis seems substantial enough to prefer another interpretation.

Position on Key Issues. The first key issue he discussed was the epistemological basis for Christology. Contrary to modern critical theology, he argued for a Christology “from above” which attributes inerrancy and priority to the Bible. He also took a stand against kenotic Christology, which claimed that Christ ceased to retain certain attributes of his deity when he became human. He rejected this approach in favor of a krypsis approach, which declares that Jesus’ attributes where hidden by his flesh, not removed by it. Finally, in his discussion on the logical coherence of Christology, He took the stand that Christ was impeccable.

Evaluation. The thesis of Wellum’s book was that “Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate, one person subsisting in and acting through a fully divine nature and a fully human nature according to the attributes of each” (p. 43). The driving motivation behind this thesis was “to provide a contemporary articulation of classical Christology for evangelicals today” (p. 635). Looking at both statements together, I believe that he successful accomplished them. His argument for his thesis was clear and purposeful. And, by the time he arrived at his formulation of doctrine, he had given the readers the contemporary context to appreciate his current formulation of classic Christology. In the end, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of Christ.

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