The Man Jesus Christ: Theological Reflections on The Humanity of Christ

9781433513053

Bruce Ware, The Man Jesus Christ: Theological Reflections on The Humanity of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, November, 2012. 160 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Bruce Ware is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Though I’m really familiar with his name, this is actually the first book I’ve read by him (unless there’s a book I read at DTS and forgot about). If you want a little more background on Dr. Ware and this book, The Man Jesus Christ: Theological Reflections on The Humanity of Christ, then check out this interview.

Overview

The book starts out with Ware’s personal reflections on his introduction to thinking more deeply about Christology. In his preface “Why The Humanity of The God-Man Matters,” Ware essentially makes the case that “evangelicals understand Christ’s diety better than they do his humanity” (13) and so his focus is place on that deficit accordingly. As he explains:

The book you hold in your hands expresses some of the ways that God, in his abundant mercy, has allowed me to process these questions [regarding Christ’s humanity] through deeper and richer study of his Word. I want to present here some of the evidences from Old and New Testaments that the human life of Jesus is real and to show how important it is that he lived our life in order to die our death and be forever “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5) who intercedes for us and reigns over us (12).

Accordingly, chapter 1 starts with explaining how we understand Christ taking on human nature. Rightly so, Ware emphasizes that this was by addition and not subtraction. He did not become less divine by becoming a man, but added humanity to his divinity by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8).

Chapter 2 then explores how Christ lived empowered by the Holy Spirit. As Messiah, he was by definition anointed by the Spirit, but Ware wants to explore in a bit more detail how that is fleshed out in Scripture. Then, in chapters 3 and 4, Ware explains how Jesus increased in wisdom and grew in faith. These two chapters complement one another as they both detail ways in which Jesus matured in life. Chapters 5 and 6 go together as well, explaining how Jesus resisted temptation and how he lived his life as a man. The final two chapters turn to Jesus’ death in our place and his resurrection, reign, and eventual return.

Strengths/Weaknesses

The summary above is intentionally brief but gives you the idea what Ware is up to in his study. I think Ware is right to emphasize an aspect of Christology that evangelicals usually downplay. But, in doing so, he dabbles with some dangers. I say dabble because I did not find it blatant on my first read through, but a friend who is less rusty than I am on Chalcedonian Christology suggested I give the book a second look.

In doing so, there are several places where Ware makes Christological pronouncements with a Nestorian flavor. It starts mainly in chapter 2 and comes posed as a question:

[W]hile 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 God-man? (32)

Ware then answers, rightly:

I would argue that the most responsible answer biblically and theologically is the last, as the God-man…

And if he had stopped right there, it would have been best. However, he continues:

…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.

Now, a theological dictum of John Frame comes to mind, something along the lines of there being no normative emphasis in studies like this. Or in other words, the emphasis does not have to be on his humanity because that sets up the potential for inadvertently dissolving the unity of the person. If this happens, one will affirm the unity of the person of Christ, but then attribute some activities to one of his natures or the other. This is textbook Nestorianism, and it slowly creeps into Ware’s presentation.

I picked a few quotes to demonstrate the progression:

Jesus’s obedience was not automatic, as though his divine nature simply eliminated any real struggle to believe or effort to obey. No, in his human nature, Jesus fought for faith and struggled to obey; otherwise the reality that Hebrews 5:7 describes is turned into theatrics and rendered disingenuous. (65)

And again a little later:

It is clear from the outset that the humanity of Christ is central to how we deal with this question and the related issues, since it is clear that Jesus’s humanity must be involved in his temptations in a way that his deity could not be. (74)

And then perhaps most blatant:

Some activities are tied, strictly speaking, only to one or the other of his two natures, and it is important that we discern this in order not to misunderstand either Christ’s deity or his humanity. (124)

Actually, strictly speaking, all activities are tied to Christ’s person rather than to a particular nature. However, Nestorius, for whom Nestorianism is named, postulated that

although Jesus Christ was one person (God and man united), his two natures (one human and one divine) existed side by side and hence were separable. One consequence of this view was the Jesus’ suffering for humankind was seen as an act of Jesus in his humanity but not in his deity (from IVP reference Dictionary App, see link)

This looks an awful lot like what Ware is trying to say in some places in his book. This in turn highlights two weaknesses of the book: its Nestorian flavor sprinkled throughout and its lack of historical grounding. There is one quote from Augustine and that is about it as far as references to church fathers go. Not that a Christology book needs to have patristic quotes throughout, but the only extended interactions with great theologians on the past is in chapter 5 when Ware spends time with Shedd and Bavinck. So, we have a book that is very attentive to Scripture, but simultaneous inattentive to how those Scriptures have been interpreted by the great theologians of the past and so it lapses into semi-heretical statements.

This is all unfortunate because the book has an overall devotional feel to it. Each of the chapters is relatively short and Ware offers numerous illustrations in his writing. At the end of each chapter are several enumerated applications, which are followed by discussion questions. This almost gives the book the feel of a great small group resource that could help introduce the average Christian to more detailed Christological study.

But, because of its main weaknesses, it would not actually be a good group study, unless everyone was familiar with Niceno-Constantipolitan Christology. However, I think the target audience’s collective eyes would glaze over with the mention of a term like that.

Conclusion

In The Man Jesus Christ: Theological Reflections on The Humanity of Christ, Ware is obviously focusing his Christological lenses on Christ’s humanity. There are some dangers in restricing a study like this, and as a friend pointed out to me with a bit of a wink and a nod, Ware is not immune from them. Thankfully, I went back and gave it a little more of a critical read before giving you this review.

I am generally appreciative of what Ware is trying to do and his own vision for theological study is worth quoting in full:

So often we consider theological discussion a waste of time or, worse, divisive and hurtful. But, oh, how our understanding of theological discussion needs to change. We should see such discussions of weighty biblical truths as opportunities for growth in our understanding of God and his Word, along with subsequent growth in our application of that Word to our lives and ministries. As with every other good thing in life, theological discussion can deteriorate into something harmful. But it need not and should not. Rather it can be the very thing that God would call us to do for the sake of being refined in our understanding and encouraged in our faith. (56)

Had his study been more creedally informed, it would be a book I’d heartily recommend. I still really enjoyed reading it and aside from the Nestorian mis-steps, there are some genuinely good insights. If you’re willing to read with caution and care, there may be much spiritual benefit to you in these pages. Just don’t make the mistake I made on the first read through and set your critical faculties aside!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

7 thoughts on “The Man Jesus Christ: Theological Reflections on The Humanity of Christ”

  1. Thanks for the review. I’ve been looking forward to his book since I originally heard Ware’s ETS paper on this topic back in 2009.

    Here are a couple of thoughts on your review. They’re mostly on points of disagreement, but this is in no way a vitriolic. Let me know what you think. Full discloser: My comments are based on my understanding from is position both at the conference and in their later published form in JETS. They’re listed in no particular order.

    1. I’m not sure the (semi) Nestorian description is appropriate. At the confessional level, Ware affirms both the distinction and unity of the two nature in one undivided person. At another level, I don’t think he runs the danger of functional Nestorianism either. You stated, “strictly speaking, all activities are tied to Christ’s person rather than to a particular nature.” I tend to agree, but your comments would seem to contradict confessional orthodoxy which affirms that with Christ’s two natures come two wills (human and divine). I’m of the mind that a will is a property of a person, not an abstract nature (though, this also touches on definitions of human nature).

    As you know, the monothelites were condemned as heretics because of their view that Christ had only one will. The orthodox response was that Christ, since he had two natures (divine and human), naturally had two wills, one corresponding to each. Yet where I’m standing it makes more sense theologically to affirm that while affirming the mystery of the hypostatic union, Christ nonetheless has one will, the will of the God-man Jesus Christ. I’ve run this by Scott Swain at RTS Orlando a few years ago and he replied:

    ” The Fathers would dispute your assertion: “After all, natures or essences do not have wills, people (persons) do.” They felt it necessary to affirm two wills because the divine Son has one will with the Father and, as a consequence of the incarnation, a human will which he submitted to God for our salvation (e.g., Gesthemane). If no human will has submitted to God unto death, then we are not saved, they’d say.”

    I see their point, and affirm their underlying concern to preserve the integrity of the incarnation, but I’m not sure this is the best way to do that. More at another time. All that to say that the historically orthodox stance “attribute[s] some activities to one of [Christ’s] natures or the other.”

    2. This point is affirmed by several systematic theological treatments of the hypostatic union. Grudem’s ST spends some time making distinctions between human and divine actions and attributes (chapter 26). So I don’t think making distinctions between the natures runs the danger of separating them in Nestorian fashion.

    Of course, again, I wonder if much of this debate could have been avoided if we spoke of the singular will, mind, etc. of the God-man Jesus Christ. But I suppose the Fathers wanted to use language that more clearly affirmed a full incarnation (affirming a theanthropic nature could be used by docetists as a theological smokescreen).

    3. Regarding his inattentiveness to historical theology, I read somewhere (I can’t recall where) that Ware’s views are basically those of B. B. Warfield. If true, that’s gotta carry some weight, wouldn’t you say?

    4. It seems to me that the doctrine of federal headship (if one affirms that doctrine) implies stressing the humanity of Christ in his redeeming work. In Romans 5:15, for example, Paul contrasts the Fall of Adam with the redemption in Christ and says, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. ” And again, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Lastly, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). The problem of sin was always to be solved in the same fashion in which it began, by the response of a human being in covenant with God. Since no man could be found fit for task, the Word rolled up his sleeves, “emptied” himself BY taking on a human nature and did it himself.

    5. I’d love to get your feedback on N. T. Wright’s approach here: wp.me/p30a1-10h

    1. Joseph,

      Thanks for taking the time to interact and further my thinking on this! I will grant at the outset you probably have a fuller understanding of Ware’s position than I do since I’m not familiar with his overall thought. I could easily see how I could have been more charitable in my reading of this book in light of his more nuanced discussions elsewhere. That being said, here’s my responses:

      1. I agree that a will is a property of a person rather than a nature, so I have difficulties with traditional formulations on this point. In fact, I flatly contradicted the traditional position here (second to last bullet point). I don’t agree though that the historically orthodox stance “attribute[s] some activities to one of [Christ’s] natures or the other.” That’s probably a lengthier discussion than a blog post comment is capable of, but we can come back to it.

      2. I think we can distinguish natures, but actions are performed by persons, so I don’t think we can attributes individual actions to one nature or the other without separating them in Nestorian fashion. The Fathers didn’t speak monolithically on the topic, and I would consider Cyril of Alexandria definitive on the matter since a) he is post-Nicene and b) he was specifically writing against Nestorius.

      3. That’s essentially D. A. Carson’s blurb on the back on the book cover. Specifically he says “I’m tempted to say that this is Warfield’s christology rewritten for the devout layperson.” Warfield is never mentioned in the book, and I’m not well read enough in Warfield to comment one way or the other. It would count for historical grounding for sure, but it wouldn’t necessarily entail what he says on the matter of natures is accurate or not.

      4. I don’t necessarily agree that stress on the humanity follows from Paul’s thought on federal headship. We can highlight that a man responded properly in covenant with God, but we’re not stressing that he did that in his human nature, but that the God-man provided the proper human response.

      5. I like the Wright quote, and found his elaboration on that in JVG even more profound. I’m not sure I see how it connects to this particular issue though since Wright is more concerned with how we can affirm Jesus is both God and man, not whether certain actions are tied to one nature or the other.

      In the end, I think if you affirm two wills, it is hard to not split actions between one nature or the other. If you affirm a single will, but two centers of consciousness (which I do) then you preserve the hypostatic unity of the person while still having a God-man that assumed everything necessary for salvation.

      Further past the end, this is probably a topic I need to reflect and study a bit more deeply, and I’m open to having my thinking further refined. Perhaps in Ware’s case, had I read his book in light of his more nuanced writings elsewhere, I wouldn’t have thought there was a slight Nestorian flavor. But, also as noted in the review, that didn’t occur to me on my initial read through.

      What do you think?

      Nate

  2. Thank you Nate for the review and thank you both for the helpful interaction. I nowhere as familiar with this theological discussion as the two of you, but I don’t quite see the issue with Jesus choosing to perform some (or most, according to Ware) of His actions with the human limitations common to all. Self-limitation isn’t the same as performing actions from one nature (which Nate’s argued is impossible) and doesn’t fall into the same issues of two wills. I’d love to hear either of your thoughts on this since I may be missing something!

    1. Saying the man Jesus lived his life with self-limitation is fine, as long as you’re positing that the God-man is the one performing actions through a union of human and divine natures. It may be a bit of hair splitting, but this place is one place where the church agreed some hair splitting was definitely in order!

  3. I see. When I read the book I took Ware to mean that very thing (self-limitation) but it seems that his choice of language is where the issue arises; since Ware says things like “Jesus performed ____ out of His human nature”, implying some kind of separation. Am I on track here?

    1. Yeah, I can only comment on the language used and say it has a Nestorian flavor. This might not mean that Bruce Ware is a Nestorian, which I would hesitate to say. He may conceptually understand the union in an orthodox way, but is just expressing it in a semi-Nestorian fashion.

  4. I am taking a class from Ware right now on Christology. I asked him how he differs from Nestorius…namely, Ware refuses to say that “God” was born of Mary and the “God” suffered and died. The church fathers saw that when speaking of God in this sense, it was Orthodox because of the hypostatic union. Nestorius refused to say that Mary gave birth to God. Nestorius gave his opinion that we call him “Christ” and Ware gives his opinion that we call him the God-man. It is interesting to note, that Ware did not respond to this question by saying his differences with Nestorius, he answered the question by saying he thinks it is important to label him the God-man as to avoid Eutychianism. (I intend to ask him again so that I can get a strait answer.)

    My main concern with Ware is how he attributes will to person, because by doing this it creates 3 wills within the Godhead. By having this be the case, it leads to a sort of tritheism. I am not alone in this, look at Erickson’s critique of Ware. Will is not an attribute of person, it is an attribute of nature. The Triune God has one will, not 3.

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