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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Thanks to Crossway for the electronic review copy!
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.
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.
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.
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!