Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Forgotten Christ edited by Stephen Clark

The Forgotten Christ: Exploring the majesty and mystery of God incarnate,
Edited by Stephen Clark, IVP/Apollos, 2007, 256pp.
This book began life as a series of papers delivered at the 2007 Affinity Theological Study Conference. The authors were tasked with exploring different aspects of the majesty and mystery of Jesus Christ. It is often assumed that a large chasm lies between the historical Jesus presented on the pages of the New Testament and the Church's confession that he is the Son of God incarnate. Old style liberal theology tended in that direction. Modern day conspiracy theorists such as Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code have also helped to perpetrate that myth. It is appropriate then, that the first chapter in the book is entitled "Affirming Chalcedon". Andrew McGowan relates the history of the Council of Chalcedon, setting out the key issues at stake. The Council sought settle controversies over how Jesus could be both God and Man. While the Definition Chalcedon is not the last word on Christology, it set out certain biblical parameters on understanding the Person of Christ that have stood the Church in good stead.
There are a number of outstanding essays in this book. One of them is "The inner or psychological life of Christ" by Philip Eveson, Principal Emeritus of the London Theological Seminary. With great reverence and theological insight, Eveson probes the inner life of our Lord, charting his intellectual emotional and spiritual development. Issues such as the relationship between Jesus' divine personhood and human nature and his consciousness of his divine identity are handled with care, warmth and precision. In the closing section, we are invited to "consider Jesus", our fully divine, fully human Saviour. He is our sympathetic high priest, perfect example and exalted Lord.
Paul Wells gives consideration to "The cry of dereliction: the beloved Son cursed and condemned". The cry is set in its proper biblical context and is discussed with theological sensitivity. On the cross, Jesus endured the horrors of hell as he was made sin for us, and forsaken by God. Wells quotes Rabbi Duncan, 'Dying on the cross, forsaken by his was damnation - and damnation taken lovingly.' But as the writer points out, the cry of dereliction did not denote a rupture in in the the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. Indeed the unity of the Father and the Son is what enabled God to both inflict and endure suffering at Calvary. Wells argues that the penal substitutionary model of the atonement gives us the most adequate interpretation of Jesus' fourth utterance on the cross. The chapter concludes with some helpful pastoral reflections on the cry of dereliction.
The ascension of Christ is not always given the attention it deserves. It is good, then to see that this book includes an essay on the subject. Matthew Sleeman considers, "The ascension and heavenly ministry of Christ". He reflects on the theology of the ascension and sketches out the New Testament's teaching on the matter. The ascended Christ is hidden in heaven, but accessible from earth. The Spirit compresses and preserves the distance between believers and the heavenly Christ, enabling us to have fellowship with our Saviour. As our exalted, yet sympathetic high priest, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for his people. Entailed in the ascension is the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord. This provides the basis for public theology and Christian engagement with society. Jesus' glorified humanity reveals life as we are coming to know it. When Jesus returns, he will inaugurate the new creation. Then we shall be made like him. Jesus will be hidden and distant no longer. We shall be for ever with the Lord.
It would be invidious to single out a particular chapter for special praise. But sometimes being invidious is not neccesarily a bad thing. Richard B. Gaffin's contribution "The last Adam, the life-giving Spirit" is simply excellent. Unlike some systematic theologians, Gaffin does not do theology by making a doctrinal statement backed up by a string up proof texts. His theology is based on painstaking exegesis of Scripture. He brings his finely honed exegetical skills and rich theological insight to the task of exploring Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49. Gaffin ably teases out the broken symmetry of the Christ/Adam parallel in the text. He argues that protology anticipates eschatology. The natural or psychological body of the first Adam held out the hope of a spiritual body. Adam did not attain to this spiritual body because of the fall. But the potential that was frustated in Adam is fulfilled in the risen Christ. He is the life-giving Spirit. As the last Adam, Jesus is the head of God's new humanity. It is in him that creation will be renewed, and through him that believers will receive their spiritual bodies. This insightful chapter is not for the faint hearted, but it will repay careful thought and reflection.
The book concludes with Greg Beale's consideration of, "Worthy is the Lamb: the divine identity of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation". He was charged with exploring Revelation's unique contribution to Christology and its significance for us today. But rather than paint with the broad brush the conference organizers placed in his hands, Beale opts to give detailed attention to a single text - Revelation 3:14. While a more general study might have been helpful, this narrower focus pays dividends. Comparing his text with Revelation 1:5, Beale argues that the risen Christ is the beginning of the new creation. When set against the Old Testament background (especially Isaiah 43 & 65), Revelation 3:14 clearly includes Jesus in the divine identity. Beale shows the rhetorical purpose behind describing Christ in such terms in the letter to Laodicea. The church had failed to be a faithful witness against the cultural idols of the day. The church is therefore summoned to repent and bear witness to the risen Christ as the world's true Lord.
As it says on the back cover, "It is essential that the church is able to proclaim the authentic Christ to a needy world". This book will enable us to proclaim Jesus Christ, the incarnate God with a deeper and more adoring sense of his wonderful majesty and mystery. In a culture that has lost sense of his unique splendor and a church that is a little embarrassed by his exclusive claims, few things could be more important than that.

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