On His Throne
Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ
reviewed by Fred Sanders
The case as perceived by scholars for the deity of Christ is stronger now than it has been for a long time, and those who went through seminary more than a decade ago should take a moment to update their notes. Though the New Testament is clear about the deity of Christ, generations of modern critical scholars have picked away at the standard proofs. Here a verse, there a verse, the arguments that Christians have always relied on to demonstrate that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is God have been rendered dubious.
Putting Jesus in His Place does not simply reclaim those lost passages, revisit the standard debates, and bolster the old arguments (though in many cases it does that, and persuasively); it publicizes new arguments for demonstrating the deity of Christ, which have previously been available only to scholars.
The authors are ideal popularizers, each with one foot in the library and one in the local church. Robert Bowman is manager of apologetics and interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, while Ed Komoszewski is the founder of the educational ministry Christus Nexus and a director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.
To help readers remember the arguments, they organize the book around the acronym “HANDS,” arguing that Jesus shares God’s Honor, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and Seat. The text breezes along in straightforward, popular prose—it paraphrases the Nicene homoousios as “Jesus: The Right Stuff,” for example, and explains pre-existence as being “Older Than Dirt—Literally!”—with more technical matters referred to the endnotes.
Older apologetics relied heavily on Jesus’ claim to deity (think of the Liar-Lunatic-Lord trilemma made famous by C. S. Lewis), but that approach tended to restrict attention to a handful of verses. Likewise, the appeal to the few passages in which Jesus is directly referred to as God could result in a rather narrow basis for such an important doctrine.
“The case for the deity of Christ does not rest on a few proof-texts,” say the authors. Rejecting “the popular notion that some fourth-century Christians decided to impose on the church a belief in Jesus as God and wrenched isolated Bible verses from their contexts,” they recommend thinking more broadly about the nature of the New Testament evidence.
Jesus didn’t so much verbalize his claim to deity, for example; he enacted it. The people of God were waiting for the Lord to show up in person to bring reconciliation; Jesus walked among men, healing, forgiving, and doing everything that God was supposed to do. When, on occasion, he also claimed to be more than a prophet, his claim made sense because it put into words what he was doing in the flesh.
Jesus does what God does. This is the foundation for his claim to deity. N. T. Wright has recently helped his readers see this with his massive narrative arguments, and Bowman and Komoszewski boil a lot of Wright down to a manageable size. They also manage to hold onto the more direct claims to deity that Jesus occasionally makes in the Gospels, a task at which Wright himself is not always successful.
Similarly, older apologetics focused on the titles ascribed to Jesus Christ, and sought to demonstrate that those titles were properly divine (Lord, God, Savior, Immanuel, and so forth). Bowman and Komoszewski spend four chapters on those titles, but begin by observing that before the first Christians could apply these titles to Jesus, something must already have occurred in their basic religious mentality.
These devout, monotheistic Jews must have somehow become capable of worshiping a man as the one God. This “devotion revolution,” as they call it, is the presupposition of the Christological titles applied to Jesus, who has the “name above all names.”
Readers alert to the scholarly scene will recognize that the authors reproduce at an accessible level the arguments of Richard Bauckham (particularly in God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament) and Larry Hurtado (in Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity), among others. (Bauckham and Hurtado are among the book’s many endorsers.)
The S in the HANDS acronym is for Seat, as in, “Jesus occupies the seat of God.” “Of the five major lines of evidence for the deity of Christ we are discussing in this book,” the authors admit, “this last category of evidence . . . is the least familiar to Christians.” But it is the most intensely biblical as well, grounded in Jesus’ claim during his trial that he was the Son of Man from the enthronement vision of Daniel. It is also the burden of the most frequently quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament, Psalm 110:1, in which God invites someone with great authority to sit at his right hand. And John’s Revelation is centered on a vision of this very enthronement. Bowman and Komoszewski trace the lines of this argument well.
Many are the temptations that face the popularizer: to distort the evidence by avoiding the hard arguments; to sound absolutely certain when the evidence does not allow for certainty; to bully the audience with erudition; to cite authorities in a credibility-mongering manner. Bowman and Komoszewski avoid all of these, and deliver a highly useful book.
Fred Sanders is Associate Professor of Theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University (www.biola.edu/academics/torrey). He is the editor of Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology (B&H Academic). He and his wife Susan have two children, and attend Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California. His writing can be found at www.fredfredfred.com.
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“On His Throne” first appeared in the April 2009 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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