Book Review: The Man Christ Jesus
Title: The Man Christ Jesus
Author: Bruce A. Ware
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book via Crossway's Beyond the Page book review program. I am not required to write a positive review and I am not compensated in any way for my review. This is my way of living life to the fullest.]
I've never understood why publishers feel the compulsion to put several pages worth of praise for the book being held at the front of the book being held. I can understand praise for one book in another book, but not in the same book. Furthermore, I wonder why in the case of The Man Christ Jesus there is still a lengthy quote from Mark Driscoll. Seems kind of amusing to me. Maybe I have an old printing of it.
The Man Christ Jesus is a book designed to talk about the one thing, I assume, we rarely spend much time talking about as Christians: Jesus the man ('My sense, though, is that evangelicals understand better Christ's deity than they do his humanity, and so my focus here will be on the latter', 12). Yet, at the same time, that seems just a bit strange to me because the only things we really know about Jesus are the things he did as a man. I'm sure we have some speculation as to what he was and did before the incarnation, that's not my point. It just seems to me that we are necessarily talking about a man when we talk about Jesus. But that's not what this book is about.
Ware is hoping to split the hair between what Jesus knew as a human and as God and help you and me, 'ordinary Christians' (as if there's any other type; from D.A. Carson's praise of the book in the first few pages) understand how this affected what he did. This book reads like a psychological profile at times as Ware tries to help us understand things that it appears even Jesus did not fully understand at times. Ware works really hard to back up his thoughts with Scripture, but in the end his carefully constructed 'anthropology' of Jesus is little more than his speculation and prooftexting. In other words, Ware doesn't really add anything unique or compelling to the story of Jesus. His insights and exegesis of certain bible texts follow along the theological construct he subscribes to (Reformed) and the version of atonement he finds most compelling (penal substitution).
To be sure, I don't think Jesus happened to be walking about this earth constructing Reformed Theology and neither, for that matter, was the apostle who spent a great deal of time talking and writing about Jesus. I understand the book is published by a Reformed publishing house, but I dare say that it would have been a more interesting read if Ware had toned down his allegiance to the Reformation and simply talked about Jesus–what Jesus did, who he was, and what he accomplished. And when he did, the book was compelling and Ware was at his very best. (I'm thinking here of the chapter when he talked about Jesus in Gethsemane, resisting temptation.) Other than that, I'm not really certain what the book is hoping to accomplish–except perhaps to answer questions that began plaguing Ware when he was but ten years old and returned in his 'seminary years'–questions his theology already had answers to.
Ware states his goal thus: "I long for Jesus to be honored through the reflections upon his humanity in this book" (12). This is a worthy and noble goal and I'm sure at some level Jesus was honored. Sadly, I think that is all that is accomplished because the book did little for me as a human. There is a lot of speculation in the book, the writing style is boring (with his 'Oh for this' and 'Marvel at that' kind of language), and Ware is unable to refrain from his typical condescension to his readers. This is how he writes and it gets old; quickly. A couple of thoughts then.
First, Ware, at times, asks silly questions like, "If he lived his life out of his intrinsic divine nature as God, yet we have no such divine nature and clearly are not God, is it legitimate for biblical writers to encourage–indeed, command–us to live as he did?" (27) To me, this is a silly question no matter how well intended because it smacks of a condescending attitude towards us 'ordinary Christians.' It is questions like this that remind me of those written to in Hebrews who needed to be weened off the milk and onto solid food. Frankly, this is an unhelpful question because it borders on the absurd.
Another significant problem I see in this book is Ware's understanding of suffering. He writes that 'suffering, affliction, trials, testing–these are gifts granted to us by God for our growth, the necessary paving stones along the pathway that leads to our fullness of character and joy" (59). Suffering, affliction, trials, and testing are gifts? Seriously? It almost sounds as if there's no room in this world for sin–the cause of suffering, afflictions, trials, and testing. I mean seriously, what about all those people who suffer apart from Jesus? What's the goal of their suffering, to push them further away from Jesus? I fully grant that we can and should 'rejoice in our sufferings' and that God uses suffering as a means of discipline, correction, and rebuke. But to call these things gifts–as if we are to look forward to a package on Thursday afternoons, wrapped in a bow, with a card saying 'To Jerry, From God; best wishes" is absurd. It seems to me that suffering and affliction are among the very things that Jesus came to this earth to remove. Just because these things exist, and just because God uses them, does not mean that they are 'from God' or that God 'ordained them.'
Of all the areas of Reformation theology that I take issue with, it is this area with which I take the most issue. I simply cannot understand how anyone can think that suffering, affliction and all the rest–regardless of how well these taskmasters train us–are desirable.
Third, 'ordinary Christians' who read this book will occasionally find themselves completely and utterly ordinary when Ware brings out the big guns: "Obviously affirming the dyothelitism of the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 680 writes, 'An impeccable will is one that is so might in its self-determination to good that it cannot be conquered by any temptation to evil, however great" (64). I was thinking the same thing; obviously.
There were a few other issues I had with the book. For example, Ware expends a great deal of energy discussing whether or not Jesus could have been a female (Chapter 6). To my mind, this was a pointless chapter. Consider this, the Bible says that Jesus was born a male. If Jesus was, in fact, born a male then this question is both illogical and beside the point: "Is it necessary that the Savior be born, live, and die as a man, or could our Savior have been a woman?" (80). If Jesus was born a male then it is impossible that he could have been born a female; therefore, even to speculate about such a question is meaningless–unless, obviously, one wishes to build a theological construct or bore us with time worn arguments about what a marriage should look like–as if only one way is correct (which is not to say that all ways are righteous). Which is what Ware does. I don't think he asked this question because he wanted to think about Jesus as much as he wanted to rant about things like 'mutual submission in marriage' (88). He also wrote, "….to affirm the theological necessity of Christ's male identity entails an undergirding of male headship' (92). I'm just not sure it is logical to make the leap from Jesus necessarily being a man and a carte blanche evisceration of egalitarianism, but this is what Ware does. Fact is, we do not need 'eight reasons' why Jesus 'must be a male.' The fact is, he was a male. What else needs to be said?
The one chapter I did appreciate was the chapter in which Ware talks about the temptations that Jesus underwent as a human. Again, there's a lot of pointless speculation in this chapter because, for example, if the Bible says Jesus was without sin, it seems to me it is rather fruitless to speculate about how he managed to accomplish such a feat (was he impeccable as God or a human–really it became very difficult at times to follow Ware's reasoning). At another level, though, I found some of Ware's points rather well thought out and expressed. His emphasis on Jesus' reliance upon the indwelling word of God and his empowerment by the indwelling Holy Spirit was excellent. It truly helped me think through the way we deal with sin and temptation and the fact that Jesus' temptations–especially early in his life (after his baptism) and near the end (in Gethsemane)–are recorded for us in Scripture gives me courage in the face of my own temptations. In fact, I find these stories about Jesus to be some of the most compelling, convincing stories about who he was and what he did. I think Ware did a great job in chapter 5 ('Resisting Temptation') even if the chapter was often muddled by meaningless questions and fruitless speculation.
I wanted to enjoy this book, but in the end it wasn't what I had hoped for. There is simply too much in the book that is not conducive to helping people grow in faith in Jesus–precisely because it is rife with commitment to a theological idea and riddled with meaningless questions and speculation. I have read other of Ware's works where he did a much better job thinking through the topic (even though I still disagreed with him). This book struggles to find a genre: is it a theological treatise or a devotional or a textbook or a psychological profile or something else entirely? At least I can say that Ware did struggle (in the good sense of the word struggle) with the Bible a lot in this book. I think there are times when he was taking things out of context or laying his theological construct over top of Scripture, but at least when someone reads this book they will read something about the Bible and something about Jesus.
The application section was nice at the end of each chapter. The discussion questions were, well, discussion questions and I have no particular opinion of them one way or another. It was unhelpful there was no bibliography where we might dig a little deeper into some of the authors' works that stimulated his own thought–you know, fellas like Constantinople III from 680.
3/5 stars (on the weight of chapter 5)