CS: God the Son Incarnate has received several major accolades. What was your writing process for this volume?
SW: John Feinberg, editor of the series Foundations of Evangelical Theology brought me on board for this particular volume, which was devoted to the person of Christ. Normally, Christology would cover both personhood and work. This one is on the nature of the incarnation, the identity of Christ, and his exclusive uniqueness. It’s to be a theology book that restates orthodox theology for today, and there’s a number of ways you can do that. I tried to make sure I show from Scripture who Jesus is and then work through if orthodoxy is even viable. I’d say it is a true presentation of who Jesus is and set in the context of our contemporary era. It’s dealing with the challenges of the day, how we as Christians present, particularly in the age of pluralism, an exclusive Christ and his exclusive identity. It wrestles with biblical authority, how we draw conclusions from Scripture, and then a full-blown presentation of the person of Christ.
CS: What do you hope is the fruit of this God the Son Incarnate in years to come?
SW: I hope it would be a contemporary restatement of orthodox Christology for today, so people will be able to see the Jesus of the Bible is God the Son from all of eternity, the second person of the Trinity who has become flesh. The goal is to have people better understand the history of the doctrine. When we say, “He’s fully God, fully man, one person, two natures,” understand the depth and thought that went into that statement for the last 2,000 years. People today will be able to reaffirm what the church has always affirmed through the ages and do that in our contemporary setting.
CS: What challenges did you face approaching this doctrine through epistemology, biblical theology, and historical theology?
SW: First, it’s what’s necessary to do theology. When we do theology we’re having to turn to the Scriptures for justification. In the particular case of Christology, it has to have grounding epistemologically. Then we have to make sure we are using a proper interpretation of Scripture, and doing so on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. What does that divine revelation say? What has the church said, and how do we integrate that with our exegesis? It’s a totally integrated approach, showcasing our theological grounding and what the text is saying in light of church history, giving us the full-orbed Christological doctrine.
CS: What is the importance of Scripture for understanding our Christology? It’s an obvious question, but when you look at Scripture for informing your Christology, what are you focusing on?
SW: As I look at Scripture as foundational for Christology, I do so in the context of the Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment debates of today, and church history. The church has traditionally viewed Christology from above, or God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. With the Enlightenment the importance of starting with divine revelation unraveled. When we say that Jesus is God the Son we are making metaphysical statements. We can only make those kinds of definitive, true statements if we have an authoritative revelation to back that up. You have to go back and ground everything in what God has said and the Jesus of the Bible, which comes from Scripture.
CS: As you were working on this project, what was most encouraging for you personally?
SW: It’s been an absolute delight. As I got into it I realized there’s nothing more important than who Jesus is, and as you think about the Son of God, you’re getting to hear the entire revelation of Scripture. You’re getting to the heart of the Son’s relationship to the Father and the Spirit. You’re having to think through how the whole Bible presents who Jesus is, and you are being led to a greater confidence, trust, worship, and obedience to this Son of God who has come, taken on flesh, lived and died for us, and accomplished our salvation. These are difficult issues to wrestle with, yet it has also resulted in a greater sense of love and adoration for the Lord Jesus.
CS: How does God the Son Incarnate and your work with this book tie into your next book Christ Alone, part of the Five Solas series?
SW: The two books go hand-in-hand. God the Son Incarnate is primarily focusing on the person of Christ. Christ Alone is giving us both person and work, and it’s set in the context of celebrating the Reformation. The Reformers dealt heavily with the sufficiency of Christ’s work as he alone is the basis for our salvation and justification. Christ Alone takes elements of God the Son Incarnate but develops it more in terms of integrating the person and work together.
CS: As we look at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what are some of the contemporary challenges you’re most concerned about for our classical Christology?
SW: For our own day, there is this sense that there is no one religious view that is true. That is something our entire culture has adopted and embraced without necessarily thinking about why it embraces it. Jesus of the Bible is one religious figure among many, but is he alone Lord and Savior? It’s the exclusivity of Christ, his utter uniqueness, that spills over obviously into his work because you can’t have an all-sufficient work without a unique redeemer. In our day, the larger philosophical streams will try to say human language and thought is simply a construction of reality. When we say that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, we’re not just making interesting language. We’re saying something about who he truly is, about what reality really is. So the issue of truth and the defense of the exclusive, unique, and all-sufficient work of Christ are the big challenges of our day.
CS: When you’re teaching this doctrine in class, what do you find is the most common misunderstanding students have of this doctrine today?
SW: The most common is the lack of understanding of historical theology. We’ve obviously studied church history, but it wasn’t as much of a priority as it should have been to understand what people in the church have said in the past. I’ve found as you delve into areas of Christology, particularly as you move through biblical texts, people ask, “How do you put these pieces together?” So you present clearly Christ’s deity and then he will say in the Gospels, “I don’t know the end, only the Father does,” and you say, “How do I reconcile that?” Well the church has done so. They’ve thought through it very carefully and created all kinds of theological languages, vocabularies, and judgments based on Scripture to make sense of Christ’s person. While writing God the Son Incarnate, it was about 80,000 words longer than it eventually ended up being, and I had to chop down parts one and two, the contemporary and the biblical context. What I didn’t chop down was part three, which dealt with history, because I felt that many students today don’t know the history of the church, the rich heritage, and the orthodox consensus that carried through the Enlightenment and spanned across Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant circles. It was important to tell that story and then also make the point that the post-Chalcedon theology the church formulated is consistent with what the Scripture teaches.
CS: How do you hope this book can serve the church and equip them for understanding the doctrine of Christ?
SW: It’s academic because of the subject nature of the topic. To wrestle with the nature of the incarnation inevitably you have to wrestle with difficult concepts in light of what people have said in the past. I do think it should be accessible, especially for pastors who have gone through seminary training, but also those who are willing to take the time and walk through it. I have heard some say, “I’ve never had any theological training. I’ve been in the churches. I’ve really had to work hard through it, but I’ve understood what you’ve said.” Christ Alone has a more popular sense to it, yet still deals with church history, the nature of the cross, the atonement and so on. I tried to write it in a way that’s not above people’s heads. I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road kind of teacher and theologian. I’ve tried to step it down so it’s more than sort of a popular work, yet if you walk through it carefully, it should be of benefit to most people who want to spend the time and think through the subject matter.
CS: What was significant for you personally as you worked on this book?
SW: When I finished the first draft of the book, I remember saying to my wife, “I don’t even think I began to scratch the surface.” As you work through the biblical material I had to cut out sections I wish I’d spent more time walking through. History had to be summarized. It would be interesting to deal with various individuals and how they put things together in the Middle Ages, worked through the Reformers and the post-Reformers and people even in our own day. There’s so much that’s missing. You have me in brief trying to say, “This is historic, Christian orthodoxy in terms of the person of Christ. It’s true to the Bible. This is the Jesus of the Bible, and this is how I think we can best formulate it in our own day.” There are in evangelical circles diverse Christologies. It’s surprising to see some of that diversity and I try to argue against some of that diversity and to say in this case the old way is the better way, the old paths are a better way to go. In the end, we’re left with, “I don’t know, I don’t know” on so many matters. How do I make sense of that? It’s coherent, it fits, yet we’re finite people. It’s hard to put all the pieces together. Yet, the Bible gives us a coherent presentation of the glory of the Son of God who’s become flesh for us, for our redemption. More could be said, but at least that’s a start.