The Son of God: Three Views of the Identity of Jesus
Wipf and Stock Publishers, Dec 4, 2015 - Religion - 230 pages
This is a multi-view book in which representatives of differing viewpoints make a positive statement of their case, followed by responses from the others, and concluding with a rebuttal by the original author. The topic at hand in this book is the identity of Jesus (also known as Christology). What is the meaning of Jesus's identity as "the Son of God"? Charles Lee Irons argues that the title "Son of God" denotes his ontological deity from a Trinitarian perspective. Danny Andre Dixon and Dustin R. Smith challenge this view from two different non-Trinitarian viewpoints. Smith argues that Jesus is the authentically human Son of God, the Davidic Messiah, who did not possess a literal preexistence prior to his virgin birth. Dixon argues that Jesus is God's preexistent Son in the sense that God gave him life or existence at some undefined point prior to creation. The authors engage the topic from the perspective that reverences the authority and inspiration of Scripture as the final arbiter of this debate. The literature of early Judaism is also engaged in order to try to understand the extent to which the New Testament's Christology may have been influenced by or operated within the context of Jewish conceptions of divine secondary beings as agents of God.
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One Great Tri-Personal Book
One of the wonderful features of a book structured by dialogue such as this is the invitation for the reader to not only be a spectator but to also experience the discussion in a more intimate way as the arguments presented are assessed with either objection, agreement or question. Charles Lee Irons, Danny André Dixon and Dustin R. Smith have written excellent essays, drawing their readers in by probing the very heart of ancient documents and dialogue with questions and propositions regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. They have challenged, congratulated and clashed with each other as “Iron sharpens…” well, in this case Dixon and Smith.
The book begins with a fantastic preface by James McGrath, loaded with perceptive observations as to why this book is a noble endeavor for promoting necessary and too often neglected dialogue.
I have long been weary of the incredibly intolerant disposition of some Christians toward any who disagree with what are often times idiosyncratically envisioned as central tenets of “true Christianity.” This attitude prohibits humane dialogue and any sense of objectivity for considering alternative points of view. It elicited from me resounding concurrence when I read Dr. McGrath’s following words in his final statements of the preface: “Christianity has always been diverse, and has long been plagued by a tendency toward reciprocal condemnation and exclusion of others who have different opinions than our own, as we have proved time and again to be unable to apply the demand of Jesus that we love our enemies to those who are ‘enemies’ only of our idea, but not necessarily of ourselves” xi.
All of the positions were well-argued while maintaining a refreshing respect and honorable disposition toward their fellow interlocutors. While Irons and Dixon indeed had many points of view worthy of consideration, I personally was most convinced by Smith’s methodology, using OT and Second Temple literature to properly assess context and period. He began by deriving much of his definition from OT and messianic expectation, and using language indigenous to those texts. There was however, objection to this - mostly by Irons - due to Jewish expectation being an incapable factor of determining Christian Christology.
I found many of Dr. Irons’s arguments dependent on an anachronistic premise and laden with metaphysical speculation not inherent to the text itself even though he claims to hold “the formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura” p. 149. His language however, was not that of Scripture alone. Throughout the course of his essays, Dr. Irons used the word ontology/ontological a total of 42 times in his portrayal of Jesus’ unique identity with Yahweh. This is not how the Bible speaks of Jesus despite hardships in various places (most notably John, as this book bears out) to ascertain the author’s intent. His argument predominantly relied on interpreting Jesus as the preexistent logos - the creator - thus placing Jesus on the creator side of the creator-creature distinction. This is not a difficulty for him, being convinced by the “obvious meaning” of texts when they are not “being twisted to fit a preconceived dogma” using “exegetical gymnastics” p. 148.
While a mutual consensus of Jesus’ identity between the three authors is not reached, and there are no hailed “victors,” the goal of a gentlemanly, coherent and scholarly dialogue accessible for many non-academics most certainly was. Upon completion of this book, the reader is left with a framework and comprehensive bibliography to further examine any of the issues discussed.
An Arian Response to a Trinitarian View Dixon
Jesus the LifeGiven Son of God Dixon
A Trinitarian Response to an Arian View Irons
Jesus the Human Son of God Smith