Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Incarnation of God

Superlatives have an unfortunate prevalence in too many Christian sermons and books: “This is the most” whatever. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard misplaced ‘greatest’ and ‘worst’ and ‘most needed’ and ‘biggest cause’ phrases attached to silly and nearly neutral issues—and if not neutral, leastwise secondary, tertiary, or implicative ideas. And so when authors Clark and Marcus describe the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation as the Foundation of Evangelical Theology, you might expect some rolling of eyes or tongue-biting grunts of semi-affirmation. After all, how can the incarnation supplant ‘the cross and crucifixion of Christ’?! Or even the resurrection: isn’t foundation the honor Paul accords to resurrection in I Corinthians 15?... or is it? After all, isn’t Paul’s argument concerned with bodily resurrection for all the saints?

Well, fortunately for you, Clark and Marcus have handled this disagreements with tact and love in their case for the Incarnation of God as The Foundation of Evangelical Theology—released tomorrow in their Crossway book by that title.

The preface describes the full context and impetus for this book as well as its intended audience, but suffice it for this review to quote their thesis:

The incarnation of God, therefore, is the supreme mystery at the center of our Christian confession, and no less at the center of all reality. Consequently, all conceptions of reality that fail to see and savor that all things hold together in Christ, and the he is preeminent in all things, can never be anything but abstract conceptions of virtual realities—that is, invariable hollow and ultimately vacuous concepts pulled away from reality.

[This book is]…noncomprehensive and nonexhasustive…. Its aim is to explore the relation of the incarnation to other major facets of the Christian faith, demonstrating that Christ holds together, and should indeed be preeminent in, the whole of our Christian confession.

And does their thesis hold? Argument after argument, I believe it does. In the pages of this book Clark and Marcus deliver to our hearts and minds the mystery of the incarnation—offering honor and glory to our Triune God in exposition of the incarnation in relation to Triune being and work, soteriology, ecclesiology, marriage & sex. I found myself, several times, wiping tears from eyes as I was confronted with the beauteous gospel of our incarnate Christ. Now, I understand that each person is dynamic and that the same truth or event can effect different results in the individuals; and so maybe my interaction with this book was a timely interruption from our wise and loving God, but I anticipate that there are far too many who share my current theological context—one lacking the robust glory of the incarnation—so while I cannot guarantee this book will be life changing, neither can I affirm and support the publication and wide-dispersion enough! I intend to order multiple copies to hand out to friends and leadership in my church, and I would encourage any thoughtful Christian to pick up a copy for themselves.

Two more notes:

(1)   What sets this book apart from others (especially those) about the incarnation? I believe the distinguishing mark of this work is the way the authors reveal the interweaving nature of all theology. What we believe about the incarnation has direct implications on what we believe about salvation and the church. It also reveals what we believe about the Trinity—which is a bold statement, but one the authors do not shy away from. We know God as Trinity, they argue, only because the Son came in human flesh and revealed the Father and Spirit to us. This line of argument—the interweavingness of theology—can have some pitfalls, of course: namely determining a priori what ‘must’ be resultantly true and determining therefore what ‘must’ be essentially true, but I do not think Clark and Marcus fall into this potential trap. And I think they do not do so because of their great esteem for the giants of theological history. Every chapter is filled with excerpts and quotes from the church fathers and reformers, all of which show their own reliance on Holy Scripture.

(2)   My professor and friend once reminded his class that no book can be perfect, and so no book review should lack a suggestion for improvement. Here’s mine: the authors occasionally fall into a type of preacher speak/mnemonic device which seems trite in the face of the profundity. Setting apart ‘atonement’ as “at-one-ment” each time it comes, while a helpful reminder, can be a bit too childish at times. There was another term where something similar was employed, but I’ve forgotten it now. And hopefully the childishness of my own critique only underlines the timeliness and helpfulness of The Incarnation of God’s entrance into our Christian sphere.

Our Triune God is honored and magnified as the personal God who communicates himself to us in the very human flesh which we indwell east of Eden. He has taken this sinful flesh upon himself and marched us into the Father’s presence where we experience the love which the Father has for the Son with overwhelming interpenetration. It is scandalous! And it is the very heart of the gospel.
Be sure to check out my blog for specific interaction with some of the ideas presented in this book.

I received this book as part of Crossway's Beyond the Page program; this review is my own.


This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon.