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The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod

David Campbell
26 January 2024 09:00

The great strength of this book lies in its commitment to the biblical portrait of the Person of Christ. There is a very full interaction with theologians ancient and modern and at the time of writing the author was clearly abreast of contemporary trends in Christological thinking. But his conclusions are in harmony with the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian Church and reflect his deep conviction that in the New Testament we have access to the real Jesus.

The topics discussed include the virgin birth, the pre-existence of Christ, his divine Sonship, his sinlessness, the incarnation, and the kenotic theory. The questions of Christ's true deity and his relationship to the other persons of the Trinity are dealt with at length, and there is a helpful reply to the scepticism of those who deny the historicity of the gospels. The complex subject of the relationship between the two natures in Christ receives a thorough treatment, and the book ends with a chapter on the uniqueness of Christ in modern theology. Here, the author engages with various matters such as the unitarianism of Anglicans like J.A.T. Robinson and G.K.W. Lampe, Christology and Process Philosophy, and the Christ of Liberation Theology.

As we would expect, a great deal of attention is paid to the text of Scripture itself. The author's exegesis here is consistently of the highest order and the arguments are marshalled in such a way that they can be generally followed with ease. An outstanding example is the exposition of Philippians 2.6ff and the true idea of kenosis (pp.212 - 217). Another is the account of our Lord's experience in Gethsemane and his cry of dereliction from the cross (pp.172 - 178).

It would give an entirely wrong impression of the book, however, if mention was only to be made of the author's exegetical work. This is substantially a work of historical theology, "surveying the questions raised and the answers proffered by Christian thought from Tertullian to Barth....and from Praxeas to Edward Irving" (p16). We are introduced to those who over the centuries have been the main contributors to Christological debate, and the positions adopted by them are critically evaluated. One striking feature of this evaluation is the unfailing courtesy that is shown to those from whose opinions the author clearly dissents. Indeed he generously acknowledges his debt to them: "Many of those with whom I disagree profoundly have enriched my life by presenting me with new questions and offering fresh agendas" (p15). There is even a touch of humour at times. After the death of Cyril of Alexandria - "one of the most able propagandists and most unscrupulous ecclesiastics in Christian history" - such a sense of relief was felt that one contemporary suggested that "a large heavy stone be placed at his tomb lest he provoke the dead so much that they send him back!" (p.182)

The book is written in a highly readable style. Admittedly at times - and this reflects the difficulty of the subject in hand - the discussion is quite involved. An example of this would be the treatment of the question, Is the human nature of Christ anhypostatic or enhypostatic (pp.199 - 203)? The thinking of Rudolf Bultmann (pp.232 - 235) would be another. Every effort, however, has been made to explain specialised vocabulary, and the work as a whole will prove richly rewarding not only to theological students and ministers but to any mature reader.