The Person Of Christ

The Person of Christ authored by Donald Macleod is one book in a series of theological textbooks focused on the main themes of Christian theology. 

The Person Of Christ deals with the doctrines of Christology and Soteriology. Donald Macleod (MA, University of Glasgow; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary), is now retired, has served as professor and chair of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh and also as the school’s principal. He pastored at Kilmallie Free Church for six years and also served at Patrick Highland Free Church, a bilingual congregation in Glasgow, Scotland. He is well known as a previous editor of The Monthly Record of the Free Church and as a columnist in the West Highland Free Press and The Observer newspaper. He has written many other books on theology and particularly Christology more recently. Some of his other books include, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine, and Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today.

The Person of Christ with its ten chapters is broken into two parts. Part one “Very God of Very God”, from the Gospels to Nicea, deals with the development of Christology over the years and the many heresies that came along. The first five chapters give a defense of the Deity of Christ, while showing that the Gospels point to the real Jesus. “The Virgin Birth,” “The Pre-existence of Christ,” “Christ, the Son of God,” “The Jesus of History,” and “The Christ of Faith: ‘Very God of Very God.'”

The Second half titled “Very God, Very Man”, To Chalcedon & Beyond, conclude the last five chapters. “Very God, Very Man,” harking at Chalcedon, in chapters on “The Incarnation,” “Chalcedon: ‘Perfect in Godhead, Perfect in Manhood,'” “Kenosis: Making Himself Nothing,” “The Sinlessness of Christ,” and “No Other Name: The Uniqueness of Christ in Modern Times.” He then closes out with a short “Epilogue”.

Part two of the book tackles the incarnation and how Chalcedon defines and defends it against Docetism, Apollinarianism, and Arianism. While defending the incarnation he shows how the Chalcedon “affirmed the unipersonality of Christ and the Authenticity and perfection of both his natures, human and divine”, (184). He goes on to show how the Chalcedon doctrine refutes heresies like Nestorianism and Monophysitism.

In chapter five Macleod stresses, “The single most important statement was the declaration of the Council of Nicea (325) that Christ, as the Son of God, was homoousios (consubstantial) with the Father” (121). Jesus is God in essence, yet he is distinct from the Father and the Spirit. The purpose of the Council of Nicea was to combat Arianism. He goes on to say, “the future of Christianity as a religion was at stake. If Christ were not God, he could not be the revelation of God. If Christ were not God, men had not been redeemed by God. If Christ were not God, believers were not united to God. Above all, if Christ were not God, Christians had no right to worship him. Indeed, if they did so, they were reverting to pagan superstition and idolatry” (123).

Macleod gives a whole Chapter dedicated to the Kenotic theory. He sets out the arguments of the critics with responses to them. He then shows us True Kenosis. As he quotes Donald Mackinnion, “It is the notion of kenosis which more than any other single notion points to the deepest sense of the mystery of the incarnation” (212). He ends in his epilogue with a challenge to up hold and proclaim the words of Chalcedon in a world of new questions and different languages. The need for the “Chalcedon formula” (264) is of great importance in communicating Christology to the generations to come.

Macleod’s main theme through out the whole book is that the gospels show us the real Jesus. That the creeds are faithful to the gospels and that their main concern is to show that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. Every generation has the task to uphold the purity and integrity of Christology. Through out the book Macleod in each chapter shows the reader in church history someone will always question the person of Christ. Not only does he show how the church fathers refuted heresies of the past but also he gives clear expositions of Scripture to uphold Christology.  

He is not too technical in his exegesis of Scripture but his thoughts are deep and sometimes lofty. The reader can get trapped into too much detail and does not read easily at times. Each chapter is polemical when he critiques those who attack historic Christian orthodoxy. 

Macleod gives his argument to his readers that Holy Scripture, and the gospel writers are most qualified to give us access to the real Jesus. His whole approach is, “I am starting from faith, convinced before I put my pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. This, it seems to me, is also where the gospels start” (16). Jesus is different and not just merely a man. As Macleod says, “He is different because he is God incarnate” (17).

Macleod argues that only the Jesus of the New Testament can explain the Christ of faith. Jesus’ own understanding of his divine status is central for the Church. How central is this? “Christianity, as a religion, depends on the deity of Christ as it does no other single doctrine” (117). He goes on further to drive home the point, “The central feature of Christianity is (and always has been) the worship of Jesus. Any credible account of its origins must explain the rise of such worship. Where can that be found except in Jesus’ understanding of himself as divine? To reject that is not only to deprive Christian worship of its legitimacy but to convict the church itself of self-deception and duplicity” (119).

The truth of this and its implications are vitally important: “The bottom line here is that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as the Son of God. Whatever we do afterwards, we must first decide what to do with this. If he was correct, we must fall down and worship him. If he was not correct, we must crucify him” (118).

To reinforce his thesis he gives the readers the creeds such as the Nicea and Chalcedon, and insights from Church fathers such as Tertullian, Clement, and Ireanus. He gives many more references to people of Church history to uphold his thesis. He uses their own logic; gives clarity to their questions, gives ear to strong points while debating them, and even gives credit where credit is due. Macleod does a good Job at showing that the progression of Christology was an authentic progression. Councils were necessary for heresies, but the Christology of our day is biblical and historical. It is orthodoxy because it hinges on apostolic understanding.

Macleod introduces us to “Anglican Unitarians”, (241) as he calls the group. They include John A.T. Robinson, G. K. W. Lampe, Don Cupitt, John Knox, Norman Pittenger, Denis Nineham and Maurice Wiles. He argues that they deny key features of historic orthodoxy. There are five points he makes on how they fall from historic orthodoxy. Macleod says that they ultimately deny the incarnation, the pre-existence of Christ, and the post-existence of Christ, Traditional Trinitarian formulations, and the uniqueness of Christ. It is striking that most of all these theologians profess to be Christian yet deny historical orthodoxy.

He even admits that “The Logical path for such scholars to follow would be to renounce Christianity altogether since on their premises it is impossible to regard Jesus as Lord or to worship him as God” (242-243). Though the student of Christology learns much about Christ by understanding what Christ is not. As Macleod shows modern scholarship views that as negative and tries to develop more of a positive statement. Sadly, most attempts come from the camp of liberalism and are more or less detached from the Chalcedonian creed.

The Church will always need those that have gone before and paved the way for purity and clarity in doctrine. Scripture is always the foundation and authority we go by in our understanding of God. Having a low view of Scripture gives us no ground to stand on. Scripture is how we look face to face with Christ. Macleod makes the case that to departfrom Scripture brings dangerous consequences. He is strong at giving us that ground to stand on. Though nothing new is under the sun heresy is still the same heresy yet repacked and called new. It is our job to be good bereans of Scripture and to test the claims of theologians who claim they have something new.

Macleod shows us how important church history is and how we should let the creeds and confessions give us barriers. Looking back and studying them can give us the right starting point on discussing Christology. We need to get Christ right in order to get the gospel right. Christianity hinges on the person of Christ. We need not forget that everyone has a view of Christ but is it Christ of Scripture? I think Macleod in his book shows just how important that is.

The benefits of reading this book have given me a passion to read more in Christology. Not only has it given me more appreciation for the study on the doctrine of Christ. It has given me more appreciation for studying church history. To that I am truly grateful.

Though Macleod’s book may be dated on dealing with contemporary Christology it is a handy resource for the student and the pastor. Some areas in the book can be dull but every Christian needs a resource on Christology. I would also argue that ever Christian would benefit greatly in studying church history to which this book can give a good starting point. The student can benefit from a wealth of terminology and vocabulary from this book. Macleod’s book would be a good reference for reading alongside more modern reformed works on Christology. The book in itself is not a primer on Christology yet it is a solid read.

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