Jesus and the God of Classical Theism: Biblical Christology in Light of the Doctrine of God

Written by Steven J. Duby Reviewed By David Larson

In the past few years, the theological world has put much interest in recovering the doctrine of God. Steven J. Duby—associate professor at Phoenix Seminary—has already made significant contributions to this recovery with his books Divine Simplicity (London: T&T Clark Bloomsbury, 2016) and God in Himself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019). To little surprise, he has written another significant contribution in his new book, Jesus and the God of Classical Theism.

Following the line of Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the God of Israel, Duby aims “to take another step and work on explicating the relationship between biblical Christology and a doctrine of God in which divine attributes like aseity, immutability, impassibility, eternity, and simplicity play a significant role and inform one’s Christology” (p. xii). He draws from “the central claims of the catholic Christology and theology proper developed by major figures in patristic, medieval, and Reformed orthodox thought” (p. 375). Such “central claims” of these theologians on Christ and theology proper are often classified as “classical theism”—a “phrase” that “is … imprecise,” but “has been used by many as an expedient designation for an account of the triune God holding that he is simple, immutable, impassible, and eternal” (p. xiii). In this light, Duby shows that the concepts often taught in classical theism are drawn from, fit with, and help us understand the Bible’s own teaching about Christ.

Duby, however, is not merely concerned with defending a group called “classical theism.” His “goal is … to set forth the christological teaching of Holy Scripture and to explore the extent to which certain theological resources that do happen to be older can help us to interpret Scripture well” (p. xiii; cf. xiv). In doing so, he keeps “three themes” in focus throughout the book: “the relationship of Christ to the Father and Spirit, the unity of the person of Christ, and the genuineness of Christ’s human life and suffering” (p. xv).

The chapters follow a general method: “biblical description,” “concerns,” a constructive “response” (or “dogmatic elaboration”), and then a “conclusion.” Chapter 1 addresses concerns in “how treatments of the Bible’s Christology have called into question older Christian accounts of God and” he offers “a response” (p. 1) as well as gives his reasoning for the usefulness of “philosophical concepts and categories” that are “both warranted and seriously chastened by the uniqueness of the subject matter of Christian theology” (p. 49).

Chapters 2–3 discuss the Son in eternity, wherein the former’s “aim is to examine the Son’s eternal relation to the Father and to explain how that relation coheres with and is illumined by God’s simplicity” (p. 51) and the latter focuses on the decree. Chapters 4–7 have a stronger focus on the Son in the economy: The divine Son and his human nature (ch. 4), the Son’s human obedience (ch. 5), the Son and the Holy Spirit with insights on the indivisibility of the external works of the Trinity (ch. 6), the Son’s suffering and divine impassibility (ch. 7).

Duby’s work has much to appreciate and commend as it brings together a thorough account of Christology in relation to theology proper. Space limits me to note two positive observations that deal more with the manner of the book. First, Duby is an excellent theologian who demonstrates that theologians and biblical scholars alike have a priority of reading Scripture. Despite the title’s inclusion of the term “classical theism,” Duby, once again, is not content to defend a group as “an end in itself” (p. xiii). His focus is to see what Scripture says and means so that our interpretation results in “understanding the substance of the text in a God-befitting way (θεοπρεπῶς [theoprepōs]),” which requires us to know “what the whole canon of Scripture teaches us about God in order to avoid drawing conclusions from one statement or text that will end up conflicting with our conclusions from another text” (p. 260). Duby not only commends such reading and interpretation, he also exemplifies it. Duby is clearly well-versed in historical theology, philosophy, and dogmatics while still demonstrating careful exegetical expertise. In so doing, he shows how theological “concepts and patterns of reasoning first emerged from the material content of Scripture’s teaching and can then serve to open up the sense of that teaching” (pp. 376–77).

Second, Duby also models that interpreters of the Bible are to treat others with love. Duby thoroughly offers accounts of others’ concerns with Scripture and Christology before answering them. And not only does he describe their thinking, but at numerous times, he shows that “it is still important to be fair” to other positions (e.g., pp. 177–78, 279). Further, even when people disagree on exegetical points, he shows how they can still come to the same theological conclusion (e.g., see pp. 54, 143–44). Theology, as Duby models it, is a matter of love of God and neighbor, even if our neighbor disagrees with us.

This book is most suitable for those in the academy, especially for scholars and professors who can navigate the deep, technical “issues” and content of Christology, theology proper, and the relation of exegesis and theology. Nonetheless, pastors and students will want to keep this book as a reference, especially for when Christological questions arise from their own studies or from those in their care. We all have much to glean from Duby’s book as it teaches us to read Scripture well, humbles us to learn from those who came before us, models how to love those who differ from us, and moves us to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

David Larson

David Larson
Bethlehem College and Seminary
Oahu, Hawaii, USA

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