Book Review: The Incarnation of God

Crossway has really been on a roll with great books recently. The latest that I had the pleasure of reviewing is no different. The Incarnation of God by John Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson is no different.

While I’m not usually a fan of books that are co-written (they usually feel cobbled together rather than cohesive), this book is a rare exception. I was unable to tell as I was reading where one author’s voice ended and another ended. The work was technical, but also accessible to a reader who has a bit of experience in reading theological work.

It clearly articulates not only the doctrine of the incarnation, but shows how a proper understanding of this doctrine interacts with and affects other doctrines. Furthermore, it also discusses practical issues and how a robust understanding of the incarnation shapes our lives in unexpected ways.

From a theological perspective, the doctrine is clear and accurate. They properly emphasize the need to maintain a single subject in the incarnation, but also to maintain an appropriate separation between the two natures. In this way they reflect an orthodox Chalcedonian understanding of the incarnation.

However, one objection I do have  is in how they use the word “God.” Often times, and this certainly isn’t a unique problem with this book, the word God is used in such a way where it appears to refer directly to the singular divine nature. However, it does so in ways that appear to treat the divine nature as though it were a personal subject. An example can be found on page 19.

The supreme mystery that the Word became flesh, that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, participates unreservedly in the same human nature that we ourselves possess, is at the very center of the Christian faith.

My objection to this is not so much in what it says. If properly qualified and understood there are no issues. However, the ambiguity here is the referent of the word “God.” If we qualify it by saying “God the Son, in the person of Jesus Christ” then we have no issues. I’m confident that this is what they meant, however my experience in Evangelical circles tells me otherwise. If, for example, we read “God” as a reference to the divine nature (which I think most Evangelicals are unwittingly inclined to do) we end up with the divine nature participating unreservedly in the human nature. If we read the word “God” the way the New Testament overwhelmingly uses it (as a reference to God the Father), we end up with the Father participating in the human nature. Ultimately, this is a problem with ambiguity and not theology… but I think that they could have done a better job at it. (Although, it should be noted that as professors at Moody Bible Institute, they are obligated to affirm that God is both one person and three persons… so they may mean exactly what I don’t think they mean!)

In addition to this objection, I would also have preferred if Crossway had not selected images which include Christ for the cover. I recognize the difficulty in this, but anyone who is coming from a confessional Reformed background would hold the cover of this book to include idolatrous images (Hence why there is no picture of the cover of this book in my review). While this is probably not enough to deter most readers… (who have various ways to deal with the issue… probably involving a Sharpie) it would be nice if they did not have to.

Please note: Crossway has provided me with an electronic version of this book for review purposes. They do not require positive reviews, nor have they edited or modified this review in any way.