The past year saw a massive increase in theological conversation about Jesus’ divine Sonship for how Christians think and speak about Christ, especially in relation to Bible translation and missionary engagement with Muslims across the globe. Some may think that this whole discussion is unimportant, but they would be mistaken. Understanding the truth of Jesus as the Son of God is not only important, it is vital to a healthy and robust biblical Christianity as it seeks to make much of Jesus by spreading His fame to the nations. In his helpful new book Jesus The Son Of God A Christological Title Often overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood And Currently Disputed, D.A. Carson writes to help the Church and its leaders to think through Son of God as a Christological Title, examine Son of God in Select Passages and then concludes his book by examining Jesus The Son of God in Christian and Muslim contexts.
At the outset of this review it must be noted that in Dr. Carson’s own words he does not desire this book to be “primary a contribution to the current disputes, as important as those debates may be. It is meant to foster clear thinking among Christians who want to know what we mean when we join believers across the centuries in confession, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus, our Lord” (12).
In the past century Christian preaching and writing have focused more attention on Jesus’s deity and Jesus’s lordship than on Jesus’s Sonship. Dr. Carson notes that in recent times, “When Christians have written and spoken about Jesus as the Son of God, they have tended to focus on one of three topics” (13). First, Carson notes that many of these types of works are forged within the discipline of systematic theology discuss the Sonship of Jesus especially the title Son of God within their broader treatment of Trinitarian theology (14). Secondly, a handful of works are specialist volumes focusing on the categories of systematic theology. For example these types of titles may focus on Psalm 2 or the social and political contexts of the Roman world. Third, in the past few years spirited discussions have occurred regarding Son or Son of God language applied to Jesus.
Chapter one is where Dr. Carson unpacks the following words from the Apostles Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus, our Lord.” As he does this, Carson examines what the Bible teaches about Jesus being the Son of God in the first two chapters in order to engage the current discussion about how the expression “Son of God” should be translated especially in Bible translations designed for the Muslim world” (16).
Chapter three, the final chapter of Carson’s boo is where he seeks to organize his reflections around two questions, “What bearing does this study of Jesus as the Son of god have on the way Christians should think about Jesus, and What bearing does this study of Jesus as the Son of God have on current debates regarding the translation of the Title, especially in Muslim contexts?
Under the first question Carson makes six points: First, not all uses of Son of God are the same; second, biblical trajectories are important if we are to understand how Son of God commonly works; third, the relationship between exegesis of the biblical Son of God passages and the categories of systematic theology is not a simple one, fourth, the eternal generation of the Son is especially convoluted territory, fifth, understanding Jesus as the Son of God ought to have a bearing on our evangelism, and finally under this heading, understanding Jesus as the Son of God ought to have a bearing in our worship.
Under the last question in the last chapter of this book, Carson seeks to engage the current missiological discussion regarding C5 communities. Often collectively C5 is referred to as IM (Insider Movements). Carson notes that, “Those who support IM feel they are tearing down unnecessary barriers to the conversion of Muslims those who reject IM feel that the movement is essentially syncretistic and thus a threat to the gospel itself, engendering many spurious conversions. Inevitably, there are numerous mediating positions” (88).
While this discussion is important, this reviewer agrees with Dr. Carson when he notes that, “the spread of the gospel in the early church saw the dissemination of Scripture along with the provision of missionaries and pastors. One wonders if at least some of the tensions over Bible translation springs from commitment on the part of some to provide adequate translation without simultaneously providing missionaries and pastors” (109). Carson continues, “To be frank, it would be good to see less energy devoted to taking us away from the theological richness of the multifaceted biblical affirmations of Jesus’s Sonship, and much more energy expended on understanding and then learning how to teach all the Bible does and does not say about Jesus the Son of God. Then those who are genuinely converted will stand with Christians across centuries and cultures, and quietly and reverently affirm, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus, our Lord” (109).
The reason the above by Dr. Carson is so important is because while the Church should be engaged in doctrinal and theological discussion, the Church also needs to combine zeal for the Word of God with mission for God. When the Church loses sight of this dual tension we disobey the Commission of Jesus to make disciples for His glory. Dr. Carson is right that we need to spend more energy on “all the Bible does and does not say about Jesus the Son of God”, as well as training leaders in the Gospel. As we seek to raise up leaders for the Gospel, the Church is to follow the pattern Paul gave Timothy in 2nd Timothy 1:13 to instruct Christian leaders of all stripes and types to, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
As an artist has his sketch so Timothy also had his model to go by. This sketch, model, or pattern consisted of the words which he had heard from Paul. Let him hold on to these, ever using them as his example, never departing from them. This is important, for Paul’s teaching consisted of sound words. And it is exactly the necessity of remaining sound and of transmitting sound doctrine that is stressed throughout 2nd Timothy and all the Pastorals (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1, 2, 8). As the Church combines passion for God and His Word with courageously engaging a lost and dying world with the gospel it will not only fulfill the mission of God but also the Great Commission to make disciples for the glory of God.
In this reviewer’s opinion, Dr. Carson’s book Jesus The Son of God A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed is an important contribution not only to the debates surrounds Bible translation, but also as it relates to the questions raised by this conversation on how Christians should engage Muslims with the Gospel. Whether you’re aware of this issue or not, this reviewer recommends you read this book to know Jesus and the Bible better and to walk through this issue with one of the preeminent Bible scholars and theologians of our day.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. He enjoys biblical, systematic and historical theology and apologetics. More of his writing can be found at http://servantsofgrace.org.