SBTS hosts second-ever Alumni Academy course, Christology with Bruce Ware
Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, taught the course in four sessions, each giving framework, foundation and development of the Bible’s presentation of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition to the course’s four main sessions, the event included two panel discussions featuring Ware dialoguing with other Southern Seminary professors about christological issues.
In the first session, Ware focused on the doctrine of Trinity in order to provide background for how one should understand the person of the Son. He exhorted attendees to learn to read their Bibles with “trinitarian lenses,” seeing that in many passages of Scripture, pronouns like “he” and “him” refer not to God generically but to a particular person of the Godhead. Thus, putting on trinitarian lenses opens up the Bible to help people to see what is already there.
Further, in order to have orthodox trinitarianism, Ware explained, one must have the two pillars of identity: distinction and equality. Without distinction among the persons of the Godhead, one has unitarian monotheism (one god, one person). Without equality of identity, one has tritheism (three gods, three persons). To have authentic monotheism, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit must share the same identical nature, not merely the same kind of nature. The Bible presents a complex rather than simple monotheism. In surveying the biblical and historical data concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Ware stated that relationships and roles distinguish each member of the Godhead from one another.
In the second session, Ware dealt with the Son as the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity. As the eternal Word, the Son activates, implements and carries out the design and will of the Father, indicating the inherent hierarchy that exists among the Trinity. Though all three are equally God, the Father has authority over the Son, and the Father and Son have authority over the Spirit, both in eternity past and in the economy of redemption.
Ware drew attention to John 1:1-5 in order to show that the Word is both identified with God and distinguished from God. The Word’s participation in creation necessitates the conclusion that he too is God because apart from him “nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). “What is implicit in Genesis 1 is made explicit in John 1,” Ware said. And though a point contested by some evangelical theologians, he stressed the clarity of the biblical teaching of the Son’s submission to the Father before and during the incarnation.
According to Ware, more than 40 times in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he came to do the will of his Father (e.g., John 6:38; 8:42; 10:36). The Father initiated the plan for his eternal Son to come into the world, as texts such as John 3:16-17; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:1-2; and 1 John 4:9-10 indicate. The Father’s plan from eternity has been to bring to pass his purposes through the Son (Eph 1:9-11; 3:8-12).
“The eternal Son, God the Son, is both fully God and fully equal to the Father, while he is fully Son and eternally in a relationship of agent of the Father, carrying out the work and implementing the will of the Father in full submission and obedience to all that the Father has planned,” Ware said.
In the third session, Ware discussed the incarnate Son. As in eternity past, the Son – as the one who became forever incarnate in taking upon himself a human nature in addition to his divine nature – submits to the Father’s will (see John 8:28-29; 1 Cor 11:3). In the Bible, Ware pointed out, one never encounters an instance in which the Son exercises authority over the Father. The Son obeys out of love for the Father (John 14:31) and in view of his future reign and exaltation (Ps 2:7-9; 1 Cor 15:25-28).
Ware addressed Jesus’ relationship to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Spirit-anointed Messiah of whom the Old Testament prophesies, and as the incarnate Son, he lives an authentically human life by relying on the Spirit. And beyond living as a human being in submission to the Spirit, Jesus performed miracles by the power of the Spirit (Matt 12:28; Acts 2:22; 10:38).
Building off of Philippians 2:5-8, Ware taught that Jesus did not give up any of his deity in assuming a human nature. Rather, he gave up the privileges of his deity and experienced a truly human life. This, he noted, is subtraction by addition. The Son’s deity is not taken away in the incarnation, but the incarnation does veil it.
In the fourth session, Ware talked about the Son as the exalted Lord. Having completed the task that the Father set before him, the Son reigns as the glorified king, though still under his Father’s authority and in the continued power of the Spirit. As a result of his successful mission, Ware explained, the Son defeated the penalty and power of sin, as well as conquering Satan’s power over humanity (1 Cor 15:54-57; Col 2:13-15). Also, the Son earned the right to sit at the Father’s right hand from which he rules and reigns over the nations, maintaining his rights as savior of the elect and judge of the non-elect (Heb 1:3; Eph 1:18-23; cf. Ps 2:7-9; Matt 28:18-20; John 6:37-39). And at the consummation of all things, the Son as the exalted Lord will return to reign with his bride, the church (Dan 7:15-18; Rev 22:1-5).
The event’s Tuesday-night panel discussion featured Ware and two other members of Southern’s faculty, Zane Pratt and Thomas J. Nettles. Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Southern’s Boyce College, moderated the panel. Ware, Pratt and Nettles discussed a range of topics, such as the need to communicate the deity of Christ to Muslims, church history’s relationship to biblical doctrine, the nature of Christ-centered preaching and the normative trinitarian pattern for prayer.
The Wednesday-night panel consisted of Southern Seminary professors Gregg R. Allison, Jim Hamilton and Stephen J. Wellum along with Ware. Allison served as moderator, raising for the panel questions pertaining to how practical church issues relate to Christology. Responding to questions from both Allison and the audience, the panel members gave insights about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, weddings and funerals, with a christological focus.
An effort of Southern Seminary’s alumni relations office, Alumni Academy seeks to offer ministry enhancement and ongoing theological learning to the institution’s alumni. Alumni Academy events are of no cost to Southern alumni, and for a nominal fee, alumni who attend can bring with them members of their church staff. Southern Seminary faculty members R. Albert Mohler Jr., Randy Stinson, Joe Crider and Gregg R. Allison will each teach course offerings in the coming months.
More information about Alumni Academy is available at events.sbts.edu