Christ Alone -- The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior

What the Reformers Taught ... And Why It Still Matters

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Stephen Wellum
Editor(s): 
Matthew Barrett
Five Solas Series
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , April
     2017.
     352 pages.
     $24.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780310515746.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In his second contribution to Christological studies, Stephen Wellum offers readers an accessible volume on the person and work of Jesus with Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as SaviorChrist Alone is part of a larger series from Zondervan on the five solas of the Reformation. Edited by Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the series includes four other volumes by Thomas Schreiner, Carl Trueman, David Vandrunen, and Matthew Barrett.

Wellum divides the book into three sections: (1) The Exclusivity of His Identity; (2) The Sufficiency of His Work; and (3) Christ Alone in the Reformation and Today, providing insight into Wellum’s theological method. Wellum observes, “we can begin to recover the Reformers’ basic insights by focusing on two teachings: the exclusive identity of Christ and his sufficient work” (20). According to Wellum, this methodological decision should show, “from beginning to end, this book confesses with the Reformers that Jesus Christ bears the exclusive identity of God the Son incarnate and has accomplished an all-sufficient work to fulfill God’s eternal plans and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth” (27).

Readers familiar with Wellum’s previous work will not be surprised to see him place the development of the Bible’s testimony regarding Christ’s identity in “the covenantal storyline of Scripture” (31). Wellum concludes that a consequence of covenantal Christology is “the confession that the salvation of humanity depends upon the person and work of Christ” (32). Wellum maintains this isn’t a hypothetical necessity, but that the soteriological enterprise literally requires both the person and work of Christ in a consequent absolute necessity. Wellum explores this identity in the Scripture’s attestation to the identity of Christ, Christ’s self-understanding of his identity, and finally, the apostolic witness to Christ’s identity.

In the second section of the book, Wellum moves from an exploration of Jesus’s identity into an examination of his work. Wellum begins the four chapter section by giving the reader an overview of the priest, prophet, and kingly aspects of Jesus’s threefold office as well as a historic treatment of scholarship regarding the “cross-work” of Christ. In the latter section, Wellum works through patristic, medieval, reformation, and modern-era atonement theories—with extensive attention to Anselm’s understanding of the satisfaction theory—and sets the stage for Reformation advances into penal substitution. Wellum then gives a two-chapter definition and defense of penal-substitutionary atonement. The viability of Wellum’s argument rests on an understanding of “the God-law-sin and forgiveness relationship” (221).

Wellum’s third section examines the view—and modern implications—of the Reformers doctrine of sola Christus. Before describing ways in which the Reformers thought of justification contra Rome, Wellum begins the section with a chapter on the Chalcedonian unity shared among Protestants and Catholics. Wellum argues that the schism between Rome and the Reformers was not necessarily on the exclusivity of Christ; rather, the disagreement was on “the sufficiency of his work, especially Christ alone as the sole ground of our justification which we receive through faith alone” (257). After considering the Reformation view of justification, Wellum continues by dissecting the modern-day implications of the doctrine and examining its current opponents. In his conclusion, Wellum leaves readers with the tools to recapture the vitality of Christ alone today. 

Wellum has much to offer readers with his introduction to the person and work of Christ. Unfortunately, this centrist approach does not fit comfortably into a purely academic nor popular-level treatment of Christology. Yet, this should be considered one of the volumes strengths as Wellum makes Christology clear and accessible. A single review is insufficient to cover all the strengths of the volume, for there is value woven throughout the work. In addition to accessibility, Wellum capably shows readers how to move between theological disciplines with ease. Bringing the best of systematic and biblical theology to the table, Wellum places his Christological conversation in covenantal context while synthesizing doctrinal significance. Moreover, Wellum’s ability to break the mold of dichotomizing the person and work of Christ is evident when he states, “we transition from the exclusive identity of Christ to the sufficiency of his work by look[ing] at the relationship between the two, namely who Christ is determines what he does; what he does reveals who he is” (107). However, this connection could have been made stronger by utilizing an alternative definition of ontological and functional Christology. Wellum equates these two categories to studying Christ’s divinity or humanity. Therefore, Wellum’s theology of a united Christ could be enhanced by a definition related to Christ’s person (ontology) and practice (functionality). Beyond categorical differences, another difficulty readers might encounter is the surprising lack of Reformation history. Though the volume has the tagline, “what the Reformers taught … and why it still matters” it is more accurately defined as an introduction to the person and work of Christ.

These two issues aside, anyone interested in the vital doctrines of Christ’s person and work should read Christ Alone. There is rich Christological reflection in these 300+ pages, for Wellum has done the necessary work to welcome not only academics into reflecting on Christ, but he makes the thought of the Reformers readily available to pastors and laymen alike.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ronni Kurtz is a doctoral student in Systematic Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
January 14, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway). He is also the author of a forthcoming volume on Christology in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (Crossway). He is also writing a systematic theology that will be published around 2017 (B&H Academic).

Matthew Barrett is tutor of systematic theology and church history at Oak Hill Theological College in London. He is the executive editor of Credo Magazine, as well as the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace, Four Views on the Historical Adam, and Owen on the Christian Life.

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