If Evangelicalism is to have a future connected to historic Christianity…It will need to break the nexus of non-ecclesiastical and unaccountable platform, power, and money which currently appears to determine the boundaries of orthodoxy; it will need to recognize that errors on the doctrine of God have historically proved just as lethal to orthodoxy as those on scripture … it will need to set its biblical theology in positive relation to systematic theology and the creedal and confessional heritage of the church; and it will need to think long and hard about how orthodoxy is transmitted from generation to generation.
‘To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.’ So wrote John Henry Newman in his famous essay on doctrinal development. I have critiqued this comment from a confessional Reformed perspective in First Things and will do so again in a forthcoming collection of essays on the Canadian Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan, to be edited by the philosopher R. J Snell. I believe that confessional Protestants do have a good response to Newman on this issue. But after the last six months, I am not sure that the same can be said for Evangelicals. Given all that has emerged in the course of the Trinity debate, the question for them is: Is to be deep in history to cease to be Evangelical?
That is why I want to point Evangelicals towards Stephen Wellum’s new book on Christology. I would say that this is easily the Evangelical book of the year if one is looking for a volume that both makes an important contribution and is likely still to be read with profit ten years from now. Wellum is not one of the high profile Evangelical leaders but, for my money, he is one of their best systematicians and deserves to be widely read and listened to. If one of the key weaknesses with contemporary Evangelicalism is its detachment of biblical theology from dogmatic history, and notions of orthodoxy from church history, then Wellum’s approach is a welcome and necessary corrective.
First, he sets out the challenges to traditional Christology today by looking at the significance of trends in biblical studies since the Enlightenment, and the epistemological and metaphysical challenges that modernity posed for orthodoxy.