Christ Alone, the Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior by Stephen Wellum
Stephen Wellum contributes Christ Alone to The 5 Solas Series, edited by Matthew Barrett and published by Zondervan. Each volume handles one of the foundational Solas of the Reformation, showing why each is important and detailing the theology behind it. Christ Alone does not disappoint in its mission. Wellum, who is a professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees “Sola Christus as the linchpin of coherency for all Christian theology” (p. 22). With this in mind “the goal of this book is to learn from the Reformers’ Solus Christus so that we might proclaim the same Christ in our context today” (p. 24).
Wellum divides his book into three parts: the exclusivity of Christ’s identity, the sufficiency of His work, and the Reformers’ teachings on Christ and their relevancy for today.
In Part One the author deals largely with the incarnation and its implication. Seeing the Scriptures as Christocentric means that the entire plan of God moves to its conclusion in Christ (p. 52) and that Christ is the goal of the entire Old Testament (p. 62). Of significance in this section are arguments on why Christ had to come and die (pp. 33-35, 45), that the principle feature of the New Covenant is complete forgiveness (p. 48; cf p. 202), a discussion about why Jesus called Himself the Son of Man (pp. 74-75), the reason Jesus gives for His coming to earth (pp. 76, 98), a solid exegesis of Romans 1:1-4; Philippians 2:7; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4 (pp. 86-106), and six reasons for the incarnation and atonement drawn from Hebrews 2:5-18 (pp. 109-121). It is also in this section are the author’s covenantal bias is seen in his beliefs that the kingdom has been inaugurated (pp. 65-66), Jesus is the true Israel (p. 69), and in the Covenant of Redemption (p. 39).
Part Two begins with the Reformed teaching on Christ as prophet, priest and king (pp. 127-155). It then moves into the cross-work of Christ which is largely a defense of penal substitution as the best and fullest understanding of the atonement (pp. 157-248). Here we are given an excellent overview of historical development, theories of the atonement, false views of atonement and a biblical exploration of penal substitution. Especially helpful are repeated reminders of why God cannot merely overlook sin and therefore why the cross was necessary (pp. 168-178, 212-217, 225).
The final section begins with the Council of Chalcedonian (451) which established the standard for orthodox Christology (pp. 251-256). And, while the Roman Catholic church claims adherence to the Chalcedonian Creed, the Reformers differed with Rome over the application of the Creed. Rome agreed with the nature of Christ but departed over sufficiency. Christ’s cross-work was insufficient for our salvation apart from our additional efforts via the sacramental system. Therefore, Rome developed a synergistic system which was rejected by the Reformers (pp. 257-259). The last two chapters detail modern challenges to Christ Alone, including the so-called historical quests for Jesus that are in essence a denial of His deity, and even His humanity, as presented in Scripture (pp. 292-294).
Overall Christ Alone is a thorough, theologically sound and insightful addition to The 5 Solas Series. I would differ with some of Wellum’s covenantal language and doctrine, but this does not alter the substantial contribution this volume makes to the doctrine of Sola Christus.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel