EN: How did you come to know the Lord and how did you end up teaching theology at Southern Baptist Seminary?
BW: I was greatly blessed to have grown up with parents who were devoted to Christ and committed to his work. I trusted in Christ as my Saviour when I was six years old, and was baptised the following year. Both of my parents loved missions and missionaries, and gave sacrificially to help in a multitude of ways. Our home was the one that missionaries stayed in while visiting our church. My parents’ heart for missions was reflected in their desire that their children be exposed to missions work and, as a result, they sent me for a summer missions trip to Madagascar when I was 15 years old. You can imagine the impact that had on my young life.
I developed much in my understanding of the Christian faith early in college, due to God’s gracious work in me, and his directing me to reading that expanded my mind and heart. Most formative was my reading of A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, which contributed to the high and glorious view of God I have come to see is the God of the Bible.
From that time on, my orientation has been toward theology and particularly the doctrine of God. The Lord led me to a life of teaching theology, which eventually brought me to Southern Seminary. It has been my privilege to be here now for 15 years — a place where it is evident God’s blessing and favour rests.
EN: What are you speaking on at New Word Alive?
BW: The title of my series is: ‘“The Man Christ Jesus”, and the men and women we are to be’. The thrust is that Jesus lived his life and obeyed the Father as a man. Only when we see this can we embrace what it means to live like Jesus. I am speaking four times; here are session titles with brief descriptions.
Session 1: ‘The Man Christ Jesus: Trinitarian background and framework’ — fully God and fully man; eternal Son and incarnate Son — this is the framework for understanding rightly Jesus’s humanity.
Session 2: ‘Beholding the wonder and wisdom of God become (also) a man’ — two astonishing teachings of the New Testament — Christ’s incarnation and kenosis (i.e. self-emptying) — are crucial for appreciating the human life Jesus lived.
Session 3: ‘Jesus living his life and accomplishing his mission as the Spirit-empowered Messiah’ — why did Jesus (the God-man) have the Spirit of God upon him? We explore this glorious truth and see its relevance for our lives.
Session 4: ‘Jesus facing temptation and growing in obedience as a man’ — was Jesus’s resisting of temptation and obedience easy and automatic because he was God? We explore why the answer here is a resounding ‘no’.
EN: These messages are based on your new book The Man Christ Jesuswhich I think is excellent. What was it that prompted you to write that book?
BW: Evangelicals have often felt the need, and rightly so, to defend the deity of Christ against attacks. In so doing, I fear that many have lost sight of the equally important truth of the full and integral humanity of Christ.
Furthermore, when one begins to probe just how Jesus lived his life day by day, resisting temptation and obeying the will of his Father, one discovers that the New Testament emphasis is on the humanity, not the deity, of Christ.
So although Jesus was fully God and fully man, it is remarkable and, for many, even startling to realise that he lived his life, for the most part, as a man in the power of the Spirit. The importance of this realisation is not only that we understand Jesus in the Gospels more accurately, but we understand better how it is that we are called to live like Christ.
If he lived his life out of his deity, he could not truly be an example for how we should live, since we are not God. But instead he lived his life as a man, in the power of the Spirit, and at Pentecost, that very same Spirit is granted to us.
EN: Many evangelicals would distance themselves from your stance on gender issues. Why do you see that area as so very important?
BW: I am a committed complementarian, based squarely on clear and uniform teaching of the Bible. Complementarianism is the view that God has created men and women, in his image, equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different yet complementary in function, with male headship in the home and believing community being understood as part of God’s created design.
I don’t believe that a complementarian commitment is of the highest order of doctrinal primacy. I would reserve doctrinal primacy for such cardinal Christian beliefs as the triune nature of God, the substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and Christ’s literal and physical return to earth one day yet future — doctrines, that is, that impinge on the very truth of the gospel itself.
Yet, though not doctrinally central, a complementarian commitment is nonetheless strategically essential for the Christian church. As one examines the pressure points in which our increasingly neo-pagan culture is attempting to overthrow Christianity, it is clear that the primary areas in which Christianity is urged to conform are on issues of gender and sexuality. Postmoderns and ethical relativists care little about doctrinal truth claims; these seem to them innocuous, archaic, and irrelevant to life. What they do care about, and care with a vengeance, is whether their feminist agenda and sexual perversions are tolerated, endorsed and expanded in an increasingly neo-pagan landscape.
Because this is what they care most about, it is precisely here that Christianity is most vulnerable. To lose the battle here is to subject the church to increasing layers of departure. And, surely, it will not be long until ethical departures (the church yielding to feminist pressures for women’s ordination, for example) will yield even more central doctrinal departures (questioning whether Scripture’s inherent patriarchy renders it fundamentally untrustworthy, for example). When this happens, even though the compromises take place on matters which are not doctrinally central to the faith, the church becomes desensitised to Scripture’s radical call and it forms instead a taste for worldly accolades. As Jesus taught, the one faithful with a little will be faithful with much. But the reverse seems also to hold. To compromise on a little thing will pave the way for compromises on many more things that matter much.
EN: You are well known as a passionate speaker. What is it that most excites you about God and keeps you from becoming a dry academic?
BW: Perhaps because of the impact of Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy on my mind and heart, I have, by God’s grace, enjoyed a consistent vision of his infinite greatness, glory, richness, and beauty. This vision exposes my finite weaknesses, littleness, emptiness, and folly. That contrast fuels my passion for proclaiming the supremacy of God in the various aspects of my academic life, teaching, writing and preaching.
EN: What should British Christians be praying for their American brothers and sisters at the present time?
BW: The forces of culture that urge compromise seem to be growing in strength day by day. It saddens many of us greatly to see how gifted, articulate, professing evangelicals are compromising central aspects of the faith to yield a more palatable version of Christianity, one that is watered down to be almost unrecognisable. We appreciate your prayers that we would have wisdom, courage, and winsomeness to withstand the assault. I try to remind myself regularly that the foremost criterion by which we will one day be judged before our Maker and Redeemer is whether or not we have been faithful (1 Corinthians 4.2). Regardless of what happens in the culture, in Britain or the United States, may we persevere to the end, faithful to him who called us, and faithful to the Word gracious given us.
Dr. Bruce Ware is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
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