J. Ed Komoszewski and Robert Bowman recently co-authored Putting Jesus in His Place, a book Discerning Reader reviewer James Anderson says is "The most comprehensive, up-to-date, and readable defense of the deity of Christ available today." Komoszewski and Bowman were kind enough to answer some questions about this new book.
Discerning Reader: Why did you feel the need to write this book? Don't evangelical systematic theologies do an adequate job of presenting the exegetical basis for the deity of Christ?
Ed Komoszewski: Systematic theologies offer general surveys of the whole scope of Christian doctrine, which means that the typical systematic theology textbook might have five or ten pages on the biblical basis for affirming the deity of Christ. In any case, there has been a flood of biblical scholarship in just the past ten years of relevance to this subject, and until now there was no comprehensive, accessible treatment available that brought this recent scholarship together in one place.
DR: Who do you think will benefit most from the book?
EK: Anyone who is interested in what the Bible says about the identity of Jesus Christ will benefit from the book. However, we think pastors, Sunday school teachers, and others engaged in evangelistic and teaching ministries will especially benefit from the book, as it will equip them to expound on the Bible's teaching about Christ in a depth rarely seen today. We are already hearing about pastors who obtained advance copies of the book and are preaching through the material on Sunday mornings.
DR: Who came up with the HANDS mnemonic (Honors, Attributes, Names, Deeds, Seat)? Have you found it to be an effective teaching tool in practice?
EK: Ed came up with this acronym. He presented it to college classes and in churches even before conceiving of the book. We have both found it to be very effective in enabling people to recall the major lines of biblical evidence for the deity of Christ. One of the great things about the acronym is that it's "elastic.: In other words, the amount of information under each heading of the acronym can be expanded or collapsed depending on the user's preference. Some readers will commit to memorizing just a few basic ideas related to major points of the outline; others will choose to master much more material. We ourselves have found the acronym to be a convenient tool for communication in a variety of settings. From a brief encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses at the door to a semester-long class on Christology, the acronym has helped us present the case for Christ's deity comprehensively and clearly.
DR: The book rightly avoids a proof-texting approach to biblical argumentation. Nevertheless, do you think it would be useful for Christians to memorize some Scripture verses that give particularly clear affirmations of the deity of Christ? If so, which verses or passages would you recommend for this purpose?
EK: Absolutely! We recommend that Christians memorize some biblical texts pertaining to each of the five lines of support for the deity of Christ. In the concluding chapter of the book, we draw attention to some passages that actually include all five points in the HANDS acronym, such as John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:6-11, and Hebrews 1. Memorizing—or at least becoming thoroughly familiar—with these and similar blocks of material—paragraphs instead of isolated verses—will exercise a preemptive strike against inappropriate "proof-texting.:
DR: I take it that the book is aimed most directly at refuting the claims of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). But do your arguments have any relevance to other cults or non-Christian religions?
EK: Actually, we have a much broader field of interest than responding to the Jehovah's Witnesses. For example, we devote two chapters to the preexistence of Christ, much of which focuses on demonstrating that Jesus existed before his human life—a fact the Jehovah's Witnesses accept (although they deny that Christ preexisted eternally). The preexistence of Christ is a key truth denied, for example, by Muslims, by Unitarians, and by many liberals within Christianity. We also show that Jesus Christ is properly addressed in prayer—something denied, for example, by Mormons. So, the book provides a comprehensive defense of the deity of Christ that is of relevance to a number of different religious perspectives.
DR: The book interacts with a number of publications from Jehovah's Witnesses and it is evident that much of the book's material has been honed by years of experience in countering their claims. What kind of response to the book do you expect from Jehovah's Witnesses? How might readers of the book prepare for that response?
EK: Jehovah's Witness apologists are likely to focus most of their attention on the various texts that call Jesus Christ "God.: Beyond this narrow focus, they may attempt to rebut specific elements of the book. However, what they are unlikely to do is to offer a response that takes into account the totality of the biblical teaching across the five points. Christians who read the book will be thoroughly prepared for piecemeal rebuttals, because we explain carefully in the final chapter how the different elements of the case fit and work together.
DR: Since John 1:1 has played such a prominent role in debates over the deity of Christ, the relative brevity of your treatment of that verse (pp. 140-41) came as a surprise. Did you want to avoid the impression of putting too much weight on this one verse?
EK: Yes, that's part of the reason. Space limitations, frankly, were another consideration. If we had written more than a couple of pages on the grammatical issues pertaining to John 1:1, we would have ended up needing to write ten or even more pages just to explain the issues properly. We definitely want Christians to view John 1:1 as just one of hundreds of biblical passages relevant to the deity of Christ.
DR: If the biblical witness to the deity of Christ is so clear, why did it take nearly 300 years and decades of heated debate to formulate the Nicene Creed?
EK: The issue at Nicea was not so much the deity of Christ as the relation of the Son to the Father. Even the Arians, though they had some things seriously wrong, acknowledged that the Son was a divine person, worthy of worship. The modern popular notion that Christians believed that Jesus was a mere man until Constantine is simply a myth.
DR: It is often claimed that the biblical testimony to Jesus' deity is much stronger and clearer in the Epistles than in the Gospels. Do you agree? If so, why would this be? If not, why do many people think this to be the case?
EK: The Gospels are primarily narratives recounting what Jesus said and did, with minimal exposition of the significance of his actions and words. For that reason, explicit statements about Jesus being God are rare in the Gospels as compared to the Epistles. However, practically everything Jesus said and did is suffused with implicit evidence of deity. Jesus issued authoritative statements prefaced by "Amen, I say to you: where a rabbi would say "Rabbi X says this, and Rabbi Y says that, and in this case I side with Rabbi Y, except in this respect.: Jesus raised people from the dead, walked on the sea, and forgave people's sins—and did all of these things without the kinds of invocations that a prophet or merely human Jewish miracle worker would use. Jesus wanted his disciples to come to recognize his divine identity through witnessing his divine works, especially his own resurrection from the dead. The Epistles, written after Jesus' resurrection, provide the apostles' reflection as to the significance of what they saw and heard.
DR: Some relatively conservative biblical scholars have expressed doubts about the extent to which Jesus was aware of his divinity. Do you think those doubts are justified? Does the issue matter in any case?
EK: We are not told at what age Jesus became aware of his own divine identity, but whenever Jesus speaks in the Gospels, he appears to speak as one who knows who he is. We see no reason to doubt what the Gospels actually report as to what Jesus thought about himself.
DR: Did writing this book have any spiritual effect on you, either positive or negative?
EK: We have both been profoundly, positively affected through this process, as we have come to appreciate all the more how rich and how practical is the New Testament's teaching about Jesus Christ as the eternal, divine Son of God. Frankly, it's difficult to study these things without being moved all the more to worship, reverence, trust, and love our risen Lord. After all, the more we are overwhelmed with Jesus' infinite worth, the more we are stirred to treasure him above all temporal things.
DR: Can you tell us what your next writing project will be?
EK: Rob has just authored two new books (with Ken Boa) titled Sense & Nonsense about Heaven & Hell and Sense & Nonsense about Angels & Demons, respectively. Both books were just released by Zondervan. Ed is hard at work (with Dan Wallace) on a manuscript that examines the strange deeds of Jesus (like spitting in a blind man's face) and asks what such bizarre behavior says about Jesus' real identity. It should be available from Kregel in the summer or fall of 2008.
Read our review here: Putting Jesus in His Place.