In my quest for introductory volumes for use in seminary classrooms I have come across t&t clark’s “Guide for the Perplexed” series. From what I can tell thus far I really like the line. It attempts to walk the balance of being introductory without being simplistic, and it seems to me that is exactly what is needed for seminary classrooms – something that can give students a feel for the field, the players and the jargon, and a good bibliography to follow up further material.
Towards this end, t&t clark were gracious enough to send me a review copy of Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2008) by Alan Spence. I have read Spence’s other volume with them, Incarnation and Inspiration: John Owen and the Coherence of Christology, and his love for Owen comes out in this new book as well. It seems that Spence worked a little harder in this introductory volume to provide more nuance in his account of classical Christology, which was appreciated, but still tended to use the “two schools” approach. For pedagogical reasons, I am fine with this, but I think it needs the added caveat that whatever account we give will be an over-simplification. I would have like to see a section, even a short section, dealing with the different interpretive schools of this classical period – highlighting the movement in the field away from stark contrasts.
All in all, I think this could very well be an excellent choice for an introductory class covering Christology. As I remember back to my seminary experience I had difficultly holding in my head the various approaches to engaging “the Jesus question,” and this has only been heightened by the recovery of the historical Jesus quest. Spence, in order to provide a broad context, breaks the volume down into two main sections: “Classical Christology” and “Modern Christology.” Interestingly, Owen stands in the very center of these (even in terms of page count – the discussion of Owen is on pgs. 70-73 and the second section ends on p. 140). This is clearly Spence’s preferred account, which I actually really like. Owen’s account is followed by Edwards in his Christology (as an interesting historical aside), with various differences based on his theology.
Overall, I think Spence navigates the issues well, offering both historical and theological insights that will be helpful and challenging for the beginning student. There are various interpretive decisions towards which (no doubt) people will take aim, but I think that a volume at this level should be alloted breathing room for those kinds of things. I would have liked to see a bit more constructive work, something like what Collins did in the Trinity volume, but this doesn’t diminish the overall helpfulness of it.