Made Man by Craig Hamilton
Jesus is a Puzzle
How do you picture your Jesus - Is he a tradie? A wise teacher? A crazy fanatic? Perhaps you picture a healer with magical powers? Hamilton quotes Ricky Bobby (played by Will Ferrell) in the 2006 movie Talladega Nights, about to say grace and conjuring up the Jesus he likes to pray to best: “I like the Christmas Jesus best…[not] grown up Jesus or teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus…” Ricky Bobby’s best friend pipes up, “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt because it says, like, I want to be formal but I’m here to party too. Because I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.” (p. 9) As ridiculous as the movie scene is, we all have a certain image we picture in our minds. What Jesus do you picture? And who is the real Jesus? Reading this book opened my eyes again to the Biblical Jesus and helped me to see him in sharper colour and “with meat” as Hamilton would say.
As you might be able to tell from the Talladega Nights quote this is not your average book on doctrine. As Hamilton states in the opening pages, “I wanted to read a book that put the key biblical pieces for the incarnation, the historical theology stuff, and what Jesus’ incarnation actually does all togethor in one place in a way that I could actually survive reading it.” (p.12) As I scanned my eye over the contents page, (particularly the Heresies, creeds and councils bit, with chapter titles like: “Docetism”, “Apollinarianism” and “Eutychianism”) - I wasn’t super sure Hamilton could achieve this. But he does, and he does it really well.
What the Bible Says
The book is divided into three sections. The first chunk excavates the Biblical evidence for the man Jesus. I knew before I opened the book that Hamilton was going to start with the gospel of John. How could he not? Here is a gospel that has an identity for Jesus, “the Word” before he takes on human nature. If ever a part of scripture so clearly displays Jesus as “fully God” and “fully man”, this is it!
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son and the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)
What the Early Church Said
The idea that Jesus was one person with two natures: human and divine, was fought over bitterly. In the second chunk of the book Hamilton focuses on these battles and the way that the doctrine of the incarnation, “God made meat”, has been handled historically.
Interesting fact: While every serious historian acknowledges that Jesus was a real person who lived and taught, many today struggle to acknowledge his divinity. But did you know, the ancient world had the opposite problem, they struggled to accept that Jesus, the Son of God, could be a man.
Something that surprised me as I read this book was that I wasn’t expecting to get swept up in the adventure of reading about doctrine. This is Netflix series material here with intrigue, big personalities, and people behaving badly. Through it all you see God working through faithful and flawed people to preserve his gospel message. In the final wash up at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD those in the church had agreed that Jesus was fully God and fully human, one person with two natures (human and divine) and that the person of Jesus is the most important bit to look at.
Nerd alert: If you’re a person who likes to read all the words of a book including every footnote, thank you and appendix, there is a fun joke for you on page 135 - I had a giggle.
What Hamilton Says: Redemption Begins In The Incarnation
In the third chunk of the book Hamilton draws the Biblical evidence and church history threads tightly togethor to make his final argument that: “The incarnation and cross are together the main show.” (p. 220) “A single whole”. This is a super important point. Hamilton is right, evangelicals do tend to cut out the centrepiece, Jesus’ death on the cross, and focus on penal substitutionary atonement. However, “Scripture views the entire life and work of Christ as a single whole.” (p.220 Herman Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics p.378) Becoming a man was the beginning of the substitute, it culminates in Jesus’ sacrificial death, but it’s a single whole.
This is a really important book. Not because Hamilton is saying things that are wildly new, (he takes great pains to show that we should be wary of new teaching). But because he’s unearthing things that are wildly true, and it’s for our benefit to know the person of Jesus better, to notice the clues in the Biblical text that give us information about his humanity and his divinity and the interaction between the two. He also gives us front row seats to the arguments that were so passionately fought over to preserve the historically accurate Jesus, the living, breathing Jesus - with arms and hair and sweat and tears - who inhabits the God-head right now, a human and divine King, the real Jesus, who left heaven to come get us.
For me, having read this book will change the way I present the gospel to my teenage students during the week and gives me a much longer view of Jesus’ sacrifice and obedience rather than always zooming in to the moment on the cross. Helpfully I think it reminds us that Jesus’ life is a story, and stories are what captivate us. We can’t just focus on the climax only. The climax is shorthand for the rest.
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie loves books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study with young mums at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. She also teaches the Bible at two local High schools and enjoys hearing what teenagers think about Jesus. Please pray for Katie as she starts studying at Moore College this year.