September 4, 2013
“The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits” by Jack Kilcrease
Reviewed by Jack Cascione
“The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits” by Jack Kilcrease, is a new publication by Wipf & Stock, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene OR 97401. Kilcrease, an LCMS layman, recently earned his Doctorate from Marquette and is an adjunct professor at Aquinas College and the Institute for Lutheran Theology.
After he began reading Jack D. Kilcrease’s book Herman Otten decided he didn’t have the time to give it a thorough review. So he asked me to review it for him. With a wall of books on doctrine and exegesis I rarely pick up a book on doctrine for casual reading unless directed by the requirements of a sermon, debate, Bible study or research for writing. Most of my reading lies in exegetical interests.
With an average of five footnotes on each of his 10 by 7 inch, 310 pages in small print with notoriously small Pieperian quotes, I believe Kilcrease actually read the 1400 volumes in his 35 page Bibliography. He should also considered publishing two if not three different books rather than squeeze all this information into one edition.
After reading his book (and it took a while) would I buy it? The answer is absolutely yes. However, my answer is based on self-interest. Also, do not read Kilcrease’s book without a highlighter and a pencil. He does not include an index or list of Scripture verses. The book is so condensed careful reading, and at times re-reading, is required. More than a third of every page consists of quotes from other authors. I averaged about four highlights per page and wrote notes to myself about every third page.
As a reviewer, I count Chemnitz’s “Two Natures of Christ” one of the ten greatest books written by man; therefore Kilcrease’s approach to Christology was of particular interest. Based on my expectations his book had strengths, weakness, surprises, and question marks.
Let’s begin at the beginning. The first 130 pages were the most difficult. Suddenly on page 131 he becomes a different writer, but I had to finish reading the book to find out why.
He begins with an 8 page endorsement of the Doctrine of Inspiration similar to those found in the Concordia Commentaries, to which he and most of the Concordia writers do not refer again after the introduction. In other words, the Doctrine of Inspiration does not direct his theology. He certainly agrees with it, but his interests lie elsewhere.
Worship, redemption, atonement, and liturgy are his dominant themes, the current conservative Lutheran chic recoiling from the entropy of the Church Growth Movement.
Kilcrease begins with a review of Christology in the Old Testament followed by the New Testament and engages in 130 pages of the most extensive citations of parallels, allusions, analogies, symbolism, typologies, comparisons, and allegories I’ve ever read by a Lutheran writer and he does it very well. Page after page he enumerates parallels under the chapter titles, “Mediation in the Old Testament Part 1,” and “Part 2,” “Christology and Atonement in the New Testament Part 1,” and “Part 2,” and “The Mystery of the Person of Christ Part 1,” and “Part 2.” The following are just five of the hundreds of allusions in his book:
“In the tabernacle the seven planets appear to be represented by the seven lamp stands.” (Page 25)
“Revelation 4:3 places this rainbow behind Christ and therefore sees Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of peace with creation.” (Page 30)
“In fact, one is careful to tell us that the place where Jesus was crucified also had a garden (i.e., in reminiscence of the garden-temple) nearby: ‘Now in the place where he was crucified there was garden.’” (Page 71-2)
“Christ lying dead on the cross is reminiscent of Adam asleep giving birth to Eve out of his side.” (Page 73)
“Just as they were driven east out of the garden (Gen 3), so Israel is driven east out of the garden land (Gen 11).” (Page 124)
Later, I realized that my difficulty in reading the first 130 pages was that I could not identify a narrative or storyline because Kilcrease is actually cataloguing parallels. I found the parallels a valuable resource to illustrate a sermon or discuss in a Bible class or include in a devotion or in an article. The first 130 pages could be published separately and expanded with more explanation under the title “Prophetic Parallels about Jesus from the Bible,” though I doubt this was the author’s intent.
The collection of all these parallels into one volume is worth the price of the book. But, “Why so many? He couldn’t possibly record them all. For example He didn’t include parallels relating to Jacob’s marriage to an ugly woman, Jacob’s selection of speckled sheep, or Joseph’s explanation of the Butler’s and the Baker’s dreams. The answer must be that Kilcrease couldn’t resist quoting a good parallel when he saw one, and then another, and then another.
While he lists all these parallels Kilcrease offers a theological defense for the preincarnate Christ in the Old Testament (page 18), Moses as the mediator of the law (page 21,) and the preincarnate Christ as Mediator of the Gospel (Page 22). He then gives a remarkable discourse on the threefold office of the preincarnate Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King in the Old Testament (Pages 25-50).
Kilcrease’s source (Page 21) for Moses meaning “son” in Egyptian, (Dozeman, 2009) should be Cassuto’s Exodus (1951), who is not included in the bibliography. A Jewish exegete, Umberto Cassuto’s scholarship surpasses Whellhausen and Keil-Delitzsch. The point is that Kilcrease’s book would benefit from a more thorough exegetical development of his theology.
Kilcrease cites (Page 30) Daly (1978) for his source on relating circumcision to a bloody sacrifice. However, Cassuto writes, “Surely a bloody-bride-groom are you to me, meaning, I am delivering you from death—indeed, I am restoring you to life—by means of your son’s blood; and your return to life makes you, as it were, my bridegroom a second time, this time a blood-bridegroom, a bridegroom acquired through blood.” (Exodus Page 60-61) On page 135 Cassuto relates the blood of circumcision to the blood of the Passover. Cassuto also sees every manifestation of the Malach YHWH, the Angel of the Lord, (one of Kilcease’s major themes) as the presence of God in the Old Testament.
Again, my point is that Kilcrease tries to cover too much territory without sufficient exegetical support.
Cassuto, arguably the most significant Hebrew writer and scholar since the Masoretes, who labors endlessly to defend the veracity of the text against the Documentary Hypothesis, knows nothing of Christ, and refuses to explain who “He” is in Genesis 3:15. Here is perhaps my greatest disappointment with Kilcrease. He does not sufficiently expound the protoevangelian, the first Gospel, a term he cites on numerous occasions. In order to have validity, the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy must be anchored in Genesis 3:15. This was Kilcrease’s opportunity to break down the verse word by word, trace the words through the Old and New Testament, cite its historical usage in the church, explain who confessed it, who rejected it, relate it to other doctrines, and validate all of his parallels about Christ in the Old Testament.
Kilcrease’s attempts to construct a unified theology out of his outstanding array of parallels are less than convincing. Parallel’s make thin soup. Page after page he resorts to caveats instead of affirming absolutes such as: “have suggested (Page 73),” “reminiscent of Adam (Page 73),” “if Jesus (Page 73),” “Christ is portrayed (Page 82),” “the scene contains overtones (Page 84)” “John evokes several intertextual echoes (Page 85),” “this passage echoes the portrayal (Page 85),” “it may be inferred (Page 103),” etc. These are only a sampling of Kilcreases indefinite doctrinal propositions. Layered on top of these numerous allusions is a steady drum beat for liturgy and liturgical worship such as “Creation is therefore a liturgical narrative of divine glorification.” (Page 97) I confess; I am guilty; I have never worshipped God as I should.
The catalogue of parallels with Christ are worth the price of the book but the first 130 pages lack sufficient development and is layered with too many themes including atonement, redemption liturgy and worship.
For this writer, Kilcrease’s most significant offering in the first 130 pages, perhaps an innovation, was his theme of Jesus as Prophet Priest and King in the Old Testament. This whole section would be well suited as a separate book with broader attestation from the Early Church, the Reformers, various traditions, and Hebrew scholars.
Suddenly on page 131 another Kilcrease emerges. He is clearly more confident, at ease and exact about his subject. The caveats in the first part of the book fade away and Kilcrease starts writing with more and more certainty. In the second half of the book he quotes Luther, the Confessions, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Melanchthon, Pieper, and many other Lutheran Reformers. He argues against Calvin, Zwingli and others, why they are wrong, why the Lutherans were right, supplies abundant proof texts from Scripture and develops one theme at a time. He addresses the views of numerous 20th century theologians including Bultmann, Harnack, Pannenburg, Elert, Wingren and so many others I can’t name them all. There is continuity, theme, plot and pros and cons. Before I knew it, I had read 60 pages rather than struggle with10 pages a day in First Kilcrease.
In Second Kilcrease it becomes evident that he is skilled in analyzing, condensing, and explaining the theological positions of other theologians. His adroit summary of various Christological controversies was great reading. Here again his book is worth the purchase price, if for no other than his rare ability to give a concise and clear explanation of complicated issues. I wish I had his book before covering the second volume of Pieper at the seminary. At times I thought I was reading Pieper. He takes the reader with absolute confidence through the three genuses. One would have preferred that he had covered even more of the many issues in Christology than he did. You guessed it. He should write another book titled “A Review of Christology.”
He gives an informative examination of the Catholic position on the virgin birth. Otten will appreciate his defense of Isaiah 7:14 (Page 134). One wishes for a similar treatment of Gen. 3:15.
Perhaps His review of Christ’s threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in the New Testament in relation to the Trinity is his own contribution. I don’t have enough familiarity with the subject. While rejecting Gustaf Aulen’s views on Christus Victor, Kilcrease embraces Aulen’s motifs on Christ’s conquest, substitution, and revelation in the threefold office. Kilcrease writes,“…when properly understood each office of Christ correlates to an atonement motif.” (Page 200) This was new for me.
Kilcrease does a high wire act tracing the Doctrine of Atonement through the threefold office of Christ in relation to the Trinity. That’s what I said, and I understood him. For example he writes: “Because the threefold office and action of reconciliation expresses the unity of Triune agency in creation and redemption, each office and work of reconciliation corresponds to a person of the Trinity.” (Page 208) This was fascinating to say the least and deserves further attention.
As strong as Kilcrease is in Christology he is surprising short on the Doctrine of Justification. He argues against self-justification throughout the book. However, where he discusses redemption or redeemer on nearly every page, justification lacks attention. He brings up justification on pages 140-141, 248-49, and 255-58. There is a brief mention of imputation, reconciliation and baptism. When he does expound the Doctrine of Justification it lacks the depth and insight he gives to redemption and atonement.
On balance the New Testament (KJV) does not use the word “Redeemer.” “Redemption,” appears 11 times and “redeem,” and “redeemed,” appear 11 times and “atonement,” just one time. However, “justification,” “justify,” “justified,” appear 41 times. “Righteous” and “righteousness” appear 144 times. Kilcrease gives the same curtsy to objective and subjective justification at the end of the book that he gave to inspiration at the front of the book. To what do we owe this lack of balance?
Most likely, Kilcrease, who is highly influenced by the Fort Wayne faculty, is following Fort Wayne’s admiration for Greek Orthodoxy and the Early Church. David Scaer gives Kilcrease a glowing forward and Kilcrease quotes him at least 20 times in his book, including many quotes by Just, Gieschen, Richard Mueller, Marquart, also Gibbs from St. Louis.
There are a few things I question about Kilcrease’s views. He states that theologians of glory seek righteousness “through knowing and doing.” (Page 106) That’s a broad statement. “Doing” yes, but how else can I gain righteousness except by knowing Scripture?
Forgiveness as an ability smacks of Sacerdotalism when he writes, “Not only are the disciples given the ability to forgive in Jesus name…” (Page 194) Isn’t the “ability” to forgive given through the word alone, and is not a spiritual gift in the individual?
He infers that John 6 is addressing the Lord’s Supper when he writes, “He does so by literally giving the sacrificed substance of his being on which they are to masticate. This flesh and blood is something living (John 6:53-58).” He then cites FC SD Article 8; CT 1035 “On the Person of Christ” while Article 7 is on the Lord’s Supper, not Article 8. (Page 194)
When he finally discusses Christ’s propitiation it is in terms of Evangelical excess rather than expounding the most important synonym for justification in the Apology. (Page 212)
I think it is speculation to suggest that Adam possessed what we understand to be “the divine righteousness of faith” before the fall. Kilcrease will need more evidence from Scripture to expound on the nature of Adam’s faith. (Page 147)
The Doctrine of Inspiration should be the primary source to which Lutherans look for relevance before they enlist the support of tradition, church history, and ritual.
This review is a cursory examination of an important book and subject to the limitations of this writer. Our advice is, “Buy this book and read it for yourself.” It will be an important addition to any pastor’s library and Lutheran discourse on the Two Natures Christ. Kilcrease is sure to be quoted in many future Lutheran works.