New work of Christology marked by orthodox depth and ecumenical insights

Fr. Thomas Weinandy’s first volume of Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John powerfully demonstrates that the dynamism of the Gospel narratives only makes sense in light of the classical doctrine of God.

It may surprise many Catholic readers to know that Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap. has in recent years been one of the most significant living theologians for conservative Protestants. The reason for this odd celebrity of a Capuchin friar? His clear exposition and stalwart defense of classical theism has proved an inspiration and a resource for influential Protestant theologians. Indeed, figures such as James Dolezal, Matthew Barrett, and Craig Carter have found Weinandy’s work to be a vital source as they have sought to recover an orthodox doctrine of God in the face of the inroads made by evangelical biblicism and theistic mutualism, which have more in common with the Socinians of the seventeenth century than the magisterial Reformers of the sixteenth.

In light of this, it should be no surprise that Protestants such as myself greet every new volume from Weinandy’s pen with anticipation and enthusiasm.

Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John: Prologue and the Book of Signs is the second volume in Fr. Weinandy’s projected New Testament theology. The first volume dealt with the Synoptic Gospels and is a frequent point of reference for the argument in this volume, the first of two on the Fourth Gospel. Thus, while this volume stands on its own merits, readers may find it helpful to have read the first volume before engaging it. As the subtitle indicates, this book deals with John 1-12, covering the chapters typically referred to as the Prologue and the Book of Signs. A second Johannine volume will cover chapters 13-21, conventionally referred to as the Book of Glory.

Weinandy’s basic argument is that the first twelve chapters of John present, first, an explicitly theological identification of Christ’s person (the Prologue) and then the revelation of his person and work through the seven miracles, specifically identified by John as ‘signs.’ These begin with the changing of water into wine at Cana and culminate in the raising of Lazarus from the dead at Bethany.

Weinandy sees this not as a simple, flat narrative but as a crescendo, climaxing in the Bethany incident. All signs lead to Lazarus’s resurrection, and Lazarus’s resurrection is the great revelation of the work Christ has come to do, rooted in the person Christ is. Indeed, Weinandy goes so far as to declare that Lazarus’s resurrection is actually the reason why Jesus was able to perform the signs that are placed earlier in the narrative: it is the great declaration of who he is and the work he is to do, prior to his own death and resurrection. The account Weinandy gives of this narrative is beautiful and compelling. This is a scholarly book, but at points has a doxological and devotional feel.

What Weinandy does so well is the integration of theological concerns with the biblical narrative or, to put it in more arcane language, the integration of ontological claims with the drama of salvation. Thus, for example, on page 90 he declares that ‘to be enfolded within the hands of the Father and the Son, to live in communion with the Father in union with Jesus the Son, is to possess eternal life.’ That is a pithy summary of the nature of eternal life, and is also the conclusion of several pages of discussion of the ontological Trinity in relation to the Incarnation. Anyone who think that there is an inevitable tension or fissure between classical theism, biblical exegesis, and biblical devotion might do well to ponder what Weinandy is doing here.

Similarly, Weinandy’s discussion of divine love (193 ff.) is an excellent example of how the simplicity of God is vitally important to understanding the transcendent and powerful nature of his love and, by way of implication, how finite human language needs to be understood when applied to the divine nature. If the constant temptation of so many Christians is to anthropomorphize God in a manner that reduces him to nothing more than human nature writ large, Weinandy’s careful refraction of such language through the lens of divine simplicity is a most helpful example of how to avoid such.

For this reviewer, perhaps the most compelling section of the book deals with the Transfiguration. That might seem an odd claim. As those familiar with the Bible will know, the Transfiguration occurs in all three of the Synoptic Gospels but is completely absent from that of John. Why? Weinandy persuasively argues that the purpose the Transfiguration – the dramatic revelation of the person and the divine nature of Christ through his human flesh via the medium of light – is one of the dominant themes throughout the Gospel John, from the Prologue onwards. Pointing both to the Johannine refrain of Jesus as light, and to the rather inept comment by Peter in the Synoptics (that he could build three tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses), Weinandy highlights the significance of Jesus’s declaration during the Feast of Tabernacles that he is the light of the world.

In short, John’s Gospel does contain the Transfiguration, or is at least preoccupied with the theological purpose for which the Synoptics include it. One might say that John is the Gospel of the Transfiguration. And Weinandy does not simply use this to point to the ontology of Jesus as God manifest in the flesh, but also as the fulfillment of the Temple: he is the new, living, light-filled Temple where God meets with humanity and where salvation and consummation are therefore accomplished.

Inevitably, Protestant readers will find points on which to disagree. Weinandy’s Marian devotion is clear in his treatment of the Cana wedding feast, where he sees Mary as the representative of the church. A Protestant is more likely to see Mary as incidental to the narrative of the miracle, with its focus on the bridegroom, not so much on the bride. Also, Weinandy reads John 6 in a highly sacramental way. Of course, many Protestants – specifically Lutherans, high Anglicans, and those Reformed (like myself) who follow Calvin, would agree with the generally sacramental point of the passage. Those Protestants who stand more in line with the Zwinglian tradition – some Reformed, most Baptists and most evangelicals – will disagree and likely consider Weinandy to have assumed the case rather than proved it.

Nevertheless, as with his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in the volume on the Synoptics, Protestants of a sacramental bent will find more with which they agree than disagree here. Weinandy is unashamedly faithful to the Catholic Church’s teaching, yet winsome in manner and positive in exposition.

I recently had the pleasure of dining with a number of Catholic friends and the topic of Fr. Weinandy’s work came up. When I commented that Protestants like myself love his writings, I was met with some bemusement. Why would conservative Protestants care for the work of a Franciscan? My answer was partly that which I gave at the start of the review: he has helped many Protestants think more clearly about classical theism.

But it is not just that. Weinandy has helped not only Protestant theologians but Protestant preachers. Many of such often struggle with how to maintain classical theism and yet do justice to the dynamism of the Gospel narratives. What Weinandy’s Jesus Becoming Jesus demonstrates on page after page is that the dynamism of the narratives only makes sense in light of the classical doctrine of God. In short, if you want to preach orthodox sermons that are also powerful, this series should occupy pride of place on your bookshelf. I eagerly anticipate the second volume on John.

Related at CWR: “How Jesus became Jesus: A conversation with Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy” (June 25, 2018) by Carl E. Olson

Jesus Becoming Jesus (Volume 2): A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John: Prologue and the Book of Signs
By Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap.
Catholic University of America Press, 2021
Paperback, 454 pages


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About Carl R. Trueman 2 Articles
Carl R. Trueman teaches humanities at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of the recent volume The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Crossway).

10 Comments

  1. We read: “Weinandy persuasively argues that the purpose the Transfiguration – the dramatic revelation of the person and the divine nature of Christ through his human flesh via the medium of light – is one of the dominant themes throughout the Gospel John, from the Prologue onwards.”

    I am no theologian, but I do sometimes notice the explosive power of seemingly small details. So, here’s a theory…John is the only apostle who personally witnessed both the Transfiguration (together with Peter and James), AND the Crucifixion where he remained with Mary (also, he was named at Gethsemane)…

    John’s Gospel came several decades after the three Synoptics. Why so delayed?

    On this point, are we possibly reminded of the 14th-century mystic, Julian of Norwich who, while for a day or two hovering at death’s door, suffered some sixteen visions (“shewings”) of the Crucifixion? Finally, she sees, from the point of view of God in eternity, that the Transfiguration shines through the Crucifixion—as the same event. The same event! So overwhelmed is she that she takes some twenty-five years (!) to write her “Revelations of Divine Love,” first a shorter version and then a longer one (and the first book written, or possibly dictated, in the English language by a woman).

    Did John have a similarly compressed insight into the mystery of Salvation history? Writing his own mystical account of Christ (the fourth gospel)—with the Transfiguration as engulfing the impending and even simultaneous Crucifixion? Only after several decades of wondrous contemplation on his own (unique) apostolic “experience”—of Christ’s eternity contained within a very fleeting and single moment of historical time?

  2. There are insights and there are great insights, that [one] acknowledged by Carl Trueman in Fr Weinandy’s interpretation of John’s Gospel, Trueman designating it as the putative Gospel of the Transfiguration. Glory attached to Christ’s passion is referenced ‘intuitively’ by the Church in the liturgy and ancient breviary usage. He reveals his glory as the Crucified. There is no greater act of love possible, a mystery unfathomable that shatters through all the anthropomorphic banter. That the infinitely powerful God would submit to his torturous passion at the hands of his own creatures, whose malice he intends to overcome by this simple act of self sacrifice, that suffering death at their hands he would dare reason itself and rise from the dead. Peter Beaulieu captures the significance of Cross and Transfiguration quoting Julian of Norwich that they identify, to wit, are identical. Weinandy references the simplicity of God’s love, the eternal all powerful God incomprehensible is by nature simple though beyond our comprehension. His radiant glory is the Cross.

  3. He presents a Christology without the traditional exclusivist ecclesiology. Since his book is written for all Christians.
    Similarly his concept of the Four Marks of the Church is limited. Since he is Christocentric and not ecclesiocentric.Like Pope Francis Thomas Weinandy, interprets Vatican Council II with a false premise to create a false rupture with Tradition.Pope Francis calls it the work of the Holy Spirit, in the Letter which accompanies Traditionis Custode.

    A recent stage of this dynamic was constituted by Vatican Council II where the Catholic episcopate came together to listen and to discern the path for the Church indicated by the Holy Spirit. To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.- Letter of Pope Francis which accompanies Traditionis Custode.

    How can the Holy Spirit make an objective mistake and use a false premise to interpret LG 14( baptism of desire) and LG 16( invincible ignorance),for example ? But it is only with the objective mistake that the pope, like Weinandy, can be Christocentric and reject and ecumenism of return.

    For me LG 14 and LG 16 refer to hypothetical and theoretical cases always. They are always speculative and not real people saved outside the Church in the present times, 1965-2021. This is something obvious.So I could only present a Christocentrism which is also ecclesiocentric.

    How can LG 14, LG 16 etc be exceptions to EENS, the Athanasius Creed and Syllabus of Errors ? Yet this is the official interpretation of Vatican Council II which makes it possible for the author to write his book in the present form.
    It is different from the rational way I interpret the Council and consider it Magisterial, since it is not a rupture with the past Magisterium. Pope Francis cannot say the same.-Lionel Andrades

    • The traditionalist interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (EENS) is heterodox. It goes against the teaching of the early Fathers of the Church, who only used the phrase in reference to Christians in danger of apostasy. The middle ground between the exclusivist (fundamentalism) and pluralist (indifferentism) positions on salvation is the inclusivist position, which has scriptural warrants and historic teaching on its side. See SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH: TRACING THE HISTORY by ecclesiologist Francis A. Sullivan. Pope John Paul II and Father Weinandy do not reject the ideal of separated brethren returning to one fold in communion with Rome but have understood that a universal reunion will have to be an eschatological achievement. Ecumenical dialog, when done properly, has more modest goals but must not be set against conversion to the fullness of faith that is to be found in the Catholic Church and that subsists in the Catholic Church alone. In the Catholic Church alone there is the fullness of the means of salvation as well as the normative path for salvation; yet salvation is ultimately by God’s grace and according to the individual’s response to what grace has been offered him. Unlike Bergoglio, Pope John Paul II and Fr. Weinandy do not conflate proselytization (which is disrespectful, coercive, or manipulative) with evangelization nor do have they treated with disdain those who zealously take up the Great Commission to bring nonbelievers into saving faith and communion with the Church of Jesus Christ. While, unfortunately, it is true that Pope John Paul II on a few occasions inappropriately (perhaps impulsively and spontaneously) crossed boundaries to show confusing approval of other religions, we must remember that his official position on the unique salvific mediation of Christ is to be found in the magisterial DOMINUS JESUS.

  4. To me Mt. Sinai and the Mount of the Transfiguration are like bookends. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai his face shone, in a fashion similar to the way Christ shone in the Transfiguration. Moses had no control over his shining, but Christ, as Son of God, was able to control His shining.
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    In order to understand Mary you need see her role as that of the Queen Mother. No one can call Christ our Brother, without calling Mary our mother. No one can call Christ our King, without calling Mary our Queen Mother. In the Davidic kingdom the queen was not the king’s wife. It was the king’s mother. The queen mother, the gebirah. One of the duties of the queen mother was as an intercessor between the king and the people. You can see this in 1 Kings 2:19-25 where King Solomon bowed to his mother and had a seat brought for her to sit at his right side, where she made a request. Mary was acting as the Queen Mother at the Wedding Feast at Cana. The miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana started the countdown clock for Christ’s public ministry and the hour of His Passion and Death. That is why Christ brought up His hour when talking to Mary.

  5. Cherry-picking at its best.

    The most radical and salvific act – the consumation of Scripture – is the institution of the Eucharist.

    The author downplays John 6 to absurdity.

  6. Some people overlook the revelatory statement of Jesus when Mary told him they have no wine. He said “what has that to do with you and me.” He then did what Mary knew he would do. Mary, born without original sin and conversant with angels, may well understood that this miracle was, indeed, beginning of His public ministry, which both knew would lead to His death. Just a thought.

    • More than “just a thought.”

      When Christ was twelve and missing from the caravan for three days, Mary feared that His time had already come, but then found Him in the Temple. Was she then given eighteen more and obscure years to fully step up to the final days? Such gentleness from the Father (“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”).

      And so, at Cana Mary signals to Christ that she is ready, and with Him in His mission. She now awaits and even nudges the first mission-revealing miracle. And, to the servants she says “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary shares her own “Fiat” now with others (as the Mother of the Church).

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