Christ Over All

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In every era, the church needs sound biblical teaching and faithful theological instruction. Theology, rightly understood, is the lifeblood of the church and necessary for her life and health. Central to theology is the knowledge of our triune God as our Creator, Redeemer, and covenant Lord, and the application of God’s Word to our lives. For us, who are created and redeemed by God, there is no higher calling and greater privilege than to know the only true God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3).

Today, however, the evangelical church is largely in danger of theological drift. No doubt, since its beginning, the church has always faced the perennial threat of theological drift. This is why one of the tasks of faithful biblical teaching is to keep the church from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Theology’s task is to expound, apply, and defend the truth of Scripture so that the church continues to love and proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and the unsearchable riches of Christ (Col. 1:28-29). The Christian life and Christian ministry are about knowing God in truth, believing and obeying God’s Word, and being vigilant for the truth of the gospel by “destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Yet today, the need for sound biblical and theological instruction is great. On every side, evangelicalism is experiencing a collective identity crisis. Why? There are many reasons, but certainly one of them is due to the waning conviction that theology is vital for the spiritual health of the church, and that biblical truth not only matters but is really true and thus authoritative for our lives. As David Wells has repeatedly warned the evangelical church for nearly three decades, we have traded biblical and theological faithfulness for pragmatic success.[1] The result? Disciplined biblical and theological thinking has taken a backseat to other cultural concerns, so much so that current evangelicalism in the West is a shell of what it used to be.

1. For example, see the following works by David F. Wells: No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995); Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999); Above All Earthly Powers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006); The Courage to be Protestant, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017); The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2021).

In fact, if we listen to the polls (e.g., Ligonier’s The State of Theology), we discover that in many of our churches basic biblical and theological knowledge is at an all-time low. Not surprisingly, we have also succumbed to many of the pressures of our culture by modifying our theological convictions to conform to the current “spirit of the age.” This explains why some evangelicals are now flirting with the latest cultural trends: critical race theories; redefinitions of male and female roles in the marriage, the church, and society; embrace of various LGBTQ concerns; an uncritical acceptance of secular-postmodern views of “social justice” in contrast to a biblical view of justice and its outworking in our lives and the larger society; and so on.

Similar to the churches in Revelation 2–3, we, sadly, are in danger of accommodating to the mindset of our day. For example, just as the church at Laodicea began to resemble her city: self-satisfied, content with the status quo, little dependence on God, so also some evangelicals are in danger of replicating the Laodiceans’ impoverished spiritual state (Rev. 3:14–22). Or, similar to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 3:1–7), for some of us who think we are standing faithfully for truth, unbeknownst to us, we have drifted from the Lord because we have lost our first love, namely our love for Christ. We have rightly taught and emphasized sound doctrine but we have done so in such a way that we have drifted away from the Lordship of Christ in our lives, and this observation now leads me to discuss the reason for the name of this website.

What’s in a Name?

Why the name “Christ over All?” Obviously, many reasons could be given, but the main reason is due to our conviction that what the church desperately needs today is to a rock solid commitment to the authority of Scripture in all that it teaches with specific focus on Christ’s lordship over all. In our view, the great need for the evangelical church is unashamedly to retain and in many ways return to what is most central: the glory of the triune God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we examine Scripture, we discover that its main message is about how God in his infinite wisdom, power, and grace has chosen to bring all of his purposes and plans to fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Repeatedly, Scripture reminds us that in Christ alone, all of God’s sovereign purposes find their fulfillment (Heb. 1:1–3) and that God’s eternal plan is to bring “all things,” “things in heaven and things on earth,” under Christ’s headship (Eph. 1:9–10), which has already begun in his first coming and which will be consummated in his return.

In our view, the great need for the evangelical church is unashamedly to retain and in many ways return to what is most central: the glory of the triune God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is important to remember that to emphasize Christ’s centrality is not to diminish the persons and work of the Father and the Spirit. Instead, Scripture teaches that all the Father does centers in his Son and that the Spirit works to bear witness and bring glory to the Son. Thus, to be truly trinitarian is to be properly Christ-centered. As our Lord reminds us, “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23).

This glorious truth, however, is not merely to be confessed; it is to be lived out in every area of our lives. The church first exists to know and proclaim the glory of the triune God in the face of Christ, and a move away from this center will lead the church away from life and health. As such, we constantly need to be reminded about who is central, who is worthy, who is to be obeyed, and who is our only hope and salvation. The purpose of this website is to do this: to call the church back to know, proclaim, and live out Christ’s Lordship over every aspect of our lives.

Scripture teaches the truth about “Christ over All” in many places, but probably the most profound and succinct text is Colossians 1:15–20. Let me first explain how this text teaches the truth of Christ’s Lordship, before I make some application points from Colossians 2:6–10. By doing so, we can explain further what we are seeking to achieve by this website.

The Truth of Christ Over All (Col. 1:15–20)

This is one of the most profound Christological texts in the New Testament that unpacks Christ’s lordship. In the Patristic era, this text was used by the Arians to argue that Christ was the “firstborn,” i.e., the first created being and thus not God the Son. This interpretation continues today among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and sadly, numerous evangelicals are also confused on this point.[2] Against the Arians, however, the text unambiguously teaches the full deity of the Son, and thus Christ’s Lordship.

2. See evangelical answers to Statement #6 at https://thestateoftheology.com/

The text is divided into two main stanzas (vv. 15–17 and 18b–20) with a transitional stanza between the two (vv. 17–18a). In the first main and transitional stanzas, Jesus is presented as Lord because he is the eternal Son, the true image of God, the agent of creation, and the sustainer of the universe. In the second main stanza, Jesus is presented as the incarnate Son, who by his incarnation and cross-work is our only Redeemer. Jesus, then, is supreme over all because he is our Creator and Redeemer. Let’s look further at the text.

In the first of three steps, the Son’s full deity is taught in vv. 15-16 in three affirmations. (1) The Son is described as “the image of the invisible God,” which means that he possesses the very nature of God. The same thought is found in Hebrews 1:3a, where Christ is described as “the exact representation (charaktēr) of his being.” Although different expressions, they both teach that Christ is God the Son. The Son, from eternity, has perfectly reflected the Father, and now in his incarnation reveals the invisible God just as perfectly. Furthermore, “image” also suggests an echo back to our creation in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). The idea is that the Son is the original image of God in his full deity (archetype), and that humans were created to reflect him (ectype).[3] This makes sense of why the Son is not only the pattern of our creation, but also the one who becomes human to redeem us, and it also explains why Christians are patterned after his glorified humanity in their salvation (Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:9–10). Humanity was designed to be a finite representation of God’s self-expression within his world and to rule over creation under God’s lordship. But sadly, in the first Adam, we sinned. But in Jesus, the Son—who is eternally and perfectly the Father’s image—now assumes our humanity in order to fulfill the purpose that God had marked out both for himself and for us.

3. An Archetype is an imitated original, while ectypes are “intermediate types that stand between the original type and Christ” (David Schrock, “What Designates a Valid Type? A Christotelic, Covenantal Proposal,” Southeastern Theological Review 5.1 [2014]: 23.

(2) The Son is “the firstborn of all creation.” Since the Arian controversy, much debate has centered on the meaning of this phrase. At first glance it might suggest, as Arius proposed, that Jesus is the first creature in time and thus a created being. However, this is incorrect. Instead, this text teaches that Christ is the “firstborn” in terms of rank and authority, thus stressing his supremacy over creation. The background to the meaning of “firstborn” is the Old Testament. There the term is closely linked to the right of the primogeniture (i.e., the firstborn). Israel is God’s “firstborn” son (Exod. 4:22), which means that they rule the world for God. Also, the Davidic king receives this title: “I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). But notice how “firstborn” is parallel with “the most exalted of the kings,” which in this context, means “supreme over.” Back in Colossians 1, this interpretation is confirmed by v. 16—“for (hoti, because) in him all things were created.” The Son is not the first created being or part of creation, but its Creator.

(3) This truth is further confirmed by the third affirmation. The divine work of creation is attributed to the Father through the Son (thus trinitarian agency), but the extent of the Son’s supremacy in relation to creation is also stated: all things were created “in him, through him, and for him” (v. 16). All things were created “in him” means that all of God’s creative work was in reference to Christ, thus linking the Son to the Father in the closest of terms and making creation dependent on the Son. All things were created “through him” and “for him” meaning that all things begin and end with Christ. The Son, then, stands at the beginning as the agent of creation and at the end as the goal of creation.

In the second step of Colossians 1, the intervening stanza (vv. 17–18a) teaches the same point as it transitions to the work of the incarnate Son. The opening line, “And he is before all things,” looks back to vv. 15–16. The last line, “and he is the head of the body, the church,” introduces a focus on Christ’s reconciling work that is developed in vv. 18b–20. The middle line, “and in him all things hold together,” looks both directions as it presents Jesus as Lord because of who he has always been as the divine Son and because of what he does now as the incarnate Son. Specifically, v. 17 teaches the Son’s preexistence and supremacy over the entire universe as its Creator and providential Lord. In fact, when Paul uses the perfect tense of “hold together” (sunestēken), he emphasizes the Son’s continuous providential rule: prior to and after the incarnation. This means that even as the incarnate Son, Jesus continues to uphold the universe and exercise divine cosmic functions. To make sense of this requires that Jesus is able to act through both his divine and human natures in relation to the Father and the Spirit. Trinitarian agency does not cease in the incarnation.[4]

4. Trinitarian Agency is “the way in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in creation, providence, and redemption” (Keith E. Johnson, “Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective,” Themelios 36, no. 1 [2011]: 7–25).

Finally, in the third step, which begins in the second stanza, Paul accents Jesus’s work as the incarnate Son. The same Creator and providential Lord is also head over his people, the church. Moreover, Christ accomplishes his glorious work of reconciliation by his crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus rules over death because he was the first to conquer death. For this reason, he is the founder of a new humanity so that in everything he might have the supremacy (v. 18). By his resurrection Christ inaugurates a new order; “he is the beginning” and he also becomes the founder of a new humanity as “the firstborn from among the dead” (v. 18). In Christ and his work, the resurrection age has burst forth and he has set the pattern for all those who have fallen asleep: he is the “first-fruits” who guarantees our future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Thus, Christ is presented as Lord twice: first as our Creator, and second, as our Redeemer.

Still, Paul is not finished. In v. 19 he again stresses Jesus’ deity: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” This fullness of God does not dwell temporarily either (see Col. 2:9). Thus, what is true of God the Son prior to the incarnation is true of him post-incarnation: the entire fullness of deity resides in him, which is to say that Christ is the divine Son. It is difficult to find a higher Christology than this, and all of it teaches us that Christ is Lord. There is no sphere of existence over which Christ is not sovereign and supreme—Christ is over all! No wonder all people are summoned to submit to him in trust, love, and obedience.

The Application of Christ Over All (Col. 2:6–10)

There are numerous applications that follow from Christ’s Lordship, but my focus is on two taken from Colossians 2:6–10.

First, in vv. 6–7 Paul exhorts the church to know, proclaim, and to live in faith-union with Christ as the Lord and their new covenant head: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” For the church, Christ’s Lordship means that he is our life and salvation, and thus central to the entirety of our lives. Christ must be our first love, and anything which distracts us from him being central in all that we say and do, must be rejected. Paul states this same truth elsewhere: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Our lives are not our own; they are created and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we owe everything.

Second, because Christ is Lord, as well as the source of wisdom, knowledge, and truth, we must make sure that “no one takes [us] captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8). Paul’s warning is another implication of Christ’s Lordship in our lives: Christ must be Lord over our all of our thought. Paul, along with the entirety of Scripture, establishes a contrast between human thought which is both finite and fallen and thought which is grounded in God’s Word and specifically our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is not saying that all human thought or “philosophy” is wrong; instead, he is arguing that all philosophy that is not ultimately rooted in Christ and his Word is to be rejected.

Christ’s Lordship entails that he is the final authority in our lives and that no human thought can overturn his Word. In other words, Christ’s authority and his word (which we find in Scripture) is what must govern our thinking and our living. Regardless of what the world says, if anyone teaches anything contrary to Scripture, it must be rejected as false. Why? Because given who Christ is as the eternal Son, the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord, he is the source of knowledge and thus the standard by which we evaluate all human thought. How could it be any other way given who he is? This is why Paul strongly warns the Colossians (and us), to make sure our thinking and lives are grounded in Christ and his Word, and not in the finite, subjective, fallen thought of humanity apart from Christ. In Christ, we have everything that we need. The one in whom the fullness of God himself dwells has come to our aid and given us all that we need (Col. 2:9–10).

On the basis of Christ’s Lordship, Paul establishes the warrant for what we often identify as a Christian worldview—a view of the world and everything in it that is rooted and grounded in Christ. This also means that there is a dividing line between Christian and non-Christian thought, which the church must never forget. Our thinking about all of life must be based on Christ and Scripture, not the sinking sand of non-Christian thought. On this point, however, the Colossian church (and the present evangelical church) is in danger of forgetting.

Whether it is in the first century or the present day, the church quickly departs from Christ and his Word and seeks to establish truth apart from divine revelation. But as Paul warns the Colossians, he warns us: divine revelation, centered in Christ, is the foundation of all knowledge. We do not have truth apart from God and his Word. Ultimately, apart from God creating the world and revealing himself in nature and Scripture, we would have no warrant for what we know. True objective knowledge requires a foundation in the triune God who is there and who speaks, which entails that we must evaluate everything we think and believe in light of Christ and Scripture.

Why Christ Over All ?

One of the reasons for this website is to remind the evangelical church of this truth. Our goal in establishing “Christ Over All” is to help the church apply the truth of Christ’s Lordship to every area of life—doctrine, practice, culture, science, and politics. Although Scripture is not a textbook on everything in creation—we also learn from God’s revelation of himself in creation—Scripture is the authoritative standard and framework by which we evaluate everything.

As Scripture addresses specific issues directly in terms of doctrine and our lives, it is fully authoritative and sufficient. When Scripture does not address various issues directly, we must still interpret who we are and what the world is by its overall theological lens centered in Christ . Although Scripture does not speak of every topic and we gain knowledge by natural revelation, it is also true that there is nothing in this world that we can fully know unless we take Scripture into account. We always face the constant danger of compartmentalizing our lives so that in the spiritual domain we follow Christ, but when it comes to the thinking of the world, we do not evaluate it and critique it in light of Christ and his Word. But this is a wrong way of thinking. In the end, it denies Christ’s Lordship over all of life.

Our conviction is that the church today needs help in expounding and defending Scripture, and especially applying Christ’s Lordship to every aspect of our lives. The goal of this website is to help the church proclaim Christ, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Why? Because Jesus is Lord and in contrast to worldviews grounded in “empty deceit and human tradition” (Col. 2:8), in Christ alone is true wisdom (Col. 2:9). Our prayer then is that this website will help the church fulfill her calling as the body of Christ—to know, proclaim, defend, and live out the truth that Christ Jesus is Lord, for the glory of our great triune God and for the good of his beloved Bride. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).