Review: Robertson’s Christ of the Consummation

Charles B. Williams

For nearly three centuries, the field of Gospel studies has been flooded with dead-end approaches that tend either to downplay or deny the supernatural character of the evangelical witness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Yet even among conservative treatments of this watershed moment in salvation-history, one often finds works that treat the Gospels, as one author has put it, as a mere “footnote to Paul,” rather than allowing the Evangelists to stand as theologians in their own right. Within this context, O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Consummation: The Testimony of the Four Gospels should be welcomed most gladly. Three features highlight the usefulness of this long-awaited volume.

A Methodological Approach

First is his methodological approach to the Gospels (chapter 1). Unlike so many other treatments, Robertson takes seriously the nature and content of supernatural revelation. Since the eighteenth century, higher-critical methodologies have dominated the field, which have repudiated the supernatural character of the Evangelistic accounts, leading to countless hypotheses that have sought to restrict the significance of Christ’s person to that of mere teacher; to characterize his miraculous works as fanciful parlor tricks; and to deny his bodily resurrection, arguing instead that he was merely resuscitated. Unbelief characterizes such perversions of the Evangelistic record, which seeks to strip the four Gospels of the “husk” of supernaturalism to get to the “kernel” of the “Jesus of history.” Yet as B. B. Warfield famously quipped, it is the desupernaturalized Jesus who is the Jesus of myth. To strip the Gospels of their supernatural character is to rob the gospel of its very power, and the purpose for which the Evangelists wrote: that you might believe (John 20:31). Robertson follows in the vein of men like Warfield and Vos who sought without apology to take the testimony of the Gospels on their own terms, including the supernaturalism that undergirds the historical procurement of our salvation.

The Unified Witness of the Gospels

Second is Robertson’s focus on the unified witness of the four Gospels (chapters 2–6). Robertson identifies the multiple forms of eyewitness testimony found in evangelical records: the angelic annunciations; the prophetic utterances recorded in the Old Testament regarding the person and work of the long-awaited Messiah; the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist as the last of the prophets; Christ’s self-witness regarding his own unique relationship to the Father and his self-conscious messianic mission of redemption; his wonderful works that attest to the truthfulness of his words; and the testimony of those who were witnesses to his incarnate work, penned by his appointed emissaries, the apostles. The similarities in narrative structure to the so-called “Synoptics”—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—as well as their overlapping testimonies, constitute a “triple witness” that conforms to the scriptural requirement for the reception of legal evidence (161–163; cf., Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1;
1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). Yet the unified witness of the Synoptics, along with John’s gospel, attest, not to the sinfulness of Christ, but to his sinlessness, who was for our sake condemned, that we might be reconciled to God, and live.

The Distinctive Features of Each Gospel

Third, Robertson not only highlights the unified witness of the Evangelists; he also teases out the distinctive features of each of the four (chapters 7–8). It is here that he allows each of the Gospels to stand, not as “bare” historians, but as theologians in their own right, each author accenting distinctive features of Christ’s incarnate, fully historical ministry (246). Here, one grasps why the church rejected attempts by some (such as in Tatian’s Diatesseron) to conflate the four Gospels into a single “super” Gospel. Our Savior, risen and ascended, had commissioned the apostles to superintend over not one, but four biographical accounts, each one displaying, like facets in a jewel, the fullness of him in whom all the promises of God find their resounding yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20). Each author speaks with his own distinctive voice, and his own distinctive purpose in bringing to the church’s attention the fullness of Christ, who is the fulfillment of all our hopes and promises.

Significantly, Robertson does not shy away from the evangelistic purpose. This work is no dusty academic study, but written that you might believe. Accordingly, he repeatedly presses home the claims of Christ upon the reader: that if these events are true, they bear on eternity and where you will stand on the last day in light of your response to the fourfold gospel. The most important question you will ever answer is this: Who do you say Christ is?

Robertson has done the church a tremendous service by clearing away the underbrush of unbelief and navigating the reader through the morass of Gospel studies, to lead us back to the fount of every blessing—to have our hearts once again refreshed by the gospel story, that God has acted in history, to save his people from their sins. Christ of the Consummation reflects, not the scrambled writings of an author trying to pump out another book, but the fruit of a lifetime of matured, thoughtful reflection on this significant portion of special revelation.

The author is an OP minister.

Christ of the Consummation, Volume 1: The Testimony of the Four Gospels, by O. Palmer Robertson. P&R, 2022. Paperback, 400 pages, $25.13 (Amazon).

Photo courtesy of Westminster Bookstore