So what is adoptionism? Simply put, "in adoptionism there was a time when Jesus was not the Son of God." Adoptionists "insisted that Jesus's sonship had a historical beginning at some point: at his birth, baptism, or resurrection." They were "perceived to be reducing Jesus to a human figure who had acquired divine status by merit." Theologically-minded Christians will probably be uncomfortable with these statements. Most Christians believe that Jesus was with God in the beginning, before he became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-14)
Bird looks at some of the key New Testament passages cited by adoptionists, as well as Greco-Roman and Judaic sources to give context. Evaluating these sources, he questions the "quasi-consensus that the earliest retrievable Christology was adoptionist." He calls adoptionism "a rather shallow and inadequate expression of the disciples'" experiences with Jesus. According to Bird, "there is no tangible evidence for an adoptionist Christology in the New Testament." It "lacks coherence when set beside the New Testament's overall witness to an incarnational Christology where the pre-existent Son is enfleshed as a human being, the man Jesus of Nazareth."
Based on Bird's book, I didn't get the impression that adoptionism is commonly believed today. However, there is a large segment of the scholarly community that promotes the idea that many early Christians were adoptionist. Is this a danger to the church or to orthodox thinking? Probably not. But the distinction is important. Trinitarian theists who hold to an incarnational Christology (most historical Christians) will want to be familiar with the scriptures and arguments Bird discusses. Bird's closing thoughts sum up the gravity of the issue well:
A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on the flesh of our flesh and "became sin" so that we might become the "righteousness of God." I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us. So that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.Amen!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!