We have already made mention (here and here) of P&R’s Christian Answers to Hard Questions series. As the title implies, each booklet takes up a single question of fundamental significance to the Christian faith that faces challenges in today’s public square. Written at almost exclusively by Westminster Seminary professors the booklets are designed not for professional theologians but pastors and even more popular level readers, and in the space of under 30 small-sized pages they condense a remarkable amount of information and provide surprisingly complete answers.
Brandon Crowe (assistant professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary) takes up the question, Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin? Following some preliminary definitions and clarifications he considers, in order, objections grounded in Scientific and Philosophical understandings, objections regarding the supposed origin of the doctrine in Mythology, Jewish expectation, and early Christian Embellishment, and objections stemming from a presumed Theological bias and Discordance in the Gospel writers. At several points the question reduces to presuppositions and worldview – in a world where God rules over all, the question of a miraculous birth is not at all a difficult one. But in some respects this all reads like a “mini-Machen,” highlighting each point of contention quickly and succinctly providing crisp responses at each step.
The given purpose of the booklet is to defend the reality of the virgin birth of Jesus against objections that have been leveled against it, not to expound its significance, and so Crowe provides no exposition of Isaiah’s famous prophecy (7:14) or of the Gospel birth narratives (How much can we expect in under 30 pages!). But he does provide a helpful survey of what Matthew and Luke actually say about Mary’s conception of Jesus, and in answer to the common objection that the virgin birth of Jesus is taught nowhere else in Scripture he also notes briefly how this doctrine, if not explicitly mentioned, is presupposed and alluded to in John and Paul. Brief theological reflections are offered in closing, with a summary statement of the relation of the virgin birth to the incarnation and person of Christ and our salvation.
Like the other booklets in this series, Crowe’s Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin? succeeds its given task to answer a complex question concisely yet with relative fullness, given the space allotted. Again, the stated purpose is polemic, not theological. Yet the pastor or teacher in the local church who may not sense the need to give extended weeks of attention to “defending” this Christian fundamental against its critics (for that you will want Machen) will find here a framework in which the doctrine can be helpfully introduced, approached, and understood – all in the space of a very quick read.
We are blessed to live in a day in which evangelical scholarship has matured in so many ways, and is able – standing on the shoulders of so many diligent laborers who have gone before and gleaning from their work – to reduce reams of theological output to bite-sized chunks for quick and easy consumption. The large tomes, of course, will always be very much needed for any who will pursue the discussions in depth. But brief, comprehensive yet condensed booklets like P&R’s Christian Answers to Hard Questions provide an enormous jump-start for interested readers. And this is the value of this excellent series.
Here again are the other booklets in the series.
Greg Beale, The Morality of God in the Old Testament
Brandon Crowe, Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?
William Edgar, How Did Evil Come Into the World?
David Garner, How Can I Know for Sure?
Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Scott Oliphint, Christianity and the Role of Philosophy
Scott Oliphint, Should You Believe in God?
Vern Poythress, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1
Vern Poythress, Did Adam Exist?
Fred G. Zaspel is a pastor at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, and professor of theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary. He is also the executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
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Was Jesus Really Born Of A Virgin?