Reflections on Depravity (With Patrick Bowers)

I recently finished up the chess series of the Patrick Bowers books by Steven James (The Pawn through Checkmate; I’m not counting Opening Moves, which I’m still reading). For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a series of crime thrillers which tends to focus both on serial killers and on terrorist plots. That’s enough reason for it to occasionally be a bit outlandish, and too often you find yourself having to choke down some pretty horrific images (human depravity stands out, for sure), but there is gold as well. The relationship between the main character, an FBI agent named Patrick Bowers, and his stepdaughter Tessa Ellis is an interesting one, with plenty of stereotypes but also plenty to appreciate as they grow closer and mature following the death of their wife/mother (not a spoiler: she died before the first book). But even better, they and some other characters get into wonderfully interesting and somewhat deep conversations (both with each other and themselves) about theological and philosophical issues. These alone are worth the read if you can stomach the graphic content.

The theological question I found most engaging is the depravity of man (no, this isn’t a post about total depravity in TULIP). In a series like this, it’s hard to avoid if you think much at all, and Steven James doesn’t avoid it. Instead, he tackles head-on one of the most serious issues about evil: just who is capable of what? What makes serial killers, assassins, and terrorists different from the rest of it.

In the Patrick Bowers series, the only clear answer is, “Very little.”

The prime example of this is how the series frequently calls back a case in which, upon arresting and handcuffing a serial killer, the killer said something that set Bowers off, and he responded by breaking his jaw and preparing to cut him apart with a scalpel before stopping. He recounts over and over in the narration how it felt kind of good, how it frightened him, and how it plagued him with the thought that maybe he and the killers he tracks aren’t so different after all. Indeed, he couldn’t shake the idea that we’re really all this way.

Of course, as Christians we rightly ought to understand from our faith that this is a realistic issue. We are corrupt in our flesh, and easily corrupted even further. As Batman and the Joker have noticed, no one is really more than one bad day away from becoming something which would have horrified them the day before, from actualizing depravity. If you doubt this, consider the Holocaust. Most of the people who participated in the crimes that tortured and killed millions of people were not previously obvious monsters. Before World War II started, you would not have thought anything was wrong with them. In fact, it would be quite absurd and offensive to suggest that Germans were simply more evil than the other peoples at the time. They simply were given the right nudges and conditions to bring out the darkest depths of who they really are. One example of a conversation that highlights this:

“But serial killers always look like the rest of us. They never really look like what they are.”

“Or maybe they always do.”

That was a troubling thought.

She looked at me intently. “I’ve been thinking about it since we talked about how clever criminals can be in prison—how they could ever act so inhuman to each other. Do you know how to turn someone into a monster?”

“I’m not sure. No.”

“Let him be himself without restraint.”

Then she went to her room and left me to sort through what she’d just said.

We’d had discussions on this subject before, and she’d quoted to me the words of Dr. Werjonic: “The road to the unthinkable is not paved by slight departures from your heart, but by tentative forays into it.”

Being yourself without restraint.

Taking deeper forays into your own heart.

Two ways of saying the same thing.

The true nature of man left to himself without restraint is not nobility but savagery.

The King, The Patrick Bowers Series, loc. 241-242 in EPUB version

If there is any moral to take from the Patrick Bowers books, it’s this: No one is more than a few steps away from becoming a killer. And no killer is more than a few steps away from becoming a serial killer. That’s how deep and pervasive human depravity is. It’s in us all, coloring everything we are and do.

Alas, even though the books do in fact touch on Jesus, God, and prayer on many occasions, the fact of Christ as the solution to the depravity in our flesh never really comes out (albeit in one or two places it is implied; e.g. a character notes that we can’t rise above who we are, to which Tessa responds, “Can someone else lift us?”). Instead, by the last book you are left with the vague impression that all we can do is try harder to combat the darkness, and if we’re lucky we might just keep it at bay.

Obviously, such a conclusion would be insufficient hope for anyone who is truly confronted with their own radical evil, the evil James makes so big a theme in his series. Maybe he didn’t intend it to end on that note, but in any case Paul has a better conclusion, the one for which the experiences of Patrick Bowers cry out, in Romans 7:24-8:2.

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 

Amen! In a world of darkness, especially in our own hearts, may we look to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit for the only light.

Reflections on Depravity (With Patrick Bowers)

Jesus Is Still Human! (And Why It Matters)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was lifted up and glorified, and then the Word was no longer flesh.


I’ve heard it said by more than one person that Jesus is no longer human. Once He ascended, He went back to being all God. Even people who don’t say this is true still wonder why it wouldn’t be, or why it matters either way. But as far as I am concerned this is the result of serious theological negligence in common modern preaching. It is not enough to say that Jesus was completely God and completely human. We must also affirm that He remains the God-man forever and ever.

Of course, the immediate response for many of you will be, “Why should I believe this is true? Is this Biblical?” In fact, this is the clear teaching of Scripture. I’d go so far as to say the New Testament leaves open no possibility that Jesus ceased to be a human being after He ascended. To prove this beyond doubt, I will offer three kinds of arguments: a few proof texts, a theological explanation, and finally a summary of the ridiculous implications which would result from saying that Jesus is no longer human.

Proof Verses

There are many verses in the NT which require or imply that Jesus never stopped being human, and remains human right now. Examples:

For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:5

This verse tells us that there is one Mediator. Jesus in the present tense is the Mediator between God and humans. Yet what does the Scripture say here? This present Mediator is “the man Christ Jesus.” So in the present tense Jesus is a human Mediator.

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest.

Revelation 1:13

John has this vision over 90 years after the Ascension, and here he identifies “someone like the Son of Man.” As the context makes abundantly clear, this phrase is part of the description of Jesus, who was known in His earthly life also as the Son of Man, a title which very much emphasizes His human nature. So if Jesus is no longer human, then why should He be called “someone like the Son of Man?” Unless you want bear on the word “like” as if that proves He is no longer actually the Son of Man, but such nonsense is easily ignored.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:31

Again, after the Ascension, when the Apostles have been publicly preaching for some time, Jesus is referred to as the man God has appointed to judge the world. This judgment is still future, of course, so we would have to be stretching to absurdity to say, “He has set a day to judge the world with justice by the ex-man he has appointed, who is actually 100% God now…” This verse only makes sense if Jesus is still a human and will remain so at least until final judgment.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Acts 1:11

If Jesus is to return just like He ascended, does that not require that He returns in human form just as He left? So He must remain human at least for that. The only other option is to say that Jesus switched back to pure God, and later will become human one more time.

The Theological Argument: Jesus as Eternal High Priest, and the Guarantee of Resurrection

My next major argument involves Jesus’ role as our High Priest. While unfortunately most modern theology is laid out in a way that this ministry of Jesus becomes unimportant, the truth is that Jesus’ priestly mediation is essential to our salvation. Not only did He make atonement, but now He lives forever at the right hand of the Father actually exercising the reconciliation He achieved in God’s presence. Without this mediation, we could not be saved. The atonement would be one crucial and eternal step short of completion. Of course, if this seems strange, modern preaching/theological emphasis is to blame. A quick read through the book of Hebrews confirms what I am saying.

If this is true, as Hebrews tells us, then we must also note that Jesus’ priestly ministry is associated in the Scriptures exclusively with His human nature. In order to be our priest and make us holy before God, He had to become like us in every way, taking on our flesh and blood existence. Really, this is the entire point of Hebrews 2, not to mention 1 Timothy 2:5 which I cited above. The High Priest must be a human to minister to God for humans. And Jesus is our human High Priest.

The major point to note, then, is that Jesus’ priestly mediation before the Father is emphatically viewed as a present and eternal reality. Notice how often Hebrews calls Him a high priest forever. Then comes this important declaration:

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Hebrews 7:24-25

Here the author of Hebrews states clearly that Jesus’ role as High Priest mediating before God and humans will last forever. Yet, as I said before and as Hebrews 2 especially demonstrates, this priestly ministry is part of Jesus’ humanity. If He were not human, He would be no more eligible to our High Priest than an angel, or even a monkey. For the priest of humanity must Himself be a member of humanity. Again, all I am saying here is made clear in Hebrews.

I have a second important theological argument, though, despite that I think the first is proof enough of Jesus’ eternal humanity. This one is grounded in the Resurrection. Even a brief skimming of the New Testament is enough to show that our future bodily resurrection is based on and comes from Jesus’ own resurrected life. But this cannot be simply a one-time event that we then copy. If Jesus stopped being human, then He no longer has a resurrected and glorified human body. So in that case, how will we be raised if we cannot participate in a Savior who is still living resurrected human life?

Simply put, if Jesus’ resurrection body was only temporary before He ceased to be human, then how can the Bible say that He is the firstfruits/firstborn from the dead? Can He really be the pattern and base of our own future, eternal resurrection if He Himself was only raised to a body that lasted 40 days? Of course not! The Scriptures say that we will be resurrected like Jesus was, and that obviously does not mean into a temporary human existence.

The Ridiculous Problems If Jesus Isn’t Still Human

Finally, I will demonstrate that we run quickly into absurd results if we are willing to accept that Jesus stopped being human. For example, since the Bible clearly affirms that Jesus will return in human form just like when He left, then He would have to have a brand new human nature created for the second time if He no longer has the one He had when he left. Will the Word become flesh twice? Surely that’s nonsense. Jesus isn’t a transformer.

Another problem would be this: if Jesus is no longer human, then the human Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Remember, before Bethlehem there was no “Jesus,” there was simply the Son who existed eternally as the divine Word. The name “Jesus” applies to the human being who the Word become, the man from Nazareth. So if the Word unbecame flesh, then Jesus no longer exists, and only the Son in His original divine form does. The man Jesus would be dead, His body having vanished from all reality. In fact, He would be more dead that we could ever be! For we have not only a human body but a human soul. Jesus’ human soul is also part of His human nature. But our souls do not die, they continue to exist forever even when the body is dead. Yet if Jesus stopped being human, then even the human soul He had would have ceased to exist, meaning the man Jesus was ultimately even more mortal then we are, and this after His victorious resurrection!

Speaking of His resurrection, wouldn’t the Resurrection be a bit pointless if a mere 40 days later Jesus’ glorified and resurrected body would simply cease to exist? What’s going on here? “I sent me Son to die, then I raised His body from the dead, and then I made that body disappear from all reality.” Does this make any sense at all? By no means! If the body Jesus had after His resurrection was only temporary, then I dare to say His resurrection was no more than a divine prank and means nothing to our salvation!

As if all this were not enough, if the Word stopped being flesh—Jesus quit being human—then apparently Jesus was not truly 100% God and 100% human in one person. For besides the fact that humans live forever either in bliss or torment, and if Jesus stopped being human then He did not fulfill that, the Word merely shedding off His human nature after the Ascension would all but prove He never really held a human nature as a serious part of His person. Instead, Jesus’ human nature would seem to be more like clothes, easily donned and easily taken off when necessary. But this, of course, is rank heresy.


Hopefully by this point I’ve proved my case. If not, I am at a loss, for I believe the Scriptures tesify quite plainly about what I’ve said. Jesus did not merely spend 33 years out of all eternity as one of us. Once God committed Himself so dearly to humanity that He sent His one and only Son to become our saving Brother, the Word made an eternal and irrevocable dedication to be God as human as so that humans could forever meet Him as God. This is essential, for all Christ’s work from the moment He died depends on the permanence of His human nature. Praise God that He so loved the world He even made an eternal change in His divine life for us, sending the Son to be like us so that we could also be sons like Him! Amen.

Jesus Is Still Human! (And Why It Matters)