Category Archives: Reading Reflections

Athanasius on the Incarnation

OntheincarnI have not posted in about four months due to an overextended schedule. Hopefully, that is done for a while. Here is an old post from a few years ago that is relevant on this Christmas day.

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I have just started my way through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation to help with my Advent  reflections.  For Athanasius, the study of theology always leads to worship and wonder – or maybe it is better said that for him theology and worship are intertwined.  His words are in bold italics below.

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word will also be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.  For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident (page 25).

A placard in Olympia, WA, placed next to Christmas displays at the capitol: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.”
That is nothing compared to the current, horrible persecution of Christians in Orissa, India.
Does not our handling and reaction to suffering, persecution, foolishness of the world, etc. reveal who we really are, just as Christ’s sufferings reveal his nature?  Is not the world’s hatred of us believers an affirmation of our faithfulness to Christ?  The Son could only reveal himself in fullness by taking human form – there needed to be something physical, touchable, to abuse, so that the world could see how a perfect man reacts and so that man’s sinful hatred of God could be even further exposed.  In a similar fashion, our handling of suffering reveals our level of sanctification – which is a measure of how like Christ we are.

He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men (page 26).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).  The Word took on flesh due to a mission, and that mission was to save souls.  That mission originated in and was motivated by the love of God the Father for the world.  Yes, God takes sin seriously – his Son had to take on a body so that he could die in our place – but love drives the whole enterprise. To ignore such love is utter foolishness and great affront to God.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.  There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same same Word Who made it in the beginning (page 26).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14, ESV).

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
(Joy to the World, verse 4).

The Son, the Word, was co-creator in the beginning.  And he is the One through whom the New Creation comes, both in our experience presently of regeneration and in the new heavens and new earth at his second coming.  No act of creation, whether physical or spiritual is apart from the Word. The creator takes on what He created in the beginning, humanity, to redeem humankind.  He uses the vessel, humanity, though which sin entered the world, to redeem it. Talk about reversals! Amazing! Athanasius points out that before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in fellowship with the Word, but with the Fall left its life-giving embrace.  God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word (page 38). So the Word came to man to give life again to all who would respond. The responders are embraced. With just a few sentences, Athanasius connects the beginning of the Bible to its end, showing the Word to be central figure in all of history.

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The Perennial All-American Theological Lie: Prosperity Gospel

As a pastor, it is part of my charge to warn my people of false teachings and teachers. This is a hard sell. For so many American Christians imbibe, at least in part, in the prosperity gospel, in one form or another. Like your favorite junk food that you just cannot seem to leave alone, the prosperity message appeals to the American desire to indulge in what feels good and especially to live life comfortably, with minimal physical or financial strain.

Albert Mohler has described well the version of the prosperity message that the the Osteens sell in his essay, The Osteen Predicament – Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel.  Speaking to the congregation, Victoria Osteen recently said,

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”

She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

Mohler comments, “The problem with Prosperity Theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth — and believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.” 

In his writings, Joel Osteen teaches that believers and non-believers are treated essentially the same before God in terms of potential for prosperity and blessings. Little, if any, mention is made of the need for repentance and faith in Christ, due to the fact that humankind is estranged from God due to sin. In other words, the core message of the Osteens, at least what we see in print and on TV, is not the core message of the gospel. Further, the fact that God does not promise physical and material prosperity to believers in the Bible is ciComfort - God has a wonderfulrcumvented one way or another. One would do well to remember the cover of Ray Comfort’s book, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, which depicts the stoning of Steven. Certainly the countless Christians throughout the centuries who have loved God with all their heart and yet were impoverished and/or sickly are a testament that there is no formula of faith for accessing and appropriating a comfortable life from God.

Three resources on the unbiblical nature of prosperity theology are the above mentioned book by Comfort, Truth Matters by Russell Morris, and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff. The dissertation form of Morris’ book can be read for free on the SATS website.

 

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When Churches Are Kind to Their Pastors

church generalI have been blessed for the last ten years to pastor a church that has been particularly kind to me. Now, to some people that may sound odd. “Aren’t Christians supposed to be kind to one another,” they might ask? Yes, but an odd thing often happens to a person when he or she becomes a pastor: church people sometimes will treat you in ways they never would treat another Christian.

For ten years my congregation has been patient with me, gentle with me, and encouraging to me. I have never deserved it; they treated me that way because in their minds that is how God’s people ought to behave, for kindness is of God. This consistent expression of kindness does not mean that we have not had our disagreements or that no unkind word has ever been spoken, but that unkindness is rarely shown to me and consequently I have been able to move through my days here without fear of nasty comments and boorish behavior aimed my way. A bit of that does come, but it is overwhelmed by greater kindness. That this is exceptional stands out to me every time I attend a meeting with other pastors. Typically I will hear a pastor express frustration or pain or whatever over some parishioner treating him in ways that bring shame on the church and violate the love command like a man who beats his wife violates his marriage vows. True, I only hear one side of the story, but the accounts often chill me. I listen to their stories while having a difficult time relating because I have so few instances of people being mean to me in in my congregation. Needless to say, my gratitude for the demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit in my present congregation is very high.

The effect of this kindness in no way makes me lax in my duties. Some might think that peace and kindness might make one soft, lazy, or sluggish because there are no people you are trying to prove wrong about you, no one that you are trying to earn respect from, etc. No, their kindness has consistently made me want to become a better pastor. Like Jack Nicolson’s character in As Good As It Gets, I think, “You make me want to be a better man.” Their kindness leads me to repentance and a redoubling of my efforts. True, a healthy degree of tension is good for the corporate body and maybe I am not being prophetic enough to stir up discomfort and thus the occasional harsh comment from them. But I tend to think that sometimes, because God is so powerful and can truly change hearts and grow his people in love, a pastor is blessed with a wonderful core group in his charge.

In the end, true kindness is not the result of a lack of tension or conflict, but a result of the Holy Spirit growing a congregation in personal holiness.

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