Category Archives: Holiday

The Incarnation in Light of the Image of God

153704788The doctrine of the Incarnation (God coming in the flesh) stands at the very heart of historic Christianity and is celebrated around the world at Christmastime (known in the traditional church calendar as the Advent season). Borrowing from the fourth-century Christian church father Athanasius, C. S. Lewis unpacks the meaning of the Incarnation and explains the reason for the importance of Christmas in a single sentence:

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.1

The Incarnation teaches that the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, took unto himself a human nature and became man without in any way diminishing his deity (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18; Philippians 2:5–6; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 4:1–3). Christian orthodoxy therefore views Jesus Christ as a single person who, nevertheless, possesses both a divine and a human nature. Those two natures find their union in the person of Christ (called the hypostatic union). This theological understanding of the Incarnation led the ancient Christians to refer to Jesus as the theanthropos (Greek: the “God-man”).

Undoubtedly, the Incarnation doctrine involves much divine mystery. When it defined the doctrine officially, the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) didn’t attempt to explain just how Christ’s two natures were unified with his personhood. But it seems biblically correct to infer that humankind’s creation in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) at least anticipated the Incarnation.

It would appear that by making humankind in his divine image, God then also made it possible to take a human nature himself. In this way, the imago Dei status of human beings foreshadows and facilitates the Incarnation.

Theologian Anthony Hoekema asserts, “It was only because man had been created in the image of God that the Second Person of the Trinity could assume human nature.”2 In other words, God made humans in his image because, all along, he planned to become one at the Incarnation in order to redeem lost sinners (2 Timothy 1:9–10). So, in some sense, the human nature of Christ was specially adapted via the imago Dei to accommodate the divine nature. Thus Jesus was fully God and fully man but remained a single person.

Though the Incarnation remains enigmatic and beyond full human comprehension, I hope identifying this connection between the doctrines of creation and the Incarnation will provoke Christians to both think of and be grateful for the great and deeply mysterious truth-claim that stands at the very heart of Christmas.

Allow me to close with one of my favorite Christmas carols:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Endnotes:

  1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 154. In this quote, Lewis slightly rephrases a statement made by the ancient church father Athanasius (ca. 296–373).
  2. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 22.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

156968934Each January, goals like healthy living, money management, and community volunteering top people’s resolutions lists. Striving for a more well-rounded life is admirable and even biblical. Deuteronomy commands people to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength. In restating the Greatest Commandment, Jesus says believers are to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. In other words, God values the whole person and wants every aspect devoted to Himself.

So to help you round out your list, I offer a collection of intellectual resolutions, including reading lists, to get 2014 off to a good start. May God grant you strength and endurance to reach your goals and bring Him glory along the way.

  • “10 Influential Theological Books, Part 1 and Part 2” — These 10 books have had an enduring positive influence upon generations of readers—myself included. This list encompasses both centuries-old books and contemporary texts.

Happy New Year!

Reflections for Christmas

153770263The Advent season is my favorite time of year in my church’s liturgical calendar. I believe that when Christians celebrate the Incarnation they acknowledge the fact that their lives are hidden with Christ’s life. Moreover, this holiday seems to do more to draw people’s attention to God and the things of God than any other time of year.

I also appreciate that Christmas offers opportunities for families and friends to gather together. As you prepare for your holiday celebrations, I hope these articles and podcasts help you value all the more Christ’s first coming to Earth.

Happy Advent to you and yours!

Reflections

  • Three Reasons I Love the Christmas Season” — The Advent season brings a time of joyful festivities and reflection to remind us of the value of family and the unity within our culture. Above all else, the season calls us to remember Christ’s first coming to Earth.
  • Thinking about the Incarnation: The Divine Word Became Flesh” — At the heart of Christianity is the doctrine of the Incarnation, a truth-claim celebrated all over the world at Christmas. This paper explains the Incarnation and responds to critical and frequently asked questions about this mysterious yet incredible event.
  • Creation Anticipated the Incarnation” — In this brief article I discuss the idea that by creating mankind in His image, God anticipated the Incarnation of Christ.
  • Biblical Eschatology and the Good News of Christmas” — I explain one of my motivations for writing a book on the end times, namely a desire to point people to the hope Jesus offers us through His life, death, and resurrection.

Straight Thinking

Three Reasons I Love the Advent Season”— My colleague Dave Rogstad and I discuss our personal reasons for taking part in the spirit of the Advent season. My hope is that the values and meaning of the Christmas season will influence our thoughts, faith, and actions throughout the year, not just in December.

I Didn’t Know That!                                                               

No Christmas in the Bible?” — A listener questions the Christian practice of celebrating Christmas in light of pagan influences on the holiday. I argue that there is a biblical basis for upholding this popular festival.

In a special edition of I Didn’t Know That! Hugh Ross, Jeff Zweerink, and I review a popular explanation for the Christmas star featured in The Star of Bethlehem, as presented by lawyer Rick Larson.

Biblical Eschatology and the Good News of Christmas

Along with festive celebrations and traditions, Christmastime also brings with it a more serious focus on hope. Charities and ministries strive to uplift those who are struggling to make ends meet and the message of peace on earth is prevalent. In a secular context, Santa Claus often embodies hope for a better, more caring world. But when all is said and done, it’s a different Christmas figure who offers real and true hope for humanity.

153704788One motivation for writing my latest book, Christian Endgame, was a desire to not only offer a different way of thinking about the Bible’s teaching on future things, but to also to help Christians understand what the future aspects of the faith mean for believers—and for those who are searching for hope.

As the saying goes, humans can live for a short time without water and food—but they cannot survive without hope. The longer a person lives, the more this statement appears to be true. People have an innate need to know that their lives have meaning, significance, and value. To face life’s many challenges, a person must believe there is an overarching good and true purpose beyond this existence. Genuine hope can serve as an anchor when everything seems to fall apart. But the absence of hope destroys the quality of a person’s life and inevitably leads to sorrow and despair.

The good news that starts at Christmas and culminates with Easter is that Jesus Christ is hope incarnate. His incomparable life in this time-space world testifies to the goodness and value of being made in the image of God. Christ’s atoning death on the cross of Calvary instills confidence to believe that God loves sinners and has indeed forgiven the sin that weighs on the human conscience. Jesus’ amazing bodily Resurrection from the grave gives assurance that not even physical death can crush a living hope in God.

Jesus Christ has already inaugurated his kingdom and believers are the fortunate beneficiaries of his saving grace. Therefore, the promises of his Second Coming should buttress hope by reminding believers that God will bring forth the consummation of his sovereign and glorious kingdom at the right time. Living hope will one day give way to God’s eternal kingdom.

Plus, not only has the Resurrection assured believers that physical death is not the end of personal existence, but biblical eschatology also assures Christ’s followers that loved ones who have died in the Lord are now in the presence of Jesus Christ. At the glorious Second Coming of Christ he will resurrect believers’ physical bodies and bring them back with him to this earth (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). So, rather than contributing to anxiety, biblical eschatology is intended to provide peace and comfort to God’s people even in the wake of death itself.  

Reflection on Christian eschatological truths should motivate believers to action in the here and now. Knowing that one will leave this temporal world to dwell in God’s eternal consummated kingdom should encourage distinctively purposeful living, which is focused on eternity. This includes sharing the gospel message with those who need to hear the good news of Christmas—that there is “bright hope for tomorrow” because of Jesus Christ.

To find out how you can receive a copy of my book Christian Endgame for a donation in any amount to RTB now through December 31, visit https://www.reasons.org/donate/donations.

10 Influential Theological Books, Part 2

In part one of this series I listed five theological books that have exercised an enduring influence upon not only myself as an avid reader, but also upon generations of Christians—and even Western civilization in general. Here are the remaining books that made the list. Again, the works are listed in alphabetical order by author.

6. Saved By Grace by Anthony Hoekema

Hoekema (1913–1989) was both a Reformed systematic theologian and an apologist to non-Christian cults. This book explains salvation by grace in a powerfully clear and magnanimous way. Hoekema’s work helped me to explain my Reformed views to Christians of other theological traditions. If you have ever wondered what Calvinists believe concerning salvation, read this book first.

7. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

This contemporary classic from C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) explains and defends the historic Christian faith by exploring essential doctrine and values. This is the first Christian book that I ever read and it influenced my early thinking about the faith.

8. Essential Christianity by Walter Martin

Martin (1928–1989) was both a theologian and a bold Christian apologist. This work clearly explains the central doctrines of the Christian faith. I worked for and with Walter Martin in the late 1980s at the Christian Research Institute. This book strongly shaped my basic understanding of Christian doctrine.

9. Pensées by Blaise Pascal

Known as a mathematical and scientific genius, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was also a uniquely gifted apologist. While this work is more of a collection of Pascal’s thoughts on various subjects, it is truly a classic of Christian theology and apologetics. Reading and meditating on Pascal’s writings has made me forever a Pascalian at heart.

10. Our Triune God by Peter Toon

The doctrine of the Trinity is arguably Christianity’s most distinctive belief. Peter Toon (1939–2009), a conservative Anglican theologian, explained and defended this doctrine in his writings. This particular book stands as the best modern treatment of the Trinity. Toon’s work helped me to see that the Trinity is the foundation of all Christian theology.

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The influence these ten theological texts have had on me and the way I understand theology testifies to their enduring relevance. I recommend them to you in this new year for your reading reflection.

 

10 Influential Theological Books, Part 1

Happy New Year!

Now that the hectic holiday time has passed, it’s time to set resolutions for 2013. Healthy eating and exercise frequently make the list, but mental and spiritual fitness should, too. To encourage your intellectual growth in the New Year, I offer up this two-part list of great theological works.

Influential educator Mortimer J. Adler defines a “great book” as one that continues to challenge the reader no matter how many times the book is read.1 The Bible surely stands as the greatest of all great books—no one can exhaust the enduring truths of sacred Scripture. But the following ten theological books have had an enduring positive influence upon generations of readers—myself included. I list the books in alphabetical order according to author. I’ve included comments on each text and how it has impacted me. This list encompasses both centuries-old books and contemporary texts.

1. On the Incarnation by Athanasius

In this early Christian classic, one of the great theological heroes of the Eastern church attempts to explain the doctrine of the Incarnation (Jesus Christ as God in human flesh). Athanasius’s (c. AD 296–373) work inspired me to think deeply about the doctrine that stands at the theological heart of Christianity and to seek to defend it in my apologetics ministry. The edition I recommend contains an introduction by C. S. Lewis.

2. Confessions by Augustine

Considered a classic of both Western civilization in general and of Christian literature in particular, Confessions is St. Augustine’s (AD 354–430) autobiographical account (the first of its kind) of his—and every human’s—soul search for God. Augustine is arguably the greatest Christian thinker outside of the New Testament and this amazing book made me forever an Augustinian in my theological thinking and faith journey.

3. The City of God by Augustine

Augustine’s magnum opus, this classic work sets forth the first Christian philosophy of history by introducing the reader to two representative “cities”—namely, the City of Man and the City of God. This work presents the Christian worldview in light of its pagan competitors. Knowing that one of Western civilization’s greatest thinkers and writers was a passionate follower of Jesus Christ has always inspired me.

4. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

This is a modern work on the life and thought of the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546). Church historian Roland Bainton skillfully tells the tale of Luther’s journey toward discovering the doctrine of justification by faith and how that doctrine lit the torch of the Protestant Reformation. Reading this book shaped my Protestant theological ethos.

5. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

John Calvin’s (1509–1564) classic theological work succeeded in changing the world forever. An often-misunderstood theological genius, Calvin is at heart a biblical scholar. This work set forth a Reformed Protestant theological system and it served to focus my Protestant theological orientation.

Check back next Tuesday for the continuation of this list of influential theological books.

Endnotes:

1. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 343.

Creation Anticipated the Incarnation

Merry Christmas to all! In the midst of the presents, feasting, and celebrations, I hope this brief reflection on the mystery of Christ’s nature will fuel your own contemplations of the true reason for the Christmas season.

Nativity sceneThe doctrine of the Incarnation (God in the flesh) stands at the very heart of historic Christianity and is celebrated around the world at Christmastime (known in the church calendar as the Advent season). This biblically derived doctrine teaches that the eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, took unto himself a human nature and became man without in any way diminishing his deity (John 1:1, 14, 18; Philippians 2:5–6; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 4:1–3). Christian orthodoxy therefore views Jesus Christ as a single person who nevertheless possesses both a divine and human nature. Those two natures (divine and human) find their union in the person of Christ (called the hypostatic union). This theological understanding of the Incarnation led the ancient Christians to refer to Jesus as the theanthropos (Greek: the “God-man”).

Incarnation in Light of the Imago Dei

Undoubtedly the Incarnation doctrine involves much divine mystery. When it defined the doctrine officially, the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) didn’t attempt to explain just how the two natures that Christ possessed were unified with his personhood. But it seems biblically correct to infer that humankind’s creation in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) at least anticipated the Incarnation. Thus it would appear that by making humankind in his divine image, God then also made it possible for himself to take a human nature. In this way, the imago Dei status of human beings foreshadows and facilitates the Incarnation. Theologian Anthony Hoekema asserts, “it was only because man had been created in the image of God that the Second Person of the Trinity could assume human nature.”1 In other words, God made humans in his image because, all along, he planned to become one at the Incarnation in order to redeem lost sinners (2 Timothy 1:9–10).

So in some sense, though still enigmatic and beyond full human comprehension, the human nature of Christ was specially adapted via the imago Dei to accommodate the divine nature. Thus Jesus was fully God and fully man but remained a single person.

I hope identifying this connection between the doctrines of creation and the Incarnation will provoke Christians to both think of and be grateful for the great and deeply mysterious truth-claim that stands at the very heart of Christmas.

For more on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, see chapter 9 of my book Without a Doubt.

Endnotes:
1. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 22.

Quote of the Week: Joy to the World

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World,” The Psalms of David…. (1719)

Advent Review: ‘Tis the Season

Between Advent traditions and time spent with loved ones, there is much I look forward to during the holiday season. During this time  we reflect on the unfolding story of redemption that starts in Bethlehem and continues as we wait in hope for Christ’s second coming. Ultimately, the Advent season highlights the core of the Christian faith—the celebration of the Incarnation—by reminding us of God’s divine and purposeful gift. Continue reading

A Thought for Veterans Day

“Rest easy, sleep well, my brothers. Know the line has held, your job is done. Rest easy, sleep well. Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held. Peace, peace, and farewell…”

– Inscription at Arlington National Cemetery (authorship unknown)