Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 21, 2007

Contending for Our All, part 1: Athanasius

I’ve finally had time to read through one of my Christmas (2006) presents: the latest installation in John Piper’s series The Swans Are Not Silent.  Volume 4 is Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen.

My wife and I – all right, I admit it, my wife didn’t have a lot to do with it – gave our youngest son “Athanasius” as one of his middle names. Ever since I’ve known of Athanasius, I’ve thrilled at his defense of orthodox Christology contra mundum. It was good to read a digest of his life (see the material online here). Some notables and quotables:

Gregory of Nazianzus noted of Athanasius,

“He was brought up, from the first, in religious habits and practices, after a brief study of literature and philosophy, so that he might not be utterly unskilled in such subjects, or ignorant of matters which he had determined to despise.  For his generous and eager could could not brook being occupied in vanities, like unskilled athletes, who beat the air instead of their antagonists and lose the prize.  From meditation on every book of the Old and New Testament, with a depth such as none else has applied even to one of them, he grew rich in contemplation, rich in splendor of life.” (44, emphasis added)

A good reminder that in the day when the publication of new works in the fields of biblical and theological studies has reached unprecedented levels, it is still the Scriptures to which we must go. It is a point of wisdom to discover what godly men have said regarding the Scriptures — but still, they are not themselves authors of Holy Writ, and are always corrigible to it.

Two particularly well-stated lessons by Piper from the life of Athanasius.

1) Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ.

Of course, we would hasten to note, as would Piper, that the word “includes” is important: there are those who love Christology in an academic sort of way without loving Christ. But there are also those who profess love for Christ, when in reality their Christ is not the Christ of Scripture at all, but one of their own making, in their own image. Or, more to Piper’s point, there are those who profess love for Christ as a person while refusing to affirm any propositional truth about Christ. There is a sense in which we are idolaters to the extent that we misunderstand (or deny) biblical revelation about Christ.

2. The truth of biblical language must be vigorously protected with non-biblical language.

It is enlightening to read the account of Arians affirming Scriptural language about Christ, twisting it to fit their false understanding of Christ as a created being (shades of reader-response hermeneutic!). They engaged in the same sort of thing that happened during the inerrancy debates of the 20th century. It is one thing to affirm that Scripture is “inspired” on the basis of 2 Tim 3:16. But when the discussion turns to what is meant by theopneustos – aye, there’s the rub. The concept of “No creed but the Bible” is not a recent innovation.


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