Monday, March 5, 2012

"Chronological Snobbery": T.D. Jakes and James MacDonald vs Athanasias and the Nicene Council

James MacDonald's invitation of T.D. Jakes to his Elephant Room conference has created a furor throughout the Body of Christ in the past couple months. The reasons being:

1. MacDonald's abrupt resignation from The Gospel Coalition, an organization known for being commited to the proclaimation of Evangelic Orthodoxy, of which MacDonald was a founding member.


2. Jakes' modalistic view of the trinity (stemming from his Oneness Pentecostal backround).

With regards to the latter, much of the controversy borne out of Jake’s involvement and MacDonald’s own interactions have raised a very serious question: “To what extent can a person be embraced as a brother in Christ in spite of them having an unorthodox view of God?”

My own answer is “Why should this even be an issue of contention for us in the 21st century?”

Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. (296-298) – d. 2 May 373] was the 20th bishop of Alexandria, Ehypt. His long episcopate lasted 45 years (c. 8 June 328 - 2 May 373), of which over 17 years were spent in five exiles ordered by four different Roman emperors. He is considered to be a renowned theologian and pastoral leader of the fourth century.

He is remembered for his role in the conflict with Arianism. In 325, at the age of 27, Athanasius had a leading role against the Arians in the Nicaen council.  Nicaea was convoked by Constantine in May–August 325 to address the Arian heresy that Jesus Christ is of a distinct substance from God the Father:


The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Athaniasian Creed

Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith.
Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith:
    That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.

        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
 What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
        The Father is uncreated,
        the Son is uncreated,
        the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
       The Father is immeasurable,
        the Son is immeasurable,
        the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

        The Father is eternal,
        the Son is eternal,
        the Holy Spirit is eternal.
            And yet there are not three eternal beings;
            there is but one eternal being.
            So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
            there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

   Similarly, the Father is almighty,
        the Son is almighty,
        the Holy Spirit is almighty.
            Yet there are not three almighty beings;
            there is but one almighty being.
      Thus the Father is God,
        the Son is God,
        the Holy Spirit is God.
            Yet there are not three gods;
            there is but one God.
        Thus the Father is Lord,
        the Son is Lord,
        the Holy Spirit is Lord.
            Yet there are not three lords;
            there is but one Lord.

    Just as Christian truth compels us
    to confess each person individually
    as both God and Lord,
    so catholic religion forbids us
    to say that there are three gods or lords.

    The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten from anyone.
    The Son was neither made nor created;
    he was begotten from the Father alone.

    The Holy Spirit was neither made nor created nor begotten;
    he proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    Accordingly there is one Father, not three fathers;
    there is one Son, not three sons;
    there is one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

    Nothing in this trinity is before or after,
    nothing is greater or smaller;
    in their entirety the three persons
    are coeternal and coequal with each other.
    So in everything, as was said earlier,
    we must worship their trinity in their unity
    and their unity in their trinity.

Anyone then who desires to be saved
should think thus about the trinity.
But it is necessary for eternal salvation
that one also believe in the incarnation
of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.

Now this is the true faith:
    That we believe and confess
    that our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son,
    is both God and human, equally.
     He is God from the essence of the Father,
    begotten before time;
    and he is human from the essence of his mother,
    born in time;
    completely God, completely human,
    with a rational soul and human flesh;
    equal to the Father as regards divinity,
    less than the Father as regards humanity.
    Although he is God and human,
    yet Christ is not two, but one.

    He is one, however,
    not by his divinity being turned into flesh,
    but by God's taking humanity to himself.
    He is one,
    certainly not by the blending of his essence,
    but by the unity of his person.

    For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh,
    so too the one Christ is both God and human.
    He suffered for our salvation;
    he descended to hell;
    he arose from the dead;
    he ascended to heaven;
    he is seated at the Father's right hand;
    from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

    At his coming all people will arise bodily
    and give an accounting of their own deeds.
    Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
    and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.


   If, after serious dialogue and debate, the 4th century’s brightest theologians can develop statements of faith that are accepted as biblically valid to the degree that one’s rejection would invoke anathema, what then should stop the theologians of the 21st century from coming together and after their own personal study, declare “Yes, Athanasius was right!”
   If the Early Church Fathers got it right back then, why is it suddenly an issue now?

Perhaps the main reason why could have it’s roots in what C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy described as:

“Chronological Snobbery”:

the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.
(emphasis mine)

The cliche‘ “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it” rings all too true...