Christianity and Hellenism, Part 2 of 3: On Being, Loosely Speaking

In my last post, I asserted that the early Christians made discriminating use of the ideas and methods of Greek philosophy. The key terms and categories were carefully reshaped and turned towards biblical ends. If old Plato was baptized in early Christian thought, it was only because he was generally catechized and exhorted first.

I mentioned that I have seen simplistic claims about the influence of Greek philosophy from all corners. An example: I was sitting in on a session at a major, mainstream academic conference. One presenter was discussing the concept of the canon, and the importance of heeding the timeless truths of the creeds of the early Ecumenical Councils. During Q&A, one presumably learned gentleman stood up and said, essentially, “I see no timeless truths in the Nicene Creed alongside all the Neo-Platonist imagery.”

Now, our esteemed anonymous questioner was probably exaggerating. But still, on the surface, he seems to have a point. Continue reading

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*The Deep Things of God* Giveaway

Update:  The contest is now closed.  If you didn’t get an email, alas, you didn’t win. However, watch this space for more giveaways in the near future of equally provocative booksAnd make sure you buy a copy or two of Dr. Sanders’ book anyway.  You will not be disappointed.

My friend and mentor Fred Sanders’ new book, The Deep Things of God:  How the Trinity Changes Everything, comes out on August 31st, and it’s a doozy.

I’ve argued that Dr. Sanders is one of evangelicalism’s brightest theological lights, and this book is going to prove me right.  Whether you’re a pastor, a layman, or even just a guy who wants a better understanding of Christianity’s central doctrine, this is an absolute must-read.

Here was my blurb:

There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe how important and timely this book is.  Sanders demonstrates how the Trinity is at the heart of the Gospel and the foundation of the Christian life, and makes his case by bringing forward distinctly evangelical voices.

But this is no book of abstract theology:  Sanders’ work is lively, engaging, and accessible.  He brings the Trinity out of the cloistered walls of academia and into the living room, explaining in terms anyone can understand that we are immersed in the reality of the Triune God. There is no better guide I know of to explore the deep things of God than this book, and it deserves a wide and serious hearing by pastors, theologians, and laymen alike.

In short:  Buy it.  Read it.

Or, win it. I’ve never done a giveaway before, and I wouldn’t if I wasn’t really excited about the book.  But I am, and Crossway was kind enough to give me three copies to give to giveaway.
There are eight different ways to enter:
  1. Subscribe by RSS or Email.
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  8. Leave a comment with your favorite contemporary musician (because I’m looking to expand my repertoire).

If you do 1, 2, 3, or 4 leave a separate comment here for each one.

Next Monday I’ll choose three winners from the combined pool of those who leave comments here, retweet this, and follow me on Twitter.  Thanks for entering, and spread the word.

A Decadent Doctrine of Salvation

One of my favorite moments in The Deep Things of God is Sanders’ explication of what happens when a culture becomes decadent.  He writes:

“Inhabitants of a decadent culture feel themselves to be living among the scraps and fragments of something that must have made sense to a previous generation but which now seem more like a pile of unrelated items. Decadent cultures feel unable to articulate the reasons for connecting things to each other. They spend a lot of time staring at isolated fragments, unable to combine them into meaningful wholes.”

There are, according to Sanders, two responses to this fragmentation:  one that is conservative, which collects the fragments and treats them as “museum pieces,” and a liberal response that tosses the fragments aside.

That’s an illuminating cultural analysis in itself.  But Sanders applies it theologically, arguing that the fragmentation in our understanding of salvation is actually a manifestation of evangelicalism’s decadent theological culture.  Again, Sanders:

“Is Christian salvation forgiveness, a personal relationship with Jesus, power for moral transformation, or going to heaven? It is all of those and more, but a true account of the thing itself will have to start with the living whole if we ever hope to make sense of the parts. Just think how tricky it is to combine free forgiveness and moral transformation in an organic way if what you are starting with is the individual parts. A dreary back-and-forth between cheap grace and works-righteousness is one of the bedeviling distractions of evangelical experience under the conditions of decadence.”

The solution is, no surprise, an understanding of the Gospel that reaches behind the fragments and sees the whole, which is that God has given himself to us for our salvation.  As Sanders puts it, “The gospel is that God is God for us, that he gives himself to be our salvation. In this sense, as John Piper has said in a series of meditations on God’s love as the gift of himself: “God is the gospel.” He does not give us some thing that makes us blessed, but he blesses us by giving us himself.”

It is only in the Triune life of God that our decadent views of salvation will find both unity and coherence.

There’s still time to enter to win one of three copies, if you haven’t already.  I’ll pick names on Monday.