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Athanasius on Postmodernism

December 14th, 2005 | 2 min read

By Andrew Selby

Of course, Athanasius (denizen of the 4th century as he was) knew nothing of postmodernism. Nevertheless, his wonderful treatise On the Incarnation refutes a typical Christian postmodern criticism.

A major motivation for the postmodern Christians I've met - and Daniel Fuller author of Unity of the Bible and a Christians who may not declare himself as postmodern, but uses similar phraseology - is to cut off the shackles of the bankrupt "modern" Christianity and move beyond. What exactly "beyond" means is a point of much controversy, but the point is to become "A New Kind of Christian", especially through engaging the narrative of the Bible in a new way. One consequence of this idea is that we ought to throw out systematic theology and philosophical sounding reasoning about the Bible. Fuller and a self-declared postmodern Christian friend of mine hardly represent the whole movement but the gist of the argument is that Christians can't do systematic theology because it takes them away from the all important narrative. As any true inerrantist, I fully agree that we must make the Bible the foundation of our belief structure. But instead of throwing off the so-called shackles of the past and becoming critical of all those who have passed down the traditions to us, we must devour the works of great fathers of the past like never before.

Athanasius is one of those men.

He demonstrates for us how to stay rooted in the Scripture while doing systematic theology. The first and largest section of his treatise is devoted to the Coming of the Word and the Victory of the Cross. He lays out from the time of creation why we human beings need the Word to come and save us. He doesn't just quote the Bible, but he captures the central ideas and movements of the Scripture and shows how Christ, His death and resurrection bring all to completion.

So this Christmas season don't rush to the next promise of "new" and "cool". Head back for the rich tradition that will ultimately challenge us in a way the most cutting skeptic never could. Read a man like Athanasius, trying to fend off heretical Arians from orthodoxy, and find a treatise founded on the story of God's redemption of mankind. That will get you charged up for December 25 and will cause you to consider what it meant for God to become a man, walk among us and even die for us. Become an old kind of Christian.