Posted by: Billy Marsh | February 15, 2010

St. Athanasius and C. S. Lewis: “You must make your choice.”

Jesus doesn’t give you the option to waffle (ht: Bret) on his identity.  His claims are too clear for anyone to take the middle ground. Anyone with the least bit of respect for honoring someone’s own words, or who can read the plain words on a page, can only walk away from Scripture watering down the magnanimity of Christ’s self-revealing by compromising his or her integrity. Both Saint Athanasius and C. S. Lewis recognized this reality. The former in AD 318, the latter in 1952.

Most anyone remotely familiar with Lewis has probably either read or heard the classic quote from Mere Christianity where he forces us to ‘fess up and admit that Jesus has to either be a lunatic or the Son of God. Those are the only honorable choices Jesus of Nazareth gives us. To suggest any other option is not to do justice to the explicit characteristic material he provides.

Likewise, hundreds of years prior to the wit of Lewis one of the Early Church Fathers, Saint Athanasius, came to a similar conclusion. Penning one the most foundational Christian texts for the establishment and defense of the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation, and Christology in general, Athanasius refuted the unbelief of the Jews and the Gentiles based upon the historicity of Jesus’ divine claims and works in Scripture. For Athanasius in On the Incarnation, Jesus as the Word made flesh who came as promised in the OT and was in fact who he said he was an unquestionable historical reality. Thus when he rebukes the Jews and the Gentiles who have not believed Christ’s claims, he makes no room for them to make of Jesus anything other than him truly being the Son of God. In other words, either he’s God Incarnate as Scripture says, or else both Scripture and Jesus himself are lying. This is why I support the view that ultimately every sin can be traced back to unbelief. When answering the question, “What do you make of Christ?” you only have two viable responses. Either you believe Scripture or you call the Spirit of God a liar. This is the bite of the point made by two men who stand centuries apart but within the same Christian tradition.

If, then, the Saviour is neither a mere man nor a magician, nor one of the daemons, but has by His Godhead confounded and overshadowed the opinions of the poets and the delusion of the daemons and the wisdom of the Greeks, it must be manifest and will be owned by all that He is in truth Son of God, Existent Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father. This is the reason why His works are no mere human works, but, both intrinsically and by comparison with those of men, are recognised as being superhuman and truly the works of God (87). ~ St. Athanasius

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (52). ~ C. S. Lewis

Now the next question that remains to be asked in light of the fact that Lewis wrote the introduction to the standard translation of On the Incarnation is whether or not his previous reading of Athanasius produced his comments above. I’ll leave that for others of you to investigate. But it is interesting to see how similar their points are in substance.

This last quote is taken from Richard Bauckham’s lecture series, “God Crucified,” which has up until a few years ago been published independently but now is part of a larger work entitled, Jesus and the God of Israel. I encourage all of you who haven’t read through this essay to do so as fast as possible. Bauckham is one of the world’s leading conservative, evangelical NT scholars. His work in this book is all about high Christology, refuting the claims that both the OT and NT did not see the Messiah to be God. Working from both testaments, Bauckham powerfully demonstrates that the Messiah in the OT was expected to have a divine identity and how the NT, when setting forth Jesus to be the Christ, does so in a way that is meant to confirm the witness of the OT testifying to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh. The passage below is exerpted from his exegetical comments based upon the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah 40-55. Bauckham is arguing that the prophetic word in these chapters concerning the identity of this Servant who is to come can be taken no other way than that he must be God.

The Servant, in both his humiliation and his exaltation, is therefore not merely a human figure distinguished from God, but, in both his humiliation and his exaltation, belongs to the identity of the unique God. This God is not only the high and lofty one who reigns from his throne in the high and holy place; he also abases himself to the condition of the crushed and the lowly (Isa 57:15). And when the nations acknowledge his unique deity and turn to him for salvation, it is the Servant, humiliated and now exalted to sovereignty on the divine throne, whom they acknowledge (51).

The main impetus for this post was to show the intriguing link between two of Christianity’s most important theologains. However, it is clear that the goal behind all three of these testimonies is to defend the claims of the gospel in hopes that those who encounter Jesus will believe that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing in his name, you might have eternal life (Jn 20:30-31). In reality, the common question, “What are you to make of Jesus?” needs to be changed to “Do you believe what Scripture has made of Jesus?” If your answer is “yes,” then you will find yourself crying out with Thomas, “My Lord and My God!” Either way, like Athanasius, Lewis, and Bauckam, Scripture’s call to all of us is simple: “You must make your choice.”


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