Updated: May 11
Contending for Our All, by John Piper
This book is about three famous Christians who took Jude 3 “contend earnestly for the faith” seriously – about the Apologetic ministries of Athanasius (died in 373 AD – against the Arian heretics),
John Owen (against many different false doctrines), and J. Greshem Machen (against Liberalism that infected the Presbyterian Church in the early 1900s)
I highly recommend this book, Contending for Our All, as it is one of the best Christian biographies that draws principles from heroes of the past. Chapter 1 is about Athanasius, chapter 2 is about John Owen, and chapter 3 is about J. Gresham Machen.
Especially good is chapter 1 on Athanasius, who lived from 298 – 373 AD.
Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
He later became bishop of Alexandria in 328 AD.
Athanasius contended for the faith by defending the doctrines of the full Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the Deity of the Holy Spirit. (see Jude 3 – “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”)
The false teacher Arius was the cause of the Nicean Council being called in 325 AD.
He was exiled 5 times because of his stance against the heretics, the Arians. Arius was a false teacher who said that Jesus was a created being and not eternal. The doctrine of the Arians was close to the doctrine of the modern cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today.
The Arians had taken over most of the churches over a sixty year period after the Council of Nicea by political intrigue. Athanasius earned the title: “Athanasius contra mundum” = “Athanasius against the world!”
Athanasius is also famous for his list of the 27 books of the New Testament in his Festal Letter 39 on Easter of 367 AD.
Every Christian should read this book, especially chapter 1 on Athanasius. Dr. Piper also did a lecture on Athanasius that was later to become this chapter in his book. You can listen to the whole thing there at www.desiringGod.org
Every young Christian wanting to be a missionary / worker/ church-planter in the Muslim world should definitely read this book.
Dr. Piper does an excellent job of drawing very important principles from Athanasius’ life that are amazingly precise in speaking to the missions and contextualization controversies of today.
Here is a very significant quote from Dr. Piper’s chapter on Athanasius that relates to defending doctrine and how important this is:
Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ
What was clear to Athanasius was that propositions about Christ carried convictions that could send you to heaven or to hell. There were propositions like: “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” and, “He was not before he was made,” and, “the Son of God is created.” [Statements that the heretic Arius taught.] These propositions were strictly damnable. If they were spread and believed they would damn the souls which embraced them. And therefore Athanasius labored with all his might to formulate propositions that would conform to reality and lead the soul to faith and worship and heaven. I believe Athanasius would have abominated, with tears, the contemporary call for “de-propositionalizing” that you hear among many of the so-called “reformists” and “the emerging church,”younger evangelicals,”postfundamentalists,” “post-foundationalists, ”postpropositionalists,” and “postevangelicals.” I think he would have said, “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth of propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, “We die for Christ, not propositions about Christ,” I think he would have said, “That’s what Arius says. So which Christ will you die for?” Athanasius would have grieved over sentences like “It is Christ who unites us; it is doctrines that divides.” And sentences like: “We should ask, Whom do you trust? rather than what do you believe?” He would have grieved because he knew this is the very tactic used by the Arian bishops to cover the councils with fog so that the word “Christ” could mean anything. Those who talk like this—“Christ unites, doctrine divides”—have simply replaced propositions with a word. They think they have done something profound and fresh, when in fact they have done something very old and stale and very deadly.”
(John Piper, Contending For Our All, Crossway Books, 2006, p. 63-64) [my comment added]
So Athanasius rebukes any fudging on sound doctrine and propositional truth in order to make our message more palatable and non-offensive to those we are seeking to reach. Dr. Piper will go on to quote other Missions authorities that speak to the balance of a valid Biblical contextualization, and an over-contextualized message, which is syncretism and comes across as deceptive to those we are seeking to win to Christ. When I first read this, I thought, “Wow, this is what we need to speak to the C-5 level contextualization/ Insider’s Movement/ “common ground” teachings/ emerging church/ emergent church and mis-translations of Bibles to Muslims in order to make the Deity of Christ and the Trinity more acceptable. “
We will continue, Lord willing with future posts about this book and the application to missions, apologetics, and contextualization.