Updated: May 11, 2020
For Part 1, see here. I know this has been a long time coming between parts 1 and 2, but the reality of the struggle of taking time to write and blog is a constant challenge for me.
See also Part 3 here. (written later)
I would encourage you to go back and read Part 1 and refresh the issue in your mind. Piper shows how the things that Athanasius stood for in his day, are amazingly relevant for today’s controversies among Evangelicals – the post-modern thinking that has crept into many Evangelical churches today, the “Emerging/Emergent Church”, and the contextualization controversies of today in missions.
Evangelism, missions, discipleship, church-planting all involve controversies. Dealing with people always involves controversies and tensions and dealing with conflict.
When we Evangelize, there will be controversy. Many disagree and resist and mock and even respond in anger or persecution. Conflict . . . controversy . . . Apologetics and defending doctrine and truth will result in controversy.
In my experience now for 30 years dealing with evangelism with Muslims and 20 years of ministry with Iranians in teaching, discipleship, counseling, church ministry, there are constant controversies that come up in disciple-ship of people.
Some of the controversies/questions that constantly come up:
1. God’s Sovereignty and free will
2. Why God allows evil and suffering
3. Creation vs. Evolution
4. Islam vs. Christianity
5. Spiritual Gifts – tongues, prophesy, healing – application to today.
6. Can women be pastors-teachers-elders in a church?
7. Marriage and Divorce and Re-marriage
and the list goes on . . .
Doctrine and truth make people who don’t like truth or doctrine to resist and many times object and protest and that brings controversy.
Contending for the truth of God’s Word
When we disciple people and teach them, it brings up spiritual issues and problems and the need for counseling, and that involves controversy.
Jude says that sometimes controversy is necessary:
“. . . I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints . . . ” Jude 3
“Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life-giving truth. Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride. Some necessary tasks are sad, and even victory is not without tears – unless there is pride.” . . . . . . “Indeed knowing and loving the truth of Christ is not only pleasant now, it is the only path to ever-lasting life and joy. That’s why Athanasius ( 298-373 AD), John Owen ( 1616-1683), and J. Greshem Machen (1881-1937) took so seriously the controveries of their time. It was not what they liked; but it was what love required – love for Christ and His church and His world.” . . . “Evangelism and world missions must feed on the solid food of well-grounded, unambiguous, rich gospel truth [doctrine, defense of doctrine / apologetics] in order to sustain courage and confidence in the face of afflictions and false religions.” John Piper, Contending For Our All, pp. 17-19 (Introduction) [my comment added in brackets]
Notice Piper says that Evangelism and Missions need the truth of doctrine and apologetics, in order to persevere in ministry, because of the trials and afflictions and the opposition of those from false religions. Many Muslims resist the gopsel when they hear it and persecution of Christians has been a major problem in the Muslim world since its beginning. So, the missionary, evangelist, apologist, church planter, disciple-maker, is constantly having to get on his knees in humility and prayer and be in the word of God devotionally and in meditation and worship, but also in deep intellectual study of the Word, theology, and church history, in order to engage in apologetics and contending for the faith.
I want to focus on the chapter on Athanasius and some of the insightful comments that John Piper makes about Athanasius.
Athanasius is famous for:
a. Being at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD as a deacon, under the bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, whose name happens also to be Alexander, at that time. (how ironic, Alexander of Alexandria)
b. Becoming bishop of the church in Alexandria in 328 AD, and then defending the Deity of Christ for 60 years against the followers of Arius, who denied that Jesus was eternally existing into the past. Hence they denied the Deity of Christ.
c. The followers of Arius took over a lot of the churches for about 60 years, and had Athanasius exiled 5 times.
d. Athanasius is famous for his Festal Letter 39, where he lists the 27 books of the New Testament as “canon” in 367 AD.
e. Athanasius is also famous for several statements that communicate “Sola Scriptura” in principle. Roman Catholics claim that Sola Scriptura was something that Luther and Calvin made up for the first time in history, but as we will see, there are some very sharp statements made by Athanasius that teach Sola Scriptura in the early church period.
Here is one of Athanasius more famous statements that teaches Sola Scriptura: (James White quotes this in his chapter on the early church and Sola Scriptura. The only reason I was helped to find these amazing quotes is by writers like Dr. White and others like David King and William Webster, some of the few Protestant Evangelicals who have studied early church history well and documented quality references.)
“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.”Athanasius, De Synodis, 6 (“On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia”) (click on the above and it will take you to the full quote and you can read most of Athanasius works that have been translated into English for free on line at the www.ccel.org site.
James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, has an excellent chapter in the book, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Postition on the Bible, (this is an old version, for new updated book, see below) about “The Early Church and Sola Scriptura”, which includes these quotes by Athanasius, Irenaeus, Augustine, and other early church fathers.
New, Updated Version of Sola Scriptura! Dr. White’s chapter on the Early Church is the same. The chapter formerly written by John Armstrong has been replaced, with the same subject, by Dr. Derek Thomas, professor at Reformed Seminary. There are chapters by R. C. Sproul, John McArthur, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, and others, along with Dr. James Whites excellent chapter on the Early Church and Sola Scriptura.
Dr. White’s chapter on “The Early Church” – he uses this quote by Athanasius and many other quotations from Athanasius to show that the early church did believe in an early form of Sola Scriptura, even if not fully articulated the way Luther and Calvin did in the 1500s. I highly recommend both books, Piper’s book and James White’s books on Sola Scriptura and other subjects.
See chapter 2 by James R. White, “Sola Scriptura and the Early Church”