Introducing Primer 12
Issue 12 of our theological publication Primer marvels at the doctrine of the Incarnation.
How would you finish C. S. Lewis’ sentence: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is…”?
You might be tempted to say the resurrection, and there’s a pretty strong case to be made. After all, that is the great turn, when the descent of the Son becomes ascent. Having come down as far as the tomb, now he begins the climb towards that throne above every throne.
But that’s not how C. S. Lewis finished his sentence:
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this...”1
“God became Man.” The words don’t strike us as remarkable perhaps, but linger on the thought for the moment and you start to see why C. S. Lewis calls it “the central miracle” and “the Grand Miracle.” It is God’s great entrance onto the stage. He has entered the building. Every other miraculous birth in Scripture was a warm up act for this. Every promise that God will dwell with his people, and once more walk with humanity in the cool of the garden, turns on this. The Word made flesh.
In the beginning God made man. And now in the incarnation we see God made man. In that marvellous moment everything becomes possible; inevitable even. Every miracle Jesus performed follows from this central miracle, just as surely as summer follows spring. The empty tomb is already contained in Mary’s womb.
And so it’s about time we turn our attention to the Grand Miracle in Primer. When theologians reflect on the incarnation they often make a distinction between the person and work of Christ. They cannot be separated of course, but it can be helpful to distinguish the questions of who and what Jesus Christ is, from debates about the work he came to complete.
In this issue we focus on the first – the person of Jesus Christ. It makes sense to start there, and it is probably true that as evangelicals we have devoted more time describing what Jesus accomplished than contemplating who he is. That’s not surprising, given the need to defend the substitutionary work of Christ in the last century or so. But that can mean that we have lost touch with some of the church’s best resources for understanding the person of Christ. As we’ll see, those resources can provide the deepest defence against misunderstandings of Jesus’ work, and they can fuel our worship of the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.
We begin in the four gospels, where Greg Lanier explores the varied ways in which they testify to Jesus’s divine and human natures and teach us to hold them together. Next we go a little deeper into the interpretation of those texts with Chris Stead, asking how the early church understood and protected “the central miracle” in its creeds and confessions. Here we’ll get an introduction to many of the key theological terms, major debates, and heresies to which we should be alert.
From confessions, we turn to Maximus the Confessor. Garry Williams’s article draws on this early church hero to connect the incarnation to our salvation, demonstrating how Jesus Christ had a divine and a human will, and why that matters for our salvation.
If there’s some steep climbing to be done in the first half this issue, the second half is designed to help us all enjoy the view. In our regular “Something Old” piece, Suzanne McDonald introduces us to John Owen on the “beatific vision” - the idea that our eternal reward and joy will be to behold the incarnate Son of God. Next, Nathan Weston helps us see how the incarnation in Hebrews 2 addresses our fear and shame in the face of a hostile culture, and puts strength in our steps. And then finally we’ll reflect a little on “incarnational ministry.” Every issue of Primer wants to model the move from theology to ministry, but it’s not as simple as saying “Jesus was incarnate and so we should be too.” And so our final article will ask how the unique incarnation of the Son relates to our ministry and witness.
Primer 12, In the Flesh, is on sale now. More details on the 10ofThose website.
1 C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Glasgow: Collins, 1960), 112.