By Ethan+ Harrison, associate priest at Immanuel Anglican Church
We’re asked two of our clergy to share books they’d recommend for the Advent season. Below is the first installment of this two-part series.
On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
C.S. Lewis recommends that we spend quality time with old books: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” Why? Because the past can offer us a more extended and in-depth perspective than the present moment, and because it combats our temporal pride: the idea that the newest is the best.
If one were to follow Lewis’s recommendation, starting with or returning to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation would be a good beginning. On The Incarnation is an exquisite theological meditation on the eternal Word of God who became incarnate to save humanity from ignorance and death to bring them into life with God. The book is an explanation of the narrative of Scripture: humanity, creation, fall, redemption and consummation, all because Jesus Christ is the fully divine Son of God. This book trains us to see the divinity of Christ not abstractly, but salvifically. Athanasius focuses on two problems that result because of human sin—death and ignorance/irrationality—and demonstrates how the Word of God’s incarnation, death and resurrection save us from sin, death and ignorance. In short, if Jesus is not fully God and fully man, we would not be saved. Athanasius is unrelenting in his insistence on the gospel and encourages his readers to not only believe the good news of Jesus but to live it by embodying the cross of Christ.
As we prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation, why not prayerfully and meditatively read an old book: On the Incarnation?
None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barrett
The first article of The 39 Articles of Religion, “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity,” states, “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness… .” It goes on to describe God’s work of creation, providence and the triunity of God. When it comes to thinking about God, we often focus on and study what we are most familiar with: salvation, the gospel, etc. But these first two phrases of Article 1 can seem foreign, alarming or perhaps even unbiblical. What does it mean that God is without passions? What does without body parts mean? And why does it matter?
Matthew Barrett’s book None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God seeks to both explain the attributes of God and show why they matter. It is a deep dive into the perfections of God. Incomprehensibility, infinity, simplicity (“without body or parts”), immutability and impassibility (“without passions”) are just a few of the topics covered in great detail. Written not for the academic, but for the layperson, None Greater teaches, clarifies and demonstrates the beauty, wonder and glory of our God.
One of the things I love about this book is that Barrett is a clear communicator who shows how God reveals himself in his perfections in Scripture, and how all these attributes together are essential for apprehending our glorious God. He also offers a handy glossary to help the reader grow in their knowledge of the primary language of Christian theology. While Barrett is not an Anglican, he follows the Church Fathers like Augustine and medieval theologians like Anselm and Aquinas to unfold who God has revealed himself to be in Scripture. God is beyond anything we can imagine, the God we confess and worship, the one living and true God.
While this is a new book, it is one that unfolds and teaches much of what the church has believed, confessed and lived for centuries. Read it and allow your heart, mind and life to bow before the glorious grandeur of God.
Ethan+ Harrison is the associate priest at Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida. He graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with his Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology in Systematic Theology. He is passionate about theology, evangelistic discipleship and seeing all of life in light of Christ and his gospel. He spends time with his wife, Lindsay, and daughters, Maren and Lisette, as they adventure outside, go bouldering and cook at home.