He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our new preaching series entitled “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.” This series walks through the Apostles Creed as a basic summary of our faith but also as a way to live our faith out with God in the world. Each weekend of this series will explore the biblical and theological roots of the Apostles Creed, while also providing specific spiritual practices and approaches to living out what we know as we ‘proclaim and embody’ the Creed in our daily lives.

This weekend I began preaching on the second article of the creed, which begins with this statement: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35)

Conceived by the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit as the source of Creation (Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:30)

The Holy Spirit as the source of Divine life for a Divine work (Matthew 1:20-23)

Born of the Virgin Mary

The story of Israel and miracle babies (Isaac, Moses, Samson, Samuel)

The necessary incarnation of God (John 1:14; Romans 5:12-21)

The surprising work of God (Luke 1:26-38; Galatians 4:4-7)

The Mystery of Jesus: Fully God and Fully Human

Fully God

Fully Human

The Mystery

Living this part of the Apostles’ Creed

Thank God for the Holy Spirit’s creative power

Thank God for the Virgin Mary’s humility and openness to God

Thank God for drawing near for our redemption


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize John 1:14 or Galatians 4:4-7
  • Draw, ink, or paint Luke 1:26-38 as a basis for prayer. Take time to talk with God as you depict the scene in your own way. What is God speaking to you?
  • For further background on this portion of the Apostles’ Creed, consider reading:

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 March 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


Leland Ryken“Leland Ryken: Teaching Literature and the Bible as Literature” – As an undergraduate studying English literature at Wheaton College (IL), I had the privilege to study under Leland Ryken, an authority on John Milton, but also a man of God passionate about reading and teaching the Bible well. His 1984 book How to Read the Bible as Literature had a monumental impact upon me and continues to have great influence on many others today. I was privileged to serve with a couple others as a research assistant with Ryken and Jim Wilhoit on The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Here is Chase Replogle’s Pastor-Writer podcast interview with Ryken as he prepares to release a new book, Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.


Li-Young Lee“A Conversation with Li-Young Lee” – With my undergraduate studies in literature, I find tremendous joy in both reading and writing poetry. Here is a fascinating interview of Li-Young Lee, one of our most powerful contemporary poets, by Paul T. Corrigan in Image Journal: “Li-Young Lee’s books of poetry include Rose (1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award; The City in Which I Love You (1990), which was a Lamont Poetry Selection; Book of My Nights (2001), which won the William Carlos Williams Award; From Blossoms: Selected Poems (2007), and Behind My Eyes (2008). His other work includes Breaking the Alabaster Jar, a collection of twelve interviews edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, and The Winged Seed (1995), a memoir which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Lee was born to Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1957. In 1959, the family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese persecution and lived in Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan before settling in the United States in 1964. Lee attended the Universities of Pittsburgh and Arizona and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa. His awards include fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and Guggenheim Foundation, a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, the I.B. Lavan Award, three Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Chicago. He was interviewed by Paul T. Corrigan.”


stanley-hauerwas“Peacemaking Is Political: An Interview with Stanley Hauerwas by Charles E. Moore” – Stanley Hauerwas is undoubtedly the most renowned, and at-times controversial, Christian ethicist of our day. His book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Social Ethic, is a seminal work on Christian ethics in the contemporary era. In Plough Quarterly, Charles E. Moore interviews Hauerwas in what becomes an exploration of Jesus-centered ethics, peace-making and non-violence, narrative frames, how peace is political, and so much more. While we may not agree with everything Hauerwas speaks about, he will certainly provoke each of us toward deep thinking about Jesus and what it means to be the church and a disciple of Jesus in an age of violence, tension, and distrust.


spirituals“Black Spirituals as Poetry and Resistance” – From Kaitlyn Greenidge in The New York Times: “This imaginative leap is most on display in spirituals. These are the songs, born from rhythms of stolen labor, that enslaved Black people invented on the plantations. They are an early instance of the kind of doublespeak and double consciousness made famous by W. E. B. DuBois. They served, on the one hand, as a testament to the Christian experience but also, on the other, as a way to articulate a resistance to slavery. Spirituals, like many other musical genres across the African diaspora, draw on traditions from West Africa. But spirituals are unique to the experience of the enslaved in the United States — the same artistry and craft that birthed them here produced recognizable, but decidedly different, music across the Caribbean and South America.”


Old-Vintage-Books“Reading Old Books: C. S. Lewis’ Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation – In his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, C.S. Lewis shares his extended reflections on the importance of reading widely, but always reading deeply, in terms of reaching deeper into previous eras to converse with ancient voices, whose different contexts and different issues can help provide perspective on our own context and issues. If you’ve never read Lewis’ fine words in that introduction let me encourage you to read it here. While you’re at it, you may enjoy reading the work Lewis is introducing itself. Athanasius is one of the most important theologians in the history of Christianity.


Christ Church Melaka Malaysia“Malaysia High Court rules Christians can use ‘Allah'” – From the BBC: “Malaysia’s high court has overturned a policy banning Christians from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, the latest in a decades-long legal battle. It comes as part of a case brought by a Christian whose religious materials were seized as they contained the word. The issue of non-Muslims using “Allah” has in the past sparked tension and violence in Malaysia. Muslims make up almost two-thirds of the population, but there are also large Christian communities. These Christian communities argue that they have used the word “Allah”, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights. Malaysia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion. But religious tensions have risen in recent years.”


Music: John Tavener, “The Lament of the Mother of God” (1988), performed by Solveig Kringelborn, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Winchester Cathedral Choir under the direction of conductor David Hill.

God’s Kingdom: Four Quotations from the Early Church

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series on the kingdom of God. The first two weekends of the series we trace the theme of God’s kingdom throughout the Bible. As we walk through this theme, it is helpful to sometimes here from other saints of times past as they address the same themes that we explore. Here are quotations from four early church leaders that offer perspective on how important the kingdom of God was to the faith of the early believers.

Justin Martyr, AD 100-165

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid. (First Apology 11)

Origen, AD 185-254

Who among the believers does not know the words in Isaiah? “In the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be revealed, and the house of the Lord on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills. All nations shall come to it. Many people shall go and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his way, and we will walk in it.” For out of Zion shall go forth a law, and a word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more [Isa. 2:1-5]. (Letter from Origen to Africanus 15)

Hermas, AD 100 – 160

“First of all, sir,” I said, “Explain to me what is the meaning of the rock and the gate?”
“This rock,” he answered, “and this gate are the Son of God.”
“How, sir?” I said. “The rock is old, and the gate is new.”
“Listen,” he said, “and understand, O ignorant man. The Son of God is older than all his creatures, so that he was a fellow counselor with the Father in his work of creation. For this reason he is old.”
“And why is the gate new, sir?” I said.
“Because,” he answered, “he became manifest in the last days of the dispensation. For this reason the gate was made new, that they who are to be saved by it might enter into the kingdom of God.” (Shepherd of Hermas III:9:12)

Athanasius, AD 296 – 373

No Christian can have a doubtful mind on the point that our faith is not in the creature, but in one God, Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, and in one Holy Spirit; one God, known in the holy and perfect Trinity, baptized into which, and in it united to deity, we believe that we have also inherited the kingdom of the heavens, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa 11)

Reading Old Books: C. S. Lewis’ Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation

Old-Vintage-Books.jpgWhile gathering book recommendations recently, I was reminded of the ever important advice that while making the effort to read good new books it is also vitally important to make the effort to read good old books. I’ve encountered that advice from friends, mentors, and a wide variety of authors over the years.

I’ll never forget reading G. K. Chesterton’Orthodoxywhere, in chapter 4 (“The Ethics of Elfland”), he writes:

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.

Nobody can quite write like Chesterton, but there is another voice from the past who speaks a similar message with an even greater clarity:

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. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

It is in his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On The Incarnation that C.S. Lewis shares his extended reflections on the importance of reading widely, but always reading deeply, in terms of reaching deeper into previous eras to converse with ancient voices, whose different contexts and different issues can help provide perspective on our own context and issues. So, here is Lewis’ fine words in that introduction I hope you are enriched by what you read as I have been over the years.

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the 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. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were “influences.” George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only contemporaries – that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages “mere Christianity” turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe – Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed “Paganism” of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life: “An air that kills From yon far country blows.”

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

The present book is something of an experiment. The translation is intended for the world at large, not only for theological students. If it succeeds, other translations of other great Christian books will presumably follow. In one sense, of course, it is not the first in the field. Translations of the Theologia Germanica, the Imitation, the Scale of Perfection, and the Revelations of Lady Julian of Norwich, are already on the market, and are very valuable, though some of them are not very scholarly. But it will be noticed that these are all books of devotion rather than of doctrine. Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

This is a good translation of a very great book. St. Athanasius has suffered in popular estimation from a certain sentence in the “Athanasian Creed.” I will not labour the point that that work is not exactly a creed and was not by St. Athanasius, for I think it is a very fine piece of writing. The words “Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” are the offence. They are commonly misunderstood. The operative word is keep; not acquire, or even believe, but keep. The author, in fact, is not talking about unbelievers, but about deserters, not about those who have never heard of Christ, nor even those who have misunderstood and refused to accept Him, but of those who having really understood and really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or of fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thought. They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are necessarily exempt from blame. But this is not my immediate concern. I mention “the creed (commonly called) of St. Athanasius” only to get out of the reader’s way what may have been a bogey and to put the true Athanasius in its place. His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius – into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. I knew very little Christian Greek except that of the New Testament and I had expected difficulties. To my astonishment I found it almost as easy as Xenophon; and only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity. Every page I read confirmed this impression. His approach to the Miracles is badly needed today, for it is the final answer to those who object to them as “arbitrary and meaningless violations of the laws of Nature.” They are here shown to be rather the re-telling in capital letters of the same message which Nature writes in her crabbed cursive hand; the very operations one would expect of Him who was so full of life that when He wished to die He had to “borrow death from others.” The whole book, indeed, is a picture of the Tree of Life – a sappy and golden book, full of buoyancy and confidence. We cannot, I admit, appropriate all its confidence today. We cannot point to the high virtue of Christian living and the gay, almost mocking courage of Christian martyrdom, as a proof of our doctrines with quite that assurance which Athanasius takes as a matter of course. But whoever may be to blame for that it is not Athanasius.

The translator knows so much more Christian Greek than I that it would be out of place for me to praise her version. But it seems to me to be in the right tradition of English translation. I do not think the reader will find here any of that sawdusty quality which is so common in modern renderings from the ancient languages. That is as much as the English reader will notice; those who compare the version with the original will be able to estimate how much wit and talent is presupposed in such a choice, for example, as “these wiseacres” on the very first page.

The Church in Algeria

In the past few years, I have been particularly interested in what is happening in the church in North Africa. There are a variety of reasons for my interest, but I’ll offer two of them here:

1) North Africa was one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in the first 500 years after Christ, being home to such great theologians as Augustine, Tertullian, and also, if you include Egypt in North Africa, Athanasius and Anthony of the Desert

2)North Africa is the site of some notable revivals and movements of God in our era that are not too often discussed because of governmental suppression

Algeria has been the location of much current difficulties between the government and the Christian church. More specifically, in the past two years, there has been increased challenges for Christians to worship publicly or corporately. This is in large part to a vaguely worded 2006 law stating “which confines non-Muslim worship to specific buildings approved by the state and establishes steep criminal penalties for proselytizing and distributing or storing religious literature.” Because of the vague wording, some local governments in Algeria have been interpreting this very strictly, limiting Christian gatherings to stringent degrees.

Please take a moment to read the following article on believers in Algeria and pray for them.