Christmas isn’t a holiday that we normally associate with “liberty.” Liberty is something you usually think of in terms of a political or economic ideal. Political liberty. Economic freedom.
Even those of us who are Christians–who understand that what we get, first and foremost, when we come to saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spiritual liberty–do not ordinarily associate the soteriological act of being “set free” with the birth of Jesus. That sense is normally connected with the other miraculous, supernatural event (or combination of natural and supernatural events) which came at the end of Jesus’s life: his crucifixion, death and resurrection (Easter). That is because we’re continually reminded of our liberation and salvation as coming historically after Jesus conquered death and the grave, after his death on the cross and after he rose from the dead–after he had sinlessly lived his life from childhood to adulthood on this earth first.
But, clearly, we can see the “nativity” of our liberty in the Nativity of our Lord. When we talk about Jesus coming to “set the captives free,” we obviously understand that his coming as a babe in a manger was the necessary first event which set this process in motion, temporally speaking. Except that we’re so focussed at Christmastime on his birth, the Gospel narratives of his coming, the initiation of the process of his Incarnation–as well as the presents, the shopping, the food, the activities of the season–that we forget there is this close connection between Christ’s birth and the implementation of our liberty. It is lost even on some of us who love and celebrate both!
It is this connection between Christmas–the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ the Son of God in the world in his first Advent–and our true liberation, that Joel McDurmon is trying to get us to see more clearly in his book, Manifested in the Flesh.
I purchased this book during the summer, along with a number of other titles from American Vision, but I had not bothered to read it until I was prompted this morning by an e-mail I received from the publisher. So, of course, after I read the e-mail (which included a tantalizing excerpt), I proceeded to download and read the e-book version that I had purchased.
This is a great book! It is well-researched, well-written and very compelling, loaded with plenty of intellectual and spiritual firepower. In other words, it is par for the course, coming from Dr. Joel McDurmon.
Manifested in the Flesh draws your attention to how the historical evidence for Jesus acts as a deterrent–and a very effective one once you get your mind (and heart) wrapped around it–against the dual errors of mysticism and skepticism.
Rushdoony warned about these two errors regarding the Incarnation when he said:
The modernist turns the birth narratives of Jesus Christ into a myth; the evangelicals convert the history into a sweet, other-worldly tale.
Joel writes in this same vein of correction when he aims his book’s theme squarely at its stated enemies of “bad history”, “bad theology” and “bad judgment.”
Here is an excerpt from the book, where he deals with “the implications of the incarnation,” specifically with regard to man’s quest for liberty:
A recurring theme of modern man is emancipation, or liberty. In many of the wars and revolutions of the modern period, the rallying cry involved some notion of freedom. Yet we still have a world of oppression, war, and debt. This is because all modern revolutions have been political at heart, and not ethical. They have aimed to rearrange the conditions of society, rather than to renew the hearts of men. Where man seeks to achieve any level of goodness apart from the true revelation of God and man in Jesus Christ, the effort will devolve into some form of coercion or chaos.
Against all the failures of man, Christ has revealed the true path to human liberty: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-2). The foundation of human liberty is found in following Christ, the living Word of God. Thus, a proper understanding of Christ becomes all too important for social order. By understanding Christ alone as truly divine and yet fully man, entered into history, we deny that either divinity or true humanity can be found in mere human institutions. No individual and no institution—State, school, or church— can claim ultimate authority in the earth. Christ rules all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and His Incarnation makes this possible. Where mysticism leaves open the question of God to each individual, of who shall be God incarnate, or who represents God, Christianity claims that Christ is God Incarnate, and He represents God. If man answers the question for himself, then some collective agent of man will eventually triumph. It will be either the power of the mob, or the power of a tyrannical state. There will be a higher man, but he will be either in a black suit with a tax bill, or in a blue suit with handcuffs and a gun. The State becomes the ultimate representative of man, the highest appeal in the earth, and therefore an incarnate deity. It then takes on a messianic role, claiming to provide for the welfare of its people. Men then become subjects to the care of the State, rather than free men under God. God provided a way out of human tyranny in the Incarnation of Christ: no State has a legitimate claim to ultimate authority, because Christ is the true King of kings in the earth.
True freedom can only be found in the shadow of God’s wings. Likewise, true safety, welfare, and salvation. All of the things that modern man desires, but denies in principle through his self-centered humanism and mysticism, God has provided through Jesus. Only when the State bows beneath the rule of the King of kings will men begin again to experience a free society; for only when the power of both individual and collective man is checked by the ethical rule of law will men be free from the haunt of his tyrannous fellows. The Incarnation lays the foundation of this liberty, for only there is man seen as a new creature, able to follow God’s ethics, and only there is God manifest in history so that no other ruler has ultimate authority in the earth.
We must not follow a man-made god, but rather the One true God-made-man. We must not allow human imagination to intrude upon the “express image” of God in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation of the Son of God meets the needs of human salvation and godliness at all levels (2 Pet. 1:3). It exposes the easiness of a mere “inner” spirituality as spiritual laziness and self-centeredness, in that Christ truly manifested in the flesh in history. Thus the mystic must deal with the historical revelation of God before and ever above his own feelings. As well, the Incarnation denies tyranny and demands that all rulers reign justly beneath the Prince of the kings of the earth (Ps. 2:10–12; Matt. 28:18; Rev. 1:5–6). The law of God is revealed as the path of order and righteousness in the earth, and the lust to rule on the part of mere men is checked by the rule of Christ on earth. If we truly mean it when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), then we must take the true understanding of Christ as fully God and fully man, and apply that truth to all of life.
This book would have made a great Christmas gift recommendation if it had occurred to me to read it before Christmas! It’s not too late to order it and read during the home stretch of this end-of-the-year break that many of us are still enjoying.
Manifested in the Flesh is available online from the publisher American Vision.
Incidentally, I truly appreciate George Grant‘s remarks on the meaning of the word “merry” in Merry Christmas. It, too, serves as a deterrent against thinking of the holiday in a purely seasonal, one-dimensional fashion:
The word “merry” is from an old Anglo-Saxon word which literally meant “valiant,” “illustrious,” “great,” or “mighty.” Thus, to be merry was not merely to be mirthful, but to be joyously strong and gallant. Thus, we read in Shakespeare of fiercely courageous soldiers who were called “merry men.” Strong winds were “merry gales.” Fine days were marked by “merry weather.” So, when we wish one another “Merry Christmas,” we are really exhorting one another to take joy in faith, to take heart, and to stand fast! Merry Christmas!