This blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully a very brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers, as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.


This week’s book On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius is considered one of the most important theological works in the early Christian church. Athanasius’s book masterfully tackles a critical doctrinal topic, and as a result it helped shape Christian orthodoxy.

Why Is This Author Notable?

Athanasius (c. 296–373) is one of the most respected persons in church history. His articulation and defense of essential Christian doctrine (primarily Christology) earned him the title “Father of Orthodoxy.” All three branches of Christendom—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—admire him. With his rare combination of a tenacious character and depth of theological insight, St. Athanasius championed Christian doctrine at a time when the faith was extremely vulnerable to heretical attack. For more about him and his accomplishments, see my article, “Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St Athanasius.”

What Is This Book About?

As the title indicates, Athanasius’s book provides an explanation and defense of the historic Christian doctrine of the incarnation in the context of heretical attacks against it. Athanasius affirms that the essence of Christianity is found in the historic truth-claim of Jesus Christ being God in human flesh (a single person with both a divine and a human nature). However, during Athanasius’s lifetime, the incarnation would be directly challenged by the influential Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria (c. 256–336) taught that Christ (the Son) was not truly equal to the Father in nature but was rather a created being.

In On the Incarnation, Athanasius argues for the truth of the incarnation and indirectly argues against the Arian heresy by insisting that only the God-man (God in human flesh) can save human beings. Thus in the atonement, the unique God-man represents and reconciles both parties. So for Athanasius, the truth of the atonement depends upon the prior truth of the incarnation.

Divided into 9 chapters, On the Incarnation explains and justifies the incarnation. Moreover, the book addresses humankind’s creation and fall and shows how the incarnation of Jesus Christ distinctly solves man’s predicament. Athanasius also addresses non-Christian challenges to the incarnation that come from both Jewish and Gentile sources.

The following quote is attributed to Athanasius as he reflected upon the truth of the incarnation in light of the Arian heresy:

“Jesus, whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.”1

Why Is This Book Worth Reading?

On the Incarnation is a doctrinal and theological classic. Its central theme that only Jesus Christ the God-man can save lost sinners defines historic Christianity. In reading Athanasius’s work you discover how this great fourth-century Christian theologian and apologist understands and justifies the faith.

In his introduction to Athanasius’s book, C. S. Lewis writes: “When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. . . . Only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.”2

His ability to write about Christianity’s most profound truth with great clarity makes Athanasius’s book one of my doctrinal favorites.



  1. B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 31.
  2. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation: The Treatise de Incarnatione Verbi Dei, rev. ed. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1982), 9.

Subjects: Book Reviews, Books, Christian Literature, Reading

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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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