The students in my classes know that I don’t like adverbs.
Or, I should say, the over reliance on adverbs. In academic writing, they are a quick shortcut to the expression of thoughts but do not often* bring clarity, and hinder progress in the writing discipline. However, adverbs, when employed as a part of an intentional writing strategy, can serve to accentuate or add needed color. They can add beauty.
When it comes to theological development, for example, they have been beautifully used in history. Here is one example.
Since the mysteries of Christ were revealed (Col 1:26) and throughout the first centuries of early Christianity, Christians discussed what it meant that Jesus Christ was “made like” humanity (Heb 2:17).
These discussions often turned into debates, as a handful of thinkers (and instigators) came with novel ideas and questions that challenged what the church held to be true. These challenges led many to seek to formulate an answer to the questions, How can Jesus be both God and man? and Why did God become man?
The result was a confessional statement adopted in modern-day Istanbul, called the Chalcedonian Creed (AD 451). This wonderful statement says, in part,
“[W]e all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; … one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.“[i]
Those four powerful and clear “without” statements at the end sometimes are translated as four adverbs:
In refutation of error and all other hopeless religions of man, Christians declare simply and beautifully, as George Guthrie says, that “Jesus really did become human.”[ii]
When read aloud these adverbs underscore the indestructible truth of the incarnation of Jesus Christ in such a way that really should be sung.
Why, then, did God become man?
In John 3:16, Jesus says that God loved the world in such a way as to make provision for their sin in the face of judgment.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Just prior to this, in John 3:14-15, Jesus alludes to the time Moses was instructed by God to craft a bronze serpent-like staff to hold up at a time when the people were dying due to their sin.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
All who would look to the staff would live (Nu 21:4-9). In the same way, Jesus said, all who look to him, when he is lifted up, will have eternal life (Jn 3:15).
God’s love for the world and desire to provide salvation is why God became man.
In the fourth century, a remarkable North African theologian named Athanasius wrote a short treatise as an “elementary sketch” of faith in Christ wherein he said,
“For we were the purpose of [Jesus Christ’s] embodiment, and for our salvation he so loved human beings as to come to be and appear in a human body.”[iii]
Put adverbially, Jesus Christ, in two natures, God and man, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).
How beautiful are the adverbs when they preach good news.
This article is an adaption from my forthcoming Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism available June 1, 2018 from B&H Books.
Jason G. Duesing (with a foreword by Russell Moore)
B&H Books, 2018
[i] “The Chalcedonian Creed,” in Justin S. Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 56.
[ii] George H. Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 116.
[iii] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4.