Archives For Christmas

Christmas and Culture

Greg Strand – December 20, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the Scripture texts we read in our family devotions this past week was Luke 2:1-20. After we finished reading this text and praying, we watched the pertinent clip in Charles’ Schulz’ A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Prior to this clip, Charlie Brown had become exasperated by all of the consumerism and materialism associated with Christmas. It all had become so artificial, so far removed from the foundational truth associated with the season. In confusing despair Charlie Brown cries, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then moves to center stage and recites the biblical record of the historical account of Jesus’ birth: Luke 2:8-14 (KJV). When finished he returns to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

This is one of my favorite clips from a Christmas program. This is truly what Christmas is all about: the birth of Jesus Christ.

This show first aired on December 9, 1965. The success of the special was by no means assured. Even then there were questions and concerns about things so explicitly religious, and even more so regarding the propagation of one specific religion, Christianity. Remember, this was the mid-1960s. Since that initial showing this show has become a classic evidenced by the fact that it has been shown every year since.

John Murdock writes about A Charlie Brown Christmas and Charles Schulz in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown:

During these days there were huge shifts happening both personally and culturally. Schulz’ was also affected struggling with his own spiritual life and passing it on to his children. In a sense, that which Charlie Brown bemoans in the story is what everything about Charles Schulz’ Peanuts gang creation became (think of the marketing and sales of Peanuts characters), including Schulz himself.

In contrast to this classic, Murdock refers to one of the more recently produced Christmas programs, Shrek’s Christmas, and concludes, appropriately, the following:

In the most recently produced Christmas cartoon demonstrating some TV shelf-life, another round-headed, socially awkward character looks for the true meaning of Christmas. However, for 2007’s Shrek the Halls, “the Christmas story” turns out to be ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the closest it comes to religion is a Hallelujah chorus sung to a massive image of Santa. In its finale, the now festively enlightened green ogre proclaims, “A smelly Christmas to all, and to all a gross night.” For my part, give me Linus, the second chapter of Luke, and the Peanuts gang singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” for another fifty years, please.

The lessons:

  • Culture changes, and it continues to do so at a rapid speed such that it is antagonistic to Christianity (is this becoming like the early church? Remember, in the providence of God the church grew in the midst of such a climate).
  • We can often write and speak better than we live.
  • God’s Word is and remains true.
  • Christmas is about Christ, who is life and light, our salvation.


For more on Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture, attend the 2014 EFCA Theology Conference, January 22 – 24, Leawood, KS.



There are some pastors who find the Christmas season one of the more frustrating and challenging times of their annual preaching. Over time, for these pastors, this season (and probably Easter as well, though less so than Christmas) has become one of the least desired times of the year . . . since they have to preach on the birth of Jesus . . . again.

This reveals two profound problems. First, the notion that there needs to be something new or creative misses the point of the season and the truth of the incarnation. For many in our churches, it is retelling the familiar story. Some are hearing it for the first time, or the first time with understanding. In this day and age, this is changing so it is not as familiar to many, or what they know is more legendary and mythical than it is historical and theological. Second, it reflects a sort of “been there done that” mentality such that we simply cover the same old ground.

In response, this same old ground is the foundation of our salvation and our worship. One ought never to tire of that. Furthermore, to think that one has plumbed the depths of the incarnation specifically and Christology more broadly is to reveal a profound misunderstanding of the doctrine. This is why I began early on in my pastoral ministry reading a book on the incarnation every Christmas season. (During Easter, I did the same with the death and resurrection of Jesus.) The books consist of both academic and devotional works, addressing head and heart. In this way, my understanding of this wonderfully rich doctrine has deepened and broadened with each year. It has been a wonderful discipline that has increased my devotion to Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, and it has meant there is more to share with God’s people with each passing year.

I encourage you – pastors, leaders and readers – to consider reading a new book on the incarnation or Christology every Christmas season. You could begin with some books you likely already have on your shelves by reading the sections in New Testament theology or systematic theology textbooks.

Beyond these invaluable resources, there is no end to the excellent books to put on your reading list. I include a few with some specifically on the incarnation and others more broadly on Christology, ranging from devotional to scholarly, most of which I have read through the years:

Athanasius, On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (various publishers).

J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (New York: Harper, 1930).

Richard A. Norris. The Christological Controversy, Sources of Early Christian Thought (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1980).

David F. Wells, The Person of Christ: A Biblical and Historical Analysis of the Incarnation, Foundations for Faith (Westchester: Good News/Crossway, 1984).

Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996).

Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998).

Larry W. Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2005).

Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study, rep. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

Stephen J. Nichols, For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

Nancy Guthrie, ed., Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

Oliver D. Crisp, God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (New York: T&T Clark, 2009).

Verlyn D. Verbrugge, A Not-So-Silent Night: The Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009).

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed. The Deity of Christ, Theology in Community (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

D. A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Bruce A. Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

Graham A. Cole, The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013).

Robert Letham, The Message of the Person of Christ, Bible Speaks Today: Bible Themes (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013).