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Archive for the ‘Augustine’ Category

The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and LoveThe Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This little work was a pleasure to read. It consists of Augustine’s thoughts on the Nicene Creed (faith) the Lord’s Prayer (hope) and a short discourse on Christian love. It will serve as a good introduction to Augustine’s theological thought.

For my part, I love Augustine’s emphasis on the primacy of grace. His defense of the sacramental system is irritating, as it seems very weak. Finally, his take on faith and works is quite disappointing. He does not clearly distinguish between justification and sanctification.

There are a lot of things in this short work that will make the Christian’s heart rejoice, and there a few things that are less than celebratory. By any account, this little “handbook” of theology is worth reading, for Augustine is always worth reading.

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Books! Read Good Ones.

 

I posted this list as a note on Facebook earlier today. That list was supposed to be short, but I wanted to elaborate a bit about why each of these books is so important to me. Here goes.

1. The Bible by God – the whole world hangs on this book. It is God’s self-revelation unto our salvation. I loathe when people (recalling my liberal professors at University) pay lip service to the Bible, but deny its teachings. This book must rule us.

2. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin – The only people more influential on my thinking than John Calvin are my parents (God bless them). This book rocked my little world. It was my introduction into the vast cosmos of Christian thought. Calvin is one of the great masters of Christian thought. This work is his justly famous summary of Christian doctrine.

3. Luther the Leader by John L. Nuelsen (I think) – I was a sophomore at University. I wanted to know about the Reformation. I sat in my ignorance on one side of the apartment looking across at this book on the book shelf. I knew the end of my ignorance was in its pages. This was the first book I picked up as an adult, and I picked it up with the express purpose of learning. That was awesome. It sparked a deep desire in me to know the things of God and his people – a desire that continues to burn.

4. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – This is one of the books that my mom read to me before bed. Thanks, mom. I have not read it as an adult, but as a child it helped me develop an imagination and a sense of wonder at the way things are.

5. He Shall Have Dominion by Kenneth Gentry – This book brought just about everything together for me. It’s a book about Postmillennialism (the best book available to define and defend postmil theory), but it draws together so much: covenant, ethics, history, God’s plan of redemption, and much more. Gentry’s book helped me bring together a fulsome Christian view of all these things.

6. Theonomy in Christian Ethics by Greg Bahnsen – Bahnsen work on ethics helped me sharpen my thoughts about ethics. It’s very popular in Christian circles to be dismissive of large tracts of God’s law. Bahnsen helped me fine tune my commitment to divine law, even in the details.

7. Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til – I have never worked harder to read a book than I worked to read this one. It paid off. In the words of Kenneth Gentry, Van Til helped me begin to *think* as a Christian.

8. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – This book helped me keep my mind in the great morass of happy-clappy Christianity that I was introduced to as an undergraduate. God’s holiness is rightly horrifying. Sproul taught me about the trauma of holiness. Thanks, R.C.

9. The Sovereignty of God by Arthur W. Pink – don’t read the abridged version of this. This work will rock you to your core. When I read it I was already convinced of the absolute sovereignty of God (call it “Calvinism” if you must). This book details how the Bible shows God’s absolute sovereignty in various areas of life, including salvation and reprobation. Pink is a great antidote to the poisons of Arminianism.

10. Westminster Standards (but especially the Shorter Catechism) – The Standards are always in my hands. They’re a consistent source of spiritual sustenance and guidance. I recall learning a great deal from the Shorter Catechism in one particular reading at an airport (LAX) in 1998.

 

Leo Tolstoy

 

11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – I read this amazing book for the first time in 2000. Took a while, cuz it’s big and thick. That’s okay. Big books just take longer to read. Don’t be scared of them. W&P, itself, was vast and amazing, telling the story of many lives in the context of the Napoleonic Wars in Russia. Simply amazing. This book also kicked off a love affair between me and Russian authors, especially Tolstoy.

12. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – This book taught me that people could use words to paint pictures in my mind, that they would write words that could break my heart, that being an author is art. This book (along with others) convinced me of the necessity of reading fiction for pastors. Words are powerful tools. We gotta learn how to use ’em.

13. First in his Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss – This may seem like a curious book to make the top 15. I suppose that it is. Let me put it this way: Before I read this book, I abhorred Bill Clinton. After I read this book, I abhorred Bill Clinton, but thought that there were many ways that I should be more like him.  Briefly, it opened my eyes to my narrow view or assessment of people. It didn’t make me think differently about right and wrong, but it did help me access people in a broader, healthier way.

14. Confessions by Augustine – This book, to some degree, taught me devotions. It demonstrated that a thinking Christianity can be a devotional Christianity. It is proof that not only can you have both head and heart, but that the heart is diminished without the head, and the head is diminished without the heart. Also, I like reading Augustine thoughtfully kicking around an idea, an idea with which all the greatest minds in history subsequently wrestle. Augustine is a wellspring of centuries and centuries of thought.

15. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament by J. Julius Scott, Jr. – I read this book at the end of seminary: wish I read it long before that. Scott shows how dependent the NT is on both the OT and intertestamental Judaism. This book helped me get a better view of the “historico” part of my historico-grammatico-theological hermeneutics.

Looking at my list now, I see that I should have added How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – this book’s title is cliché, but that’s only because of how successful it was. This book codifies how to treat people so that they like you. The simple version is *actually* be interested in them, focus on them, their desires and interests. Love them first, and, in turn, they’ll love you back. I think this book could be read annually with great benefit.

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St. Augustine

One of the great quandaries of Christianity (and even more broadly, of philosophy) is how the sovereignty of God is balanced with the responsibility of humanity. Somehow or other I’ve been in too many conversations on this topic both on Facebook and on some blogs. What’s interesting is that I have not really done too much arguing for Calvinism since I was in college.  Maybe I’m out of practice (I’m definitely a little soggy around the mid-section), but I do think I can add some value to these conversations, so I’ll address the topic here.

 

There are many directions to take this. I’ve been interacting with Billy over at TheArminian.net – see the comments for some dialog. Billy’s a good man, a Christian brother, and I appreciate him. I think he misunderstands both the Bible and Calvinism, but I love him anyway. I suspect that I misunderstand both the Bible and Arminianism at points, too. God bless him.

Rather than rehash that discussion on John 3:16 (the discussion with Billy), I’ll focus on Ephesians chapter one. I was reading an Arminian exegesis of Ephesians 1 earlier today. I’ll give a quote of this interpretation:

In the case of Eph. 1:4, Christ is presented as existing before the foundation of the world and chosen by God as the head of his people and the heir to all of his blessings. All those who come to be in Christ then necessarily come to share in his election, identity, and inheritance. What is true of Christ the covenant head also becomes true of those who are in him. He is the Son of God, so they are sons of God. He is holy, so they become holy, indeed holy ones…

Now, I quite agree that we share in Christ. We are, for example, prophets, priests, and kings in the One who is the Prophet, Priest, and King. All that is a theological construct that is quite true. The problem is that this construct has nothing to do with a proper exegesis of Ephesians 1. It’s simply imposed by the Arminian. The text of verse four says: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Now, God chose us in Christ. “Us” is the direct object of God’s choice. The Arminian construes this as though Christ is the direct object and we are the indirect object. That’s clearly NOT what the text says. Sorry. We are the chosen ones in Christ. God deals with us through the Mediator, to be sure. But the text doesn’t say that Christ is the chosen one and we share in his election. It says that we are the elect ones.

The Arminian makes much of the corporate aspect of election. I don’t dispute that the majority of the Bible is written to the Body, not to individuals. Here’s the rub. The Arminian wants to talk about, say, the “world” in John 3:16 and particularize it to “each and every individual,” but is reticent to particularize Paul’s words here to the church. What’s funny is that the Bible EXPLICITLY speaks of the body being made up of particular, individual members (Ephesians 4; 1 Cor 12:12; Romans 12:4), but it does not speak of the world as such. The Arminian turns this on its head. That contortion is quite telling for anyone paying attention.

 

John Cassian

Now, we know that there are a group of people that God foreknew (not foresaw!), predestined, called, justified and glorified (Rom 8:28-30). This group of people is called the elect. There’s no break in the chain. Everyone God foreknew is glorified (and everything in between).  There’s a lot more to it, but this is ol’ timey Calvinism. It’s really ol’ timey Augustianism. This is the backbone of Christianity. Say it ain’t so, but Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are both condemned as aberrant and heretical. It is this strong old Augustianism that is the majority report of the Christian church down through the ages. The Magisterial Reformers attested to it with one voice. The Reformed and Gnesio Lutherans have held to it since then. Arminianism is a perversion of this biblical teaching, a perversion as old as John Cassian and the Semi-Pelagians (actually older). There are different flavors of the week, but it’s all the same: a rejection of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and a rejection of the absolute dependence of men upon God in the same.

 

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Augustine’s thought is a historical force of the first magnitude. His thoughts have all the power of Bonaparte’s army marching into Russia, even if the power’s of a different sort. He’s a force to be reckoned with – like it, hate it, say it ain’t so. It’s so. I think it was B.B. Warfield that commented that the Reformation was a triumph of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology, that is, his doctrine of salvation over his doctrine of the church. Maybe so. Augustine’s sacramentology (doctrine of the sacraments) stands between his doctrines of salvation and the church. Augustine’s view of the sacraments is beyond me at this point, but I did want to have a short discussion on one of his statements on baptism in his Confessions. I’ve argued over here, that Calvin relied heavily on Augustine as he articulated his view of the sacraments. Calvin makes me think that Augustine is more friendly to an evangelical, Reformed sacramentology than is usually supposed both by Protestants and Roman Catholics.

St. Augustine's Baptism by J. Briffa

Here’s a statement from Augustine regarding his spiritual state before baptism:

As soon as we fell on our knees in the spirit of supplication, the pain vanished. But what agony it was, and how instantly it disappeared! I admit I was terrified, ‘my Lord my God’ (Ps. 37:23). I had experienced nothing like it in all my life. Your will was brought home to me in the depths of my being, and rejoicing in faith I praised your name. This faith did not allow me to be free of guilt over my past sins, which had not yet been forgiven through your baptism. (Confessions, Book 9, Sect. 5)

By faith, Augustine’s agony over his sin and inability to come to Christ was gone and a knowledge of God and his will were planted deep in his being to the point where he praised and rejoiced in him, but he was not free from the guilt of his past sins, as he had not yet been forgiven through baptism. What do you think about that? I’ll try to put an evangelical spin on it, which may or may not be legitimate.

God’s grace in Christ is to be accessed in the manner in which God means us to access it. God’s given his word and sacraments as means of grace. I think word and sacrament overlap and compliment each other, so the following comment is not absolute. That said, baptism is the sign and seal of (among other things) regeneration, ingrafting into Christ and his church, and the forgiveness of sins.

WLC #165: What is Baptism?

Answer: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ has ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

We should look to, or better, look through our baptism to the grace that is signified and sealed to us in that baptism, which grace comes from Christ alone, but is ministered to faith through the sacrament. Neither the Bible nor the Reformed standards presents the sacraments as anything but high and wonderful mysteries. God ministers the grace of Christ to us through words, water, bread and wine unto our salvation. Go figure that out!

As for Augustine, he sees the grace of forgiveness in its sacramental place, baptism. Now, I don’t think Augustine would affirm that baptism is the only place we find the grace of forgiveness, but it is a preeminent place. This is the case (from a Reformed point of view) because word and sacrament always go together. That is, sacraments are joined to the word, which defines and focuses them. But even with all that, I’m still not terribly comfortable with Augustine’s language. But then again, since I’ve not mastered Christian doctrine, I have a great deal yet to learn from him. So do you.

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Heidelberg Catechism #25

Q. Since there is only one God, why do you speak of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

A. Because God has so revealed Himself in His Word that these three distinct persons are the one, true, eternal God.

Augustine's de trinitate

Commercial for Augustine's Book

Theological: This doctrine is, at once, one of the most intriguing and also one of the most foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. At the very heart of our faith stands the great mystery that is God. He’s not just personally mysterious, but he’s even numerically mysterious! While I’m happy to embrace mystery, I’m absolutely unwilling to affirm that Christianity includes contradiction. Not being able fully to comprehend something is one thing, but affirming a contradiction is something else altogether. Follow me, here: We affirm that God is one and three, right? But not one and three in the same way. We affirm one being (essence/substance) existing in three distinct persons. Being and persons are NOT the same thing. Therefore, Christianity has NEVER been so foolish as to assert that God is one and three in being. Neither has it been so foolish as to assert that God is one and three in persons. Christianity embraces the great mystery that God is one in being and three in persons. Christianity is full of mystery and even paradox (sometimes called antinome), but never affirms strict contradiction. At the center of the Christian faith stands the incomprehensible triune God. He blows our minds. This is as it should be.

Practical: We should be blowing people’s minds as we preach. The Bible, the story and teachings of the Christian faith are so rich, so profound, so full of magic and wonder, that we should routinely leave people in a state of wonder as they encounter the God of the Bible in his Christ. Preachers: study the triunity of God and end up getting lost in that wonder. Make sure that wonder works its way into your sermons. Part of the beauty of God is that he’s unspeakably majestic. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is pretty good jumping-off point into that high majesty. We minister for a wonderful God, so let’s make sure our sermons have a distinct element of wonder in them. Let us marvel at God himself and at his unthinkable grace in Christ, and so let us leave our people in glorious wonder as we instruct them in the things of God.

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Again, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted on Augustine’s Confessions. My avid reader(s) will remember that we’ve discussed Augustine’s inability to be converted and the state of near madness that came from that inability. This situation is something we rarely hear about now-a-days. (I ran into a guy in college that was in this kind of state – that is, awakened to his need of Christ, but unable to believe in him.) The Puritans ran into it a great deal. Even Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening saw a good bit of it. Guess that it’s just ol’-timey religion. Maybe we need to sing that song more… JUST KIDDING! We absolutely never need to sing that song ever again. Ever. I’m not joking.

Well, God troubled Augustine’s spirit in order to bring him out of darkness into the kingdom of light. I’ll briefly relay the story (which story, incidentally, both Calvin and Anuhea can also tell – ask ’em). Augustine got back home (a place that a few of them, including his good friend, Alypius, were sharing) and was in bitter agony due to his spiritual condition and inability. He sat weeping under a tree out in the walled garden, when a child walked by outside the wall chanting: tolle lege, tolle lege, or “take up and read, take up and read.” This chant, with which Augustine was unfamiliar, was presumably a part of a child’s game. In any event, Augustine, thinking of it simply as a divine command to go and read the first biblical passage on which his eye should land, went inside, grabbed the book of Romans, opened it, and read. He read this text: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:13-14). Augustine writes: “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled” (Book 8, sect. 12). God had done, through his Word, what Augustine could never do – change his heart.

Augustine Weeping (Alypius in Background)

There’s still a good deal more of the story to tell: his baptism, his mother’s rejoicing, and their relationship before her death. Lord willing, I’ll get there. For now, we can rejoice at God’s grace to that vile sinner, Augustine. We can thank God for subduing to himself that man, whom he used to shape Christianity so profoundly. Salvation is of the Lord!

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The Holy Spirit through Saint Paul says:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Cor 1:20-25)

Augustine, at this time in his life, was the quintessential Gentile of wisdom. Full of knowledge, but unable to come to the simple Wisdom of God. In his own words:

Then in the middle of that grand struggle in my inner house, which I had vehemently stirred up with my soul in the intimate chamber of my heart, distressed not only in mind but in appearance, I turned on Alypius and cried out: “What is wrong with us? What is this that you have heard? Uneducated people are rising up and capturing heaven (Matt. 11:12), and we with our high culture without any heart – see where we roll in the mud of flesh and blood. Is it because they are ahead of us that we are ashamed to follow?” That is the gist of what I said, and the heat of my passion took my attention away from him as he contemplated my condition in astonished silence. For I sounded very strange. My uttered words said less about the state of my mind than my forehead, cheeks, eyes, colour, and tone of voice. (Confessions, 8:8)

Augustine was obviously in great emotional and spiritual turmoil. He knew the truth, but he was unable to give himself to Christ. This is the sort of situation that will drive people mad. But for the grace of God in Augustine’s life at this point, it certainly would have. God was working and would have his man. With typical rhetorical flourish and wonderful insight, Augustine says, “But my madness with myself was part of the process of recovering health, and in the agony of death I was coming to life.”

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