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Posts Tagged ‘Augustine’

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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Cur Deus HomoCur Deus Homo by St. Anselm of Canterbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anselm’s famous book was on one hand exactly what I thought it’d be, and on the other hand refreshingly different from what I expected.

Cur Deus Homo is often referenced in discussions of why the incarnation of the Son of God factored into the atonement which he purchased. It is quite common (praise the Lord) for people to speak of the Savior needing to be man because only a human could pay for human sin and also needing to be God, as only God could do the job of reconciling sinful men to an infinitely holy God. I totally expected to find this explained in Anselm’s book, and I was not disappointed.

I was also refreshed by a few things that I did not expect. The first thing that I didn’t expect was Anselm’s lucid style. This book is set as a dialog ‘twixt Anselm and Boso, a curious and educated inquirer. I think the style of the dialog is excellent and should be used more often. What’s more, I’ve heard Anselm referred to as the Augustine of the Middle Ages. With his clear writing style and the way in which he handles ideas, I can understand why Anselm enjoys that high distinction. Augustine, too, was a fabulous and lucid writer. I find that usually the great ones are far easier to understand than their handlers. Finally, the way in which Anselm conceives of the redemption purchased by the God-man is at once very similar, but also quite foreign to the contemporary discussion of the matter. I don’t want to go into detail here in this short review, but suffice it to say that there is great benefit in reading ancient writers. If nothing else, they can help us to see how our thinking is both modern and all-too-provincial.

One weakness of Anselm’s approach, it seems to me, is that he’s self-consciously and explicitly attempting to give a rational accounting of how the incarnation factors into the atonement. Thus, while he does occasionally refer to Scripture, and even call it the only rock on which we’re to build a sturdy house, reason is his guiding light in this book. In Cur Deus Homo he’s trying to show how the biblical doctrine and the church teaching regarding atonement through the God-man is rational. To that degree, I guess I have no beef. I would just like to see him root his work more deeply in the Scripture, which is, after all, the sword of the Spirit. His reliance upon reason, however, is part of what’s earned him another one of his titles (valid or not): the father of scholasticism.

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Augustine & Calvin

I’m always amused when people say that the majority of church history is not “Calvinistic.” I’m amused because it’s both true and false. It’s true in that the Reformation put a fine point on issues of divine sovereignty and human inability. Take note that I said the Reformation, not Calvin. If by “Calvinism” we mean a commitment to the utter helplessness of humanity and a profound commitment to the sovereignty of God in the salvation or damnation of sinners, then we might just as well call it by a name reminiscent of any of the Reformers. Arminius himself was absolutely committed to the utter and absolute helplessness of humanity. If, however, by “Calvinism” we (anachronistically) mean the five points of Calvinism, then a great deal of the church is not Calvinistic… that is, completely Calvinistic.

When I think of the “Calvinism” of the church in broad historical terms, I’m thinking of it in a general sense: a commitment Augustinian anthropology and soteriology. (more…)

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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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I might just as well have called this “Luther the Calvinist,” as (relative to my point) both are quite true. Further, what’s said here of the Magisterial Reformers could also be said of the lesser-known Reformers (also, check out The Other Reformers).

So, what am I after, here? What’s got me all worked up into a little tizzy, again? I’ll tell you what: I’ve had to endure (with much long-suffering) some brothers on Facebook that have maintained that Luther didn’t teach predestination like Calvin did. Some want to make Luther something of an out-and-out Arminian. Others want to speak of him holding to “single” but not “double” predestination. Now, I’m no Luther scholar (though I do fancy myself as something of a Calvin scholar). In any event, I have read enough Luther (The Bondage of the Will ought really to be enough all by itself) to know that he was a rip-snortin’ Augustinian, fully supporting and teaching the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.

Anyhoo… I was very pleased to run across something pertaining to this issue whilst reading Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield tonight:

 

B.B. Warfield

The doctrine of predestination is not the formative principle of Calvinism, … [though] it has been firmly embraced and consistently proclaimed by Calvinists because it is an implicate of theism…. And so little is it a peculiarity of the Reformed theology, that it underlay and gave its form and power to the whole Reformation movement; which was, as from the spiritual point of view, a great revival of religion, so, from the doctrinal point of view, a great revival of Augustinianism. There was accordingly no difference  among the Reformers on this point: Luther and Melanchthon [Luther’s protégé] and the compromising Butzer [Martin Bucer] were no less jealous for absolute predestination that Zwingli and Calvin. Even Zwingli could not surpass Luther in sharp and unqualified assertion of it: and it was not Calvin but Melanchthon who gave it a formal place in his primary scientific statement of the elements of the Protestant faith. 

Now, I’ll grant that Melanchthon softened on this in his later career, taking a good deal of the Lutheran church with him (the Philippists), but not all of it (the Gnesio-Lutherans). From the beginning, however, the Reformation was thoroughly Augustinian – boldly and clearly proclaiming the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Arminianism was an early seventeen-century development in (read: perversion of) the Reformed tradition. This perversion was specifically repudiated by all branches of the Reformed church around the world (not just at Dort). Arminianism’s very popular today (even for the last century and a half), but it was unheard-of among the Reformers. Sorry to the revisionists.

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Here’s another angle on why to study church history… dig this:

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. Psalm 78:1-4

The Psalmist, here, commands a covenantal pedagogy. Parents were to tell their children of the mighty works of Yahweh. The works he did generations and generations before were to be recounted to the children of the present generation. By way of application, the works that our great, great, great grandparents saw (should) have been reported down the generations to us, and we’re to tell them to our children. Are you parents doing this? More on this below.

5He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God. Psalm 78:5-8

Part of the parental responsibility, as articulated here, is to train our children to train their children. God calls us to multi-generational pedagogy. Positively, we’re to train up our kids to set their hope in God, remember his mighty works, and to keep his commandments. This instruction comes, do take note, in the context of the covenant body – the people of God.  Teach your kids not to repeat the unfaithful and rebellious aspects of their fathers (vs. 8). These fathers, however, are their fathers. This can be called covenant identity. Our children are part of the family of faith, which faith is passed on generation to generation. This is our children’s identity; it’s WHO THEY ARE. We baptize our children of the covenant because they deserve it by identity. We train them up to know and own their own, God-given identity, with all its attendant blessings and responsibilities.

Our fathers are our fathers. See that the rest of the Psalm rehearses a great many negative and rebellious acts of God’s people. Our fathers, whether they were unfaithful or not, are still our fathers. There’s a great deal we can learn from the sins of our fathers, often times more than we can learn from their faithfulness.

Final point: Does this command to tell our children of the mighty works of God end where the Bible ends? That is, are there no mighty works of God outside the pages of Scripture? What about the great acts of God in judging our apostate fathers (Israel) by the hand of Rome in AD 70? What about the great martyrs of the first centuries of Christianity? Is their faith not a mighty and wonderful work of God? What about the Cappadocian Fathers? Does this include Athanasius? How about Nicaea? What about Augustine? Shouldn’t Augustine’s mind qualify as a one of Yahweh’s mighty deeds? What about Boethius? The growth of the Eastern Church? And on, and on, and on… Do your children know the story of Athanasius? Do you kids know why Augustine was weeping in the garden under the tree, and what the little kid was singing outside the garden walls? They most certainly should. It’s their history. It’s their identity. These stories are some of the stories of their people, stories to which they’re entitled by covenant identity. Don’t rob them. Neither should we rob them of the “negative” stories. Our people are not only the people who suffered persecution at the hands of Jews and Romans, but we are also the people who persecuted Jews and heretics. Our stories include both Ignatius of Antioch and Tomas de Torquemada. Our identity encompasses both the selfless missionary work of Patrick, Augustine of Canterbury, Aidan, Xavier, and Geneva under Calvin and also the loathsome violence of the Crusades. In a word, our identity is quite catholic, but not in the unfortunate, narrow sense that Rome uses it (they’ve hijacked that term, but it’s not theirs – it’s ours). Rather, our identity is catholic in the fulsome, glorious, biblical sense. We belong to the people of God, a people spanning from Adam down to the present moment, and with a view to 1000 more generations (maybe 100,000 more generations). Church history isn’t just informative and instructive, it is part of our identity.

Who are your people?

A toast to Christian catholicity!

 

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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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