April 23, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
It’s easy to respect a figure like Augustine, removed as we are from personal acquaintance. But what kind of man was he? Here’s an encouraging word from Possidius, his biographer:
“Those who read his works on divine subjects profit thereby. But I believe that they were able to derive greater good from him who heard and saw him as he spoke in person in the church, and especially those who knew well his manner and life among people” (Life of Augustine, 31).
Much of a pastor’s life takes place in public, and he tends to be known generally by many, but only known personally by few. And it is generally true that those aspects of a pastor’s life which folks see tend to be those aspects that highlight his gifting. So in many respects, it can be easy to respect a pastor from afar. But can we, like Augustine, pass the people test? Does knowing you personally cause people to derive greater or lesser good from your public ministry? Or asked another way, does the respect people have for you increase in proportion to their proximity to you, or does it decrease?3 Comments
December 13, 2012 by Jason Hood
One of the things I love most about church history is the discovery that the “new” is actually remarkably old. Almost everything of value I’ve learned about apologetics, epistemology and the like from Kreeft, Pascal, Van Til, Jamie Smith, Keller and other wise teachers can be found in predecessors like Augustine. Even when mediated (and the following excerpts are from Robert Louis Wilken’s excellent The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 172-4), Augustine has more to offer a modern Christian than a sailor has to offer an Amish lad.
Augustine notes the indespensibility of “authority,” that is, the need to rely on someone other than self and sense perception. Autonomy is simply not an option in any sphere of life. Self-reliance is as impossible in religion as it is in farming or child-rearing or trusting your mother that your father really was your father (Augustine’s example, not mine, and certainly a very personal one for him).
The acquiring of religious knowledge is akin to learning a skill. It involves practices, attitudes, and dispositions and has to do with ordering one’s loves. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge one lives by, is gained gradually over time. Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, so one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight.
Augustine’s lexicography of love is quite foreign to the emotion-driven definitions of love, but it is quite in line with the Bible’s approach.
With these ideas on the need to rely on authority, Augustine particularly attacked the Manichean tendency to take a posture of criticism and skepticism. We don’t read Virgil rightly, Augutines says, unless we give ourselves to him, unless “we love him” and become his apprentice, so to speak.
Without sympathy and enthusiasm, without giving of ourselves, without a debt of love, there can be no knowledge of things that matter….
By making authority a necessary part of knowing, Augustine shifts the question away from What should I believe? . . . to the question Whom should I believe? that is, Which persons should I trust?
And this leads Augustine not just to trust in God and his Word, but to the importance of “persons whose lives are formed by the teachings,” and of “placing one’s confidence in men and women whose examples invite us to love what they love.”
The knowledge of God sinks into the mind and heart slowly and hence requires apprenticeship. That is why, says Augustine, we must become “servants of wise men.”
In other words, others are highly unlikely ever to learn to love something or someone unless they first see love.1 Comment
October 16, 2012 by Jason Hood
Edmund Hill, in the Translator’s Note for Augustine’s Teaching Christianity:
That it was written for a particular occasion, to meet a particular pastoral need, I think we may take for granted. Augustine was far too busy a bishop to write books “in the air.”
Teaching Christianity is Hill’s accurate and helpful translation of De Doctrina Christiana.0 Comments
June 30, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
I finished reading Augustine’s City of God this week. At nearly 900 pages, this was no mean feat (at least for this pastor). There are, of course, just too many things to say about this work. But after nearly six months of Monday mornings (and 20 pages of typed notes), I felt compelled to say something. And so I give you what is perhaps my favorite quote from the book,
“And this also is the sacrifice of the church celebrated in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God” (Book X.6).
The gift contains and communicates the giver, or it is really no gift at all. Whatever one might think about Augustine’s sacramentology, this a beautiful reminder that everything we offer to God is — if offered rightly — merely an offering of ourselves. And what is true of the altar is no less true of our theology. May all that we write be an offering of ourselves.1 Comment
June 13, 2011 by Jason Hood
I love the way in which Augustine’s Confessions opens. Most biographies opt for a little historical context, but Augustine thinks that it is important to open up his story with doxological context. He is not just confessing sins and beliefs; he is ultimately confessing the awesomeness of God. Not long after the famous line about our hearts being restless until they find rest in God, we find lines like these (see original for fuller version and context) that sweep us into the depths of worship:
For who is Lord but the Lord?
Who is God except our God?
The most merciful yet most just;
The most hidden yet most present;
The most beautiful yet strongest.
You cannot change, yet you change everything;
Ever working, ever at rest;
Still gathering…yet lacking nothing.
Loves without yearning, jealous without bitterness;
When all others fail to finish what they propose, your purpose remains unchanged.
You receive what you found—yet you had never lost it;
You are never in need yet rejoice in what you gain;
You pay debts when you owe nothing, and in repaying debts you lose nothing.
April 14, 2011 by Jason Hood
The theme of this week’s Gospel Coalition National Conference was Preaching Christ in the Old Testament. Hopefully Gerald Hiestand can give us the view from Chicago, as he was able to attend this week.
One of my favorite quotes from church history on Christ in the OT:
. . . whenever wisdom is declared or described in the Scriptures, it is the Son who is being introduced to us.
Augustine, de Trinitate, 7.3.50 Comments
January 26, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
I’ve been slowly working my way through Augustine’s City of God, and came across this beautiful summary of God’s gracious kindness toward us in Christ.
For although we can never sufficiently give thanks to Him, that we are, that we live, that we behold heaven and earth, that we have mind and reason by which to seek after Him who made all these things, nevertheless, what hearts, what number of tongues, shall affirm that they are sufficient to render thanks to Him for this, that He hath not wholly departed from us, laden and overwhelmed with sins, averse to the contemplation of His light, and blinded by the love of darkness, that is, of iniquity, but hath sent to us His own Word, who is His only Son, that by His birth and suffering for us in the flesh, which He assumed, we might know how much God valued man, and that by that unique sacrifice we might be purified from all our sins, and that, love being shed abroad in our hearts by His Spirit, we might, having surmounted all difficulties, come into eternal rest, and the ineffable sweetness of the contemplation of Himself? (VII.31)
To answer his question: no heart, no tongue is sufficient for such a task. But alas! This should not prevent us from trying to express the inexpressible.1 Comment
December 22, 2010 by Matthew Mason
This extract from one of Augustine’s sermons to catechumens is a wonderful example of Scripturally controlled (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-4; Rom. 6:1-4), pastorally applied theological exegesis. Notice the way he uses typology and imagery to appeal to his hearers’ imaginations, draw them into their place in the drama of God’s dealings with his people, assure them of cleansing by Christ’s blood, and prepare them in the fight against sin. All in one short paragraph.
Your sins will be like the Egyptians following the Israelites, pursuing you only up to the Red Sea. What does up to the Red Sea mean? Up to the font, consecrated by the cross and blood of Christ. For, because that font is red, it reddens [the water]…. Baptism is signified by the sign of the cross, that is, by the water in which you are immersed and through which you pass, as it were, in the Red Sea. Your sins are your enemies. They follow you, but only up to the Red Sea. When you have entered, you will escape; they will be destroyed, just as the Egyptians were engulfed by the waters while the Israelites escaped on dry land.
(Augustine, Sermon 231.8, cited in L Gregory Jones, ‘Baptism: A Dramatic Jouney into God’s Dazzling Light: Baptismal Catechesis and the Shaping of Chritian Practical Wisdom’, in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, eds., Knowing the Triune God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 147-77, at 156.)
November 8, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Or to say what I said below in another way…Augustine, Biel and Calvin all agree that ontological renewal is necessary, but all have different ways of getting there.
For Augustine, God observes our need and offers us a participation in Christ, resulting in a reverse incarnation. He became as us so that we could become as him. This is justification for Augustine.
For Biel, God observes our need and establishes an agreement (pactum) wherein if we do all that is within us to perform a true act of love toward God, he will grant us the grace of ontological renewal. This is justification for Biel (Pelagian, to be sure).
But for Calvin, God’s justice stands in the way of him granting the grace of ontological renewal outright. God must first be propitiated in relation to his justice. God sends Christ to pay the just penalty for our sins, removing the legal barrier between God’s justice and God’s desire to be gracious. This is justification for Calvin.
Thus Calvin’s doctrine of justification adds a layer to his soteriology not present in Augustine and Biel. For Augustine and Biel, there is no need for God to be propitiated prior to his offering us the grace of ontological renewal; God’s justice does not stand in the way of his mercy. But for Calvin, God’s desire to be gracious and his ability to be gracious are at odds. Thus Christ’s death is necessary in Calvin’s system in ways not seen in Augustine and Biel. Herein lies a major difference in their respective soteriologies, and consequently their respective doctrines of justification.
I agree with Calvin that Christ’s death was necessary. And I agree with Augustine that justification is primarily about ontological renewal. And I agree with Biel that God is not bound by human standards of justice. And I think that Athanasius charts a course wherein all three of these can be brought together.0 Comments
November 6, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Thoughts related to a paper I’m writing on evangelicalism’s under-realized eschatology (i.e., the truncated understanding of salvation wherein salvation is limited to legal cleansing, at the neglect of ontological renewal)…
For the theologians of the via moderna, the divine justice does not bind God in his relation to humanity. God simply grants the blessing of ontological renewal to whomever he chooses sans the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. God is so ontologically other in relation to humanity that strict justice cannot obtain. God is not bound by anyone or anything–neither sin nor righteousness requires him to respond in a fixed way. Theoretically, God could send a saint to hell and a sinner to heaven. Thus, in a very real sense, atonement is not necessary for the conceptual framework of the via moderna.
But Calvin rejects the medieval distinction between the “two powers” of God. For Calvin, God’s nature is such that he is bound to honor that which is honorable and to condemn that which is condemnable. Man has sinned; justice must be served. This puts a gracious God in a bit of fix. He desires to be gracious, but it would not be fitting for God to grant the grace of ontological renewal to sinners. So how can God be both gracious and just? Enter the cross of Christ. Christ suffers the just consequences of our rebellion as our substitute and legal representative; justice is served. Now the way has been opened for God to grant us the grace of ontological renewal. Thus for Calvin, justification is not about how to become ontologically renewed, but about clearing the way for such renewal. Thus his doctrine of justification is focused on forgiveness of sins and legal status.
In many ways, it seems that Augustine anticipates the medieval distinction between the two powers of God. Like Ockham and Biel, Augustine’s soteriology does not seem to require an atoning sacrifice as a prerequisite for God to act graciously toward us (he says something to this effect in his Enchridion, though I don’t have the book in front of me). For Augustine, we are sick (ontologically corrupt) and in need of medicine (the divine life of Christ); nothing stands in the way of God freely offering us the needed remedy. Augustine’s doctrine of justification skips right past legal categories and directly to ontological categories.
I’m of the mind that Augustine and the via moderna have it right when it comes to God’s utter transcendence. Strict justice does not obtain between creator and creature. But unlike Calvin, neither Augustine nor the via moderna have a proper appreciation of the need for atonement, nor do they make the cross central in ways that reflect the NT emphasis. Is there a way to embrace the “two powers of God” distinction and yet have a robust atonement theology that makes ample use of Christ’s death and resurrection? Yes there is, and I’ll write more about that later.1 Comment