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On The Shoulders Of Giants: My Year With Augustine

by | Jan 23, 2014 | Pastors’ Blog | 0 comments

“I may venture to say that I know and unreservedly believe the doctrines pertaining to our salvation. But my difficulty is in the question how I am to use this truth in ministering to the salvation of others, seeking what is profitable not for myself alone, but for many, that they may be saved.” Augustine, in a letter to Bishop Valerius in AD391

Practice What You Preach

In my last post, I discussed the value and importance of making reading a habit of life. So, as a way to demonstrate that I “practice what I preach” and to give occasional subject matter for this blog, I want to share part of a reading plan I am involved in for 2014. A friend and I are reading through the Nicene and Post-Nicene series of Augustine’s works this year. No small task, but one that will certainly be worthwhile. And, per the previous post, there is a reading plan, schedule, etc.

Why Augustine?

I am dubbing this series “My Year with Augustine.” So, why this guy? There are lots of reasons. The first I will use to give a little personal background. Most of you reading this blog know me fairly well. But, there may be a few of you who have stumbled upon this through Web search, a friend’s social media share, etc. SO – I have a particular interest in the time period in which Augustine lived. I received a Master’s of Divinity in 2003 with an emphasis in Christian history and theology. I then received a Ph.D. a few years later in the same field of study, with my specialization being what is known as Patristic Christianity. This is the period of the early Church, specifically the close of the New Testament to the time of Gregory the Great (~AD100-490). Needless to say, I like this time period, the people in it, the issues faced, etc. I have spent some time with Augustine before (not like this!) and have always come away from his life and writings challenged, changed, or both.

Second, I have something in common with Augustine. He grew up, generally speaking, in a “Christian home.” He then moved away from his childhood beliefs for a season, in pursuit of other ideas and “things of this world,” to put it kindly. He then had a fairly radical/unexpected conversion experience and returned to the faith. At least in essential points, my journey in Christianity has been about the same. As such, I find that many of his struggles, issues, doubts, fears, etc., resonate with my own spiritual experience.

Finally, I find Augustine himself to be a fascinating character. He struggled with many things. He had some very interesting perspectives on life, death, faith, the church, salvation, baptism, philosophy, war, the kingdom of God, etc. Many of these I whole-heartedly agree with; others, not so much. It actually brings back to mind a question my Church History professor, Dr. Daryl Cornett, asked one day in a class on Patristics: “How much can a person get wrong about the faith and still be considered a Christian?” In other words, where is the line between error and heresy? Augustine regularly makes me challenge my own notions of where that line actually is.

What Will It Look Like

As I add other posts to this series, I will be focusing on three main things. First, I will be focusing on those points Augustine makes that are of profound significance to Christian thinking and living – similar to the quote that introduces this post. Second, I will be interacting with certain things Augustine wrote that I absolutely do not agree with, but are significant to the development of later theological ideas and controversies. Third, I will often post things from Augustine for which I am uncertain as to what I think – the hard, gray matters than don’t always resolves themselves as nice, airtight packages.

I will say this at the outset – during the Reformation, both Protestants and Catholics looked to Augustine to support their ideas and arguments. None of them viewed him as “outside of the faith.” For both groups, he was a valid source for argument, clarity, and explanation of truth. I generally agree with this sentiment – Augustine was a follower of Jesus by grace through faith. As such, he is among the “great cloud of witnesses” that come after the list given in Hebrews. Though flawed (like us all), his are shoulders worth standing on. I have enjoyed my time with him so far this year – and I hope you are able to enjoy the samplings of him that I give in this series.

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