You Can Love Him or Hate Him, but You Can’t Ignore Him: Augustine on Grace–An Excerpt from Grace Alone
“Grace is the heart of the Christian gospel. It is a doctrine that touches the very depths of human existence.” (19)
In today’s excerpt from Grace Alone–Salvation as a Gift of God, Carl Trueman, professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, reveals the importance of Augustine’s thinking as a foundation for the church’s understanding of this magnificent gift.
The history of theology is essentially a story. How one tells that story, which characters and places and actions receive prominence, will vary from historian to historian. But when we look at the “history of grace,” an undisputed key figure in that history is Augustine, fifth-century bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. Augustine’s life and writings profoundly shaped all later debates about grace.…
[Common Places]: Reading Notes: Theological Epistemology
One feature that will appear regularly this year will be a monthly series entitled Reading Notes. In these posts, editors and contributors will lead readers to significant literature related thematically to our other ongoing series. This month Kevin Vanhoozer introduces classical and contemporary literature related to theological epistemology as a fitting conclusion to our engagement of James K. A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project (see here).
Epistemology studies the nature, method, sources, and norms of knowledge. Theological epistemology thinks on these things in relation to the knowledge of God. The qualifier “theological” highlights a key question: is the knowledge of God a mere subset of other kinds of knowledge (i.e., general epistemology), or does theological epistemology refer to a way of knowing God, and perhaps other…
[Common Places]: Reading Notes: Theological Anthropology
Some of the most influential works in theological anthropology are books not primarily about theological anthropology. For example, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies and Athanasius’s On the Incarnation provide overarching narratives that reveal the logic of the gospel from a specific vantage point. A key aspect of these accounts is the anthropological material—they rehearse and interpret the creation of human persons, the fall of humanity into sin, the means and effects of human reconciliation with God, and the union with God that comes from this reconciliation. Both works provide a compelling narration of the Christian gospel aimed at leading readers to the God of the gospel. Irenaeus and Athanasius model theological anthropology in action, showing why the most compelling Christian anthropologies have been developed in works focused…
[Common Places]: James K. A. Smith and Augustinianism (Part 2)
As we saw in the previous post, Smith claims an Augustinian starting point. But the phenomenological framework he uses leads to basic differences with Augustine and the Platonist framework he utilizes. These differences compound when we turn to a more detailed examination of Smith’s cultural liturgies project. We see this, for example, in Smith’s use of imagination, which he draws on to replace conscious, rational thought as the primary bridge between our wider reality and our subconscious desires. While Augustine acknowledges that imagination mediates between the world and our experience of it, it is for him as much a liability as a benefit. The imagination can be productive and beneficial as, for example, in his discussions of the incarnation, the goodness of material creation, and the vital role of…
[Common Places]: James K. A. Smith and Augustinianism (Part 1)
In James K. A. Smith’s rich cultural liturgies series we find an Augustinian voice that on its face resonates in harmony with the fifth-century Bishop but, as one probes deeper, offers a provocative counterpoint to Augustine. Smith claims Augustine as his source of inspiration at various points, going so far as to say that the three intertwined proposals in Desiring the Kingdom on theological anthropology, Christian education, and church liturgy all have their fundamental source in Augustine. On these proposals, however, Smith offers a fascinating blend of Augustinianism and contemporary phenomenology that is at once neither straightforward Augustine nor phenomenology.
Smith’s claims on the nature of the human person are a good place to start because they anchor his wider project on Christian liturgy. Smith’s stated goal is to…
What is the Holy Spirit? Augustine and Barth Help Us Understand
Is it akin to George Lucas’s pantheistic vision of The Force? Is “it” even the proper pronoun, an affront to the Third Person of the Trinity that bleeds him of his personhood?
Christopher Holmes’s accessible, rich resource, The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics), answers this question and more via three historical interlocutors: Augustine, Aquinas, and Barth. His work fills a crucial gap in evangelical dogmatic scholarship by providing concrete answers about the Holy Spirit’s identity, origin, and acts.
In the post below, we excavate a narrow slice of Holmes’s work using our friends Augustine and Barth to shed new light on how we understand what/who the Holy Spirit is. They answer this question in similar, yet complementary ways, helping us think…
Seeing God in Your Neighbor [Awakening Faith]
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:7)
These two commandments ought to be very familiar to you; they should spring to your mind when I mention them, and never be absent from your hearts: “Love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37 – 39). These two commandments must always be in your thoughts and in your hearts, treasured, acted on, and fulfilled. Love of God is the first to be commanded, but love of neighbor is the first to be put into practice.
Since you do not yet see God, you glimpse the vision of…
Knowing as He Knows Me [Awakening Faith]
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:1 – 2)
Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a house “without spot or blemish” (Eph. 5:27). This is my hope and my prayer. In this hope I rejoice, and it is right to rejoice in it. As sinners we tend to lament the things that do not deserve our tears and be unaffected by things that deserve our sorrow. “For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light” (John 3:21). Help me do…
Augustine’s Moment of Conversion (III) [Awakening Faith]
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)
So I closed the book and held the page with my finger, and with a peaceful face told Alypius of my experience. He asked to look at what I had read. I showed him, and he read even further in the book, where the Apostle writes, “He that is weak in the faith, receive” (Rom. 14:1).
He applied this to himself and told me as much. He was strengthened by this admonition, and with resolve and purpose, and without delay, he joined me in faith, which very much reflects his character (which is much different than mine, but for the better).
Then we went in to see my mother.…
Augustine’s Moment of Conversion (II) [Awakening Faith]
From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)
As I was saying these things and weeping with the most bitter remorse in my heart, I suddenly heard the voice of a child coming from a neighboring house, chanting and repeating the words, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my face changed, and I asked myself if the words were part of a song or child’s game, since I could not recall ever having heard them.
So, restraining my tears, I rose up, believing it to be a command to me from heaven to open the book and read the first chapter to which I turned. For I had heard the story of Antony [a prominent monk who helped spread monasticism,…
Augustine’s Moment of Conversion (I) [Awakening Faith]
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1-2)
A profound reflection formed in the secret depths of my soul, bringing all my misery before the sight of my heart, and a storm arose in my mind, accompanied by a mighty shower of tears. To let my tears fall as they wanted I ran away from Alypius [friend of Augustine], because it seemed more appropriate to weep in solitude. So I went far enough away that I could not even sense his presence.
That is how it happened, and he knew something was wrong, because I must have choked on my tears when I spoke to him, just before I ran off. He…
Advent: Promise and Fulfillment (I) [Awakening Faith]
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22 – 23)
God established a time for his promises and a time for their fulfillment. The time for promises was in the time of the prophets, until John the Baptist; from John until the end is the time of fulfillment.
God, who is faithful, put himself in our debt, not by receiving anything from us, but by promising so much. But a promise from his mouth was not sufficient for him; he chose to commit himself in writing as well, as if making a contract of his promises. He produced an account of the promises and their fulfillment, so that we could read…