Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.
Augustine’s Life and World
Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.
Augustine as Person
Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.
One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.
Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word. Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.
While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.