Category Archives: Church Fathers

ON THE ROAD WITH SAINT AUGUSTINE

In lieu of a typical book review, as is my habit from time to time, allow me to mention half a dozen things I greatly appreciated about this book.  It will definitely make the list for my “Favorite Books of the Year.”

This is the seventh book I’ve read by Smith.  All of them made me think in fresh and provocative ways.  How (Not) to be Secular was my favorite. It now comes in a close second to Smith’s latest.  On the Road with Saint Augustine is now my favorite.  

So here are a half dozen things I appreciated about this book:

*There is elegant writing combined with keen insights.  It is no surprise that On the Road with Saint Augustine received a coveted starred review by Publishers Weekly.

*It makes a compelling case for why Augustine is the ideal travel partner as we make our way through life.  For me, both Augustine and Bunyan (there are others) have been indispenable to have as my vagabond friends.

*There is a thick realism in this book (take note Joel Osteen), but Smith always keeps this tethered to a compelling hope.

*Smith has a good nose for the telling quote or captivating illustration.  HIs wide-reading across various disciplines showcases the brilliance of Augustine.

*In my own teaching, and especially in my ministry of discipleship with men, this is the kind of book that I can use as a gateway of sorts to the riches of Christian history.

*I’ve always found that great books help me clarify important issues.  My marginalia reflects this reality in On the Road with Saint Augustine.  For example, in the chapter on friendship, Smith’s interaction with Heidegger resulted in my marginal comment of “Molds are everywhere, so it is impossible to break out of every single mold.”  In other words, autonomous individuals don’t exist because they can’t exist.

Whenever the time comes that sales begin to dwindle for this book, I would recommend Brazos making booklets out of some chapters.  For example, the chapter on freedom is one I would love to give to any thoughtful person, irrespective of whether they are a Christian. 

 

CHRISTIANITY AT THE CROSSROADS

What do the second and twenty-first centuries have in common?

Quite a bit, it turns out.

The second century was a time when Christianity was challenged by many philosophies and religions.  Because of this volatility, Michael Kruger, in his wonderfully conceived overview of the second century, convincingly shows that it has much to say to our own situation today.

Kruger’s book fits a huge need as the second century has been largely ignored. 

Among other things, this was the time when key defenders of the Christian faith arose to give articulate and persuasive arguments.

Kruger’s book also does a terrific job of showing that the canon was largely determined far in advance of Nicea.

Kruger is thorough without being pedantic.  He is a skillful scholar who knows how to write clearly.

HALF-BREED AUGUSTINE

https://www.amazon.com/Mestizo-Augustine-Theologian-Between-Cultures/dp/083085150X/ref=cm_rdp_product

Image result for The mestizo augustine

 

Augustine’s City of God and Confessions have made a significant impact on my life. When people ask me for the most formative books outside the Bible, it is easy to name the top two: Confessions and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

I’ve read several books about Augustine. I can say that all of them have been quite good, with a few of exceptional quality. Those by Jean Bethke Elshtain and Garry Wills would top my list. Those two are now joined by Justo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez teases out the implications of Augustine being a person of two cultures: African and Greco-Roman. The Spanish word, mestizaje, means that one is a “mixed breed.” No easy thing being one and it carried far-reaching implications for how Augustine viewed himself and how he conducted his ministry.

Gonzalez covers the typical terrain with the Donatist controversy, etc. but in a way no one else has before.

Highly recommended.

DESTROYER OF THE gods

Here’s a snippet from my interview with Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh:

Moore: It’s become somewhat of a self-evident truth that early Christianity only appealed to the down and out. Is that accurate to the historical record?

Hurtado: For several decades now that old notion has been discredited among scholars of early Christianity. Studies of the people named and described in earliest Christian texts show that, right from the earliest years, they included craftsmen, merchants, and owners of businesses. Of course, there were also slaves and poor among believers. By at least the second century, there were also believers from upper levels of Roman society. That upward progress socially is likely part of what prompted pagan sophisticates such as Celsus to attack Christianity so vehemently.

The full interview is here:

Larry Hurtado: An Interview

LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES BOTH AVOID THEE!

In my fairly diverse reading, it is striking how few times I will see any mention of some of the earliest witnesses of the Christian faith.   I am speaking of the early Church fathers who wrote right after the time of the apostles.  And this common neglect is found among both so-called liberals (or progressives) and so-called conservatives.

Why the neglect?

I am not entirely sure, but Lesslie Newbigin’s terrific book, Proper Confidence, may provide a clue.  Newbigin believed both liberals and conservatives derived their understanding of reason from the Enlightenment.  Liberals, according to Newbigin, tend to believe the Christian faith can never be proven by reason, while conservatives tend to believe the Christian faith can be proven mainly by reason.  Both have forgotten what the Scriptures say about the nature of faith.  

Many conservatives need to be reminded that we now see in a “mirror dimly,” while many liberals need to appreciate we can still have confidence that the resurrected body of Jesus is a well-founded hope.  In The Reason for God,  Tim Keller (perhaps somewhat ironic because of the title), does a fine job reminding us that we all utilize faith along with our reason(s).  

The Church fathers can help us with these matters.  They understood that our understanding now is partial, but they were still confident it was true.

If you want to learn more, I recommend reading a primary source and a secondary one. The Apostolic Fathers (the edition by Michael Holmes is the latest, but the edition by J.B. Lightfoot is less expensive) has wonderful selections to read.  Reading the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall is my recommended book for getting your bearings on this historical period.

So how about it liberals and conservatives?  Stop avoiding the Church fathers and pay them a visit!