A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully a very brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers, as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.

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This week’s book Confessions is by that same St. Augustine and is considered one of the most important and influential texts in the Western world. If you take a course on the great books this work will rank high on the list.

Why Is This Author Notable?

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) is arguably the most influential Christian thinker outside the New Testament authors. History knows him as a theologian, philosopher, church bishop, and a gifted and tenacious defender of orthodox Christianity. For more about him and his accomplishments, see my article “Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St. Augustine.

What Is This Book About?

Arguably the most prolific classical author, Augustine wrote more than 5 million words, with three of his works becoming both Christian and literary classics of Western civilization. Confessions, written about AD 397, is his best known and most popular book. It remains a top seller more than 1,600 years after it was written.

Divided into 13 books, the work chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The title Confessions can be understood in a triple sense: (1) Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin; (2) his sincere confession of newfound faith; and (3) his thankful confession of the greatness of God.

The content of Confessions may provide the most penetrating spiritual and psychological self-analysis of any work ever penned. Written in the form of a prayer to God (similar to the Psalms), it also serves as thought-provoking devotional literature. Augustine quotes and expounds the Scriptures throughout and suffuses the text with profound theological, philosophical, and apologetic insights.

In what is perhaps the most famous quote from Confessions, Augustine wrote:

“Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. . . . The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”1

The central theme of Confessions is that rest and peace for human beings is found only in God. As creatures made in God’s image, humans can only find genuine rest and peace for their souls through salvation in Jesus Christ.

Why Is This Book Worth Reading?

Confessions is broadly recognized as a literary as well as theological and philosophical masterpiece. It also gave birth to a whole new genre of literature in Western culture—the autobiography, and certainly stands as one of the greatest Christian books ever written. Augustine’s famous autobiography significantly influenced great Roman Catholic thinkers such as St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blaise Pascal, as well as the great Protestant reformers Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, and John Calvin.

While Confessions records Augustine’s extraordinary life and spiritual pilgrimage, the book may really be about the human soul’s search for God. In reading Confessions, people often feel they are reading about their own search for God. I definitely felt that way when I read it—to me, it is clearly one of the very best books I’ve ever read and studied. I try to reread it at least once a year.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), bk. 1, 21.

Subjects: Books, Christian Literature, Reading

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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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