A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

I’ve heard it said that evangelical Christians don’t study our church history very deeply. As a fellow evangelical, I think there is, unfortunately, a lot of truth in this statement. Contemporary Christians can learn a great deal from the history of their faith. But where to start? This series, “Christian Thinkers 101,” provides a snapshot of some of the faith’s key theologians and apologists and their important books and ideas.

Let’s begin with the man who is the most popular church father.

Though he lived 1,600 years ago, St. Augustine remains revered. But what exactly did he believe and what did he contribute to Christianity? Here’s your crash course on the life and accomplishments of St. Augustine—and why he still matters today.

Who Was Augustine?

St. Augustine (AD 354–430) was born in North Africa to a pagan father and a Christian mother. Following a youth and an early career steeped in debauchery and ambition, Augustine experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity when he turned from his pagan beliefs. His classic book Confessions details his conversion story and, to this day, remains widely acknowledged as the first Western autobiography.

Augustine was a prolific author, a robust theologian, an insightful philosopher, and a tenacious apologist for the truth of historic Christianity. He is a universal Christian voice within Western Christendom and remains today as important to Protestants as he is to Catholics. He is also the only Christian thinker to be mentioned in songs by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

What Did Augustine Write?

Being the most productive author of the ancient world, Augustine penned more than 5 million words. Many of his works were influential, making it difficult to identify his most important books. Perhaps the two that stand out most are Confessions and The City of God. Confessions chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. If you want to learn more about Augustine, pick up Confessions; you’ll be reading a Christian and literary classic. The City of God, his most comprehensive work, gave the Western world its first philosophy of history and presented and defended a distinctly Christian view of history.

What Did Augustine Believe?

Christians of various traditions continue to defend several beliefs that Augustine formulated through the use of Scripture. Three of Augustine’s most important ideas or arguments for the God of Christian theism are the following:

  1. Rest and peace for human beings is found only in God. This is the central theme of Confessions. As creatures made in God’s image, humans can only find genuine rest and peace for their souls through salvation in Jesus Christ.
  2. According to Augustine, human beings are dependent upon God’s grace for salvation. Known as the doctor gratiae (“doctor of grace”), Augustine argued vigorously that Christianity was uniquely a religion of divine rescue instead of a works-based, self-help religion that was advocated by some of Augustine’s opponents.
  3. In response to the problem of evil, Augustine argued that while evil is real it is not a substance or a “thing.” Rather, evil is a privation, an absence of goodness in the human will. Therefore, God did not create evil; only good. Augustine further argued that the origin of evil resulted when Lucifer chose a lower good (himself) and exalted it above the ultimate good (God).

Why Does Augustine Matter Today?

Augustine has been criticized for introducing Neoplatonic ideas into Christian theology, failing to be sufficiently systematic in his writings, and for being excessively pessimistic in his view of human nature. Yet many Augustine scholars consider these criticisms highly overstated.1 Nevertheless, while Christianity has produced many prominent thinkers, Augustine may be the most influential Christian thinker outside of the New Testament authors. His significant influence, especially on Western Christianity, is directly tied to his profound work as a theologian, philosopher, apologist, and church bishop.

St. Augustine has influenced evangelical protestants virtually as much as he has influenced Catholics. When evangelicals speak of a God-shaped hole within the human heart, or argue that God didn’t create evil, or insist that salvation is not achieved on the basis of good works, they are affirming ideas that Augustine articulated and passionately defended.

Reflections: Your Turn

Augustine’s key spiritual insight is that human beings were made for God; thus, their inner existential longing will only find contentment through a redemptive relationship with God. Is this your experience? Does this comport well with humankind’s search for peace? Visit Reflections on Wordpress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @ Reasons.org

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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