Five Books to Read by Church Fathers

One of the questions I get a lot about theological retrieval is where to start. Lots of people see the value of reading ancient texts but are unsure exactly where to dive in. So I thought it might be useful to identify five classic texts from the church fathers that (1) are significant, theologically and historically, (2) are relatively easy to read and understand, and (3) in some cases tend to get neglected. Any list like this is bound to be somewhat arbitrary and leave important works out, so take this all with a grain of salt. But these works…

Theological Retrieval for Apologetics

In my Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals I give a number of reasons why I think retrieving the theology of the historic church is valuable in our culture right now. One that I don’t discuss, but have been thinking more about lately, is its role in apologetics and cultural dialogue. People tend to think of theological retrieval as primarily an academic interest, but I think it is useful in a wide variety of practical contexts, including apologetics. Here are two great examples of retrieval “at work.” First, in his 2009 debate with Christopher Hitchens, which I have enjoyed watching many times,…

The Structure of Confessions

As I continue to listen to Augustine’s Confessions, one of my recurring questions is why Augustine ends the book with a discussion of creation. It seems like a rather random transition, both in terms of content (from personal autobiography to external subjects like creation and time) as well as in terms of tone and method (from intensely spiritual to more detached and speculative). Henry Chadwick’s Augustine: A Very Short Introduction,¬†which I’m reading in relation to my Augustine project, has an interesting answer to this question: “At first sight, the structure of the Confessions is puzzling. After nine books of autobiography…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (5): Augustine on Pelagianism, the church, and grace and predestination

One final post on Brown’s biography. Brown suggests that Augustine’s verdict against Pelagius was connected to his verdict against his own past – that the vehemence of his own struggles with sin and experience of grace contributed to the vehemence of his opposition to Pelagianism. As he puts it, “the certainty with which he picked out the weaknesses of the idealistic message of Pelagius, is perhaps a symptom of the silent ferocity with which Augustine had continued to criticize his own past” (371). To the extent that this is true, I think it helps direct attention toward the larger context…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (4): Augustine the Preacher

One of the things that also stands out to me from Brown’s biography is the portrait he paints of Augustine the preacher. What stands out to me about Augustine’s preaching is his sensitivity to his audience. Augustine was a very emotive, feeling man (on a Meyer’s-Brigg scale, I would tentatively guess ENFJ), and he had a great capacity for emotionally connecting with his listeners – for entering into their feelings and thoughts and in turn drawing them into his. Brown writes: “this is the secret of Augustine’s enormous power as a preacher. He will make it his first concern to…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (3): Augustine on Scripture

Augustine’s approach to Scripture also stood out to me from Brown’s biography. Over the course of his life, Augustine’s attitude towards Scripture changes considerably. When he is a Manichee, the Bible appeared to him as unsophisticated and unworthy of his philosophical intelligence. As he put it looking back in Confessions: “I resolved, therefore, to direct my mind to the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. And behold, I saw something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, something lowly in the hearing, but sublime in the doing, and veiled in mysteries. Yet I was not…