Augustine on the Christian Life

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Augustine is the man everyone wants on his team. He is the quintessential pastor-scholar whose works have been studied for over a millennia and a half. He is one of the few figures that both Catholics and Protestants study with equal fervor—an intensity rivaled only by the passionate debates concerning which side he fits best. 

But, as Bray says in the preface to this introductory work, "For whatever reason, scholars have concentrated on his philosophy, his theology, and increasingly his biblical interpretation, but have had relatively little to say about his spiritual development and devotional teaching.” Most of this debate and study is focused on areas of Augustine’s thought other than his personal and pastoral piety. So, in Augustine on the Christian Life, Bray focuses on exploring the thought and practice of Augustine as a believer

Following a brief biography in chapter one, Bray explores Augustine’s life as a believer. Beginning with his conversion, the reader is walked through Augustine’s devotional life, his family life, and his choice of lifestyle. Bray is able to provide a fair and honorable representation of the bishop, while still recognizing there are parts of his life that puzzle modern readers. For example, though he had a life-long mistress, with whom he fathered a son, Augustine embraced a life of celibacy. From here Bray devotes a chapter each to Augustine as a Pastor and a Teacher, with a final chapter on his enduring legacy. 

Many introductions to Augustine’s life and thought have already been published. But Bray has created a resource that humanizes this rightly-honored church father. Augustine was brilliant and his writing voluminous. He possessed a depth of thought that is intimidating to most, even those highly educated in philosophy, history, theology, and the Greco-Roman world. Despite his depth, he was also a pastor who stepped into a pulpit every Sunday to preach — to form both the mind and the will — the faith to his North African congregation. Bray captures this personal and pastoral side through his introduction that proves to be accessible and edifying. 

The Imperfect Pastor

The statistics on ministers in North America are heart breaking. Various different sources have reported on different issues, but some that stand out include: 1,500 pastors leaving the ministry for good each month, 50% of pastor’s marriages ending in divorce, 80% of pastors are discouraged in their role, 80% of pastors report that ministry adversely affects their family, 70% of pastors say they do not have even one close friend (quoted from J.R. Biggs, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure). Much of this likely has to do with our current church culture and our obsession with doing more, bigger, and faster. 

As a pastor who was on the more, bigger, faster track, Zack Eswine can speak directly to this temptation. He became a Senior Pastor at 26, grew the church from less than 100 to over 200 in only a couple years, earned a PhD, taught at a seminary, and wrote award winning books. Then his wife left the faith and their family. 

The ensuing years would become a classroom. Jesus was teaching him how to pastor as a human being; a man with weakness and limitations; a man bound by time, space, temperament, and genetics. Yet, so much of our church culture insists that we transcend those very human limitations. From our hiring practices to growth goals and the present insistence on “automation” and maximizing our influence. 

Dr. Eswine is calling us back to the timeless work of Jesus - fully present, fully attentive to the person in front of him. He is calling us back to the simple, unglamorous care of souls. He is calling us back to the way of Jesus. 

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

There are many good bible translations, but only one holds a special place in my heart: the NIV. It was the translation I was raised on; the one I memorized scripture from; the one I read that lead me to faith and grew my faith; it was the one I used when I first began to teach and preach. While both the ESV and HCSB are worthy second-place options, I still believe that the NIV best strikes the balance between ease of reading and faithful translation.

For these reasons I am happy to commend the brand new NIV Study Bible. Dr. D.A. Carson brought together some of the world's brightest minds to create this new resource. Compared to other worthy study bibles, the footnotes on each page are more extensive and the articles included throughout are more detailed. Also, the vibrant color images included throughout are a stunning addition. All of this combined with the faithfulness and readability makes the NIV Zondervan Study Bible one of the top study bibles available.

The only weakness is the cumbersome app. Partnering with Olive Tree Zondervan has made the study bible and its resources available with the purchase of a hard copy. However, I have yet to actually use it. Although I have downloaded all the resources many times I have yet to gain access to them on either my phone or tablet. For a publisher as large an excellent as Zondervan, this strikes me as odd and unexpected. My hope is that they will fix this and release a stand alone, fully functional app that matches the values and excellence of their new study bible.

God's Kingdom through God's Covenants

There are two primary theological systems that influence how Evangelicals read and apply their Bibles. One, most popular among Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Baptists is called Covenant Theology. This belief is that, while the particulars of God's rule has changed through the Bible (and the centuries), God has held to one overarching "covenant of grace". The other, likely more popular position, is known as Dispensationalism. It maintains that God has ruled over history and his people in distinct ways (hence the term, dispensationalism). If you have read books like the Left Behind series or listened to preachers like Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, or John MacArthur, you are familiar with the teachings of dispensationalism

In the past few years a new system has been growing in popularity. It is conciously attempting to be a middle-ground between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. Sometimes it is referred to as New Covenant Theology, other times it is called Progressive Covenantalism. Whatever term is used, there is still minor differences among those who would accept the label. Nevertheless, it is becoming a distinct system of thought and biblical interpretation.

Having earned my Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary I became familiar with Progressive Covenantalism as many of the professors held to it. Peter Gentry (Professor of Old Testament) and Stephen Wellum (Professor of Christian Theology), in particular, wrote an extensive work critiquing both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, while promoting their understanding of a middle-ground. At 848 pages, Kingdom through Covenant was an intimidating and detailed exegetical and theological work. In order to make their argument more accessible to a wider audience they distilled the book down to its key arguments, removing many footnotes and academic interactions. The same thing was done with Tom Schreiner's massive New Testament Theology (titled Magnifying God in Christ).

Unlike the summary of Schreiner's New Testament Theology, this distillation of Gentry and Wellum's work is difficult to read. Their goal of making the larger argument more accessible was achieved, but I'm afraid it came at the cost of readability. This summary reads more like a detailed outline than a well written academic work.

I was initially excited about this summary of Kingdom through Covenant because I had wanted to engage with their larger work but continually found myself unable to commit to it because of time. Yet, I'm afraid that they may have gone too far in editing it down to create God's Kingdom through God's Covenant. The result is a slow-moving, almost lifeless work that fails to communicate the passion and expertise of it's authors.