Augustine: City of God
After being consumed by Calvin’s Institutes during 2009 I know that classic theology texts are not everyone’s idea of fun. So the question needs to be asked: “Why bother spending so much time and energy reading and writing about a book written 1600 years ago? What possible relevance could it have for our world today?” I hope to be able to answer this better by the end of 2012, but for now, here are five reasons I believe this is a valuable exercise…read more.
Book 1: A Roman Empire State of Mind– Are you proud of your home city? What about your capital city or country?….What would it be like to be so passionate about your national identify that you were as devoted to it as much as we are our football clubs or celebrities? What if the values that had shaped the formation of your nation also united the nation’s people? What if those same values had driven the conquest of all other nations and had brought great wealth and glory to your nation? Well, then you would have a tiny inkling of what it was like to be a Roman citizen…read more.
Book 2: There is no wrong, there is no right – Moments after entering a darkened room you are disoriented and lose your bearings, particularly if it is an unfamiliar place. Slowly, your eyes become accustomed to the shadows and you begin to pick out the shades of grey…This process is called adaptation and has been something of my experience in encountering Augustine’s City of God. All of Augustine’s arguments in Book 2 make sense, logicall, but there is a disconnect between his world and mine that jars and stops me in my tracks…read more.
Book 3: War and Peace and the judgements of God – It was during the final year of my MPhil life that I decided to read War and Peace. I was frustrated by how long it was taking to finish off my research and I wanted a book that I would keep me company until the end. It’s was an epic read, much of it was very enjoyable, other bits mundane. But through it all Tolstoy weaves the lives of a small group of people into the macro events of 19th century Russia as they alternate between times of war and peace. In Book 3 of City of God Augustine takes up a similar challenge…read more.
Book 4: It is good for the good to rule – It seems that wherever you look these days there are sports stars confidently declaring their Christian faith. NFL star Tim Tebow puts “John 3.16” on his eyelids and 90 million people Googled the text, golfer Bubba Watson gives God the glory for his 2012 Masters victory and professional footballer Fabrice Muamba says God protected him after being dead for 78 minutes. The success of these outspoken sportsmen has caused many to ask, “Is God helping them win? Does he tip the game in favour of those who claim his name? What happens when they lose?” It is an intriguing question and is essentially the same issue at the heart of Book 4 of the City of God….read more.
Book 5: The Good Life – One of my favourite family programmes growing up was The Good Life. For those outside the UK, this was a 1970s sit-com following the lives of the Tom & Barbara Good (in case you’re wondering I saw the repeats not the orginal series!). They sought to go back to basics and live life as it should be; to live off the land and provide for themselves by their honest hard work. The wife was played by Felicity Kendal and I thought of her this week when studying Augustine. For in book 5 of Augustine’s City of God he speaks about the pursuit and possession of felicity…read more.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eric Metexas’ biography “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”
Sometimes winning means you lose everything (Part 1). In the hit TV series 24, Jack Bauer is a counter-terrorist agent seeking out threats to national security and doing whatever is necessary for the greater good of saving the American people. His is a utilitarian philosophy of life – making decisions based on what he considers the greater good; reasoning that it is better for him to kill one criminal than for thousands of innocent people to die. It’s switch-off, escapist telly that has no real bearing on normal life, certainly not for the Christian who would never be found in such extremely dangerous or complex situations. Or would they? How would a Christian behave if they, by some strange circumstance, find themselves in such situations? What if they were in a situation where to act could mean sinning, but not to act would certainly mean compromising your faith?…What would you do, when doing nothing was the most unacceptable alternative?…read more.
Sometimes winning means you lose everything (Part 2). As I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during an intense two-week period of travel, I slowly came to feel like I knew the man. It was almost as if he was travelling with me, sharing his stories, describing his adventures. That was until the last page was turned and I finished his story. The power of that journey is still with me and as I reflect on my few days with Dietrich Bonhoeffer a number of important lessons spring to mind…read more.
During 2009 I read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I completed the reading in a year and have a couple of remaining chapters to finish posting. My posts on the Institutes are arranged below by Book and Chapter, you can also access a list of Calvin resources here. Alternatively you can click on the category links on the right hand side to see posts on a particular theme:
Book 1 – The Knowledge of God and Ourselves
– Piety and the Knowledge of God (1 – 5)
Chapter 1: God knows you better than you know yourself
Chapter 2: Knowledge of God as Creator
Chapter 3: Can man live without God?
Chapter 4: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
– Scripture (6 – 10)
Chapter 7: The secret testimony of the Spirit
Chapter 8: An argument for the credibility of scripture
Chapter 9: Word and Spirit in harmony
Chapter 10: The relational God
– Recognising the true God (11 & 12)
Chapter 11: Images of the invisible God
Chapter 12: You gotta serve somebody
– The Triune God revealed in creation & Scripture (13 & 14)
Chapter 14: No one believes in me anymore
– Human nature before the fall (15)
Chapter 15: Look at what you could’ve been
– God’s Providence (16-18)
Chapter 16: The secret impulse of God
Chapter 17: A truth for all seasons
Chapter 18: A straight line with a crooked stick
Book 2 – The Knowledge of God as Redeemer
– Sin (1 – 5)
Chapter 1: The day we all died
Chapter 2: Free to do what you love
Chapter 3: Nothing in my hand I bring
Chapter 4: The law of unintended consequences
Chapter 5: Faith acquires what the law requires
– Gospel & law (6 – 11)
Chapter 6: One man to reverse the curse
Chapter 7: Don’t stop buying the flowers
Chapter 8: “I am not a liar”
Chapter 9: The shadow and the substance
Chapter 10: One faith; Two testaments; No prosperity gospel
Chapter 11: From fading glory to surpassing glory
– Christology (12-17)
Chapter 12: What if God was one of us?
Chapter 13: And the Word became flesh
Chapter 14: Two natures, distinct but united
Chapter 15: The heavenly King and the earthly Church
Chapter 16: The curse of the cross
Chapter 17: The merit of Christ’s death
Book 3 – The way in which we receive the Grace of Christ, what benefits come to us from it and what effects follow
Chapter 1: Drink me!
Chapter 2: Faith – the final frontier
Chapter 3: Sorry, is all that you can’t say
Chapter 4: Real forgiveness, no strings attached
Chapter 5: A tariff on forgiveness
Chapter 6: No ordinary life
Chapter 7: No other will
Chapter 8: Our willful, joyful, costly submission
Chapter 9: A couple of billion heartbeats later
Chapter 10: Because you’re worth it
Chapter 11: Under the robe
Chapter 12: “We must have complete transparency”
Chapter 13: There is no “we” in glory
Chapter 14: Taking the red pill
Chapter 15: 10/10 for effort
Chapter 16: There is no such thing as safe grace
Chapter 17: Don’t forget to count your laps
Chapter 18: The whispered promises of a betrothed groom
Chapter 19: When dad lets go of the bike
Chapter 20: Read less, pray more
Chapter 21: How to adore the silence of God
Chapter 22: The Good, the Bad and the Elect
Chapter 23: Where angels fear to tread
Chapter 24: He loves me, he loves me not…
Chapter 25: Away beyond the blue
Book 4 – Of the Holy Catholic Church
Chapter 1: A diamond in the dust
Chapter 2: Rage against the machine
Chapter 3: What a piece of work is a man
Chapter 4: The Wonder Years
Chapter 6: But some are more equal than others
Chapter 7: There was a dream that was Rome
Chapter 8: Rebecca we’ve found your Dad
Chapter 9: Ultim Scriptura
I am using a daily reading plan provided by J R Harris. I’m also using the Beveridge edition, I know there are a number of translations but this is the one I have had on my shelf for 10+ years! An online edition can be accessed here.
My posts follow a simple structure along the lines of: summary of main teaching from that day’s reading; my response (with application); an appropriate verse or hymn and a prayer to close.
If you want to be kept in the loop you can subscribe using RSS, or if you want other feeds let me know and I’ll try and set it up.
Its never too late to start and if you want to read it, just use the plan from whenever you begin and join in the discussions. If you have read it in the past please leave a comment to encourage us as we continue our journey.