Its been two years since I blogged my way through Calvin’s Institutes and I have decided the time has come to make 2012 the year of Augustine! The two books people are most familiar with are his autobiography, Confessions and the City of God. The City of God is Augustine’s defence of Christianity from the accusation that it was the cause of Rome’s fall to the Barbarians in 410 AD. It’s a long book consisting of 22 books across 1000 pages. I’ve split up the book into a daily reading plan and will write a post for each of the 22 books.
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:
- Augustine was writing at the time of changing cultural philosophy. He was writing during the ascendancy of Christianity in the Roman Empire, over the previously established paganism. His arguments for why this happened and explanation of the relative fortunes of each will surely be instructive for our time when we see the opposite trend. Christianity is now in the decline in Western Europe and secularism is taking its place. How will Augustine’s explanations stand the test of time?
- Calvin continually referred to Augustine. In the Institutes that I read in 2009, Augustine was the one person that John Calvin referred to again and again as the most reliable and informative church father on the many theological issues that he discussed. I am intrigued to read Augustine himself and uncover more of what Calvin saw in the writing and teachings of this great teacher.
- I want to take the road less travelled. Short attention spans and Wikipedia are the order of our day. Who can be bothered reading an ancient text for enjoyment – just read the wiki and move on. We can only read a certain number of books in our lifetime – I want to read the ones that are the greatest theology books ever written. With my commute I can manage to read 3 or 4 pages a day for a year and get through an all-time classic on the train instead of playing Angry Birds.
- Augustine is a central figure of both protestant and catholic traditions. He is someone whom both traditions call upon for different reasons. I believe that understanding him better will help me appreciate my own roots, and also those who have drawn from these same roots on the other side of The Reformation divide.
- It will deepen my theological understanding. Like reading Calvin’s Institutes, reading this book from the 5th century will challenge my understanding of Christian theology and how to apply it to our current time. By challenging myself to write a 700 word post summarising the main points and demonstrating its relevance to our own day it will stretch my ability to apply ancient truth to modern life. Taking historic Christianity and speaking into today’s world is my aim – how better to develop this passion than with such a book?
So, here I go, look out for the first post on Book 1 in the next couple of weeks, let’s see what Augustine brings us during 2012…