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St. Augustine Said What?

September 13, 2015     Time: 20:12
St. Augustine Said What?


What are some things St. Augustine believed and why should we study him?

Transcript St. Augustine Said What?


KEVIN HARRIS: St. Augustine. We hear a lot about him, Dr. Craig. We’ll look at some of his quotes; some of the things that he believed. Evangelicals may be a little surprised at some of the things that he believed because we tend to claim him as our own. But for those who are not as familiar with Augustine, what would you say? What would you encourage our listeners to do as far as studying Augustine?

DR. CRAIG: I guess I would say read him critically. Just because he is one of the influential church fathers doesn’t mean he is infallible. So one should read him and weigh what he says against what the biblical text says. As a Protestant, I take church tradition to be important but not to have equal authority with Scripture in terms of the rule of faith and practice. Augustine, I think one would find, will be a mixed bag. Some very positive things; other things that are not so good.

KEVIN HARRIS: He lived in the fourth century – very much was a product of his time. Here are some quotes from him: “You are not required to understand in order to believe; but to believe in order to understand.” I think that is probably his most famous. What do you think he is saying?

DR. CRAIG: It seems to me that he is saying that in order to have a correct picture of the world and of God and reality you need to begin with Christian faith. The Christian perspective on these subjects will give you the truth about the way the world really is. He would be an advocate, I think, of Christian education today. You look at the world through the lenses of the Christian faith, then you will come to an understanding of it.

KEVIN HARRIS: He said, “You have made us for yourselves, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Another famous quote: “Love, and do what you like.”

DR. CRAIG: Yes, he is talking there about loving God and if you are truly in love with God then you will seek to do what honors him and to live out a life that would reflect God’s holiness. So you wouldn’t do the moral duties out of a sense of obligation but because you love God. He is not saying you be a libertine, but that God will change your desires.

KEVIN HARRIS: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” He says, “The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.” I’ve found that, too. It almost goes beyond just a better understanding of the text, but there just seems to be layers that continually pile on as you read the Scripture.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and for that reason it is important as part of Christian discipleship not simply to read the Bible but at some point you really begin to study it. Then you will begin to see those deeper layers.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “What does love look like? It has hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” He says, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” Here he says, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” We did a podcast on miracles a while back; what do you think about that?

DR. CRAIG: It sounds like Augustine is saying something here that is rather similar to the view that we were criticizing. I would agree miracles are not contrary to nature but the expression “they are only contrary to what we know about nature” makes it sound as though miracles are naturally explicable. I don’t think that is correct. Miracles, I think, are naturally inexplicable events because they are naturally impossible. The identification of an event as a miracle is not due simply to a lack of insight into nature’s workings.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” He says, “But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and in his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.”[1]

DR. CRAIG: That is interesting because it shows that even the pursuit of things like beauty and truth, which are great goods, can lead into error if one seeks them not in God but in the things that God has made. I think that is very insightful that one can seek for things that are good but they become idols when they are put in the place of seeking God himself.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is strong: “There is no saint without a past; no sinner without a future.” That is a bumper sticker!

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, it is; isn’t it? That's great!

KEVIN HARRIS: “Now for some of Augustine’s beliefs that won’t sit well with evangelicals. Augustine believed that the purpose of marriage is procreation, and that lust during sex – even among married Christians – was wrong.”

DR. CRAIG: I think the author of this post[2] that we are taking this from may be needlessly unsympathetic to Augustine on this one. It has been part of the traditional view of marriage that procreation is one of the essential purposes of marriage. Augustine’s emphasis upon procreation is entirely appropriate as one of the reasons for the institution of marriage. Even Augustine’s point about lust among married Christians is interesting because I think that even among married people it is possible to treat one’s partner as a mere object instead of loving that person. Using that person for self-gratification and objectifying that person. That can create great alienation within a marriage relationship. There is some positive insight into sexual relations between husband and wife. Being married doesn’t mean that it just legitimates treating the partner as a sex object. That can still be done and is wrong.

KEVIN HARRIS: He thought that marriage was honorable and permissible. He just believed that celibacy was better.

DR. CRAIG: He did think that original sin is propagated through sexual intercourse, which seems to make original sin something like a genetic disease or a sexually transmitted disease which is, I think, surely wrong. I would say that this is one of those areas where one would want to have correctives.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “Augustine believed that if you are going to teach Scripture, you must have a knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, music, science, history, the liberal arts, and a mastery of dialectics (the science of disputing).”

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, this is very much what John Wesley believed as well. Wesley had this wonderful speech that he gave to his Methodist ministers on the equipment of a minister – what it takes to be a minister of the Gospel. Wesley emphasized the same thing. The minister needs to acquire ability in all of these collateral areas of classical education in order to commend the Gospel most effectively. I think this is a very positive emphasis of Augustine.

KEVIN HARRIS: He apparently believed that baptism was more than just a symbolic testimony but that it actually produced regeneration – it is necessary for salvation.

DR. CRAIG: This is an expression of his sacramentalism which is the standard view of the Roman Catholic Church. On this view the church is a means of grace. It is rather like a pipeline through which the water of God’s grace flows to people. The way the church dispenses its grace to people is through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are much, much more than symbolic rites that the Christian goes through. These are lifelines, as it were, to God, on a sacramental view. It is in water baptism that spiritual regeneration or rebirth takes place so that you literally become a Christian at the moment of your water baptism. They are simultaneous – the baptism in the Spirit and water baptism.

KEVIN HARRIS: Further down here, his sacramentalism also showed up in that he believed in taking the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist – was necessary for salvation as well.[3]

DR. CRAIG: That would fit right in with the sacramentalism. Baptism is to be done only once to initiate you into the Christian faith; but then the taking of the Lord’s Supper is rather like spiritual nourishment. It is a constant means of grace by which you receive from God the grace necessary to live the Christian life in this world.

KEVIN HARRIS: He “believed it was permissible to use force against heretics.” I know that he mixed it up with a group called the Donatists – he wrote against them. The Donatist Controversy.

DR. CRAIG: The Donatists were very strict about those who had lapsed during Roman persecution and didn’t want to admit them back into the church or recognize their priestly authority. Augustine, I think, quite rightly said that the efficacy of the sacraments is not dependent upon the personal life of the officiating priest who is dispensing it. God can even use people who were once lapsed to administer his grace. What it says here is that the Donatists had themselves engaged in violence against other Christians. So “Augustine urged the government to exercise its power against them vigorously.” That is different than saying the church takes up arms against heretics or uses violence against heretics. If these people were really guilty of public violence it would seem to me entirely appropriate for the civil authorities to take a hand in this matter in order to bring about public peace. There is probably a lot more here that needs to be said, but insofar as one appeals to civil authorities to maintain law and order, that is perfectly legitimate.

KEVIN HARRIS: This conjures up images of the inquisition and torturing people so that they will convert.

DR. CRAIG: The church did appeal to this text in the Scripture where in Jesus’ parable the people wouldn’t come to the wedding feast so the king says to his servants, Go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in because those who were invited wouldn’t come. This was used as a text to support the use of force to make people conform to Christian orthodoxy and doctrine. As you know, of course it led then to terrible persecution and burning at the stake and torture and things of this sort ultimately. But it is a gross misuse of that biblical text which doesn’t envision that sort of thing. Whether Augustine himself engaged in this I am not familiar enough with Augustine to know that.

KEVIN HARRIS: “Augustine believed that alms-giving and forgiving others was necessary for receiving God’s forgiveness.”

DR. CRAIG: It says here he “insisted that the evidence of grace in the giving of alms propitiates one from past sins.” There it is not clear whether it is saying the giving of alms is something that itself is meritorious and earns forgiveness, or is this evidence of God’s grace in your life which works that? If it is the latter, I think that is unobjectionable. I would say that the production of good works is a necessary fruit of salvation. If a person doesn’t have that sort of fruit then that person isn’t a genuine Christian. He is not really a regenerate person. I think one can quite rightly say that alms-giving and forgiving others and other good works are necessary for salvation, not in the sense of merit but in the sense of being a necessary concomitant or outworking of salvation.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is not something you do to earn or work for salvation.

DR. CRAIG: Right. It would be the difference between a logical condition and a causal condition. They are not a causal condition of salvation, but they would be a logical condition of salvation in the sense a person who is genuinely saved will exhibit these fruits of a changed life.

KEVIN HARRIS: It says, “Augustine held to a dualistic view of the world which was heavily influenced by non-Christian philosophy.”

DR. CRAIG: The author here claims that Augustine never really successfully shuffled off the Manicheanism that he had embraced as a non-believer.[4] On the Manichean view of the world, there are two ultimate principles – good and evil – and these are in constant battle with each other. There is nothing like that sort of dualism in Augustine. I think that he successfully and entirely freed himself from dualism in that sense. There is nothing that the author suggests that would show that Augustine still suffered from this Manichean duality. I don’t believe that Augustine would say that the physical world, for example, is evil. He would say it is fallen, but insofar as God is the Creator of the world it was created and is good. I don’t think he is a dualist in that sense. The sense in which he is a dualist is that he believes in body-soul dualism. But all of the church fathers believed in that. I think that is a biblical view as well. We are not just material organisms but we have an immaterial part called our soul that is distinct from the body but united with it and interacting with it in this lifetime. Dualism in that sense, I think, is unobjectionable, and Augustine was quite right to affirm it.

KEVIN HARRIS: I understand the Manicheans were real radical. They disdained the human body because it is physical, all things physical. In a way that is almost a slap in God’s face. They would actually take a low view of God’s physical creation and just say that the spiritual was the only thing good. That could have influenced Augustine’s view of sex.

DR. CRAIG: Although, again, I think it is because of sin that he would say our sexual desires have been corrupted and perverted. That is certainly true, I would say, in a fallen world. You look at the misuse of sexuality in human culture, it really has been perverted and sullied from the good thing that God originally created and intended it to be.

KEVIN HARRIS: Wow, even in the fourth century!

DR. CRAIG: It is not dualistic in the Manichean sense that the spirit is good and the physical is evil. I don’t think that is fair to try to put that label on Augustine.

KEVIN HARRIS: It says apparently he didn’t believe in the security of the believer. He believed that a person could lose his salvation.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. I think that that is a biblical view. In the lectures in the Defenders class on perseverance of the saints, we look at those passages in the book of Hebrews in particular. It does suggest that a person can commit apostasy by freely rejecting Christ out of his life. The book of Hebrews, and Galatians, too, to a degree, was written to people who under the threat of persecution were tempted to revert back to Judaism. The authors say in that case you’ve fallen away from grace. There is no more salvation if you revert back to Judaism having once followed Christ. If we take those warnings at face value they seem to teach that a person can commit apostasy and fall away. There are New Testament examples of people who have done that – like Demas, for example, mentioned in the epistles.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another thing that you mentioned in Defenders was that Augustine rejected a literal reading of the creation story.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, this is well known. His view of the Genesis account was not of six consecutive twenty-four hour days. He thought that God had imbued the created world with, as it were, seeds of potentiality that over time would grow into the biological diversity that we see today. It wasn’t a theory of evolution a la Darwin, but it was a sort of front-loading, as it were, of the creation and its fruition over time.

KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion today, Augustine was a genius and is still influencing theology to this day.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, he was enormously influential in church history. He was one of the most important, if not the most important, church father, and therefore important for Christians to be familiar with today.[5]