Augustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Augustine's ConfessionsAugustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I broke this review up into four parts—my first four-part review of any book. In the first part, I give an overview of the Confessions and why we are interested. In the second part, I review the life of Augustine and sin, as he describes it. In the third part, I will focus on Augustine’s coming to faith. Here in the fourth part, I review his theological writings, which focus on the creation accounts in Genesis.

Why a four-part review?

Augustine offers the reader a lot to think about. Dissertations have been written on this book probably in every generation since Augustine wrote it, but this is neither a dissertation nor an academic review, which would review its historical context, its contributions, and previous interpretations. Here I only attempt to understand a few important points about what Augustine is trying to say for my own benefit and, hopefully, yours. Obviously, much more could be written.

Books X to XIII

The final third of Augustine’s Confessions are qualitatively different than the first two, which is immediately obvious from the titles. Books 1 to IX have chronological titles, (e.g. Book One: The First Fifteen Years) while Book X summarizes his present condition and Books XI to XIII have theological titles referencing verses in the Book of Genesis. While it may seem odd to modern eyes that a memoir contain lengthy theological discourses on scripture, in Augustine’s Confessions the transition is from short discourses to long ones. In other words, only a matter of degree and emphasis—the entire book debates theology alongside of personal experience.

Augustine and His Present State

Augustine’s exploration of sin includes an inventory of temptations, based on the sense that yields pleasure, writing:

“Pleasure goes after objects that are beautiful to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, but curiosity for the sake of experiment can go after quite contrary things not in order to experience their unpleasantness, but through a mere itch to experience and find out.” (220)

How many pastors would admit to being people pleasers? Augustine calls it a temptation (222).

Augustine and Creation

Augustine turns to the creation accounts in Confessions for a very interesting reason, writing:

“For You, O Lord, are my judge, because through no man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him, yet there is something of man that the very spiritual of that is in him does not know. But You, Lord, know all of him, for You made him.” (192)

In a sense, Augustine views the creation accounts as a kind of divine blue-print (the divine image) for humanity. In other words, he is saying, in so many words, here is what I know about me; now, let’s see what the blue-print says. For Augustine, the inner journey and the faith journey are hand in glove.

Allegorical Interpretation

Augustine makes liberal use of allegory in his interpretation of Genesis. Allegory imputed a symbolic meaning to a physical object. For example, Augustine writes:

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth, that is in His Word co-eternal with Himself God made the intelligible and sensible or, to put it another way, the spiritual and corporeal creation.” (276)

Creation

Here Augustine associates heaven with the spiritual creation and the earth with corporeal creation, a kind of mind-body dichotomy commonly associated with Plato’s dualistic philosophy. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul uses allegory to talk about the new covenant in Christ when he writes:

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Gal 4:24-26 ESV)

Reformation Interpretation

Allegorical interpretation fell into disrepute in the Reformation, in part, because of its association with Plato and disregard for the Hebrew tradition, which treated mind and body as indivisible. The reformation principle of “solo scriptura” implied that scripture itself provided the sole guide to salvation. John Calvin (1539) focused on four interpretative principles, including understand the author’s intent, communicate effectively, consult the original texts (Greek and Hebrew), and consider the text and its application in the context of the canon of scripture. What is striking about this list is that the four principles used in medieval exegesis about which Luther reminisced (historical, allegory, tropology, and anagogy interpretation) are nowhere found (Thompson, 58-62, 67, 71).

Assessment

Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions remain a Christian classic and has sometimes described as the beginning of Western civilization, which focuses on the role of the individual. In demonstrating through his memoir that God works out his will actively through the lives of ordinary people, male and female, Augustine laid the groundwork for doctrines, such as human rights, which remain in the forefront of political dialogue between the West and other parts of our world even today. Needless to say, Augustine’s Confessions are a book worthy of being read by every practicing Christian.

References

Calvin, John. 1539. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans.

Translated and Edited by Reverend John Owen. Strasbourg. No pages. Cited 6 June 2009. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.iii.html.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Prayer for Father’s Day

Four Doctor Hiemstra
The Four Doctor Hiemstras

Prayer for Father’s Day

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father:

We praise you for being a loving father,

who is a good provider,

who is always present,

who loves us when we are unlovable.

We confess that we are frequently none of these things,

not especially loving,

not present when we should be,

not able to see beyond our own needs.

We thank you for the example of Jesus Christ,

who demonstrated sacrificial love,

who remained fully present at the cost of his own life,

who loved the many unlovable people that we typically ignore.

In the power of your Holy Spirit give us the desire and the ability

to love, to be present, and to see beyond our own needs.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Also see: Prayer for Moms

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqjfoR

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Wedding Gift

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Wedding Gift

By Stephen W. Hiesmtra

When Maryam and I were married in November 1984, I worked during the day at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in the evenings on my dissertation. Having limited time and a limited budget, I did not have a television and did not want one, having been a television addict as a kid. Although I enjoyed watching the evening news, I preferred to maintain the ascetic lifestyle that I had had in school. Maryam could not understand my concern about television and her brother gave us a television as a wedding gift.

Background

While many Americans see Iranians through the eyes of Islamic asceticism, the role of Islam in Iranian culture changed dramatically with the ouster of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi , on January 16, 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Earlier in the 1960s, the Shah promoted land reform and began a series of economic and social reforms. By the time of the Revolution, Iran had developed what some have described as a “Hollywood culture,” which reflected the strong influence on American entertainers on Iranian culture. For Iranians who grew up during in pre-revolutionary Iranian and later came to the United States to study, this “Hollywood culture” remains a strong influence and a symbol of resistance to the Islamic fundamentalism, both inside and outside the country, especially for young women.

Ultimate Wishes

Maryam loves to watch television and once said: “when I die, I want to be buried with the television remote in my hand.” When she would say this, I would remind her: “Don’t worry. The Hiemstra burial plot sits right next to Lewinsville Presbyterian Church so you can go to church every day!” The attitude about television, which I tried to keep out of the house when we were first married, grew to become the symbol of the cultural divide in our family.

Much later, television interfered with the kid’s bedtime routines. Maryam loved to stay up late watching television and insisted that the kids watch with her. As an early riser, I insisted that the kids needed to go to bed before the adults and that it helped to have the television turned off to keep a disciplined routine. Although I normally managed the bedtime routine when the kids remained young, this routine provided impossible to maintain when the kids reached middle school and mom did not maintain a united front with dad.

Simpler Times

But early in our marriage television played a simpler role. When her mother lived with us, we watched Iranian cable television shows in Farsi. When Iranian entertainers came on, we knew them all by name. We would both snap our fingers Iranian style with two hands to keep up with the music. Later when her mother left, Maryam gravitated to shows like Entertainment Tonight, which focus on celebrity lifestyles, Married with Children, and, later, CSI-style shows. Sometimes I sit and watch with her on Sunday evenings, but in the early days of our marriage I remained too busy evenings to watch much television.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith

Augustine's ConfessionsAugustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In part one of this review, I gave an overview of Augustine’s life and Confessions. In part two, I focused on his attitude about sin. Here in part three, I will look at Augustine’s journey of faith.

Overview

Augustine comes to faith at the age of thirty-two having struggled with sin, as discussed earlier, and giving up his career as a teacher of rhetoric and his betrothal to a younger woman to be ordained as priest. His conversion to Christianity is remarkable, not only because of the things that he gave up, but also because he actively considered the Manichean philosophy and because of the active influence of his Catholic mother, Monica. The timing of his conversion also coincided with a mystical experience.

Conviction of Sin

Augustine’s struggle with sexual passions caused him great anguish before his conversion and the story of the conversion of Victorinus, a fellow professor of rhetoric in Rome (142) weighed heavily on him. Augustine writes:

“Now when this man of Yours, Simplicianus had told me the story of Victorinus, I was on fire to imitate him: which indeed was why he had told me. He added that in the time of the Emperor Julian, when a law was made prohibiting Christians from teaching Literature and Rhetoric, Victorinus had obeyed the law, preferring to give up his own school of words rather than Your word, by which You make eloquent the tongues of babes.” (147)

These are not the words of a stoic philosopher. Augustine writes like a man in chains to his sin saying:

“Thus I was sick at heart and in torment, accusing myself with new intensity of bitterness, twisting and turning in my chain in the hope that it might be utterly broken, for what held me was so small a thing.” (167).

Confession

As Augustine then confessed his sin to God in private, he writes:

“Such things I said, weeping in the most bitter sorrow of my heart. And suddenly I hear a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know, but it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, ‘Take and read, take and read.’” (169)

Augustine borrowed a book of scriptures from his friend, Alypius, and opened it randomly coming to this verse:

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Rom 13:13 ESV)

Convicted immediately of his sexual sin, he took this passage as a word from God to him personally and went to his mother to announce that he was a Christian (160).

Prayer

He later prays:

“O LORD, I am Thy servant: I am Thy servant and the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast broken my bonds. I will sacrifice to Thee the sacrifice of praise.” (163)

Having prayed for his conversion his entire life, Augustine’s mother died later that year.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Prayer for the Persecuted

Life in Tension by Stephen W. HiemstraPrayer for the Persecuted

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal and Compassionate God,

We thank you, Lord, for visiting us when we are afflicted and suffer unjustly.

For you are a God who cares, who understands our grief, our wounds, our sorrows, our diseases.

We lay our afflictions before you for we cannot bear them alone.

Heal our wounds, comfort us in our griefs, and purge us of disease.

Restore us; redeem us; save us; in doing so teach us to bear the wounds, griefs, and diseases of those around us and to point them to you.

Teach us to intercede for the people around us in action and in prayer.

For you are our God and we are your people.

You are with us; you are for us; and you have given your name to us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, let our security reside only in you, now and always.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Also see:

Grief Prayer 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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The Other Stephen Hiemstra

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)

My father, which I sometimes introduce as the other Stephen Hiemstra, was born on April 17, 1931 during the Great Depression. He grew up on a small, feed-livestock farm in southern Iowa and attended college, in part, under the GI Bill.[1]

His education followed a series of apparently serendipitous decisions, which, in fact, allowed the family to prosper during the normally traumatic move from rural to urban employment. Dad was one of the first in his extended family to attend college and our end of the family prospered more than most. God’s hand is clearly on him.

Although Dad was one of the first in the Hiemstra family to attend college, he was not the last. Dad firmly believes in education. He made sure that each of his children made it through college and two of us, John and I, have completed doctoral studies. Between Dad, his brother John, my brother John, and I, there are four of us in the extended family with doctoral degrees. We are truly blessed.

Dad worked for the federal government during a formative period, beginning in late Eisenhower Administration through the early Reagan Administration, when belief in the positive contribution that government could make was at an historical peak. President John F. Kennedy set the tone for this golden age of government service in his inaugural address when he chided Americans to: “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”[2]

Dad took up this challenge with vigor and passion. Not only did he strenuously pursue his work writing voluminous numbers of studies and professional papers, Dad was active in professional societies[3] and often took a leadership role and won awards for his work.

Because I followed Dad into a career in agricultural economics, many of the professionals mentioned in his memoir are my own personal friends and colleagues. Early in my career, this posed something of an embarrassment as I worked to distinguish myself from my father. This was a vain effort. Everywhere I went at home and abroad, I ran into friends of my father.

During my year abroad studying in Germany, for example, I felt that I had finally escaped the shadow of my father—I was so wrong. One evening, for example, I attended a doctoral celebration party and in the middle of it the department chair walked up to me and invited me to dinner—he apparently was doctoral candidate with Dad at the University of Berkeley in California. At another point, I helped a couple of random American tourists order dinner in a restaurant only to learn that the husband was an agricultural economist from Oregon State University and a friend of my father. Another time when a colleague asked if I had authored a journal article in 1963, I joked: “didn’t you know that I was a child prodigy agricultural economist?” The article was, of course, one of my father’s publications.

Now that the need to distinguish my career from my Dad’s has subsided it is easier to appreciate the broad scope of his contribution to agricultural economics, particularly in the areas of food consumption, demand, and distribution studies.

In 1983 Dad retired from federal service and joined the faculty of what is now the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University as associate professor on August 17, 1983. He taught classes such as marketing and strategic management, but also undertook research and consulting for numerous institutes and firms in the hotel and restaurant industries. He traveled, for example, on lengthy study trips to Liberia and Hong Kong during these years.

Dad was best known at Purdue University for starting the first doctoral program (anywhere) in the field of hospitality and tourism management in 1989. His first three students are now faculty members and the program that he started now has 30 doctoral students and is a leading program in the field.

The role of Dad’s Christian faith in his life experience has always been important, even if his memoir makes only occasional references. The church has traditionally taught personal disciple, commitment in marriage, and generosity in giving which are all evident in my father’s life. Dad was a good role model to the rest of us who benefited from his faith and devotion to Christ. He also served a number of churches as elder and in other roles.

More than his church work, however, Dad—introduced once as the “father of the WIC program”—[4]took seriously the concept that God is the creator of all creation and all knowledge is God’s knowledge. His work as an economist was a calling, not just a career. As the Prophet Jeremiah wrote of his own calling:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)

Dad’s call came early, even before he was aware of it himself. A prophetic call is not necessarily just to preach and teach—we only know of Jeremiah because of his writing. For Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jas 1:27)

He was most proud of his contribution to USDA’s food and nutrition programs, which provided food to needy families (primarily single moms with kids) throughout the United States and territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, where the need was especially urgent.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen J. 2016. My Travel Through Life. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

[1] I abstracted this reflection from a postscript that I wrote for my father’s own memoir. See: Hiemstra (2016).

[2] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8032.

[3] During his federal service the principal groups were the American Agricultural Economics Association, the American Economic Association, and the Society of Government Economists. During his time at Purdue University, Dad was heavily involved in the International Council of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Educators (CHRIE).

[4] The USDA has a feeding program for pregnant women called: women, infants, and children (WIC).

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 3; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Augustine writes the Confessions in thirteen books where the first nine book talk about his life, book ten talks about his motivations for writing, and the final three chapters reflect on the book of Genesis. In part two of this review, I focus on Augustine’s view of sin.

Memoir and Augustine’s Focus on God

 Memoir is an autobiography with a theme. Augustine’s theme is his call to faith and he begins his memoir with a profession of faith:

“GREAT ART THOU, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no number. And man desires to praise Thee. He is but a tiny part of all that Though has created. He bears about him his mortality, the evidence of his sinfulness, and the evidence that Thou does resist the proud, yet this tiny part of all that Thou has created desires to praise Thee.” (3)

Augustine is writing in Latin, which is obvious from the translation because of the use of Thou, Thy, and Thee in the English translation, borrowing from the archaic English forms found in Elizabethan English. Sheed comments on the decision to use these forms in translation arguing that they add beauty, express intimacy, and reflect the liturgical character of the Confessions (xi-xii).

Augustine’s Style

Augustine’s theology appears in this introductory paragraph which starts with divine praise, intimacy, power, and immensity, relates death to sin, and references Jesus’ emphasis on humility (e.g. Matt 5:3). The first sentence is also an allusion to the psalms which in a modern translation reads: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:4 ESV)

Unlike a modern memoir, Augustine does not turn to his own life story until after laying out a significant treatise on his understanding of God. In his seventh section (about six pages later), he finally starts his own story:

“Thus, Lord, I do not remember living this age of my infancy; I must take the word of others about it and can only conjecture how I spent it—even if with a fair amount of certainty—from watching others now in the same stage.” (9)

In this context, we witness a very pious Augustine and get a sense of the liturgical character of this memoir.

Early Sin and Intercessory Prayer

Augustine is frequently associated with the doctrine of original sin, which is obvious when he writes:

“Thus the innocence of children is in the helplessness of their bodies rather than any quality in their minds, I have myself seen a small baby jealous; it was too young to speak, but it was livid with anger as it watched another infant at the breast.” (9)

We used to joke that original sin was two infants given one toy! Still, Augustine does not exempt himself from the influences of sin as he writes about his own infancy.

Augustine’s Youth

Augustine pictures later himself as an initially lazy student who received frequent beatings (10), but we are quickly introduced to a pious Monica, his mother, who seeing her son engaging in self-destructive and sinful behavior resorted to unceasing prayer:

“The mother of my flesh was in heavy anxiety, since with a heart chaste in Your faith she was ever in deep travail for my eternal salvation, and would have proceeded without delay to have me consecrated and wash clean by the Sacrament of salvation…” (12)

Still, it is paradoxical to observe one of the great philosophers of the church saying: “I disliked learning and hated to be forced to it.”(13)

Immorality

At age sixteen, Augustine found himself beset with sin. A besetting sin is one that you are aware of and pray for relief from, but find yourself addicted to. For Augustine, lust for women posed a besetting sin, as he famously wrote: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” (152)

Augustine writes that his pagan father, Patricius, and his Christian mother, Monica, reacted differently to his interest in women. Patricius looked forward to having grandchildren (irrespective of their manner of conception), while Monica wanted him to remain chaste until such time as he could establish his career (27-28).

Stolen Peers

In the midst of his discussion of lust, Augustine tells the story of how some of his friends lured him into steeling some peers, writing:

“The peers were beautiful but it was not peers that my empty soul desired. For I had any number of better peers of my own and plucked those only that I might steal.” (31)

The stolen peers became a symbol for his relationship with women and later taking of a mistress, who is never named but gives him a son (56). Fifteen years later he dismisses his mistress so that he might be formally married and finds himself so distressed in her absence while he waits for marriage that he takes another mistress. If this seems odd to modern ears, the editor notes:

“Marriage in the Roman Empire was viewed more as an institution of social promotion, political alliance, and financial stability than an act of love.” (327)

Assessment

While this may be true, Augustine viewed his immorality as a besetting sin and clearly motivated his later guidance for monks to remain celibate. In some sense, his weakness came to our benefit as the church worked to cleanse itself of pagan attitudes about immorality, which still dog the church today.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Prayer for Authors

Almighty father, Author of our Faith, Spirit of Truth,

All glory and honor are yours, Lord,

for you have shown us who you are:

“a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6 ESV)

and taught us all things, as the Psalmist writes:

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” (Ps 25:5 ESV)

We confess, however, that we are slow learners and none are righteous before you (Ps 143:2).

But we rejoice and give thanks for the salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ and confession of sin (Rom 10:10).

As the Author of our Faith (Heb 12:2 KJV) and the Spirit of Truth (John 15:13),

we ask for your guidance as we write that we might bear your image (Gen 1:27) brightly, boldly, and truthfully

each and every day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, guard our hearts and minds as you guide our hands.

Through Jesus Christ, Amen

 

 

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The Scientific Method and Objective Truth

The scientific method is a learning method that led to many discoveries about the physical world that have defined the modern period. Discoveries in agricultural production, medicine, and manufacturing have alleviated hunger and poverty, and have extended the life expectancy of the vast majority of people since the early nineteenth century. These discoveries has so dramatically improved the lives of modern and postmodern people that claims about the method have pervaded virtually all aspects of our lives. While almost no one discounts the usefulness of the method, the spillover of rational thinking into other aspects of life helped accelerate exploration of limits to its usefulness.

In its simplest exposition, the scientific method consists of series of steps in analytical thinking:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Observation
  3. Analysis
  4. Decision

In the problem definition step, the researcher forms an hypothesis. The researcher then proceeds to collect observations about this hypothesis in the second step. In the third step, the researcher analyzes these observations in view of other discoveries. In the final step, the researcher decides whether to accept or reject the hypothesis.

The flexibility of the scientific method to be applied to many aspects of the physical world accounts for its enormous usefulness. As researchers make new discoveries, they publish their finding so that other researchers can replicate their results. Thus, over time the knowledge of the physical world grows and is decimated throughout the scientific community and applied to practical applications in agriculture, industry, and medicine.

For many years, people believed that using the scientific method did not involve philosophical prejudices, but simply revealed facts about our world. This belief, however, came increasingly under scrutiny as researchers began to apply the scientific method especially in the social sciences. Scrutiny gave way to outcry during the Second World War as people learned of German scientists performing inhuman experiments on prisoners in concentration camps, such as learning the minimum nutritional requirements to prevent starvation, cold water survival rates, and so on. It soon became more widely understood that which problems came into focus in research involved serious philosophical and theological presumptions that had previously not gotten much attention.

One particularly important presupposition in the modern period and in the scientific method had to do with the nature of truth. Arising out of the Christian worldview came the assumption that one objective truth exists which, if we take the time to research, we can discover. This assumption is reasonable in the physical sciences; it is less tenable in the realm of social science, where cultural assumptions often dictate how particular activities are judged. For example, we can all agree on the weight of a particular bucket of sand, but we may not agree on whether to eat pork or whether it is acceptable to charge interest on a loan.

The existence of objective truth may sound like a trivial issue, but it becomes important in determining the status of professionals, such as scientists, doctors, lawyer, economists, and even pastors. If one objective truth exists, then it makes sense to consult the professional responsible for that subject matter. If truth is socially defined as is often argued in the postmodern period, then it is less clear which professional is most appropriate or whether a professional is even needed. In the church, for example, who is most suitable to preach and teach the Bible in which translation and with how much training? The answer to these questions are hotly debated within the church, in part, because we have come to doubt the nature and importance of objective truth.

Why do we care?

In the postmodern world that we live in, rational learning and decision making is still important, but the cynicism surrounding rationality is everywhere to be seen and it affects our attitude about anyone in authority. Prior to the modern period, authority stemmed primarily from wealth and political power in secular society and the church’s authority stemmed from reverence for God. In the modern period in America, authority still stemmed from wealth and political power, but this authority was increasingly tempered by the knowledge-based power of professionals and respect for God waned as rational thinking led many to question God’s existence. In the postmodern period, respect for both God and professionals has waned leading to the rise of authority based primarily on wealth and political power. In effect, if objective truth and God do not exist in people’s minds, then my truth and my group’s truth take center stage.

A second important result of this lack of belief in objective truth is that it undermines, not only professionals, but also respect for democratic and judicial process. On a theoretical level, if objective truth exists, then through debate and argumentation we come closer to understanding this truth, which is embodied in both our democratic and legal systems. If no objective truth is believed to exist, then debate and argumentation are simply a power play that does not enhance the credibility of the decision reached.

Therefore, the losing parties in debate or legal process have no inherent reason to accept the outcome of the process. This is why we observe so many sore losers on the evening news today that previously did not seem even to exist in popular culture. The postmodern rhetoric about the lack of debate in the modern period attributing the peace to an overwhelming majority of Americans being simply white is a half-truth, not the whole truth. Everyone believed in the American system, even when not everyone benefited equally. This why people still prefer to jump over the fence to come to America from other places. One seldom hears of people escaping to join most other, non-western destinations—it is not entirely about the differences in wealth.

While the modern period is clearly over, the challenges and risks that we face remain poorly understood without understanding the role played by the scientific method and objective truth in the world that we continue to live in.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview

Augustine's Confessions

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
(Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the late seventies as I worked on a master’s degree in agricultural economics, my best friend, who had just entered seminary, encouraged me to undertake study of classics in the faith and early on I read Augustine’s (1978) Confessions. The Confessions proved to be a challenging read both because of my lack of seminary training and because of the old English translation. When I undertook this year to write my own memoir, my friend encouraged me to return to the Confessions both because the Confessions provided a template for all memoirs to follow and because this time I also had seminary training.

Introduction

Convinced of the wisdom to return to the Confessions, I sought a more modern translation that would be easier to read and, to my delight, found a translation by E.J. Sheed with an introduction by Augustinian biographer, Peter Brown. Brown (2000) is revered as one of the leading Augustinian biographers of our time and I had used his biography during my days in seminary.

I break this review up into four parts. First, I give an overview of the Confessions and why we are interested. Second, I review the life of Augustine and sin, as he describes it. Third, I will focus on Augustine’s coming to faith. Lastly, I will review his theological writings, which focus on the creation accounts in Genesis.

Background on Augustine

For those unfamiliar with church history, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)[1], which was in modern-day Algeria, lived right after the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337 AD)[2] who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine who had such contemporaries as Jerome, who translated the Bible in Latin. The fourth century posed a heady time for the Christian church and Augustine’s theology influenced much of what followed. For example, Martin Luther (1483-1546), a leader in the reformation more than a thousand years later, was an Augustinian monk (Bainton 1995, 25).

Of contemporary significance is the point that Augustine hailed from Africa where some of the best theology and early Bible manuscripts were copied.[3] African scholarship dominated the early church and this dominance continued until the Islamic invasion in the sixth century, following the life and work of Mohammad (570-632 AD).[4] The statement that Christianity is a “white man’s religion” (widely touted in developing countries) is not historically accurate and denigrates the significant contribution of African scholarship to the early church.

What Are the Confessions?

Augustine came to Christ as an adult. In his introduction, Peter Brown writes:

“On Easter day, April 24th, 387, he [Augustine] had ‘put on Christ’ by receiving baptism at the hands of Ambrose.” (xv)

Shortly before the death of his mother, Monica, who was a devout Catholic, later that year. Augustine supported himself teaching rhetoric, was heavily influenced by the writings of Plato, and wrote the Confessions to be read aloud. Each of the thirteen books could be read in about an hour’s time (xvi-xviii). Brown writes:

“For, as Catholic bishop, Augustine did not simply know ‘about’ the Bible, or preach ‘on’ the Bible. He prayed out of it every day, using especially the book of Psalms, which he believed to be the direct, personal prayers of King David, and so the model of all Christan, as they had been of all Jewish, prayer.” (xvii-xviii)

Biblical Influence

The influence of the Bible on the confessions is obvious to any reader because Augustine frequently begins a particular section in prayer and cites scripture throughout, allusions to which the editor has conveniently footnoted.

Less obvious to the reader is the definition that Augustine used for confession. As noted by the editor’s glossary, for Augustine confession could be:

  1. a profession of faith,
  2. praise of God, or
  3. an act of penance (self-accusation).

Today, we primarily assume the last definition (329).

Augustine’s Conversion

In his book, Confessions, Augustine of Hippo describes his life before and after converting to Christianity as an adult. Augustine shamelessly lays out the sins of his life, saying:

“Let the mind of my brethren love that in me which You teach to be worthy of love, and grieve for that in me which You teach to be worthy of grief.” (191)

I take this statement to mean that Augustine proposes to be frankly forthright in confession so that he can be an example to others. Is it any wonder that people trusted him and followed him into the monastic life? Having read the Confessions as a young man, I truly believe that they helped lead me to live an ascetic lifestyle, even after it was no longer a financial necessity. I commend the Confessions to anyone who wishes to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ.

References

Augustine. 1978. Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). Translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. New York: Penguin Books.

Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Meridan Book.

Brown, Peter. 2000. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Orig pub 1967). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Bart D. Ehrman. 2005. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_the_Great.

[3] Before mechanical printing, manuscripts had to be copied by hand and copyist sometimes “corrected” texts as they reproduced them. African scholars, centered in Alexandria, were much more careful in copying manuscripts than others, including their European rivals (Metzer and Ehrman 2005, 278).

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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