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

Continue Reading

Jackson Shines Light on Football Dreams

Nate Jackson, Slow Getting Up
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Nate Jackson.  2013.  Slow Getting Up:  A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The best manager that I ever worked with, who later became a good friend, knew how to motivate his staff—he focused on their aspirations.  He worked the dream.  The job was not about the money;  it was not about agency goals; it was not about the team; it was not even about the work per se; it was about the dream.  In spite of an oppressive work environment where we were ignored and our work forgotten, he kept the dream alive and we loved him.  In his book, Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson talks about living the football dream.

Introduction

What is the football dream?  Jackson writes:

A footback dream is easy to spot.  Turn on SportsCenter and they’ll show what it looks like.  Tom Brady’s life.  Peyton Manning’s life.  Fairy tales.  Storybooks.  The football dream I had as a child unfolded much differently.  But it has still unfolded.  Every crease and every line, every grunt and every pop.  I’m playing the game I love. The grass is still green, the hits still hurt, and the ball in flight is still the most beautiful sight I know.  I will chase it to the ends of the earth (69).

The dream justifies every sacrifice, every injury, every set back.  Along with the dream comes a cool uniform, TV time, money, respect, easy sex, and all the things that go with it.  The dream and its evil twin—the nightmare—battle for our attention throughout Jackson’s book.

Mom Factor

Sprinkled throughout the book are references to mom—the silent, ever-present observer.  For example, on signing his first National Football League (NFL) contract, Jackson blurts out:  Look, Ma, I’m a 49er! (15).  This comment seems like a throw-away cliché the first couple times it appears, but then Jackson writes:

My mom has three criteria that she uses to judge a game.  One, did I stay healthy?  Two, was I happy with my performance? Three, did we win?  Moms are ahead of the curve.  The NFL is momless (178-179).

NFL players chase the dream; NFL moms live the nightmare.

Tension between the Dream and the Nightmare

This tension between dream and nightmare fuels Jackson’s plot.  The sagas of the games compete with injury reports to build excitement—will the NFL sign Jackson another season or will his injuries permanently disqualify him ?  Injury report after injury report chronicles his career from 2002 with the 49ers to 2003-2008 with the Denver Broncos.  While the career continues, the bloom is off the rose after Darrent Will is shot to death after a Broncos game in 2006 (130).  Jackson writes:  After D-Will died I sank into a hole (133).  The nightmare finally gets the upper-hand over the dream—the dream was no longer enough (134).

Organization

In Slow Getting Up Jackson writes an autobiographical account of his 6 years in the NFL in 12 chapters.  These chapters are preceded by a prologue describing his last days as a professional football player and followed by a short acknowledgments section which describes his writing career.  Although Jackson has written for a number of periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal [1], this is his first book.

Jackson is an accomplished writer whose autobiography reads like an action thriller.  This is because he pays attention to pacing and salts his personal story with skillfully articulated character sketches of the people that populate his life.  He is coy about telling the reader that he is a Christian [2], but it comes out in his account of prayers in the showers—written in the third person—where the entire Lord’s Prayer is recited (171-172).

Allegory

Interestingly, Slow Getting Up can be read as an allegory symbolizing the dark underside of the postmodern era.  An era where work is just a text away, image matters more than reality, and masculinity is defined by doing stupid things just because you can. To see this, reflect on the Apostle Paul’s description of the old self and the new self in Christ:

…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

In this reading, football dreams are actually a nightmare masquerading as something positive. You think that you control your life—your fate—but it is an obsession wrapped in a brazen lie. The old self thrives, dominates, and poisons our life because we love the illusion of self-determination. This is Paul’s old self.

But as the truth keeps interjecting itself into our lives, the nightmare slowly emerges in full horror.  We discover that, not only are we not in control, we cannot even break out of the chains that we have forged for ourselves in our obsession. For Jackson, the nightmare manifests itself when he finds himself playing football for the Las Vegas Locos stripped of his youth & health and offered little compensation or future prospects (235). Only God through Jesus Christ can remove those chains and set us free.  This is Paul’s new self in Christ.

By highlighting the old self, Jackson invites us to consider something new, something better.  Thank you Nate.

Footnotes

[1] www.WSJ.com.

[2] Christian quarterback, Tim Tebow, played for the Denver Broncos after Jackson retired during 2010-2012 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tebow).

Jackson Shines Light on Football Dreams

Also see:

Tebow Encourages Those Shaken  (After June 12, 2018)

Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

Continue Reading