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It All Goes Back to One Guy

It All Goes Back to One Guy March 21, 2012

Christian theology in the West all goes back to Augustine. Even when theology today is not completely shaped by Augustine, and even when it diverges from him (as it often does), it gets its framework from Augustine. Which means Augustine gets blamed often, and many times wrongly. I once read a manuscript by an author who was giving Augustine a hard time and I was convinced the author hadn’t read much of Augustine.

One of the most important things Augustine wrote is called the Enchiridion, and it is a catechism for Christians, and it is a catechism that introduces Christians to Augustine’s soteriology — and one could argue (blaming again) that it was Augustine who got the soterian game rolling. In King Jesus Gospel I ignored Augustine’s Enchiridion (and Aquinas’ Summa Theologica) because it would have dragged the discussion down a bit. Our focus was not so much the history of soteriology as it was how the Reformation confessions reframed the Creed into a soteriological system. (The problems really arose, though, with the revivalists, and we suffer from what revivalism has done to evangelicalism’s gospel.)

Do you think “justification” is both declarative and transformative or wholly a declaration by God? How “Jewish” (biblical, 2d Temple) is the idea of the bondage of the will?

Speaking of the gospel … this post will sketch how A.J. Spence, in his new book Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed, presents Augustine’s theology of justification. And what Augustine said is not as “Augustinian” as lots of folks think! (Which is a way of saying that there’s more blaming than reading of the guy.)

Justification for Augustine is wholly framed within a soterian system of personal salvation. (The issue of incorporating Gentiles isn’t the issue for Augustine.) The predicament of the human — all humans are alike — is found in four areas:

1. There is a shared guilt and it leads to death.
2. The free-will of humans is in bondage to sin.
3. Sin dominates the life of the human.
4. There is a dreadful prospect of judgment from God for the evil we have done.

Christ is the solution to all of this, but his mediatorial work is as a human (though Augustine flirts with the later ontological categories of Anselm).

The righteousness of the justified is love. For Augustine, justification “is the act of God that brings about this way of righteous living, it makes us righteous” (34). The effect of justification then is moral transformation; it is a “created” and not an “imputed” righteousness. (Though Augustine knows it is all the work of God in grace through Christ.) So justification is not just an act of pardon; it is the creation of a new ay of living, a living in love.

For Augustine, faith and love are connected so that works and faith are connected. (This is one area where Spence thinks Augustine is not truly Pauline.) Loving actions then are justifying actions because they are the result of created grace. The judgment, which looks at works, is simply “grace given for grace” (37).

Which means grace is both an operation of God upon a person to set the will free and leads cooperation by the human will to bring about a life that loves righteousness.

Augustine fought Pelagius who, though he believed the capacity to do good came from God, the choice and act of doing good were from humans — whereas Augustine saw it all as God’s grace.


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