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Almost every Christian (and many non-Christians) has heard the name Augustine. Perhaps you have. But perhaps, like me, you haven’t taken the time to find out who he was or read some of his work (the most famous of which are his Confessions and The City of God). Well, Bray has done people like you and me a great favour because this book will give you an overview of Augustine’s teaching and influence.
Augustine was a remarkable man. His influence is far and wide and deep and long. In his last chapter (which alone is worth the price of admission), Bray shows how Augustine’s name has become disconnected from many of the concepts he pioneered due to the amount of writing completed by the reformers. We now attribute ideas to the reformers that Augustine had written about a thousand years before Luther was a twinkle in his parents’ eye.
Some of the key areas that Augustine impacts our thoughts even today are the fact that we all need to have a relationship with God (as opposed to a name-only Christianity), the importance of the church, the total rebellion of the human race (Augustine fought strongly against Pelagianism), the Bible as the Word of God where all truth should be sought, the doctrine of the Trinity and, that God created the world with a plan and a purpose.
One highlight of Bray’s work is that he doesn’t hide Augustine’s imperfections – Augustine was wrong and mislead in many areas – but Bray also doesn’t write Augustine off because of them. What I found as I read about his life, theology and teaching is that Augustine was a man who just wanted to serve God. He did so imperfectly – some of which is attributable to the fact that he never learned Hebrew or Greek and only had the Vulgate to use as a bible - but he did so with passion and zeal and a commitment to the Word of God. In some cases, he even managed to come up with correct theology out of a flawed translation simply because he knew the bible so well!
This is an encouragement to you and me because it shows that God can use a flawed Augustine to literally change how the world thinks. We may well be still stuck in Greek philosophical concepts of good as spirit and bad as matter if it weren’t for Augustine’s wrestling through this concept. It is Augustine who defined evil not as matter but as disobedience!
The real problem with this book is that you may find, as I did, that as you finish it, instead of crossing a book off your reading list, you add a few more to it! Most notably, Augustine’s Confessions and The City of God.
Part of the Theologians on the Christian Life Series
Review by Thomas Eglinton