The “SBJT” Forum -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 12:2 (Summer 2008) p. 68
The “SBJT” Forum
SBJT: Why should Baptists be interested in the life and thought of Augustine?
Chad Brand:1 Anyone who knows much about Augustine (A.D. 354-430) might wonder what indeed he has to do with Baptists at all. And we would certainly want to emphasize the contrasts as well as the similarities. The African Father inherited a tradition of ecclesiology from people such as Cyprian upon which he based his work, even further developing that approach, an approach we now associate with Roman Catholicism and its close relatives such as Orthodoxy, and to a lesser extent Anglicanism. He made a case for such practices as universal infant baptism and even a prototypical form of inquisition, both of which are abhorrent to Baptists. Interestingly, though, his final views on baptism stemmed from his evangelicalism, and not merely from liturgical or moralistic notions. And his desire to see imperial forces aid in ending the Donatist system grew from his genuine conviction that the schismatics were damning the souls of their communicants. (By the way, we still reject both practices.) Yet, Augustine has much to contribute to Baptists today. I will note briefly three items for consideration.
First, Augustine may have been the first consistently evangelical theologian since Paul (though Athanasius came close). The post-NT period was marked by writers whose primary focus was moralism, largely due to defections from the church caused by persecution. Though they may have experienced grace, these thinkers tended not to say much about it. Athanasius addressed this problem to a degree in his Trinitarian treatment of salvation by noting that God must be law-giver, law-keeper, and law-enabler. But he still fell short of explicating the genuine evangel. But by 396 in his work addressed to Simplicianus, Augustine is noting that the problem is sin and the solution is God’s grace extended freely through the cross. That notion was expanded in his Confessions (ca. 400), and developed fully in his anti-Pelagian works (ca. 412-421). Though he never fully rejected the tradition that grace comes through the church, in these writings he explicates the notion, seemingly to us to contradict the Cyprianic understanding, that grace comes immediately to the soul through Christ by faith. In later years Augustine wrote his Retractations, a volume in which he specified all the ways he had changed his mind on various issues. One wonders whether, had he lived longer, he might have eventually rejected the Cyprianic understanding of grace extended through the church and adopted a more Lutheran or Calvinian way of articulating the con-
SBJT 12:2 (Summer 2008) p. 69
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