A number of Christians have found my attachment to St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) peculiar. Some probably think St. Augustine belongs exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church, and perhaps they mistakenly assume that no Protestant can genuinely appreciate a Catholic saint. But what these Christians fail to realize is that Augustine is as historically and theologically important to Protestants as he is to Catholics (agreeing with Westminster Seminary theologian Carl Trueman’s assessment). In other words, Augustine is a universal Christian voice within Western Christendom. Reformed theologians John Owen and Benjamin Warfield shared a respectful attachment to St. Augustine. Interestingly, Augustine is not especially well liked or appreciated in Eastern Christendom among the Eastern Orthodox. For example, Eastern Christendom views him as far too pessimistic concerning original sin.
Others probably think that since Augustine was not an inspired biblical author like Paul, John, or Peter, then studying his life and writings reveals a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of Scripture or its final authority. Yet a significant part of my respect for Augustine lies in his deep dedication to the truth and authority of Scripture. The second half of Augustine’s extraordinary life is spent seeking to understand, explain, and defend Scripture and the great doctrinal truths of historic Christianity.
I’m attracted to St. Augustine for many reasons. First, as a Christian philosopher I think a person needs to hitch their wagon to a broad philosophical-theological tradition within Christendom (to agree with contemporary Christian philosopher David Naugle). For Christians, philosophy can either serve theology as a handmaid or become a challenge to it. In navigating the topics of faith and reason, a person needs a reliable guide. In my opinion, Augustine’s approach to faith and reason (theology and philosophy) is superior to all other philosophers and theologians (though many agree with him). In my view, Protestants Martin Luther and John Calvin are excessively suspicious of philosophy, and Catholic St. Thomas Aquinas isn’t as personal or as biblically oriented on certain topics as the esteemed Bishop of Hippo. Though let me be clear that I respect all of these great Christian thinkers.
Second, outside of Scripture, I think Augustine’s Confessions is one of the greatest Christian books ever written. It is both a literary and Christian classic. When I read Confessions I think Augustine is writing about me. As a broken, flawed, hypocritical, but forgiven sinner I appreciate Augustine’s example of being a great sinner who, by God’s extraordinary grace, subsequently became a great saint. Augustine’s life gives me hope in my earnest attempt and struggle to lead a godly life.
Third, I greatly appreciate Augustine’s work as a philosopher, theologian, and apologist. He powerfully and insightfully addresses many of historic Christianity’s critical truths: faith and reason, the Trinity, grace, the problem of evil, and creation ex nihilo.
I was also primed to like Augustine because two of my apologetics mentors in the faith, Walter Martin and Ronald Nash, were fond of the North African church father.
Of course, I don’t agree with all of Augustine’s views and opinions (he wrote more than five million words); but you can be in the broad Augustinian tradition even if you occasionally disagree with Augustine himself. Nevertheless, I find in him an orthodox and faithful Christian pilgrim who serves as a helpful theological and philosophical guide for me in trying to live out the Christian world-and-life view.
- To read a two-part article that I wrote about Augustine, see: “Augustine of Hippo, Part 1” and “Augustine of Hippo, Part 2.”
- Last year, I gave a six-part lecture on Augustine in which I discussed some of the key events in his life along with his most important writings, ideas, and achievements: “If I Had Lunch with St. Augustine.”