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(6 posts)

Book Review: Augustine As Mentor

This is a review by Pastor Jerry Drebelbis, who has the dubious distinction of being my pastor. Augustine As Mentor: A Review By Jerome Drebelbisi    Take a moment and peruse the number of books written by or about Aurelius Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo, 354é─ý430 A.D. One reason for the numerous volumes is, in part, because Augustine, himself, was a prolific writer. More than 100 books along with sermons, letters and notes to friends and fellow church compatriots are attributed to him. So it is no wonder the copious number of books written about Augustine. Among these writings Edward Smithers, assistant professor of Church History and Intercultural Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, brings us another perspectiveé─ţAugustine as Mentor, A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders1.    Mr. Smithers believes that é─˙many pastors today . . . are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their soulsé─¨ (p. v). He is not alone in this concern. Anderson and Reese emphasize this same problem in the forward of their writing. We live in a world of é─˙disenchantment with é─˛knowledge for knowledgeé─˘s sake.é─˘é─¨2 If this spiritual isolation impacts church leaders today then what is the solution to escape the dilemma? Augustine as Mentor attempts to address this issue looking back at the beginning of the Church and one of its giants as a leader. Analysis:    The book divides into six chapters. Chapter one examines biblical examples of mentors in the first century. While the author admits that the word é─˙mentoré─¨ is not in Scripture he does recognize the discipline can take other forms, such as that of discipling. He uses Jesus and Paul as primary examples of those who mentored/discipled those around them. Numerous New Testament references are given to support the position.    Chapter two unpacks mentoring as it appeared in the third and fourth centuries. The author, with copious references, details the lives of men like Cyprian of Carthage, Pachomius of Egypt, and Basil. These men and others formed in the authoré─˘s view a backdrop and example from which Augustine developed his own style of mentoring.    Chapter three asks the question, who was Augustineé─˘s mentor? Obviously some time is spent examining the way Augustineé─˘s mother, Monica, influenced his spiritual development. Her example of holiness and practical faith are featured with numerous references to Confessions. The reader is then given a look at several of Augustineé─˘s friends and companions. Alypius, Evodius and Ambrose were not only close companions to Augustine but also mentors. Smithers convincingly argues that while he finds that Augustine wrote very little about Valerius, Augustineé─˘s predecessor, Valerius was his most é─˙significant mentor.é─¨3    Chapter four, the longest chapteré─ţ88 pages, brings the work to a climax. How did Augustine mentor others? The author draws from Augustineé─˘s forty years in the ministry, 391é─ý430, with citings from his numerous letters, books and preaching and supervisory method as examples of how Augustine discipled both subordinates and fellow bishops.    Chapter five gives us Augustineé─˘s thoughts on the subject. Once again from abundant references, the reader is given Augustineé─˘s perspective of how a mentor should live and work. Five principles are mentioned as the framework of a mentoré─˘s life. This leaves the reader wondering if Augustine, himself, adhered to his own ideals. The author answers the question by quoting Possidius, Augustineé─˘s friend and biographer; é─˙I believe, however, that they profited even more who were able to hear him speaking in church and seeing him there present, especially if they were familiar with his manner of life.é─¨4 In specific, Augustine lived what he preached and proclaimed. As great a man as Augustine was the author does admit that one failure, if we can consider it such, in Augustineé─˘s life was that few, if any, of his disciples followed in Augustineé─˘s example to defend the church from heresy or to supply others with theological thought and exegesis (p. 257).    The final sixth chapter is a short exhortation for leaders today. The author reminds the reader that a mentor must always be a disciple at heart, always learning, always growing in the faith, as did Augustine. He was disciple, mentor, leader, releaser of other into ministry, but most of all follower of Jesus Christ. The author leaves the reader with the question; é─˙will todayé─˘s church leaders intentionally look at leadership potential around them and search for able people to outshine them?é─¨ (p. 259). Synthesis:    The reader can be assured that Mr. Smithers is very familiar with the subject. The book is well documented referencing many sources both from early church writings to more recent analysis. One easily moves through the authoré─˘s thoughts as he presents his arguments for discipleship and mentoring. His style, easy to follow, often opens with a question. For example, é─˙How Did Augustine Mentor?é─¨ (p.134). The author then supports his answers by partitioning Augustineé─˘s life into various elements to demonstrate how Augustine mentored in each one, the monastery, books, letters, councils, etc.    While the book is well documented and thoughts expanded in an orderly fashion, progressing through the book becomes almost tedious. One wants to say, é─˙Alright, I get the idea; leté─˘s move on.é─¨ Unless the reader truly wants to know more about Augustine, for the average, sometimes overwhelmed, busy pastor, the book has too much detail. And while the book is true to its title, Augustine as Mentor, one wonders if Mr. Smithers is writing for the average church leader or his own colleagues.    The last chapter, é─˙Shepherding Shepherds Todayé─¨ is only two pages. While there is benefit in knowing about mentoring in the early church, more thought and space could have been afforded to application today. Many pastors are, like this one, interested in not only the what but even more so, the so what. In the final analysis the reader wants to know what the authoré─˘s suggestions are that he has gleaned from his study. What from the authoré─˘s perspective, in twenty-first century culture, does he believe the pastor can and should pursue in depth? With this question always in mind there is a disheartening realization that the reader is given 257 pages of information but only two pages of application. The reader may have been more ably assisted if the author had balance the work more evenly.    For example, one theologically prominent subject today is that of spiritual formation. Using Augustineé─˘s writings the author could easily have moved into this realm of current significance. After all, is this not what Augustine was attempting to do with his contemporaries? In other words Augustine, who relied upon his biblical and theological premises, challenged heresies like Pelagianism, Arianism. How could those thoughts apply to our relativistic postmodern culture? How could Augustineé─˘s thoughts have been organized to enhance oneé─˘s growth in spiritual formation? Answers to questions like these would have greatly enhanced the work. 1 Edward L. Smithers, Augustine as Mentor, A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2008. ↑ 2 Keith R. Anderson and Randy D. Reese, Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for seeking and Giving Direction (Intervarsity Press, Dowers Grove, 1999), forward. ↑ 3 Ibid, p. 112. ↑ 4 Ibid, p. 229. ↑ i Jerome Drebelbis has pastored Grace Evangelical Free Church in Beulah, North Dakota, for ten years. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity. ↑ 

The Puritans and Sex

Thursday··2009·09·03 · 15 Comments
We all know, don’t we, that the puritans hated sex and considered it to be exceedingly sinful. After all, that is what “puritanical” means, isn’t it? Well . . . maybe not. According to Leland Ryken, that attitude belongs to the Roman Catholics, particularly during the middle ages. Rome taught that sex, although less sinful for some than the alternatives, was always sinful, not in the act itself, but in the driving passions and resulting pleasure. This view was held by no less than our beloved Augustine, who commended married couples who abstained from sex! The Puritans rejected that attitude wholeheartedly, and made no secret of their opposing view. Ryken writes that “When a New England wife complained, first to her pastor, and then to the whole congregation, that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the church proceeded to excommunicate the man.” Catholic doctrine had declared virginity superior to marriage; the Puritan reply was that marriage “is a state . . . Far more excellent than the condition of single life.” Many Catholic commentators claimed that sexual intercourse had been the resultof the Fall and did not occur in Paradise; the Puritan comeback was that marriage was ordained by God, “and that not in this sinful world, but in paradise, that most joyful garden of pleasure.” . . . Given the Catholic background against which they wrote and preached, the Puritans’ praise of marriage was at the same time an implicit endorsement of marital sex as good. They elaborated that point specifically and often. This becomes clearer once we are clued into the now-outdated terms by which they customarily referred to sexual intercourse: “matrimonial duty,” “cohabitation,” “act of matrimony,” and (especially) “due benevolence.” Everywhere we turn in Puritan writing on the subject we find sex affirmed as good in principle. [William] Gouge referred to physical union as “one of the most proper and essential acts of marriage.” It was Milton’s opinion that the text “they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) was included in the Bible to justify and make legitimate the rites of the marriage bed; which was not unneedful, if for all this warrant they were suspected of pollution by some sects of philosophy and religions of old, and latelier among the Papists. William Ames listed as one of the duties of marriage “mutual communication of bodies.” So closely linked were the ideas of marriage and sex that the Puritans usually defined marriage partly in terms of sexual union. [William] Perkins defined marriage as “the lawful conjunction of the two married persons; that is, of one man and one woman into one flesh.” Another well-known definition was this: Marriage is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, according to the ordinance of God. . . . By yoking, joining, or coupling is meant, not only outward dwelling together of the married folks . . . but also an uniform agreement of mind and a common participation of body and goods. Married sex was not only legitimate in the Puritan view; it was meant to be exuberant. Gouge said that married couples should engage in sex “with good will and delight, willingly, readily, and cheerfully.” An anonymous Puritan claimed that when two are made one by marriage theymay joyfully give due benevolence one to the other; as two musical instruments rightly fitted do make a most pleasant and sweet harmony in a well tuned consort. Alexander Niccholes theorized that in marriage “thou not only unitest unto thyself a friend and comfort for society, but also a companion for pleasure.” In this acceptance of physical sex, the Puritans once again rejected the asceticism and implicit dualism between sacred and secular that had governed Christian thinking for so long. In the Puritan view, God had given the physical world, including sex, for human welfare. —Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 42, 43–44.

I Hate Too Little

Originally posted August 22, 2006. é─˙For too little doth he love Thee, who loves any thing with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee.é─¨ é─ţAugustine I had to read that quotation from Augustineé─˘s Confessions two or three times to really get the gist of it. When it had sunk in thoroughly, I was soundly smitten by the profound truth it expresses. If I love anything, even something that God loves, but do not love it primarily because God loves it and receives glory from it, I do not love God enough. This does not mean that we may have no personal reasons for our love. Certainly, I love my wife because she is precious to me, and my children also. I love God for his grace and mercy. These causes of love are legitimate. However, if the only reason for my love is personal, it is not adequate. I ought to see God’s glory reflected in my wife and children, and love them for Christé─˘s sake. I ought to see God glorified in my redemption and love him for that reason. Ultimately, God himself ought to be the object of my every affection. As I was contemplating my love for God, something else occurred to me: hatred of sin, and my reason for hating it. Why do I hate my sin? I hate my sin because of the harm it does to me and others. It often has immediate negative consequences for me, and it separates me from fellowship with God. Almost as often, it has negative consequences for someone close to me. I hate that. That motivates me to avoid sin and discipline myself to é─˙do better.é─¨ But what should catalyze my hatred of sin? It is the same thing that should move me to loveé─ţthe glory of God. I should hate my sin because it grieves my Father. I should hate my sin because it is an offense to my Savior. I should hate my sin because it quenches the Holy Spirit. I should hate it because it falls short of the glory of God. I should hate it because God hates it. I hate too little anything that I hate not for Godé─˘s sake.

Early Church Cessationists

Once upon a time, I issued a challenge to charismatics to show historical proof that the gift of tongues did not pass away with the apostolic age. That challenge has yet to be met. On the other hand, John MacArthur provides several quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and notable theologians from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries supporting the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Most telling, of course, are the words of these two second century fathers: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. —John Chrysostom, Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 252. In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. —Augustine, Ibid., 252–253. For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? But it is understood that invisibly and imperceptibly, on account of the bond of peace, divine love is breathed into their hearts, so that they may be able to say, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” —Ibid., 253.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.

The Reformation: Augustine versus Augustine

Speaking of contradictions, I found this very interesting: In response [to Pelagius], Augustine strongly asserted the inability of unregenerate sinners to merit salvation. Moreover, he said, no one can believe in Christ apart from a sovereign work of God overcoming man’s sinful resistance. Augustine refuted the false notion that God merely looks down the proverbial tunnel of time and foresees the free will of man choosing Him. Instead, he developed a full-blown doctrine of predestination. He firmly maintained the biblical teaching on original sin, total depravity, sovereign election, monergistic regeneration, and absolute predestination. He saw man as hopelessly plagued by radical corruption and, therefore, unable to initiate or contribute to his salvation. By necessity, he viewed God as sovereign in the exercise of His saving grace toward elect sinners. Regarding election, Augustine taught that salvation is a sovereign gift, fixed in eternity past, irrespective of the merit of man. Augustine, Loraine Boettner argues, “went far beyond the earlier theologians, and taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purposes of redemption to the definite circle of the elect.” The whole race fell in Adam, Augustine maintained, so that everyone is born totally depraved and spiritually dead. Therefore, the human will is free only to sin, but not free to choose any good toward God. Thus, Augustine was the first theologian to carefully connect the biblical truths of man’s moral inability in sin and God’s sovereignty in election and regeneration. Augustine’s influence would dominate medieval Christianity and provide the chief stimulus for the Reformation. Though Augustine asserted salvation by grace, he maintained that the irresistible grace of predestination is applied by the sacrament of baptism. He also espoused progressive justification. He even held that some believers are not of the elect and will not persevere. Thus, his theological steps forward did not go far enough. Despite his advances in the areas of sin and grace, further clarity was needed on salvation by faith alone. The Reformation would be the triumph of Augustine’s views on sovereign grace, as held by the Protestants, over his views on sacramentalism and the church, as held by the Roman Catholics. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 27–28.


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