Tag Archives: augustine

LATC 2017: Why Should Protestants Retrieve Patristic and Medieval Theology? – Gavin Ortlund

Some notes from Gavin Ortlund’s Breakout Session….

Retrieving the Leavened Bread out of the Unleavened

  • Warfield on Augustine: Doctrine of Grace is Augustine’s greatest legacy. A new Christian piety comes from Augustine. He is the author of grace and the “Father of 20170112_144711evangelicalism.”
    • Warfield calls Augustine the found of Roman Catholicism too
    • Shows broader attitude: Evangelical doctrines and bad Catholic doctrines, two children struggling in his mind, but the REAL Augustine is the “evangelical Augustine.”
    • He was a proto-protestant who would have eventually become a “protestant” had he lived longer
  • Method: The last 500 years are the “good years”, we construct theology and see older theology through the lens Protestantism
    • Easy to take sola scriptura and make it sola reformationae
    • In Warfield’s account it never comes into view where Protestantism may be stretched and challenged by Augustine’s theology.
  • There are good reasons for including the entire 2000 years of church history, as a part of protestant’s theological community. We have a good example in the works of the Reformers
  • Reformers where engaged in a work of theological retrieval
    • Defended their cause against the charges of novelty
  • Warfield saw the church as having experienced a fall that needs to be recovered from. Luther and Calvin by contrast saw the early church as a tool to be recovered and retrieved.
  • Calvin and Luther both affirmed the continuation & preservation of the true church in every generation. The last thing they intended was a denial of the first 13 centuries. They saw themselves as attempting the establishment of a proper Catholicism.

How Patristic & Medieval Theology Can Resource Protestant Theology

  • Four ways….
  • First – P & M can help bulk up PT where it is weak and underdeveloped.
    • Metaphor: Child attending a school
    • One need not regard church tradition as infallible, simply recognize that each generation of the church has a unique gift towards the church
    • Medieval theologians saw creation, fall, relationship to angels as theological topics with important consequences
  • Second – can help shape theological sensibilities and values
    • Metaphor: visiting the grand canyon doesn’t just give you information
    • Example of sensibilities: Doctrine of God had different instincts/sensibilities in P&M, like divine simplicity or univocity/analogy or hiddenness
  • Third – can help provide perspective on modern theological debates (liberal/conservative spectrum)
    • Metaphor: Going to see a counselor to get perspective on something
    • Example: Augustine’s doctrine of creation. There are concerns he has that are very different than ours. Favored an approach to the text which provides a helpful model of humility, wants to learn from natural sciences
  • Fourth – can help bring about synthesis
    • Metaphor: A Guide
    • Example: Doctrine of Atonement. Approaching this doctrine helps you see ways of holding things together that in the modern literature seem to be at odds with one another.

Three Case Studies of Patristic & Medieval Retrieval

  • Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy
    • Philosophy functioned as a handmaiden to not a replacement for theology. Can help w/doctrine of God: creation/Creator, simplicity, foreknowledge, God’s relation to time
  • Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule
    • Capable administrator but Gregory regarded himself primarily as a religious leader. Calvin called him the last good Pope. He lived in a Latin district of Constantinople, thus he was shaped by eastern theology. Gregory is the only Latin Father whose works were translated into Greek in his lifetime. How to benefit: practical focus – how to speak differently to different kinds of people
  • John of Damascus Writings on the Iconoclast Controversy
    • The preeminent representative of the Byzantine Tradition. Was practically unknown in the West until the 12th Protestant iconoclasm didn’t even refer to John of Damascus. The ancient eastern church included more than just Greek churches (Syriac, Coptic, Slavic, Armenian, etc.). All human thought about the divine is pictorial. As a result – they were encouraged to develop a rich theology of art. For evangelicals, his work may challenge what embodiment would mean for us.20170112_144711

I’m a Father!

On March 9th at 3:22pm my beautiful baby daughter was born! Her mom – my wife – started getting contractions during the YoungLife club that she serves at. But she didn’t really know what it was, just that it hurt and that she didn’t feel well. When she got home, she told me that she thought the baby was going to come soon. Of course I doubted it. I thought she was having false contractions, so I told her to relax and go to bed. Well, she knew better. She said we should pack our bags, and reluctantly I did. I didn’t even pack anything to sleep in because I figured they would send us back home due to a false alarm. (I mean common, you have to give me credit, my wife was due April 4th!) Shiloh1

We tried to go to sleep, well she tried, and I actually did sleep. And then at 3 am she woke me up saying she thinks this is it. We both shower, because you want to be fresh for labor! And she was right, when we got to the hospital they said she was in fact in labor. A few hours, and no pain med or epidural, later my wife gave birth to our baby girl!


Today she is one week old, but already I’m feeling changed. I never thought I could love someone the way I love my daughter. She is so precious to me and makes my heart melt. I’ve heard people say there is nothing like the love of a parent, but I never really understood that. Now, a week later, I think I’m starting to get it. To think – I love my daughter so much, and God the Father loves the Son even more, and was willing to give him up for our sake! Having a child of my own makes me appreciate the gospel that much more.

We are starting our baby on the right track by teaching her her ABC’s… of Church History! Today she learned about Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.

Augustine and his Interpreters (Some Stuff on EFS)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post I am working on an essay on Eternal Functional Subordination – one article that has been super helpful in understanding the historical dimension of this position has been John Starke’s “Augustine and his Interpreters,” which can be found in One God in Three Persons. For those of you who are interested in what he has to say but don’t have the book – here is an outline of the paper:



  1. Eternal Generation and inseparable operation undergird and support an order of authority of submission.
  • Augustine and other figures in church history, from the early church to the modern era, affirms an order of authority and submission in the persons of the Trinity. (157)
  • Bruce Ware says “Augustine affirmed… inherent authority of the Father and inherent submission of the Son.” (157)
    • Followed by a quote from Ware

Keith E. Johnson

Keith E. Johnson offers an argument why eternal generation and inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

  • “Augustine maintains, according to Johnson, that “being sent does not imply inferiority on the part of the Son. It simply reveals that the Son is eternally from by the Father.” (159)
  • Johnson claims Complementarians misinterpret Augustine as affirming an order of authority and submission in the “sent” language of Scripture.” (159)
  • “Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission.” (160)
  • Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission. (160)

This essay responds to those last two claims

Eternal Generation

Calvin and Owen both argue that the Father is the beginning of deity and beginning of activity. The Father makes the authoritative designation. (164)

Even Johnson implies that if “being sent” means an order of submission and authority, then it necessitates an inferior Son. (165)

Inseparable Operations

  • Johnson – Complementarians sever his comments about the Father sending the Son from Augustine’s unequivocal affirmation that the divine person act inseparably. (167)
  • Johnson – to hold to an order of authority and submission would break the one will of the Father and Son into two
  • Johnson’s Argument (168)
    • An order of authority and submission is compatible with Augustine’s inseparable operations, since the work of “sending” the Son was inseparable work fo the Father and the Son
    • An order of authority and submission not only is incompatible with inseparable operation, but would divine the one will of the Father and the Son.
    • Incompatibility with Augustine’s inseparable operation and division of the one will of the Father and Son would lead to a position incompatible with homoousian.
  • Starke’s Replies
    • The unity of operations is harmony not unison
    • The will of the Son is not apart from the Father, it is a will that he shares from the Father
    • Johnson is correct to assume if complementarians reject inseparable operations they reject homoousioan. However they don’t reject inseparable operations

John Starke, Augustine, and Eternal Functional Subordination

So I just started working on the issue of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). I’m pretty convinced that it is an unorthodox position and I haven’t found too many compelling arguments in favor of it. For instance – Wayne Grudem’s chapter “Doctrinal

John Starke is pastor of preaching at Apostles Church in New York City and co-editor of One God in Three Persons (Crossway, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter.

Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity” in One God in Three Persons – is pure rubbish. However, that isn’t to say that the position is not defensible. I just finished reading John Starke’s argument in favor of EFS from Augustine’s De Trinitate.

In his chapter Augustine and His Interpreters he takes aim mostly at the work of Keith Johnson who argues that

  1. Complementarians read too much into Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in saying that Augustine is also affirming an order of authority and submission
  2. Augustine’s inseparable operation does not allow for an order of authority and submission

The majority of Starke’s chapter seeks to address these two theses.

At the end of the day it seems best to me to read Augustine’s language of “being sent” as simply saying that the son is “sent” and nothing more. It also seems best to me to read inseparable operations not just as “harmony” but rather a sort of perichoretic operation (see Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God). Nevertheless I highly recommend Starke’s essay because it makes very clear some of most important the issues that need to be addressed in the EFS debate.

Why Ke$ha gets St. Augustine Right (Cultural Capital pt. 2)

A while ago we took a look at James’ call to believers – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you don’t show favoritism. Period.

This discussion led us to think a little bit about “cultural capital.” Which are those things that we “exchange” or “reveal” in order to get some sort of cultural good i.e. favor, prestige, status, friends, followers, gifts.

We concluded by asking some questions:

So what contributes to what counts as cultural capital within any one particular culture? How do people come to learn what is worth something and what isn’t? Is it simply because somebody told us once that some thing is valuable and some other thing is not?

Today we take up this subject – how do we come to believe that something is “cultural capital” and something is not?

The answer is that we learn what is culturally valuable in a non-cognitive manner. Let me explain….

Human persons are defined by love (a very Augustinian thought) – as desiring agents and liturgical animals whose primary mode of intending the world is love which in turn shapes the imagination.

The things we grow to love and desire are shaped and directed by material embodied practices. These practices are fundamentally religious, but not necessarily spiritual. We might call these “liturgical acts.” These acts in turn shape our vision for what the good life is all about.

Our vision for the good life (the eudaimonistic life) is shaped and directed by aesthetic principles found in stories, legends, myths, novels and films rather than principles.

What are these acts? These acts usually revolve around participating in actions which stir our affections. The are the sort of acts which usually stir our affections are acts which participate in some sort of aesthetic stimulation.

Okay…. Maybe this is getting a bit complicated – what I’m trying to say is that: we are shaped to consider certain things valuable and other things as value-less through non-cognitive means. In other words, we aren’t explicitly taught to value certain things, we are shaped to value certain things.

Think for a second how we know we ought to value some sort of fashionable outfit – for instance “hipster style clothes.” Did anybody ever say “Hey this is what is in right now, you need to wear this…” I’m pretty sure that no one has ever said that. Instead what happens is that you get bombarded by images, which are usually aesthetically pleasing, and eventually you come to believe that you want that sort of outfit.

Some Coachella Hipster looking so "cool."
Some Coachella Hipsters looking so “cool.”


Or consider how everybody “knows” that they should have an IPad… Apple’s advertisements for IPad’s have never straight out said “hey this is a good tablet, you should buy it.” Instead, they rely upon knowing that humans are driven by aesthetic principles in order to convince people to buy their product. Consider Apple’s latest IPad campaign. Not once does say that this is a better tablet, rather the commercial tells a story that draws us in, it shows us that the Ipad can help us to live a good and valuable life. We are drawn to that. As this sort of story is repeated over and over, this belief is reinforced – without every saying a single word.



Apple does not rely upon making cognitive claims in order to sell the product instead Apple relies upon the non-cogntive functions of the human mind to convince you that life is better with their product.

Why does all this matter to our past conversation about “cultural capital” in Christian circles? It matters for two reasons:

First it matters because as Christians we need to realize that much of what we believe is actually caught not taught. The action of “catching” most often happens (or always happens) in the context of community. It is within a community that we learn what is valuable and what is acceptable, or what it is worthless and unacceptable. Sometimes we are right about these sort of things but other times we aren’t. For instance, in Christian circles we tend to value people who speak “Christianese.” Where the heck did we learn that speaking Christianese is a worthwhile thing to do? Why don’t we speak normal English? Is it because early on somebody taught us – hey you need to speak a certain way to be a part of this community – I don’t think so. Rather, its because we have been shaped by a community that includes a certain vocabulary and to be a part of that community requires one to speak a certain way. We just “pick up” on those things.

The church is always at risk of embracing anti-Kingdom cultural patterns

Second, it matters because the church is always at risk of embracing anti-Kingdom cultural patterns. Some are obvious but most are subtle. It’s the subtle ones that are more likely to non-cognitively shape us than some of the more obvious ones. Think some of the music we listen to. For just a second think about Ke$ha’s music…

We’re gonna die young
We’re gonna die young
Let’s make the most of tonight, like we are gonna die young
(Die Young Lyrics)

Or this other Ke$ha song:

I dont wanna I go to sleep,
I wanna stay up all night,
I wanna just screw around.
I dont wanna think about,
Whats gonna be after this,
I wanna just live right now.
(C’Mon Lyrics)

But Ke$ha is on to something that we Christians tend to forget, namely (as Augustine says) that 1) human persons are defined by love. And 2) that we learn what to love by means of acts which participate in some sort of aesthetic stimulation. Ke$sha taps into the power of non-cognitive affection stirring in all of her songs. She tells stories (by means of songs) that tap into our basest human desires….

Will any Christian explicitly affirm Ke$ha’s message – live today without reference to the future? Absolutely not. Its anti-Christian, Christians are called to live in light of new creation, because what happens in our embodied life now matters for our embodied life in the future.

However, we live in a culture where Christians live with exactly the sort of attitude Ke$sha sings about. Now most Christians aren’t going to live like Ke$ha (thank God), however they will live with a similar attitude. Most Christians will functionally live as though there is no after life – as though what matters the most is life in the present. Why do Christians live this way, even though Scripture teaches otherwise and sermons preach a contrary message? Its because we are shaped more by non-cognitive means than by cognitive (propositional) truths. Culture around us is full of stories, songs, movies, films, that portray a message contrary to the Christian worldview – these messages shape us in subtle but profound ways.

That brings us back to where we started. Why do we value certain things, i.e. why do we assign cultural capital, to certain things? Its because we are bombarded with stories, songs, film, t.v. shows that slowly lead us to believe that those sort of things are culturally valuable.

In other words – we are story shaped creatures – and the world is doing a better job of story-telling that the church is.

Our vision for the good life is shaped and directed by aesthetic principles found in stories, legends, myths, novels and films rather than propositions.

According to Alvin Plantinga You Should Read These Three Books

I recently came across an interview with Alvin Plantinga done in 2011. In it he was asked some questions about what brought him back, where he thinks the current state of Calvin College is, and some questions about philosophy. When asked what three books every Calvin alum should read he responded with the following books:

Plato’s Republic. We ought to have more opportunities for people of all ages to engage that text. Another is Jonathan Edwards’ A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. I didn’t read this volume until I was 50; I should have read it when I was 20. Most people only know Edwards through his fiery sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” because it is often included in anthologies. Every minister in the time of Edwards had to have a “fire and brimstone” sermon in his back pocket. But this sermon is so unlike Edwards and the rest of his work. He was a thoughtful and loving teacher and scholar. The third book would be Augustine’s Confessions.

Plato, Jonathan Edwards, and Augustine. I think that is quite a list. I completely agree with him, those are three books any well educated person should read.

Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Plantinga

Gospel Theology (Pt. 3) – Original Sin

Today we continue our series on “Gospel” or “Evangelical” theology, that is theology that flows out of the truths of the gospel. Last time I said that there certain key doctrines that are decided by or settled on or strengthened by the gospel. Some doctrines are the logical consequence of the gospel, one such doctrine is the doctrine of original sin.

What is Original Sin?

Briefly, what is the doctrine of Original Sin. Well in church history the term has been used in a pretty muddy and sloppy way. First off it has been used to refer to the original sin, that is the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the garden (Augustine calls this peccatum originale originans). It has also been used to refer to the condition of sin in humankind caused (somehow) by the transmission of Adam and Eve’s sin to all (this is to be distinguished from original guilt). The Augustine calls this latter “original sin” peccatum originale originatum. Its this second understanding of Original Sin that we are concerned with, the sin that is inherent by all of us sons and daughters of Adam.

Original Sin and the Gospel

Now what I am about say about orignial sin  will certainly be controversial but I am going to say it anyway.  I believe that the doctrine of original is found in the Bible. (That is not controversial) Here is the controversial part,

I believe that the strongest case for the doctrine of original sin is that it is a logical consequence of the gospel.

In our day people are quick to dismiss the doctrine of original sin as something that is archaic or too pessimistic. Yet the doctrine of original sin is a doctrine that we can’t easily throw away or dismiss. Without this doctrine, the gospel become nonsense. What happens to the gospel when the doctrine of original sin is discarded? Well the gospel loses all meaning and purpose.

Tatha Wiley, a theology professor who teaches in Minnesota sheds some light as to why this doctrine flows out of the gospel:

The idea of original sin first arose as an answer to the very question of redemption. For the early church theologians, the burning question was not about the character of evil but of the need of Christ. What they asked, makes Christ’s redemption universal? Why do all persons need Christ’s grace and forgiveness? The emergence and development of a theology of original sin are one response. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, humankind is sinful. All then, are in need of Christ’s redemption. (OS)

She explains that Original Sin is necessitated by the gospel. The gospel is our starting point for theologizing about sin. Its pretty clear from the gospel that Christ died for the redemption of humanity. Those humans cannot redeem themselves, all humans are incapable of doing that, hence all humans need Christ’s atoning death. Now the question is, why do all humans need to Christ’s death to rescue them? Why are all humans incapable of saving themselves? The answer is that there is something fundamentally wrong with us humans, we call that original sin.

The Logic of Original Sin and the Gospel

Here is the “logic” behind the doctrine:

  • Claim: All humans need to appropriate Christ’s atoning death
  • Question: Why do all need Christ’s death?
  • Answer: All have original sin

Hence the doctrine of original sin flows out of the gospel.

Next time we will take a look at the rather obscure doctrine of dyothelitism.