For me personally, engaging a significant pre-modern theologian like Augustine has been an enormously helpful way to engage the doctrine of creation, both with a view to shoring up the neglected areas as well as with a view to calming and directing the contested areas.
Several people have asked about my book on Augustine’s doctrine of creation, and what kinds of readers might be interested in it, so I thought I’d provide a little bit of context for what the book is about, who it’s for, why I wrote it, etc.
This is a book that came out of our year in Chicago. We spent the 2017-2018 school year living on campus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where I worked at the Henry Center as a research fellow in connection with the Creation Project. Basically that meant that my job was to write. It was awesome. It’s amazing what you can accomplish without any administrative work, particularly in an intellectually stimulating environment.
So, why creation, and why Augustine?
First, I’m passionately interested in the doctrine of creation. I think it is simultaneously one of the most controversial and yet most neglected doctrines in all of theology (seems odd that that could be possible, right?). And besides that, it has enormous practical relevance. There are hardly any aspects of life that are not enriched by thinking about createdness, and it’s especially useful for talking about areas that evangelicals have often neglected like the arts, vocation, culture, even things like exercise and diet and sleep. Too often, we think in terms of being a sinner, or being a Christian, but forget to think in terms of being a human being.
For me personally, engaging a significant pre-modern theologian like Augustine has been an enormously helpful way to engage the doctrine of creation, both with a view to shoring up the neglected areas as well as with a view to calming and directing the contested areas. For example, here are some of the facts that are so interesting to me about Augustine no creation:
- Augustine’s perception that Genesis 1 was unsophisticated was a critical factor in his conversion to Manichaeism, and his awareness of alternative, less “literalistic” interpretations of Genesis 1 was a critical factor in his return back to orthodoxy. Had he not heard Ambrose’s allegorical preaching on Gen. 1, who know if he would have made it back at all?
- Augustine continued to struggle with the early chapters of Genesis all throughout his theological career, writing five distinct commentaries on them and also engaging them widely in his other works and sermons. Creation became central to his thought. As I put it in the book, risking overstatement, “creation was to Augustine what justification was to Luther, or divine transcendence was to Barth.” In all this, Augustine engaged creation at the deepest existential level. For him, for instance, it was the key to understanding the deepest longings of the human heart.