The Purpose of Scripture Is to See Christ—Augustine

The Purpose of Scripture Is to See Christ—Augustine

God-Inspired Through Human Beings

For Augustine, the words of Scripture have a divine authority, integrally linked with the authority of the eternal Word of God. God has revealed himself to us in the words of Scripture which are the God-inspired words of mortal beings: “All those matters could have been done by angels, but the human condition would have been degraded if God would not seem to want to minister his own words to human beings through human beings” (On Christian Doctrine).

The Word in Flesh

The center of Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is the incarnate Word. Augustine sets his theology of Scripture within the broader spectrum of the theology of salvation: “To enlighten us and enable us, the whole temporal dispensation was set up for our salvation.” Augustine had insisted that the ministry of Scripture is adjusted to the human condition: “Notice how although the Truth itself and the Word by which all things were made became flesh so that it could live among us, the apostle says: ‘And if we knew Christ according to the flesh, we do not know him in the same way now.’” Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is determined by his decades-long contemplation of the eternal Word of God, incarnate in human history, assuming the lowliness of the human condition, at once our Way, our Truth and our Life.

Linked Together

The Word Incarnate and the words of Scripture are properly conditioned to our human time-bound existence and thus bind together the ministry of the Incarnate Word and the ministry of the words of Scripture. Thus the authority of Scripture is integrally linked with the ministry of Scripture, which in turn is linked with the ministry of the Word Incarnate. In his reflection on Psalm 99, Augustine writes: “Our whole purpose when we hear the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Law is to see Christ there, to understand Christ there.”

Interpreting Himself

In his study of Augustine as a biblical interpreter, Charles Kannengiesser notes: “In analyzing Augustine’s place in the long line of biblical interpreters, it must be noted that the Bible helped Augustine to interpret himself as much as he became an interpreter of the Bible” (Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters).

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

What Is Scripture? Theological Giants Weigh In

What Is Scripture? Theological Giants Weigh In

What is Scripture? The good news is that we are not the first to try to answer this question. In fact, 2,000 years of Christian history provide us a tradition of helpful answers.

Trustworthy and Authoritative

The Bible is inspired by God and does not misrepresent the facts. It is entirely trustworthy and is the final authority in everything it teaches. The Bible records the drama of redemption in both the history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians we acknowledge both Jesus (John 1:1-4) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as the “Word of God.” Christians should not focus solely on Christ and treat Scripture just like any other “classic text.” Nor should we focus so much on the Bible as God’s divine inerrant word and treat Jesus as simply a character in a small part of the texts.

Scripture Reveals Jesus

Jesus is the message—God participating in human life, coming near to us, bringing his good news, expressing God’s love for us, dying as our substitute, rising as the victor over death, and building his church as a community of grace. Jesus is not just the main person in one of many events in the story of God’s people. Jesus is the final revelation of God’s drama of redemption. Humanity sees God in full light in Jesus. Jesus is God’s ultimate word about human life and the Bible is God’s word about God’s self-revelation through human life. This is what Christian theologians have been saying in various ways for 2,000 years (Christian Theologies of Scripture). In answering the question—“What is Scripture?”—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and Edwards have given us categories to use, concepts to ponder, and doctrines of Scripture that we should continue. As we survey some of the major theologians in Christian history in the next series of posts, notice how much they refer to Jesus when explaining their theology of Scripture. Their doctrines of Scripture are surprisingly Christ-centered.

Further Studies

For more study about Scripture—what is it and how we got it—check out these books:

To be continued.

3 Books for Ministry to Emerging Adults and “Guys”

3 Books for Ministry to Emerging Adults and “Guys”

If you care about ministering to emerging adults (18-24 year olds), or guys (16-26 year old males), then the following books should prove helpful to you in understanding their world. These books are filled with the best and newest sociological research on the topics. They are not “how to” books on ministering to young adults. Rather, they are descriptive and will give you the lay of the land.

Book #1: Souls in Transition

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell

This book is top-notch research that tells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, ages 18 to 24, in the United States. It describes the major influences on their developing spiritual lives and reveals how the religious beliefs and practices of teenagers are strengthened, challenged, and often changed as they move into adulthood. Many of their findings are surprising. First, parents are the single most important influence on the religious outcomes of young adults. Second, participation in evangelization, missions, and youth groups does not predict a high level of religious vitality just a few years later. Third, the common wisdom that religiosity declines sharply during the young adult years is shown to be greatly exaggerated. What many will find particularly helpful is how Smith and Snell describe the broader cultural world of today’s emerging adults, how that culture shapes their religious outlooks, and what the consequences are for religious faith and practice in America more generally.

Book #2: Guyland

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael S. Kimmel

This book is about “guys.” Guys are initiated into guyland sometime around high school and hopefully exit in their mid-20s. Kimmel paints a vivid picture of this depressing place populated by “almost-men.” Young men are doing things very differently today than they have in the past. Guys are delaying the milestones of adulthood for a longer period of time, such as moving out of their parents’ home, getting jobs, buying homes, marrying, and having children. They are rejecting the traditional notions of mature masculinity by opting for vanity and narcissism. They follow Hugh Hefner’s model of a life based on unrealistic and childish male wish fulfillment. Guyland celebrates and sustains guys’ failure to launch into the adult responsibilities of work and family. Kimmel powerfully drives home the point that guyland defines “being a man” through consumption rather than production: video games, pornography, bars, parties, sports, the media, and other things. Guyland is filled with many of the most toxic elements of our culture: violence, hazing, drinking, drugs, pornography, emotionally detached intimacy, sexual harassment, and degradation of women. It is clear why guyland is detrimental to both women and men. But Kimmel is hopeful. He discusses possibilities for change, addressing the importance of actively involved parents beyond their children’s high school years. He also provides stories of hope and bravery of individuals and institutions that have sought to address the problems associated with guyland.

Book #3: After the Baby Boomers

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow

Wuthnow offers a broad description of this demographic: “Young adults are marrying later, having fewer children and having them later, moving more often, going to college in higher numbers, living with more immigrant neighbors and therefore more ethnic and religious diversity, and living in the suburbs even more than their baby boomer parents.” This plays out in the fact that 46 percent of those in their early forties attend church weekly while only 29 percent of people in their twenties do. The biggest single social factor related to declining church attendance among younger adults is the postponement of marriage and children. Wuthnow explains: “Being married or unmarried has a stronger effect on church attendance than anything else. Children also make some difference. This means that the postponement of marriage and children continues to suppress church attendance at least until adults are in their early forties.” While those in their early forties go to church more often, young adults in their twenties talk about religion with their friends more than any other demographic. Furthermore, Wuthnow reports that “core beliefs have remained remarkably pervasive and stable” over the past 30 years. This means younger adults are interested in spirituality and are sympathetic to essential Christian doctrine.

6 Essentials of College Ministry

6 Essentials of College Ministry

I have served as a campus minister for five years and have taught at two universities for nine years. In that time, I’ve learned some lessons about doing campus ministry both the hard way and from great mentors. Here are the top six things you need to know if you’re doing college ministry:

1. Don’t confuse the grace of God with the commands of God’sTo prevent doing this, talk about Jesus (who he is and what he has done) all the time. If you don’t, students will think Christianity is really about something else, like morality, philosophy, piety, social justice, or a religious experience. If you start talking more about what they should do instead of what Jesus has done, you’re preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), which is to put heavy burdens on them (Matt. 23:2-4).

2. Learn about sexual assaultThe prevalence of sexual assault is staggering. At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. And the numbers are much worse for college students. These young women and men feel crippling shame, deep guilt, and painfully alone because of what has been done to them.

3. Teach students how to read and interpret the Bible for themselvesThis means being clear on the relationship between the law and the gospel. The law is “perfect, true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9) and “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12), but it does not effect what it demands (Gal. 3:21). The good news is that on the cross Jesus took our penalty of law-breaking and fulfilled the law, so he could give us his righteousness. God then works in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). The very law that condemns us becomes the very thing that God fulfills in us through the power of his Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18-23), not through our effort (Gal. 3:1-3).

4. Be prepared to comfort students because of divorce and death. College students are at a phase in life where their parents seem to get divorced, if they aren’t already, now that their children are leaving home. This is also the age when grandparents begin to die.

5. Study apologeticsMany students have legitimate questions about who Jesus is and what he did and why he isn’t just a good example. They want to know why they should trust the Bible as reliable. The immense suffering in the world makes them doubt either the goodness or power of God or both. They think Christians are hypocrites and bigots, so why should they become one?

6. Be prepared to counsel students about what they’re really facing. You must be prepared to counsel about eating disorders, pornography, cutting, abusive relationships, and the lingering damage of sexual sin. College students tend to be the shock-absorbers of the myths our cultural sells. Idols are brutal slave masters.