A field guide to renewers, reformers & martyrs recognized and commemorated by
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (and a Book Review)

Today we commemorate Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Augustine's contributions to Christianity and Western philosophy are innumerable -- theologically he advanced the ideas of Divine Grace, the Invisible Church, Original Sin, Just War, etc., etc. Augustine also taught that the Bible was not to be interpreted as strictly literal, but could also be interpreted metaphorically -- particularly when it contradicts what we know from reason and science.

Last week I downloaded a copy of Ritva William's The Bible's Importance for the Church Today, one of the Augsburg Fortress Press "Lutheran Voices" books (for Kindle). The purpose of the book is to help readers re-discover and re-claim the distinctively Lutheran method of interpreting scripture -- and how this method can be an antidote to the either/or, conservative/liberal dichotomy that is all too common in contemporary Christian discourse. Williams discusses the interpretive methods of Judaism, The Early Christian Church, Paul, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther, etc. in building her case, as well as how reactions to scientific, archeological and technological discoveries/advances  took the Lutheran Church away from its traditional roots and led to misguided interpretations of scripture.

Here's a sample of what Williams says about Augustine:
"The vital element in any interpretation of scripture, Augustine declared, is its effect:

So if it seems to you that you have understood the scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up the twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them.

According to Augustine, the goal of reading, teaching or preaching the scriptures was to build up the love of God and neighbor. Any interpretation that did not aim for and achieve this demonstrated a lack of understanding. Failure to promote the twin love of God and neighbor was in Augustine's estimate, more pernicious than failing to explain accurately what a biblical author meant."

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