The Augustine Way for Apologetics Today: Center for Christian Apologetics Hosts Instructive Conference
The Center for Christian Apologetics at Southern Seminary hosted an Institute entitled “The City of God and Secular Man: Doing Apologetics in the Way of Augustine,” October 26–27. The event featured two premier scholars of the apologetics of Augustine, Daniel Burns and Joshua Chatraw. Burns laid the groundwork for how Augustine understood his apologetic task, and Chatraw developed the practical applications of Augustine’s apologetics for the present.
Augustine’s greatest apologetic work was City of God, which argued against paganism. Burns pointed to three motivations for Augustine's apologetic method and argued they still matter.
Augustine believed that the primary purposes of apologetics were:
- Love of truth.
“Augustine knew intellectual honesty was essential for a good human life,” Burns said. “Honest questions deserve honest answers. Augustine was also very comfortable with not answering dishonest questions.”
- That believers may acquire a better understanding of their faith and God.
“Augustine says truth faith will never be satisfied with being mere faith,” Burns said. “To love God is to desire to know him. We can know and love God better by asking questions about him and trying to figure out the answers. Why does a good god allow suffering? How can he be just and merciful? What was he doing before he created the world? These are the same questions that honest non-believers are asking and the same questions Augustine asked before his conversion. Augustine believed your knowledge of God will increase by seeking answers to these questions.”
- To learn to live better as Christians.
“Many Christians were asking themselves if it was a mistake to stop worshipping the pagan gods,” Burns noted. “Augustine wasn’t primarily worried that some Christians would return to their pagan gods, but he worried that they would try to worship both. Christians needed to learn what aspects of pagan culture to reject or accept, such as bowing to the Emperor or reading Aristotle. We have to learn where to draw lines and how to live as Christians. Apologetics helps us compare true and false religions, according to Augustine.”
How to Apply Augustine
Chatraw retrieved Augustine’s method for the modern context and argued that the popular apologetic approaches neglect the changing social landscape and a full and theological understanding of humanity—problems Augustine can solve for us.
“The dominant apologetic methods have not shifted with cultural changes,” Chatraw said. “Our late-modern imaginations have been inhaling ways of thinking, believing, and living that are governed not by ways of syllogisms and analytical arguments but by stories and symbols which have made Christianity seem irrational, oppressive, and dangerous.”
Chatraw pointed out that Augustine’s approach to apologetics was pastoral, theologically faithful, and culturally responsive.
“Augustine emphasizes humans as worshipping beings,” Chatraw said. “We reason, and we believe, but we also love. Belief shapes how we reason and love. We can’t say that humans are doxological creatures. We have an opening in apologetics to engage in the shared experience of worshipping beings. We are all worshipping something, and we are all searching for meaning, identity, community, happiness, and love. These quests vary in history and in the cultural setting, but they are universal features of our humanity that Augustine recognized.”
According to Chatraw, Augustine’s City of God and Confessions were each written as stories. Stories communicate directly to the human experience and cannot be discarded in apologetics.
“The focus on what to say has been too far elevated above how to say it,” Chatraw said. “Narrative and poetics have been neglected, but we need content and forms aimed at the imagination of the people we are trying to reach. Narratives speak to the human experience and form no small role in shaping our imagination and desires.”