Reading Augustine

I am always struck by how accessible Augustine is to us today–I mean, compared to Aquinas, for example. (Don’t @ me). It’s not just his personal, confessional style, though that is part of it. I think his accessibility more reflects the fact that Augustine lived in a demi-pagan era in the West, like ours, in which Christianity was only one religious option among many, and not necessarily the most-favored option for many in the ruling class. Just as in Augustine’s day, Christianity cannot simply be accepted as the norm and taken for granted. One has to choose it, and choose to remain with it, notwithstanding the many other choices the religious marketplace provides.

A forthcoming book from Brazos, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by philosopher James K. A. Smith (Calvin College) looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Brazos website:

This is not a book about Saint Augustine. In a way, it’s a book Augustine has written about each of us. Popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith has spent time on the road with Augustine, and he invites us to take this journey too, for this ancient African thinker knows far more about us than we might expect.

Following Smith’s successful You Are What You Love, this book shows how Augustine can be a pilgrim guide to a spirituality that meets the complicated world we live in. Augustine, says Smith, is the patron saint of restless hearts–a guide who has been there, asked our questions, and knows our frustrations and failed pursuits. Augustine spent a lifetime searching for his heart’s true home and he can help us find our way. “What makes Augustine a guide worth considering,” says Smith, “is that he knows where home is, where rest can be found, what peace feels like, even if it is sometimes ephemeral and elusive along the way.” Addressing believers and skeptics alike, this book shows how Augustine’s timeless wisdom speaks to the worries and struggles of contemporary life, covering topics such as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. As Smith vividly and colorfully brings Augustine to life for 21st-century readers, he also offers a fresh articulation of Christianity that speaks to our deepest hungers, fears, and hopes.

Guroian, “The Orthodox Reality”


9780801099342The Orthodox Churches–and here I speak broadly of Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches–lack a major presence in the United States. Actually, that’s an understatement, at least in terms of numbers. A recent Pew Survey put the percentage of Americans who are Orthodox Christians at only 0.5%. Many Orthodox Christians are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Yet Orthodoxy has established a foothold in this country, and attracts a steady trickle of converts, especially among intellectuals. And American Orthodoxy has established seminaries and monasteries that contribute to the Orthodox theological tradition.

Vigen Guroian, now retired from the University of Virginia, is a good example of an Orthodox (Armenian) theologian working in the US. Unlike many theologians, his work is accessible to the lay reader. His latest book, on Orthodoxy, culture, and modernity, should appeal to followers of our Center’s Tradition Project. The book is The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology and Ethics in the Modern World, from Baker Academic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

This is a book about the struggle of Orthodox Christianity to establish a clear identity and mission within modernity–Western modernity in particular. As such, it offers penetrating insight into the heart and soul of Orthodoxy. Yet it also lends unusual, unexpected insight into the struggle of all the churches to engage modernity with conviction and integrity. Written by one of the leading voices of contemporary Orthodox theology, The Orthodox Reality is a treasury of the Orthodox response to the challenges of Western culture in order to answer secularism, act ecumenically, and articulate an ethics of the family that is both faithful to tradition and relevant to our day. The author honestly addresses Orthodoxy’s strengths and shortcomings as he introduces readers to Orthodoxy as a living presence in the modern world.

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