Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1

As my review of their book Seeking the City made clear, authors Chad Brand and Tom Pratt divide their volume into three parts which I have summarized as biblical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. We have already discussed in some detail their treatment of biblical theology, we now turn our attention to the wisdom (and foolishness) we gain from combining through the pages of history.

No doubt Christianity has had its share of theological giants many of whom developed their own political and economic theology rooted in Scripture. Men like Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Martin Luther come immediately to mind. But perhaps the man who looms largest in both systematic and political theology, it would be the Bishop of Hippo, Augustine.

The authors walk the reader through Augustine's theology of political economy and place special emphasis on his greatest work The City of God. They then conclude by offer three major contributions to the Christian theology of possessions. They are as follows.
First, he made a distinction between material things themselves and the posses of those things. Appealing to the Christian doctrine of creation, he argued that the things themselves are intrinsically good, since they were made by a good God. So the wood and stone of a house are good things, but whether it is appropriate for one to won such a house is quite another question, which brings us to his second contribution.

Augustine also made a distinction between using a material possession and enjoying it. "Some things are to be enjoyed, others are to be used, and there are others which are to be enjoyed and used." Think again of the house we mentioned above. it is one thing to use the house for basic needs - shelter, a place to raise the family, a means of hospitality. It is another thing to take pride or joy in the house for its own sake, say, because of its size or beauty. If we enjoy the house in that manner, we are in serious danger of idolatry and of violating the command not to love the world. Augustine argues in several of his discussions of ethics that the intent of the heart is what is crucial in determining the moral nature of one's actions. So, one might have a large and beautiful house, as long as one is not proud of it and does not enjoy it too much.

Thirdly, the African father maintained that the absolute best that one could do with possessions is to give them away. When it comes to economic transactions, they are of two kinds: "sale or gift." Augustine was the founder of a monastery, even if he did not remain there throughout his ministry. Though he did not promote extreme asceticism or demand absolute poverty in his order, he still promoted the ideal of communalism. One who becomes poor for the sake of the gospel will be rich in heaven, and that is a much better state. This is part and parcel with Augustine's overall understanding of love, key to understanding his thought as a whole. We all have self-love and love for the other. We will generally have greater love for our own children than we will the children of others. That is understandable, but it ought not to mean that we do not have any love at all for those not close to us. (287-288)
The authors then conclude with this simple word, Augustine left to the world a legacy of a fairly thoroughgoing theology of labor, wealth, and stewardship (288). Though what is presented above is incomplete and serves only as a brief summary of one part of Augustine theology of political economy and how Christians have contributed to the subject, it provides us with much to chew on. One brief comment from me. In the above, Augustine keeps our mind on the City of God as opposed to the City of Man. As Christians we view work, labor, income, wealth, property, and the rest very differently than the lost. Our focus in on Christ not on temporal riches. Whatever Christians have to say about the best economic and political policy for a nation, we as individuals and as believers must never take our eyes off the eternal at the cost of the temporal.


"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1


For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther
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