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August 26, 2008

Timothy George: On Augustine and History

200pxsandro_botticelli_050 Check out this article by Dr. Timothy George that I recently came across in a back issue of Christian History magazine. It's called "Love Amidst the Brokenness," and it offers a timeless perspective on the Christian's responsibility to the time, and place, in which he or she lives:

Augustine teaches us that Christians are those who live in time but who belong to eternity. He also teaches us that we must not equate any political party--whether it be the Roman Empire, the American Republic, the United Nations, or anything else--with the kingdom of God. This is one side of the Augustinian equation, but there is another. Christians hold a double citizenship in this world. Like the apostle Paul--who could claim that his true political identity was in heaven (Phil 3:20), but who also appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen when his life was at stake--so believers in Christ live as sojourners, resident aliens, in a world of profound discontinuity and frequently contested loyalty....

There are two major (and regrettably common) mistakes Augustine wants us to avoid. One is the lure of utopianism--the mistake of thinking we can produce a society that will solve our problems and bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. This was the basic error of both Marxism and 19th century liberalism. The other error, equally disastrous, is cynicism. This creeps upon us as we see ever-present evil. We withdraw into our own self-contained circle of contentment, which can just as well be a pious holy huddle as a secular skeptics club.

Dr. George goes on to talk about our calling "amidst the brokenness--including the threat of terrorism--all around us. We are to be faithful to God's calling, to bear witness to the beauty, the light, and the divine reality that we shall forever enjoy in heaven. We are to do this in a culture that seems, at times, like Augustine's: a crumbling world beset by dangers we cannnot predict. The Christian attitude toward history is neither arrogrant self-reliance ... nor indifference ... but hope--the hope that radiates from a messy manger, a ruddy tree, and an empty tomb." 

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