I’ve been asked and given permission to publish this week a series of chapters from the new A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings on Art, Science, and Life
Augustine’s City of God:
Two Cities, Two Loves
By William Edgar, ThD, professor of cultural apologetics, Westminster Theological
Seminary, and author of Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion. Edgar
is a popular speaker and jazz pianist in North America and France.
When we are properly communing and conversing with the living God, we
will do a great deal of good on this earth. When we love God as we should, we
will love our neighbors as well. Paradoxically, those who are most devoted to
God are often the most productive in this world
Perhaps no better illustration of this paradox exists than the apologetics
of St. Augustine (396 – 430). As Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Augustine
lived at a time when the Roman Empire was in sharp decline. Citizens were
looking for a scapegoat and blamed the Christians for the deterioration of the
When the “Eternal City” was sacked by the Goths in 410 AD, the church
was said to be the cause; because Christians believed in only one God, it was
argued, the church was corrupting the city. The pagan gods of Rome were
older and could be trusted to protect the people from its enemies, but the
Christian faith intruded by declaring that there is only one God. Because this
“new” religion accepted no synthesis with other religions and its God refused
to belong to the Roman pantheon of gods, the pagan gods no longer protected
the city. Rome’s downfall was thus blamed on the uncooperative believers in
an uncooperative God.
Augustine’s answer to this attack was his extraordinary treatise against
paganism, The City of God. In it he argues that whether one begins with Greek
philosophy, Roman life, or biblical prophecy, there can only be one truth
because only one God fits the aspirations of all people. Continuing, he says
that the church is not at fault for Rome’s troubles, and Rome would be a better
place — far better than the gods could create — if this single truth were
Against this charge of disloyalty, Augustine states that the hope of heaven
actually makes life on this earth more productive, not less. Far from being
uncooperative, Christians are better citizens, more generous to the poor, and
greater peacemakers than the pagans. The parallels between the fifth century
and our own are obvious.
The charge is often made today that the world is in trouble because of
widespread intolerance. Religious people are especially intolerant because
they believe in one truth, it is said. Sadly, as we have seen, there are fanatics
who do embrace wrongheaded strategies. But if we follow Paul’s discussion
in Romans 12, we should reach a very different outlook. Love for the “City of
God” means more involvement, not less, with the “City of Man.” The worship
of God means a better apologetic, not a weaker one.
We could use apologetic answers like Augustine’s in our own day. His approach
was twofold, being negative in the sense that he dismantled the case
against the church with careful scholarly investigation of the facts. But more
fundamentally it was positive: Augustine answered the charges made against
the gospel by constructing a Christian worldview.
The City of God was nothing less than the beginnings of a new philosophy
of history. Instead of the ancients’ cyclical view, it puts forth a linear approach
in which history is moving from a beginning to an end. However complex and
contradictory the various trends, history is relentlessly moving toward the
grand climax when God will judge the world and establish a new order. This
apologetic, in other words, is global and all-encompassing.
When we rightly understand both the obstacles and the opportunities
of our world, we can be both realistic and hopeful — realism with hope or,
better, realism because of hope. Thus the impact we make will be deeply
For reflection and discussion
? What parallels do you see between the fifth century and our own?
? Where do you see these issues in the foreground today?
? Consider the attacks on the value of organized religion. Are they fair? Does
Christianity contribute to the decline or the upbuilding of humanity?
? Where do you observe this in your own church and community?
? What part is God inviting you to take?