Love for Neighbour in the European Migrant Crisis, c. 410 A.D.

Raymond Canning argues that in the Augustinian structure of love, “when the human subject’s uti and frui are rightly focused, the outcome will be a loving concern for others (caritate consulendi) which is presented as the very opposite of every kind of dominating ‘use’ of others (dominandi cupiditate).”[1]

Canning explores this idea by looking at Augustine’s use of Matt 25:31-46.[2] He particularly focuses on verse 40 in the context of refugees pouring into North Africa following the fall of Rome. For example, in one sermon, Augustine encourages his listeners: “Think of the poor. Think how you can clothe the naked Christ….Sisters and brothers, repeat it aloud, so that you might realize that you are not deprived of Christ’s presence. Listen to what the judge will say: ‘When you did to one of the least of mine, you did it to me.’ Each of you expects to receive Christ seated in heaven. Turn your attention to him lying under the covered-walk; direct your attention to Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ in need and a stranger.”[3]

While this might strike some as encouraging an egoistic concern for one’s salvation, Canning argues that this should be understood in a Christological rather than a soteriological sense.[4] The neighbour’s identification with Christ is analogical. The neighbour is sacramental in the sense that he or she is a real subject of love who at the same time points beyond him- or herself to Christ, which brings us back to the significance of the incarnation for love of neighbour.

The Incarnation, far from absorbing love for neighbour into love for God, motivates and elevates love for neighbour.

[1] Raymond Canning, The Unity of Love for God and Neighbour in St. Augustine (Heverlee, Belgium: Augustinian Historical Institute, 1993), 114 quoted in Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 347.

[2] Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love, 348.

[3] Augustine, Sermo 25 quoted in Gregory, 348-9.

[4] Gregory, 349.

Christ the Inner Teacher

Augustine’s doctrine of the “inner teacher”: “Regarding each of the things we understand, however, we don’t consult a speaker who makes sounds outside us, but the Truth that presides within over the mind itself, though perhaps words prompt us to consult Him. What is more, He Who is consulted, He Who is said to dwell in the inner man, does teach: Christ–that is, the unchangeable power and everlasting wisdom of God, which every rational soul does consult, but is disclosed to anyone, to the extent that he can apprehend it, according to his good or evil will.” De Magistro 11.38

Augustine, Rosenstock-Huessy and Intercultural Theology

In a recent post Peter Leithart draws attention to Rosenstock-Huessy’s analysis of Augustine’s De Magistro. As Leithart writes, “One of the key moves in Augustine’s dialogue, Rosenstock-Huessy says, is the challenge it poses to dialogue itself, for Augustine insists that the true dialogue cannot be merely dual, but must include a third, the Divine Teacher, who takes dialogue out of our hands.”

Augustine’s move is similar to the idea of triangulation in intercultural theological dialogue: “What happens in such an intercultural theological conversation can be understood with Kevin Vanhoozer and with reference to the analytic philosopher Donald Davidson as a process of ‘triangulation’. An intercultural theological conversation is not just an exchange in which we pay attention to each other. This is a conversation that aims — in the language of cognitive psychology — at ‘joint attention’, joint attention to a third reality, to God in Christ as we have come to know Him in the canonical Scriptures. Intercultural theological dialogue is therefore in principle a trialogue, a three-way conversation between representatives of the global church in which the third or rather the first voice is the voice of God who Himself in the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit addresses His church.”[1]

Intercultural theology could benefit from exploring the implications of Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of teaching as a paradigmatic social relationship. Perhaps a deeper understanding of this relationship can help to deal with the problem of Western dominance in theological conversation. Western theologians need to be prepared to become students in the conversation rather than always being teachers.

On the other hand, Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of the social construction of time in relation to teaching could be further enriched by a consideration of the social construction of space. To paraphrase Leithart’s summary, the problem is that we can’t examine space because our thinking about space involves being in a certain space. There is no way to step aside and examine space in an non-spatial way. Further, teaching requires space, and the teaching space is a particular kind of space. Teaching requires a coordination of the locations of students and teachers; they have to show up in the same space. But they don’t show up as “locals” but “travellers.” The teacher is always “more well-travelled,” if not in the actual journeys he’s made at least in his exposure to the material; the student is always “less well-travelled” because he has never been exposed to the material or because he has not been exposed to it so deeply as the teacher. (May I suggestively comment that “more” and “less well-travelled” are not physical but social facts?)

[1] Benno van den Toren, “Intercultural Theology as a Three-Way Conversation: Beyond the Western Dominance of Intercultural Theology,” Exchange 44 (2015): 141-2.

On Teaching Christian History

Andrew Walls has some rather devastating criticisms of typical approaches to teaching Christian history. “A common church history syllabus begins with what is called the early church. In fact, it usually deals only with the part of the early church that lay within the Roman Empire. By missing the early church beyond the Roman Empire, the syllabus also misses Asia and Africa. It also loses the chance to compare the experience of Christians in the Persian Empire, who never had a Constantine, with the experience of Christians in the Roman Empire, who did. Students are led to identify the “Great Century of Missions” as the nineteenth, without noticing that there are other great centuries in the missionary history of the church or instituting any comparison between the nineteenth and the nineteenth and the ninth century.”[1]

These approaches are problematic because they leave Western students to assume that “Western Christianity is a normative form of the faith, seamlessly connected with the church fathers.” Unfortunately, “Even well-read scholarly Western theologians are sometimes surprised at the statement that Africa has nearly two thousand years of continuous Christian history, or that nearly fifteen hundred years of Asian church history took place before Western missionaries arrived, or that the first preaching of the gospel before the king of northern England was roughly contemporary with that before the emperor of China.”[2]

Such a parochial view of Christian history limits Western Christians in their ability to understand and participate in the global church today.

[1] Andrew F. Walls, “Globalization and the Study of Christian History,” in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, ed. Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 78-9.

[2] Ibid., 78.

Redemption: Cross-generational and Cross-cultural

Given that salvation is a historical process, Andrew Walls argues that Christians need to recapture the sense that the redemptive purpose of God is cross-generational. “It is not completed in one generation, only in the totality of the generations. It was not completed in the generation of the incarnate Lord nor in that of his apostles. We should be wary, then, of using some later epoch–the Protestant Reformation, for instance, or the evangelical revival–as the defining description of the process. The redemptive process will not even be complete in the last generation of all, taking that generation in and of itself.”[1]

Hebrews 11 makes it clear: “Neither Abraham nor any of the other heroes of faith has actually yet received what God promised them, because God  has decided on a better plan–not for them but for us. Abraham, the writer argues, and all the other Christian ancestors, will not be made perfect, that is, complete, until the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews is addressed are gathered into their succession. Extending it further, Abraham is waiting for us so that he can enter into his inheritance. The full significance of the great archetype of saving faith will be clear only when all the faithful are gathered in.”[2]

Christians also need to recapture the sense that salvation is cross-cultural. “The Epistle to the Ephesians reflects two ethnic and cultural communities in the church. Each had its own converted lifestyle, one utterly Jewish and Torah based, the other reflecting the conditions of the Hellenistic world of the Eastern Mediterranean but in converted form. There must have been many abrasive patches in churches made up of both groups, but the epistle make sit clear that the two communities belong together. They are each building blocks in the construction of the new temple; both are organs equally necessary to the functioning of the body of which Christ is the head. Indeed, as the epistle proceeds, we find that neither group can on its own realize the full stature of that body. We all come together, the apostle assures us, to the full stature of Christ.”[3]

The message of Ephesians is just as relevant to the many cultural communities in the global church. “Each is to have, like Jew and Greek in the early church, its own converted lifestyle as the distinctive features of each culture are turned toward Christ. The representation of Christ by any one group can at best be only partial. At best it reflects the conversion of a small segment of reality and it needs to be complemented and perhaps corrected by others. The fullness of humanity lies in Christ; the aggregate of converted lifestyles points toward his full stature.”[4]

[1] Andrew F. Walls, “Globalization and the Study of Christian History,” in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, ed. Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 71.

[2] Ibid., 72.

[3] Ibid., 73.

[4] Ibid., 73-4.

Modern Christianity and Africa

Andrew Walls on the importance of understanding African theology: “Where Africa is the focus of study in the secular academy today, there is widespread acknowledgement that, if one wants to study modern Africa, it is necessary to know something about Christianity. In the theological academy, however, there appears much less recognition that if one wishes to study modern Christianity it is necessary to know something about Africa.”[1]

[1] Andrew F. Walls, “Globalization and the Study of Christian History,” in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, ed. Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 78.