Augustine’s Biblical Theology: Foundation of Protestantism

It’s true that Augustine advocated some wrong understanding of scripture, such as an early form of purgatory (which the Reformers rejected); and that he is regarded as the architect of the medieval Church due to his book “The City of God”.   But what about the truth that Augustine proposed, taught, and defended; for example:

  • The vital importance of a living faith in Jesus for personal salvation, and not merely church rituals; of a daily walk with Jesus and trust in him who died for every Christian (or Catholic, as he would say).
  • Augustine believed in the necessity of the new birth because of sin; of the necessity of a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.  The human heart is so corrupt it cannot be repaired but must be renewed.
  • He was the first to state the necessity of remaining part of the visible church, accepting that it could never be perfect because both the wheat and the tares are present in it and will be until the end of time.
  • He taught that humanity is lost in sin and that there is nothing we can do to gain salvation.  Only Christ can save the sinner and the sinner can only be saved through absolute faith and trust in Jesus. 
  • Only Christians can do good works because they are a demonstration of faith in Christ and of the salvation he has given them.  Good works, no matter how beneficial or kind or well-intentioned are nothing better than “splendid sins” (J. C. Ryle’s term), because they are done without faith.  Works do not gain salvation; they come as a result of faith.
  • Augustine taught that the Word of God is to be found in the bible alone, not in Tradition or any human teaching, thus contradicting Catholic teaching.  He saw the bible as a single message from God and his method was designed to prevent verses being taken out of context and saying something that was never intended.
  • He was able to bring the idea of God being love together with the doctrine of the Trinity in a way not seen before.  He taught that love is not a “thing”, so it cannot exist on its own.  Therefore, for God to be love he had to have something or someone to love.  But the object of his love had to be something in himself, otherwise he would not be perfect.  God didn’t need the creation in order to have something to love; if that were true, he wouldn’t be perfect.  The Father is the one who loves; the Son the one who is loved, and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and binds them together.  And the Spirit binds believers to God, making us partakers by adoption of the intrinsic love of the Trinity.
  • Augustine taught that God created the world for a purpose.  Placing his own Triune image in Adam – memory, intellect and will – he designed him as the crowning glory of his creation.  God’s purpose in making the world – why he gave man freedom to disobey and yet not be annihilated as a result; why Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven instead of being eliminated; why Satan is still the prince of this world and man is subject to him; all these and more, we cannot understand.  God could have done things differently – but he didn’t.  Why?  Despite that we don’t understand, we still have confidence that God has a plan and a purpose which will one day be revealed to us.
  • “Augustine also taught us that the Christian’s life is a journey that we walk by faith.  Within the context of his theology, this is an important complement to the doctrine of predestination which, if it is not personalized, can easily look like a kind of fatalism.  Augustine did not believe that a Christian should just sit back and let events take their course.  To be in a relationship with God means to live with him, to share his thoughts, to have the mind of Christ, and to do his will in the power of the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis.  From birth to death, every waking moment belongs to God, even if we are not believers”
  • Augustine saw Christian life as a mission.  He was very gifted intellectually and highly educated, yet after conversion, he was eventually called to be bishop of a church – an office he never wanted; and at Hippo, a port city of medium commercial importance, and a literary and academic backwater – the kind of place he never wanted to be in and spend his life.  His congregations would have rather gone to the theatre than listen to him, but he remained with and patiently endured them for thirty years.  It was during this time that he wrote his definitive arguments against the errors of Donatism and Pelagianism.

Information in these points has been exclusively but selectively taken from the insight and writing of Gerald Bray on: 8 Things We Can Learn from Augustine | Crossway Articles

Many of the teachings of Augustine were taught not only by Calvin, but Luther also, and the other Reformers.  And it has also been reiterated in the theology of nearly every non-Calvinist and fundamentalist teacher and preacher, such as Wesley, Moody, Torrey, and so on nearly endlessly.  But, more importantly, they are all found in scripture, and when preached by men such as Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, and Moody, to name a few, wrought salvation in the hearts of multitudes in the great revivals of the past; and by Calvinist missionaries such as William Carey, John Eliot, David Brainerd, Robert Moffatt, Adoniram Judson, John G. Paton, and a host of other Calvinist missionaries who took the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

So we see that much of Augustine’s theology is the foundation of Protestantism.  Other parts of his theology are the false teaching of the Catholic Church, and against scripture; and these Calvin rejected.