I have had the joy of spending a lot of my fall reading Augustine. As always, Augustine is virtually an endless well. Augustine suggests that there is a reason Scripture is hard to understand, and that it takes work to interpret Scripture--this is the providential working of God. Augustine writes: "This [i.e., the difficulty of understanding and interpreting Scripture] is all due, I have no doubt at all, to divine providence, in order to break in pride with hard labor, and to save the intelligence from boredom, since it readily forms a low opinion of things that are too easy to work out" (from Augustine's On Christian Doctrine II.6.7).
I am always thankful when senior scholars continue to write and produce. And it is always a treat when a senior scholar is able to summarize significant material in a relatively succinct way. Witness: Alasdair MacIntyre's recent God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition (Rowman and Littlefied, 2009). These lectures are based on a popular course MacIntyre has taught at Notre Dame for some time. Ralph Wood has shared in his notes on his sabbatical at Notre Dame that at the end of the semester the students in MacIntyre's class gave him a standing ovation! MacIntyre has thought long and hard on these issues, and there is much in this book that Christians (including Protestants) can learn from. There is much one might cull from this book. MacIntyre recognizes that all true learning must ultimately deal with certain key questions (in one way or another). And one of the key question is--what does it mean to be human? He writes, "any adequate account of what it is to be a human being will explain how and why human beings are capable of the relevant kind of self-knowledge. Such an account will have to integrate what we can learn about the nature and constitution of human beings from physicists, chemists, and biologists, historians, economists, and sociologists, with the kind of understanding of human beings that only theology can afford" (177).
I have only just started it, but I suspect I am going to enjoy David Bentley Hart's The Atheist Delusion: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. If the "new atheists" have accomplished anything, it is to generate some wonderful and thoughtful Christian apologetical writing. Part of what Hart wants to do, it seems, is highlight the cultural transformation that Christianity brought to the West (Rodney Stark's work comes to mind here). Thus, Hart writes in the Introduction: "My chief ambition in writing [the book] is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting [i.e., the first five centures of the Christian era]: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion of the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral community where none had existed before; and its elevation of active charity above all other virtues" (XI).
Augustine is virtually an endless supply of wisdom and theological insight. In re-reading parts of De Trinitate lately, I read a wonderful quote on how we ought to approach God. I have posted this quote on my wall before, as I have found it so helpful. In the history of theology there has often been either (1) a tendency to approach God through flippantly or arrogantly, or (2) a tendency to be too reticent about our ability or capacity to say something meaningful about God. Augustine certainly recognizes the challenge of saying something about God, but he wisely encourages a proper way to speak about God. He writes (in De Trinitate V.1): "Yet for all that [=the difficulty in speaking about God] there is no effrontery in burning to know, out of faithful piety, the divine and inexpressible truth that is above us, provided the mind is fired by the grace of our creator and savior, and not inflated by arrogant confidence in its own powers."