Beyond the Book with Dr. Quinn: “Christ, the Way”
Chad Burchett | April 18, 2022
We pray for wisdom and know experientially that we need it, but what—or who—is wisdom, how do we receive it, and how does it orient our practice of the Christian life? These questions and others are answered in the recent book “Christ the Way: Augustine’s Theology of Wisdom” by Benjamin Quinn, Associate Professor of Theology and History of Ideas and Associate Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Tracing the development of Augustine’s theology of wisdom, Quinn curates Augustine’s understanding of a wise life as a journey into the person of Christ, who is Wisdom incarnate. In this Q&A, learn from Quinn about how Augustine challenges modern assumptions regarding wisdom and calls us into a deeper participation in the life of God through communion with Christ:
What is the book about?
“Christ the Way” seeks to answer, “What is Augustine’s theology of wisdom, and how does it affect his thought overall?” The end of the volume then turns toward contemporary application, seeking to renew and apply Augustine’s theology of wisdom for today.
Who is the target audience?
The target audience is largely academic as it engages the scholarly conversation concerning Augustine’s view of “sapientia” (wisdom). However, the interested pastor or thoughtful lay person may find it relevant for better understanding Christ, our Wisdom.
What motivated you to write the book?
As a teenager, I was deeply interested in understanding what biblical wisdom is and does. I was fascinated by the force of the call in Proverbs to “Get wisdom, Get understanding!” (Prov. 4:5) and by how Paul identifies Christ as the “power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). When deciding on PhD studies, I wanted to explore this further and chose St. Augustine as the chief conversation partner from whom to learn. I find it no coincidence that Augustine spoke more about wisdom than any other theologian from history and that he is the most influential theologian in the history of the West—arguably the world.
What is notable about Augustine’s theology of wisdom and how does it correct modern misconceptions about wisdom?
Augustine’s theology of wisdom is most centrally Christological. When he reads that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), Augustine understands wisdom as the very nature of God in the person of Christ and as the highest virtue unto which we should ascend in contemplation toward God. This understanding is much thicker and more vibrant than common Christian conceptions of “A Proverb a day keeps the devil away” sort of wisdom. It also cuts against the grain of other ancient wisdom traditions that ignore or decentralize the person of Christ. For Augustine, Christian wisdom is both as practical and as profound as the person of Jesus.
Augustine understands wisdom as the very nature of God in the person of Christ and as the highest virtue unto which we should ascend in contemplation toward God.
How did Augustine’s understanding of “sapientia” develop over the course of his writings?
Augustine was initially “lit aflame” to wisdom as a late teenager when he read Cicero’s Hortensius. This work inspired him to pursue wisdom wherever it could be found. He turned first to Christian faith, the faith of his mother, but he did not find it appealing at that time. So, he spent nearly the next decade on the fringes of the Manichaean community, seeking the wisdom of their teachings. He emerged disappointed with their beliefs and their leader and spent a short time as a skeptic. After moving to Milan and hearing the preaching of the Bishop Ambrose, Augustine was intrigued by Ambrose’s allegorical interpretation of Scripture. By August of 586, he could resist no further. In the famous garden scene, Augustine surrendered his life to Christ. It was at that moment that the sapiential stars began to align for him, though his mature notion of wisdom would not crystalize for another 12–14 years.
How does learning about Augustine’s theology of wisdom equip readers to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission?
Augustine is inspirational for many reasons, not the least for his interest in wisdom. One only need read his Confessions to sense the depth of his love for Christ and of his great intellect. He put his gifts to the service of love for God and neighbor, the twin commands that he refers to often, and thus he inspires all Christians from every walk of life to order their loves toward God and God alone. Doing so results in a way of life that is faithful to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The one who truly loves God and others will naturally be a disciple-maker.
The one who truly loves God and others will naturally be a disciple-maker.
How has researching and writing the book shaped you spiritually?
One would have to work very hard not to be spiritually formed by Augustine. His passion for Christ pours from his pen into our hearts and minds in ways hardly matched by other historical figures. We are challenged by one so gifted who could doubtless have been famous for many other things but saw fit to submit to God’s call as a pastor and defender of the faith. As Augustine famously said in the opening paragraph of “Confessions”, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. How true this is, and may we continue to learn this rest of heart and soul alongside the Bishop of Hippo.
Christ, the Way: Augustine’s Theology of Wisdom
Benjamin T. Quinn recovers and evaluates Augustine’s rich writing on wisdom. While many have acknowledged sapientia (wisdom) as central in Augustine, few have offered a full treatment of his definition of wisdom and how it ordered his thought. Quinn remedies this need, tracing the development of Augustine’s thought from his earliest reflections to De Trinitate, his most systematic treatment of wisdom. For Augustine, sapientia is the incarnate Christ, who by the Spirit enlightens all God’s people to see clearly, live virtuously, and participate in God—thereby restoring his people to his image. Quinn then brings Augustine into dialogue with contemporary wisdom scholarship, displaying where his biblically rooted, Christocentric, faith-first approach holds rich insights for scholars and Christians today.
March 16, 2022
paperback, 272 pages