Faith, Hope, and Love in Theology
Apart from Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no single person has had a greater influence on Christian thought than Augustine (AD 354 – AD 430). When asked near the end of his life to summarize Christianity as he understood it, Augustine replied by citing Paul’s triad in 1 Cor. 13:13: faith, hope, and love. He writes,
“You would have the answers to all these questions if you really understood what a man should believe, what he should hope for, and what he ought to love.”
In this new book and course by Drs. Childers and Frame, you’ll explore an ancient, Trinitarian approach to the study of theology and spirituality found in the great theological works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. These thinkers have outlined for us a transformational way of doing theology that is eminently Scriptural and involves our whole being – not only our minds, but also our hearts and lives.
In this first lesson, you’ll learn how to explain the heart of Christianity as faith, hope, and love.
About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.
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Faith, Hope, and Love in Theology
By Steve Childers and John Frame
The Applied Theology series follows the ancient Greek and Christian tradition of Augustine’s Enchiridion. The word enchiridion is derived from the Greek word (ἐγχειρίδιον) that conveys the concept of a book that is “fitting in (en) the hand (kheir)” or “ready to hand” as in ready to hand someone.
The concept of the enchiridion was well-known in the ancient and medieval world.1 In the early 5th century, toward the end of Augustine’s life, when he was probably in his late sixties, he received a special request from a man named Laurentius to write a brief summary of the essence of Christianity.
This is noteworthy because it’s widely agreed that, apart from Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no single person has had a greater influence on Christian thought than Augustine.
By this time in Augustine’s life, he had already written all the major works for which he is best known, including Confessions, The Trinity, and The City of God. These were lengthy biblical expositions of Christian doctrine often written in response to the heresies of his day. But Laurentius wanted Augustine to write a concise, practical summary of Christianity that would give brief biblical and practical answers to the major questions about life.
We don’t have a copy of Laurentius’s written request, but Augustine reveals his request when he replies: “It is your desire, as you wrote, to have from me a book, a sort of enchiridion, as it might be called—something to have ‘at hand’ that deals with your questions.”
The Heart of Biblical Christianity
In response, Augustine writes his Enchiridion, a brief handbook of about 100 pages in which we find his most mature thought on the essence of Christian doctrine and its practical application to real life questions. Knowing that his written response would be published and read widely, he went to great lengths to give clear, concise answers to these ancient questions raised by Laurentius:
• What is to be sought above everything else?
• What is to be avoided more than anything else?
• How are reason and faith related?
• What is the beginning and end of everything we do?
• What is the most comprehensive explanation for everything?
• What are the foundational beliefs of universal Christianity?
Augustine introduces his enchiridion by praising Laurentius for his desire to be wise by learning the answers to these kinds of questions. “I cannot say, my dearest son Laurentius, how much your learning pleases me, and how much I desire that you should be wise.”
Augustine knew that the ultimate answers to all of Laurentius’s questions could only be found by him attaining godly wisdom. So he carefully distinguishes between godly and ungodly wisdom, referring to the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:20, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Then he summarizes the source of all wisdom with the phrase “Human wisdom consists in piety.” Godly wisdom, the wisdom that provides answers to all of life’s most significant questions, can only be found in knowing, honoring, and worshipping God. This is the wisdom spoken of in Scripture, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Prov 9:10)
With this foundation laid, Augustine summarizes all of Laurentius’s questions into one single question: “Perhaps this is exactly what you wish me to explain briefly and to sum up in a few words: how God is to be worshipped.”
The Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love
Augustine then answers his own question regarding how God is to be worshipped by referring to the three virtues (faith, hope, and love) found in 1 Corinthians 13:13. He writes, “You would have the answers to all these questions if you really understood what a man should believe, what he should hope for, and what he ought to love. For these are the chief things—indeed, the only things—to seek for in religion.”
Therefore, the answers to all of Laurentius’s questions are found in the answers to these three questions:
• What should be believed (faith)?
• What should be hoped for (hope)?
• What should be loved (love)?
At the end of his introductory chapter, Augustine issues his readers a solemn challenge to not only put these truths in their hands, but also in their hearts resulting in great zeal for God. Before Augustine explains faith, hope, and love separately, he describes how they should be seen as interconnected virtues. He argues that faith cannot exist without hope and love, just as hope and love cannot exists without faith. The deeper you plunge into one of these virtues you’ll always find the others. Similarly, in Galatians, Paul links our “hope of righteousness” in Christ to our “faith working through love.” (Gal 5:5-6)
The Value of Creed, Prayer, and Commands
Augustine also emphasizes the primacy of the virtue of love, reflecting the Apostle Paul’s words, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) Therefore, the ultimate goal of our faith and hope must be our love. Then he explains how all of Laurentius’s questions about life can be fully answered by knowing the essence of faith, hope, and love. The rest of his book is divided into three parts showing how:
• our faith is found in the Apostle’s Creed,
• our hope is found in the Lord’s Prayer,
• our love is found in the Ten Commandments, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, our primary focus in the books that follow in this series is to explain and expound the centrality of these three concepts as the heart of biblical Christianity.
Augustine argues that we must not see the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments as separate but as interconnected aspects of faith, hope, and love. Therefore, the Apostle’s Creed is not merely something we believe with our minds, but it’s also the hope of our heart’s affections that we express in prayer. Likewise, our love for God and others described in the Ten Commandments must be deeply rooted in our beliefs about Christ found in the Apostle’s Creed and our hope found in the Lord’s prayer.
One of the reasons Augustine presents the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments as practical expressions of faith, hope, and love is because he knows how easily accessible and practical they can be to everyone, everywhere. He writes, “For you have the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. What can be briefer to hear or to read? What easier to commit to memory?”
Even for those people who cannot read, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments can be easily memorized and integrated into weekly worship, strengthening the faith, hope, and love of God’s people.
Augustine’s Enchiridion soon became the basis for the education of clergy in the Middle Ages. In that capacity, history professor Gerald Bray writes, “It (Enchiridion) played a major role in shaping the spiritual outlook of the Western church for over a thousand years.”
As a former Augustinian monk, Martin Luther dedicated his life to cultivating the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love in his life and the lives of others, especially his beloved children. Toward the end of his life and ministry, he gives us a glimpse into his Augustinian-influenced view of spirituality when he writes:
Although I’m indeed an old doctor, I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I still daily learn and pray them with my little Hans and my little Lena.
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