Applied Theology: Applications 6 – Toward a Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

Steve —  April 9, 2021 — Leave a comment

Discover Spirituality of Faith, Hope, and Love

Toward the end of Augustine’s life, he received a special request from a man who was seeking biblical answers to life’s ancient questions such as “What is to be sought in life above everything else?”

Augustine tells the man that he will find the answers to his many questions about life in the answers to these three basic questions: 1) What should be believed?, 2) What should be hoped for?, and 3) What should be loved?

In this sixth lesson, you’ll learn three ancient ways to deepen your faith, hope, and love.

About the Applied Theology Project
In this new book and course by Drs. Frame and Childers, 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.

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Toward a Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

By John Frame and Steve Childers

We learned earlier that toward the end of Augustine’s life, he received a special request from a man named Laurentius, who was seeking biblical answers to life’s ancient questions such as “What is to be sought in life above everything else?” Laurentius knew that Augustine was a great theologian and famous philosopher who had written many long books. But he mustered up the courage to ask Augustine to help him with his questions by writing a small, easy-to-understand handbook on the essence of Christianity.

Augustine’s Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

In response, Augustine summarized 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.” Augustine then answers his own question, regarding how God is to be worshiped and honored, by referring to the three virtues of 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.

Augustine tells Laurentius that he will find the answers to his many questions about life in the answers to these three basic questions: 1) What should be believed?, 2) What should be hoped for?, and 3) What should be loved? Then he writes a small handbook showing that the essence of: 1) our faith is found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) our hope is found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) our love is found in the Ten Commandments.

Augustine’s brief “Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love” soon became the basis for the education of clergy in the Middle Ages. 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.”

Luther’s Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

Eleven centuries later a former Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, dedicated his life to continuing Augustine’s tradition of helping people cultivate the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love by using the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.

Like Augustine, Luther became well known in his lifetime as a great theologian and author. One day when he went to a barber shop to get a haircut, his barber, Peter, asked the famous Reformer how to pray. Luther responded graciously by writing a letter to Peter about prayer, a letter we know today as the short book “A Simple Way to Pray.” In this letter, he reflects Augustine’s teaching on the strong connection between prayer and the Bible, encouraging Peter to base his prayers on the Bible as a way to help increase his faith through prayer.

Luther identified with Peter’s struggles in prayer and shares with him a practical method he found helpful. He encouraged Peter to divide his prayers into “a garland of four strands” to help him pray through the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten commandments. For example, in praying through the Ten Commandments, Luther writes:

I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as
• first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly.
• Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving;
• third, a confession; and
• fourth, a prayer.

Luther encouraged Peter to use this same method to deepen his faith, hope, and love by praying through the twelve affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed, the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.

Calvin’s Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

In 1535, when the fifty-two-year-old Luther wrote this letter to his barber in Germany, there was a young scholar in his twenties, living in Basel, Switzerland, named John Calvin, whose ministry was just beginning. His theology and life were being significantly shaped by Luther and Luther’s spiritual Father, Augustine.

Calvin’s heart was broken for the multitudes who didn’t know Christ, especially his “French countrymen” whom he saw as hungering and thirsting for Christ, but without even a “slight knowledge of him.” So he decides to follow the example of Augustine’s “handbook” and Luther’s letter to his barber, by writing his own brief summary of the essence of biblical Christianity in a way that could be easily understood. Calvin affectionately called it his “short” work and “little book.”

Following the historical Christian teaching and tradition modeled by Augustine, the catechisms of the middle ages, and Luther’s letters and catechisms, the nucleus of Calvin’s “little book” consists of three chapters that expound the meaning of: 1) the Apostles’ Creed, 2) the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) the Ten Commandments.

In response to the pressing issues of his day, Calvin subsequently added appendices that became three more chapters. In 1536, Calvin titled his “little book” The Institutes of the Christian Religion. During the next 23 years, in response to many more issues, he updated the book and published several new editions until it became four long books in its final edition in 1559.

Calvin’s Institutes became one of the most influential works in the history of Christianity. But Calvin never abandoned the original purpose of his “little book,” found in its subtitle as “the whole sum of godliness and whatever it is necessary to know about saving doctrine.” Instead, he saw his later editions as needed clarifications and applications of this “sum of godliness.”

During the years Calvin was writing and updating his Institutes, he was also writing and updating a catechism, called the Geneva Catechism, to help children also learn a brief and simple summary of the essence of biblical Christianity. Again, in the writing of his catechism, Calvin follows the examples of Augustine, Luther, the church in the middle ages, and his own Institutes, by structuring it around: 1) the Apostles’ Creed, 2) the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) the Ten Commandments.

Toward a Theology of Faith, Hope, and Love

In the first century, the Apostle Paul also summarizes the heart of biblical Christianity when he writes: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). So we seek a theology that encourages faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love for God and others. In Applied Theology we’re seeking to recapture for today the biblical, historical, and practical theology of faith, hope, and love, championed by the great theologians of the past.

Therefore, the goal of the Applied Theology series of books and courses is to help us develop our faith by renewing our minds in the biblical truths of the Apostle’s Creed, and our hope by renewing our affections as we pray the Lord’s Prayer. However, the ultimate goal of our faith and hope is to bring honor to the Triune God by our love for him and others as we obey his Ten Commandments.

A mind that is renewed by biblical faith and a heart that is aflame with biblical hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.


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