Lately I’ve pushed things aside, including Spreading Goodness posts, to write a syllabus for a course on “Affective Theology.” It’s offered very soon—next month—at Multnomah Biblical Seminary (June 12-16). Four hours each day, with no online option. I mention it in case any SG readers might be interested and available at the last minute. The course description: A study of the affective spiritual tradition of Augustine of Hippo, as engaged in the history of the church by leading Reformation Protestants, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. This ministry tradition features a distinctively heart-centered pneumatology and anthropology.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) famously embraced these heart-based themes. So we’ll give his writings special attention, including the Religious Affections, Charity and its Fruits, and A Treatise on Grace.
Derek, the Dean of the Seminary, heard these themes years ago as he and his wife studied at Multnomah. I’d just returned then from my study of Richard Sibbes at King’s College London and loved what Sibbes offered. Now, decades later, Derek asked me to offer a new round for a new generation.
Why this subject? Because the Triune God “is love” and we’re called to respond to him as the primary feature of faith. As Augustine summarized the Godhead, the Father is the lover, the Son is his beloved, and the Spirit is the living bond of love between them. The Spirit then pours out this love in human hearts—Romans 5:5 was Augustine’s favorite verse. It’s huge! Yet many Christians today still haven’t heard this. Rather than being lovers of God we too often treat God as a resource. And turn from loving God to building temples for him. Jeremiah wrote for God—“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” [Jer. 2:13]. Jesus, too, offered the Spirit as the fountain of living waters. And extended the love he shares with the Father to the church in a relational theology that starts with the cross and ends in glory.
Adam’s original sin veils this reality. And the religious leaders during Jesus’ time illustrated this. He told the Temple leaders, “the Father loves the Son…” [Jn 5:20]. And later he continued, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you” [v.42]. He pointed to a simple truism. Love shapes all our choices, and these leaders had the wrong ambition: “you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God” [v.44]. They were living religious lives that were wholly out of focus.
This contrast of loves—of loving either God or self—is what Augustine confronted in the fifth century. And his themes still cascade through history: in the works of Peter Lombard, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Sibbes, and Jonathan Edwards, among others. It starts with Christ’s call to a new birth—something Augustine illustrated in his Confessions. Changed hearts then resonate with God’s call to love him wholeheartedly. A label for this movement is “Augustinian affective spirituality.” It’s the background for all our Spreading Goodness posts.
So I promise anyone who takes this course—with an appetite to know and love Jesus, and to serve the church with a strong heart and a clear focus—will find this to be a real boost. While I know this notice comes late, and it’s probably impractical—yet if somehow you can still join us, please do!