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Apart from Book One, Book Four was the most enjoyable read in St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. Augustine’s discussion of the qualities and nature of good rhetoric and exposition were enlightening. In a culture that frequently emphasizes the importance of just having the Holy Scriptures, St. Augustine seems to present a more well-rounded and educated view of what is necessary to accurately and effectively teach Christian doctrine. Beyond simply citing the word of God, St. Augustine emphasizes the need for instruction, eloquence, and restraint in teaching Christian doctrines.
Most notably, St. Augustine uses his fourth book of On Christian Teaching to emphasize the need for instruction, stating “…who could date to maintain that truth, which depends on us for its defence, should stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood?” (Augustine 101). Growing up, I was always told that the Holy Spirit would equip me to teach His word and no other instruction was needed. St. Augustine seems to contradict this idea, arguing that if the enemy trains to promote lies and untruths, we should be equally prepared to defend the words of God. “…let the person who wishes both to know and to teach…acquire the skill in speaking appropriate to a Christian orator” (Augustine 121). He does not simply say “listen to the Holy Spirit,” as is often purported by our feelings-driven church. Rather, Augustine emphasizes the need to wrestle with God and our own abilities to learn effective communication skills.
Beyond learning effective communication, St. Augustine also seems to emphasize a need for natural eloquence. As he notes, “…the person required for the task under consideration is someone who can argue or speak wisely, if not eloquently” (Augustine 104). However, it seems to me that the Bible does not agree with Augustine’s argument. While Augustine argues that the apostles used a “flood of eloquence” (Augustine 108), Paul argues that “The wisdom that wordly men esteem, is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19). Augustine declares that eloquence serves to “make clear what was hidden…” (Augustine 117), but Paul does not seem remotely interested in becoming eloquent. He states that he “may indeed be untrained as a speaker” (1 Cor 11:6). He does not discuss learning to speak well or training in eloquence, but simply embraces his rough speaking style. I would like to believe that St. Augustine’s argument is accurate. It is appealing, and it inspires me to speak boldly, but the argument does not seem to have any foundation in Scripture.
After discussion of knowledge and eloquence, St. Augustine almost seems to backtrack and argue for a more “restrained style” of teaching and instruction (Augustine 125). This style, Augustine argues, is better suited for teaching and instruction (Augustine 125). While I see little basis in Scripture for the need for eloquence, the need for effective teaching seems more Scripturally sound. Looking at the teaching and instruction of the apostles throughout the New Testament, all seem to effectively showcase Christian doctrine to other believers. It just seems to me that this same level of eloquence is not needed when sharing the gospel to nonbelievers. Repeatedly, we see the untrained disciples of Jesus sharing the gospel with fervor and passion, and little learned knowledge or eloquence.
To conclude, it seems to me that much of Augustine’s argumentation relies on a faulty view of Scripture and over-emphasizes instruction and eloquence. I appreciate St. Augustine’s arguments for fluency of communication, and I really wish that I could find justification for Augustine’s arguments in Scripture, but the arguments seem largely unfounded.
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