Preaching as Therapy: Augustinian Anthropology for Christian Proclamation

Augustine’s holistic anthropology and homiletical insights offer us guidance for preaching to today’s Christians and pagans. This paper will address two important aspects of Augustinian anthropology. These include the relationship of faith to understanding (Augustine, Epistulae 120.3; Peters, 2009) and the affections to the mind and will (Komline, 2019; Harrison, 2000). In the former, Augustine acknowledges that the narrative within which a person thinks and the authority under which one lives matter for life and ministry. In the latter, a will rightly directed toward the love of God and ardently inspired by the affections opens one’s eyes to true happiness.

Yet, for Augustine, our loves are disordered and the good in us is twisted. We need healing. How then, does Augustine’s anthropology shape the way we preach today? Preaching is primarily an act of therapy (Burns 2022; Kolbet 2010). This may surprise some evangelicals since we have been warned in the past decades against “the triumph of the therapeutic” (Reiff, 1987) and “moralistic therapeutic deism” (Smith, 2005). But for Augustine, Jesus is “both the physician (medicus) and the medicine (medicina)” (Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana 1.14.13). Preaching Scripture is a healing activity because it seeks to restore humans to their first love (Augustine, Confessiones 1.1; Williams, 2016) and to their original authentic selves (De Civitate Dei 11.23; Taylor, 1991; Milbank, 2006; Cavadini, 2019).

Thus, Augustinian preaching requires the preacher to become a certain type of person. This paper will also explore virtues that the Augustinian preacher most possess. Chief among them is prayer: “let him be a pray-er before being a speaker” (De Doctrina Christiana 4.15.32; Bonhoeffer, 1940).