For the past year, I have slowly read books by St. Augustine (354-430). I am now reading a couple of pages per day from his acclaimed Confessions, written in Latin between 397 and 400. His humble beginnings were overcome through his parent’s sacrifices to give him a classic education. He trained to be a rhetorician, an eloquent writer or speaker, with a promising future in teaching or public service. Reading his writings for the first time, I am in awe of his expansive Biblical, Greek, and Roman literary knowledge.
Yet, Augustine had problems with putting his belief into behavior. He feared becoming a Christian because it would require him to give up sex, if he wanted to serve as a church professional, or cease having sex outside of marriage. Augustine lived with an unwed woman and they had a son. He didn’t want to marry her due to her social standing. When she left him, he had sex with other women outside of marriage. Intellectually, he understood Biblical truths yet struggled with putting them into practice. In 386, the Holy Spirit spoke to him and he read the letter of Paul to the Romans in a new light. Belief and behavior then merged into a faithful life. His writings are acclaimed by both Protestants and Catholics.
Dr. Steven Garber, Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College (Vancouver), authored The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007), a book about integrating belief and behavior. His former work as Director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture allowed him to teach and observe those who struggled like Augustine. He asks penetrating questions: “What do I believe and why do I believe it? … What kind of life am I going to have? … What does this all mean, after all?” Vocation is “a calling to service and stewardship – not just as a career and a passport to privilege.” (pages 40-41)
Garber proposes a threefold thesis. First, “the years between adolescence and adulthood are a crucible in which moral meaning is being formed, and central to that formation is a vision of integrity which coherently connects belief to behavior.” (page 34) “Education must be oriented to preparation for a calling and not just training for a career. The difference is one of substance, not semantics.” (page 89) I can relate as my engineering undergraduate degree prepared me for the office, but I navigated life without a moral compass. It took me much longer than Augustine to discover Biblical truths and a telos, the ultimate end. I was a person “with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.” (page 96)
Garber’s second thesis is “the perspectives of the history of ideas, the ethic of character and the sociology of knowledge provide windows for understanding the challenge people face in forming a coherent life; and it is those who develop a worldview that can address the challenge of coherence and truth in a pluralist society, who find a relationship with a mentor who incarnates that worldview.” (page 34) Integrity is the integration of word and deed. To achieve this unity in a pluralistic society, it takes more than ethical and historical study; mentorship is required. “Attract them [students] by your way of life if you want them to receive such a teaching from you.” (page 151) Mentors must fuse belief and behavior for followers to see by example. Christ lived as he taught.
And third, choose to live “among others whose common life is an embodiment of that worldview who continue on with integrity into adulthood.” (page 34) Community and communal belief matters. “Community is the context for the growth of convictions and character. What we believe about life and the world becomes plausible as we see it lived out all around us.” (pages 159-160) We must be continual learners surrounded by faithful witnesses who nurture our belief and behavior.
I have yet to read Augustine’s The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, his handbook on Christian belief. In this letter, Augustine elegantly incapsulates the fusion of belief and behavior: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.” (page 35) Our belief and behavior fuse tightly together when we love God and neighbor. “… No one has greater love than this …” (John 15:13)