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Two Cities: Augustine's City of God - by Chuck Colson

Two Cities: Augustine's City of God

BreakPoint with Charles Colson

January 27, 04

On August 24, 410 A.D. , the Visigoths, led by Alaric, sacked Rome. For
the people of late antiquity, August 24 was even more traumatic than
September 11 was for us. Rome, the capital of the greatest empire the
world had ever known, was plundered by barbarians, people Rome regarded
as uncouth and inferior.

In North Africa, these events prompted a Christian bishop to start
writing about the lessons Christians should take away from the
destruction of Rome. The result was a book that is every bit as relevant
for our day as it was for his: The City of God by St. Augustine of Hippo.

In response to critics who blamed Rome's demise on the fact that she
abandoned the pagan gods and turned to Christ, Augustine introduced
readers to two cities: the "City of God" and the "City of Man." The City
of Man is shaped b y the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and
the City of God is shaped by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.

In describing the two cities, Augustine reiterated Jesus' teaching that
while Christians live in the City of Man, they do not belong to the City
of Man.

Their presence in the earthly city is like that of strangers sojourning
in a foreign country. We are to enjoy the blessings the City of Man has
to offer, including its rights, its protection, and its preservation of
order, but we are always ready to move on. The City of Man is not our
true home. No, our true home is in the City of God. And it is to that
city that we owe our affections and our ultimate loyalty.

While this sounds like a recipe for withdrawal, it is anything but that.
Augustine taught that, just as we are to enjoy the blessings of the City
of Man, we must assume the obligations of citizenship. As he put it,
"Caesar looks for his own likeness, give it to him." Only, instead of
fulfilling these obligations out of compulsion and fear, the Christian
does so out of obedience to God and love of neighbor. Being a good
citizen means doing our civic duty and, of course, voting.

As we enter this election year, the struggle for our culture's soul has
simultaneously produced passivity and defeatism in some evangelical
quarters and a shrill triumphalism in others. Neither response, as
Augustine teaches, is the proper Christian response.

We can never retreat into our sanctuaries and neglect our civic
responsibility to help set the moral tone of our culture. Leaving your
neighbor in ignorance of his folly is inconsistent with the command to
love him, and so political and cultural engagement are required for
faithful believers. We are, I like to put it, to bring the influence of
the City of God into the City of M an, working for justice and

At the same time, if we controlled every legislative, executive, and
judiciary branch, we still could not transform the City of Man into the
City of God. That's why talk about making this a "Christian nation" is
wrong-headed and needlessly scares our neighbors.

Over the next few days, I'll be discussing what it means to be a
Christian and a citizen in contemporary America: the temptations,
pitfalls, and opportunities. Getting this right starts with the paradox
Augustine taught: The best citizens of the City of Man are those who
remember that their true citizen ship is in the City of God.


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