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Augustine as a Mentor, Edward L. Smither - Book Report/Review Example

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Augustine as a Mentor, Edward L. Smither

In the first chapter he explains that the figure of Augustine interests him so much because of the impact that this man had on other spiritual leaders of his generation. He was, in effect, a pastor to other pastors, and his writings serve as a set of textbooks which other spiritual leaders can use as they prepare themselves for the many challenges of ministering to other people. It is this role as a leader of the next generation of leaders that fascinates the author. The language of the book is easy to read, and not too technical either in theological or pedagogical terms. Chapter two describes the early Christian mentoring matrix which includes the work of metropolitan bishops in charge of different regions in the third and fourth centuries. These men allocated mentoring tasks to specific individuals and set up church councils in order to bring leaders together and allow them to support each other in their difficult work. They also compiled educational texts which offered guidance on moral issues as well as theology and the avoidance of heresy. This is a sensible start to the book, which locates the issues firmly in the early history of the Christian church. Chapter three examines the experience that Augustine himself had of being mentored by others, including his mother Monica, and close friends such as Ambrose, Simplicianus and Valerius (p. 92). Smither does not gloss over the human weaknesses that these people were prone to, and he makes it clear also that a person can be mentored by several different people, at different stages in life, and for different purposes. Each mentor has something valuable to offer, and it is the combination of different talents and skills that brings the most benefit to the individual. The method used in this chapter is to narrate the historical facts and show how they contributed to forming Augustine’s ideas about mentoring and nurturing. Chapters four and five deal with Augustine’s own approach to mentoring, and his thoughts on this subject. A key feature in these chapters is the fact that Augustine stresses again and again the need to focus on the teachings of Scripture. His famous treatise entitled On Teaching Christianity, for example, underlines the role of Scripture as the final authority on all matters (p. 193). The role of the instructor is seen as that of an agent through which God’s grace flows, and at all times the instructor is expected to be sensitive to the individual needs of each learner. The real meat of the book lies in these two chapters. I found it fascinating to read about the problems that Augustine anticipates in his writings, and the solutions that he proposes for teachers to use in their effort to encourage and occasionally reprimand those who are in their care. The letters of Augustine are frequently cited, showing how he was not afraid to confront the sins of others, and his famous book of Confessions demonstrates that he was not afraid to own up to own struggles against the temptations of the flesh. Above all, mentors are advised to be humble, and to take instruction even from those whom they teach. The final chapter links Augustine’s life and work with the modern day task of “shepherding shepherds” (p. 258). The author notes that modern Christian leaders are under pressure in a very busy world, and that they rarely take ...Show more


Augustine as a Mentor by Edward L. Smither. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 264 pp, $17.99 paperback. Edward L. Smither is a professor of Intercultural Studies at Colombia International University who writes academic books on theological subjects. His study on the renowned Christian scholar Augustine of Hippo provides a new slant on an age-old theme: the nurturing of Christians so that they themselves in turn become able to nurture others…
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