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Gavin Ortlund is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Ojai, California. He is also the author of an academic commentary on Anselm of Canterbury’s (1033–1109 AD) Proslogion. He has also authored a number of other works such as Finding the Right Hills to Die On and Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

In short, Ortlund models something that Christians have done since the very beginning: a pastoral pursuit of theological thinking for the sake of the church. Not every pastor has the capacity or opportunity to pursue scholarly writing such as is the case with Anselm’s Pursuit of Joy. Nor does every pastor have the capacity or opportunity to write practical and theological works such as the two books cited in the first paragraph above. 

Anselm's Pursuit of Joy: A Commentary on the Proslogion
Gavin R. Ortlund
Anselm's Pursuit of Joy: A Commentary on the Proslogion
Gavin R. Ortlund
CUA Press. 272.

Here, Ortlund corrects scholarly readings of Anslem that overplay the ontological argument of Proslogion 2–4 without integrating this portion of the text into the total argument of Proslogion. As Ortlund argues, Anselm pursues joy in God. Proslogion is an example of faith seeking understanding through experience of God’s goodness for the sake of joy. 

CUA Press. 272.

Yet when they do, the church benefits greatly. Many know of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD) because of his theological writings that have become classics of literature (Confessions) and theological thought (The City of God). Yet Augustine was a pastor who regularly preached within his church. In the unique providence and spiritual gifting of God, Augustine served his local church and the universal church through his pursuit of knowing God with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. 

For many reformed thinkers in the recent past, this pattern of theological pursuit that was wedded to pastoral ministry formed a regular pattern of church life. In our day, it has become less common. But I think works like Ortlund’s Anselm’s Pursuit of Joy reveal a positive trend towards the renewal of the pursuit of theological and scriptural thinking among the Christians. 

Why should Christians pursue such patterns of thinking and living? I might answer for the same reason that Ortlund argues Anselm wrote his Proslogion: to enjoy God. 

God created us for himself, yet as Anselm opines, his sin separates him from God. And so by faith, we can turn back to God and move toward him by a joyful contemplation of who he is. While famous for proposing a kind of ontological argument for God, Anselm’s aims in Proslogion according to Ortlund fall under a slightly different purpose. 

Anselm aimed to speak of God just as Christians believed him to be. The method by which Anslem did so was by reason alone (sola ratione). As Ortlund clarifies, Anselm does not do so because he somehow sees reason as opposed to faith as some moderns might. Rather, Anselm already believes in the triune God. Now, as part of a prayerful meditation on God who really and truly exists, Anselm at the behest of others seeks to prove by reason the God he already believes in for the sake of enjoying him—for the sake of pursuing the beatific vision of God.

Here, Ortlund corrects scholarly readings of Anslem that overplay the ontological argument of Proslogion 2–4 without integrating this portion of the text into the total argument of Proslogion. As Ortlund argues, Anselm pursues joy in God. Proslogion is an example of faith seeking understanding through experience of God’s goodness for the sake of joy. 

Now I wonder if we might today emulate that same pursuit, not for any pragmatic concern for church growth or practicality but simply because knowing God and enjoying him is the purpose for which we were created. What if we might make a stand today for being seemingly impractical and fully engaged in the pursuit of doing what we were created for: that is, enjoying God by pursuing him with our whole self. 

Ortlund’s work will interest those who want to learn from the past, who engage in scholarly work on Anselm, and who are students of church history. Though he engages in French and German scholarship as well as cites Latin without translation, I suspect theologically inclined pastors could quite easily follow Ortlund’s work and prepare themselves to read fruitfully Anselm’s Proslogion

I have two minor complaints. First, I wish Ortlund would have cited at greater length the text of Proslogion. That would have helped me track more closely his exegetical moves. Second, Ortlund repeats frequently how scholarship has over-focused on Proslogion 2–4, and I wonder if that same space could have been given to citing and exegeting the text on the page in front of the reader. 

With these minor criticisms aside, I highly recommend Ortlund’s work to the audience that I defined above. Read Anselm to pursue his prayerful meditation on God for the sake of joy—we were created for God; why not pursue him under the mode of faith seeking understanding today? 

 


The publisher kindly provided us with a review copy of this work. And as an amazon associate, TGC Canada earns on qualifying purchases of linked books in this article.     

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