Below is a review of The Conversion of Therapy and Desire. This book was written by Thinking Through Christianity’s own contributor Dr. Mark Boone. In the review I will discuss the major issues found in the text, and make a case for why the book is significant for scholars (but also for anyone else) interested in Augustine, the early church writings, and for those who desire to find happiness and fulfillment for life in the person of God.
The Conversion and Therapy of Desire: Augustine’s Theology of Desire in the Cassiciacum Dialogues. By Mark J. Boone. Eugen, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016, 197 pp., $26.00, paperback.
Mark Boone, assistant professor of Philosophy at Forman Christian College, provides an in depth look into the early writings of Augustine following his conversion to the Christian Faith, showing how his newfound commitment to Christ is foundational to his understanding of how to live and think. Dr. Boone proposes that scholars should view Augustine’s platonic philosophy in light of his Christian faith as opposed to viewing his faith in light of his philosophical commitments. As the work progresses, Dr. Boone proves that this method of interpretation fits Augustine well and leads to a better understanding of how this ancient writer understood desire, happiness, and charity.
The text begins by placing Augustine in his historical context at the time in which he penned the works now referred to as the Cassiciacum Dialogues. These works include Contra Academicos (Against the Academics), De beata vita (On the Happy Life), De ordine (On Order) and Soliloquia (Soliloqies). Each work was penned near AD 386 and give insights into the kinds of topics with which Augustine was concerned. One of Augustine’s major concerns had to do with happiness-namely “what is happiness?” and “how does one become happy?” The root of desiring happiness leads to a much deeper understanding of God and the human soul.
Once Augustine’s historical situation is explained and analyzed, Dr. Boone begins to show how the desire for happiness is to be understood from both a philosophical and theological perspective. He begins this process by analyzing how Augustine deals with claims made by skeptics and then by showing that happiness is possible. Augustine claims that the question of what we should desire to be happy is answered in God. We must desire God in order to be happy. Augustine taught that happiness requires the attainability of desire and therefore, being happy is possible, because we can desire God and find him. Happiness is made possible because of the incarnation. Christ came so that we could commune with the Father. However, due to the many “disturbances of this life,” people often do not desire God as they should. In order to be happy, one must re-order desire from the things of this world, to the things of God–namely faith, hope and charity.
In order to re-order desire, people must submit to the authority of Christ and turn to prayer. It is through payer that God re-aligns human desires. In addition to prayer, community in a church is a form of therapy where people gather together so that faith, hope, and charity may be cultivated. After showing how to properly desire God, Dr. Boone shows readers why it is also important to desire order. Here he shows how Augustine finds value in solitude and contemplation on the things of God. Contemplation of God leads to order and being ordered leads to stability. Stability is a facet of happiness because God’s order cannot be destroyed.
In the next section of the book, Dr. Boone brings attention to the relationship between God and the soul when God is the object of human desire. The soul desires sinful things and these things put humans at enmity with God. Desiring God allows God to convert one’s desires as an act of grace. It is through grace that God changes our perceptions and gives us a new perspective on how to live. In the final section of the book, Dr. Boone shows the proper understanding of love and community, noting that our proper good is to be in a community that knows and loves God. When the community properly loves God, members of the community love each other properly by using their gifts to ensure that all needs are being met. When this kind of fellowship takes place, people properly fulfill the commandment to love God and neighbor.
Dr. Boone’s contribution to studies surrounding Augustine and his works is one of great value. This text requires scholars to rethink the way they view Augustine as both a theologian and philosopher. It shows the impact that conversion had on Augustine’s life in his thinking and his living. More than this, on a practical level it teaches Christians today how to rightly desire God, allow God to change their sinful desires, and to rightly live in Christian community with other believers. This work is informative, practical, and thought provoking. The Conversion of Therapy and Desire is well worth the read; one will be blessed with the encouraging challenges and insights found on every page. The argument is concise and the text flows smoothly moving from point to point in order to build a strong case. This text will influence other works surrounding Augustine and Christian virtue for years to come.
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.