Augustine was one of the last Christian leaders that we know much about from the classical era. He ministered in N. Africa during the sack of Rome (ca. 400 A.D.), and while education was still available during the fragmentation of the empire, the opportunities for travel and interaction with other Christian scholars and thinkers eroded.
What this means is that Augustine is an important link to the theology of the early church. Peter Lombard (1100’s) quoted Augustine more than any other early theologian, as did Martin Luther, and as did John Calvin (both in the 1500’s). What we find is this: Augustine’s theology was amazingly evangelical. The issues of his day were different. But we share with him wide areas of agreement, because both of us, evangelicals and Augustine, find our understanding of God’s truth in Scripture.
Augustine was trained in rhetoric first, and then became a teacher and preacher. That is, he was skilled in shaping his words and argument to reach and persuade the audience. He could read the congregation, and would alter his approach and message according to how they were receiving the message.
One difference was that, in those days, the preacher would sit, and the congregation would stand. We should try that some day! If he noticed that he had lost the interest of his congregation, he would dismiss early, to be continued later. On the other hand, if he found that they were engaged with him, he would continue the sermon, sometimes for two hours. Should we try that as well?
He was ministering to a congregation whose world was falling apart. Rome, despite its deficiencies, had established an amazing stability through many, far-flung territories. Travel and trade was possible. Tolerance of different ideas was typical, though not guaranteed. But now, Rome was falling apart - from the inside out, with corruption and failed, self-interested leadership; and from without, as the Goths continued to invade from the north, coming closer and closer to the very city of Rome.
It seems that we live on the precipice of a similar situation today. We have enjoyed tremendous prosperity and stability. And yet, as our leaders shrink before our eyes, and self-interest and corruption grows, along with the erosion of Christian values and morality, we see cracks in the foundation of the world that we have enjoyed; the civilization that God has blessed. One of the things that we learn from Augustine is that God is still on the throne, and His truth stands, even when the empire falls.