Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sin and the Plotline of Redemption

In the book Fallen: A Theology of Sin, there is a theme that appears from the various contributors. Many make the important point that without an orthodox view of sin, Christianity does not exist. In other words, the Christian doctrine of salvation on the Christian doctrine of sin. Consider the following quotes from the various authors in the book edited by Drs. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson.

DA Carson

In his chapter, "Sin's Contemporary Significance," Dr. Carson writes:
There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us. The problem and the solution hang together: the one explicates the other. It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is; conversely, to augment one's understanding of the cross is to augment one's understanding of sin.

To put the matter another way, sin establishes the plotline of the Bible. . . . In the general sense, then, sin constitutes the problem that god resolves: the conflict carries us from the third chapter of Genesis to the closing chapter of Revelation. (22)
He goes on to say later:
In short, if we do not comprehend the massive role that sin plays in the Bible and therefore in biblically faithful Christianity, we shall misread the bible. Positively, a sober and realistic grasp of sin is one of the things necessary to read the Bible in a percipient fashion; it is one of the required criteria for a responsible hermeneutic. (23)

Robert Yarbrough

In his chapter "Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation," Dr. Yarbrough writes poetically:
What should not be forgotten, however, are the ways in which New Testament depictions of sin "contribute to the different interpretations of the work of Christ." The non-Pauline portions of the New Testament do not dwell on sin as an academic question for ethicists or metaphysicians. Nor do they expound on sin for the sake of fueling some Christian moralism. They rather regard sin as a human plight that God has sworn to address. And they do this by steadily bringing the sin problem into proximity with Jesus. As Guthrie puts it, "If sin is enslavement, Christ brings deliverance. If it is falsehood, Christ presents truth. If disobedience, Christ shows the way of obedience. If deviation from the will of God, Christ sets the perfect example of righteousness." Christ does all of this, and more, by virtue of his death and resurrection, which break forever the tyranny of sin and death. (106)

Christopher Morgan

In his chapter, "Sin in the Biblical Story," Dr. Morgan writes:

For our purposes, notice how Christ's saving work sheds light on the doctrine of sin, especially through "saving events" such as his sinless life, substitutionary death, life-giving resurrection, and triumphant coming. And Christ's saving work sheds light on the doctrine of sin through the biblical pictures, as [Robert] Petersons shows:
The multiplicity of images of salvation corresponds to the multiplicity of the images of sin. The many ways of speaking abotu our plight correspond to the many ways God in his grace comes to our aid. Sin is so odious to God that he depicts it in a variety of ways . . .

Each need, each way of describing sin, corresponds to God's way of overturning sin in Christ's work. So, God overturns sin as alienation with Christ's reconciliation. he overcomes bondage with Christ's redemption. He overturns guilt with Christ's propitiation. he overcomes our mighty enemies with a mightier champion's victory. He overturns Adam's disobedience with the second Adam's obedience. He overcomes our spiritual defilement with Christ's purifying blood. But the key point here is that these are multiple ways of communicating the same truth - Christ's death and resurrection save sinners!*
Similarly, the Bible's portraits of salvation also teach much about sin. Examples include: regeneration addresses our state of spiritual death; justification, our guilt; adoption, our condition as salves and outside God's family; sanctification, our unholy lives as well as the lingering reality of indwelling sin even in believers who continually need mortification, renewal, and repentance (Eph. 4:20-24). (137)

Gerald Bray

In his chapter, "Sin in Historical Theology," Dr. Bray writes:
There is no subject of grater importance to Christian theology than its understanding of the concept of sin and its effects. that may seem like an odd statement to make, but if we think about what the Christian gospel is, we shall quickly see why this is o. The gospel is a message of salvation from sin, achieved for us by Jesus Christ. To do that, he became sin for us, although he was himself sinless, and gave us his Holy Spirit so that we might be able to overcome sin and its effects in our own lives. Had there been no sin to begin with, there would have been no gospel and no Christianity because they would not have been necessary. Paradoxical as it sounds, sin and its consequences are the immediate cause of the coming of Christ in the world and of the work that he has done on our behalf. For that reason, we need to know what sin is in order to understand what that work accomplished. Just as a disease cannot be cured unless it is properly diagnosed, so salvation has no meaning unless we understand what it is that we have been saved from and why salvation is necessary in the first place. Knowing the nature and effects of sin is the essential preliminary to understanding what Christ did to defeat it. If we get that wrong, our appreciation of salvation will be distorted and the gospel will be lost. Understanding sin is not enough in itself to save us, but it can be said with complete certainty that failure to understand it will ensure that we shall never come to the knowledge of Christ and his salvation that God wants us to have. (163)

John Mahony

In the chapter entitled "A Theology of Sin for Today," Dr. Mahony shows how harmartiology is connected with other doctrines of the faith including salvation.
Another way to calculate the importance of a biblical understanding of sin is through the use of a series of theological continua. For example,a high view of humanity . . . and our capacity for good typically maintains a low view of sin's serious effects upon humanity. Alternately, a heightened view of sin . . . will result in a reduced view of human capacity for spiritual good.

The theological understanding of Christ's work is also impacted by one's view of sin. A milder view of sin tends to parallel a nonpunitive view of the atonement. When the cross is viewed as an answer to the wrath of God, a clearly heightened view of sin . . . is the presupposition.

God's grace is another area directly impacted by one's view of sin. The more sinful we appear to ourselves, the more we recognize the strategic nature nature of God's grace. In the matter of soteriology, a positive view of human ability coupled with an optimistic view of the human condition depreciates the need for salvation and opens the door for alternate interpretations of the nature of our deliverance from sin (e.g., liberationists definitions of salvation as deliverance from political, sexual, or racial exploitation). In terms of conversion, repentance and faith are directly related to the nature of sin. Thus, do we have the capacity to repent and believe or are these capacities granted to us at conversion? (190)

Conclusion

I agree with all of the above. Our doctrine of sin informs our doctrine of salvation. Once while leading a bible study through the Word of God, I made the observation that if it had not been for the original sin in the Garden, we would not possess the Bible. After all, prior to the Fall, God walked with man personally. Scripture becomes necessary because of the separation caused by sin. Salvation is very similar to this. As revelation is the result of sin, so is salvation. Redemption was given meaning the minute the first couple sunk their teeth into the mysterious fruit.

So though few find discussing the doctrine of sin stimulating, we cannot have an orthodox soteriology without an orthodox harmartiology.


* Robert A. Peterson, Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ, 556.


For more:
"Fallen: A Theology of Sin": A Review
"Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone go To Heaven?"
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 9
Does the Calvinistic Doctrine of God's Providence Make God Responsible For Sin?: Grudem's Answer
When the Bad Do Bad: David Brooks & the Secular Question of Depravity
The Transcendence of Greed:  What Economics Can Teach Us About the Gospel
Where the Gospel and Politics Collide:  The Necessity of Government in a Fallen World
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
The Utopian Myth: Pandora and the Avatar Blues
"Fall: God Judges" by Mark Discoll
"Its a Human Problem": What the History of Slavery Can Teach About Ourselves
What's the Difference?  Drawing the Line Between Liberals and Conservatives:  Politics
What's the Difference?  Drawing the Line Between Liberals and Conservatives:  Morality
Some Things Never Change: Why Evolution Is Contrary to the Gospel 
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