Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Article excerpt

THE EVANGEL WORLD no less than the now marginalized world of liberal Christianity, is dominated by counterfeits. The dominant alloys are of wellknown ingredients: The practices and ideas of the modern psychologies have been so liberally and indiscriminately mixed with the Christian understanding of persons that many churches now propagate spiritualities quite alien to their own traditions. The practices and ideas of show business and marketing so dominate some congregations and public ministries that serious Christian ministry of word and sacrament looks fuddyduddy, and a penitential, disciplined spirituality of grace looks morbid and certainly not cost-effective. Uniting both these polluters is the idea that all religion is (or ought to be) in service of us: It ought to make us wealthy, happy, amused, functional, creative, integrated, high in self-esteem.

One of the first concepts to get neutralized in these mushy mixtures is that of sin-the idea that we regularly corrupt ourselves and our fellow human beings, that we have vandalized the beautiful order that God has placed in creation, that we are not just victims of wrongdoing but, one and all, perpetrators of it, that we have offended God and cut ourselves off from his fellowship and blessings. Since clarity about sin is a chief and early casualty of church pollutants, perhaps a robust introduction of the concept of sin, along with the remedies that God has provided for it in the gospel and the fellowship of the Spirit, would purify the church and its ministry.

I shall not hold my breath until that happens, but Plantinga's new book is as fine an instrument as a mere book can be for reintroducing Christendom to the concept of sin. It is conceptually sophisticated without being technical or academic. One of Plantinga's strategies is carefully to draw parallels and differences between the notion of sin and such neighboring concepts as immorality, crime, addiction, and tragedy. Another is to exploit many of the biblical metaphors, such as vandalism, corruption, pollution, disintegration, parasite, folly, betrayal, disease, and death. It is a stunning feast of metaphors and memorable formulas, of illustrations from private and public life gleaned from history, biographies, fiction, newspapers and magazines, and personal experience-as well as an occasional theologian. …