Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sin lite

Rejections and revisions of the great doctrines of the person of Christ, the penal substitutionary work of Christ, and the justification of sinners by grace alone through faith alone ought to be examined not only on their own terms but also in relation to the doctrine of sin.

It is possible to so minimise and pare down the doctrine of sin, in relation to its effects on human nature and its just condemnation by a holy God, that really there is no need, or desire, or reason to suppose that Christ is both God and Man, and that his work has an essential legal character.

Sin? No problem, God will forgive it. No incarnation needed.

Sin? No problem, God is love and accepts you as you are. No Mediator needed.

Sin? No problem, just repent of it and follow Jesus' teaching. No atonement needed.

Sin? No problem, just stop doing bad things and start doing what God wants. No regeneration needed.

Sin? No problem, just start over again and keep trying. No justification needed.

Sin? No problem, stop beating yourself up. No eternal consequences. No wrath no come. No hell to avoid. No Saviour needed.

Don't neglect the biblical doctrine of sin or you will go astray on the biblical doctrine of the Saviour and his work.

This is but a 21st Century echo of that wise, learned, godly Scottish theologian William Cunningham:
All false conceptions of the system of Christian doctrine assume, or are based upon, inadequate and erroneous views and impressions of the nature and effects of the fall,--of the sinfulness of the state into which man fell; producing, of course, equally inadequate and erroneous views and impressions of the difficulty of effecting their deliverance, and of the magnitude, value, and efficacy of the provision made for accomplishing it.
Historical Theology Vol. 2, p.43


Anonymous said...

Great Post. This was very timely for me, thank you.

Martin Downes said...

Glad you found it helpful

onedarwingjew (bography) said...

Hi Martin, thanks for this piece.

I was reading an article when I came across the expression “sin lite,'' on which I did a web search, and found your blog.

I thought the excerpt in question might be of interest to you. Here it is:

Since Reconstructionist Judaism affirms a conception of God as a force, power or process — but not as a supernatural Being who can be addressed and can respond — is it a necessary corollary to convert the concept of sin to something either minimal or meaningless? Can a Reconstructionist sin?
The founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, addressed this issue in 1937 (in The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion): “The term sin is a word that for most people has been emptied of meaning . . . If sin has no meaning, there is no need for repentance, and the whole observance of the Day of Atonement becomes much ado about nothing . . . The fact, however, that a word loses favor does not necessarily signify that it is without meaning.”
Kaplan tried to redefine the meaning of sin so that it retained its power: “Sin can no longer mean the provocation of God’s wrath through disobedience to His [sic] revealed law, nor can atonement mean the restoration to His grace by a pledge of future obedience, however sincere.” Identifying God with “that aspect of reality which confers meaning and value on life and elicits from us those ideals that determine the course of human progress,” Kaplan asserted that “the failure to live up to the best that is in us means that our souls are not attuned to the divine, that we have betrayed God.”
If we substitute “we have sinned” for “we have betrayed God,” we get a rather gentle reinterpretation — something like “sin lite,” which, for all of its intellectual compatibility with Reconstructionist theology, seems rather weak and not particularly challenging.
Kaplan is hardly alone in reducing the severity of sin. Open almost any “Introduction to Judaism” book, or consult almost any commentary to the High Holiday mahzor, and one inevitably finds the explanation that the Hebrew word het (sin) means something like “missing the mark” — as if life were no more than a game of darts. Our moral and relational failures receive a soothing bromide of reassurance: We need only try harder next time, with hope that we’ll hit the target more often. The operative concept is that we need to be reassured, rather than reassessed.
But without first engaging seriously in a deep moral inventory, how can we honestly move forward in life? Without the courage to descend into the depths of our failures, how can we presume to ascend in pursuit of our better self? As the Reconstructionist mahzor states, “reducing sin to the status of an almost inadvertent error hardly seems tenable in the light of our awareness of the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable.” The concept of sin, in fact, seems more, rather than less, important as we move into the 21st century — not for what it tells us about God, but for what it suggests to us about ourselves.

If you would like to read on the relationship between Reconstructionist Judaism and Christian monergism, you could do worse than read my piece on the topic.

I am a Jewish (Christian) monergist.