This book is a volume in the Theology in Community series, which is advertised as “first-rate evangelical scholars taking a multidisciplinary approach to key Christian doctrines.” The goal is to focus on the Old and New Testament texts and then link them to historical, philosophical, systematic and pastoral concerns. The in community idea focuses on a team approach, including scholars from a variety of denominations and life experiences. Other books in the series so far include: Suffering and the Goodness of God (2008), The Glory of God (2010), The Deity of Christ (2011), The Kingdom of God (2012) and Heaven (2014).
“In a postmodern world in constant change, at least one thing seems constant — sin. … Sin unmistakably recurs — in person after person, generation after generation, and society after society around the globe” (19-20). Because of those truths, this volume seeks to examine every aspect of sin and its affect on human lives and our world today, using the pattern outlined for the Theology in Community series.
Chapter 1 begins by setting up the importance of studying the topic of sin by citing the intrinsic significance of sin to every part of the plotline of the Bible (22). It then cites the contemporary significance of living in a time of extraordinary violence and wickedness along with postmodernism’s reluctance to identify evil and the supreme virtue of tolerance which takes away any absolute definition of sin. The contemporary significance of this topic is best grasped with an understanding of the place of sin in the Bible and our cultures need to be shaped by this understanding.
Chapters 2-5 cover the topic of sin on the basis of the Old and New Testaments — Sin in the Law (Pentateuch); Sin in the Former and Latter Prophets and the Writings; Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation; and Sin in Paul. Due to the limits of space, these sections cannot exhaust every reference to sin, but each covers a representative sample from its assigned section to show the extent and importance of the topic to the Bible’s plotline. Also included are word studies of the various Hebrew and Greek words for sin.
Chapter 6 looks at Sin in the Biblical Story by discussing the overarching role of sin from the Creation and the Fall (which is discussed in depth) to the redeeming work of Christ and the consummation that awaits on the Last Day. Chapter 7 turns to a historical perspective of sin as it was taught throughout the centuries including the views of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and the Holiness movements. Chapter 8 uses a systematic perspective to summarize the theology of sin with various statements on the nature of sin.
Chapters 9 & 10 give an in-depth focus on two specific topics related to the study of sin — the role Satan and also the role of temptation. The closing chapter then discusses the important role of repentance in relation to sin, weaving throughout the account of Mark 10:17-22 (Jesus and the rich young man).
When evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of such a book written in community, it is difficult to make general statements that reflect viewpoints of the various authors. What follows is not intended to be a comprehensive list of strengths and weaknesses, but a sampling to help evaluate the worth of this book for a Lutheran minister.
One of the major strengths of this book is its refreshing perspective on sin. In a postmodern world with no absolute truth, in a tolerant society where no actions can be judged wrong, in a religious landscape where many feel it is better not to mention “sin,” this book reminds us that sin is pervasive and cannot be ignored. It plays an integral role throughout the pages of Scripture and needs to be discussed if Christ is going to have any value for people’s lives.
As preachers and teachers of God’s Word it is easy to fall into standard, comfortable language when talking about sin: we are sinful from birth; the law shows us our sin; we have been freed from sin; God forgives all of our sins. The extensive treatment by different authors in this book offers other perspectives and illustrations for thinking about sin:
- Five Summative Statements about sin in the OT (80-81): 1) sin is perversion; 2) sin is active; 3) sin is relational; 4) sin is pervasive; 5) sin is deadly.
- Descriptions of hell can be viewed as culminations, extensions, intensifications and logical continuations of the unbeliever’s current state of sin: hell as punishment clarifies that sin is a crime; hell as destruction shows sins as spiritual death; hell as banishment views sin as alienation from God (161).
- Biblical Pictures of Christ’s Saving Work (158)
One area of weakness deals with the topic of original sin. There is a lack of clarity, ranging from discussing the corruption and pervasiveness of sin in people’s lives (153) to acknowledging that although throughout the centuries scholars have argued that humans are born in sin, many thinkers have disagreed with this conclusion (48) to relegating the discussion to a footnote (146). That lack of uniformity may leave the door open to teaching that while everyone sins, it is not a natural born condition.
There are various discussions of Romans 5:12-21 and the role of Adam in comparison to Christ which at times may take the comparison too far. Pre-fall Adam is equated with Christ’s sinless human character. The conclusion is then reached that Adam’s first sin was the taking of the fruit (206-207), rather than any pride or doubt on his part or his neglect of his headship role for his wife.
In examining the historical teaching on sin, it is helpful to trace its development as the church reacted to different perspectives and teachings. The problem with such a process view of theology is when it is extended to the writers inspired to write God’s Word. For example chapter 5 on Paul, while exploring in detail the topic of sin in his letters, comes across as portraying his perspective and development of the topic and then later Paul is mentioned as the one who came up with the notion of the “weaker brother” to compromise between the Jewish and Gentiles perspectives on sin and the law (165).
“As the root problem of human sinfulness has not changed since the fall of Adam, so the attempts to deny or control it, so that it can be defeated by human means instead of divine ones, are still the greatest obstacles to the preaching of the gospel of Christ today and seem likely to remain so for the foreseeable future” (185). Sin can never be ignored or diminished, because then the same will happen to Christ. This book helps to underscore this important point and illustrate the scope of sin in people’s lives. Such a discussion will have value for any preacher of the gospel.
Contributors and editors of this volume include:
Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne), Research Professor of Divinity, History and Doctrine, Beeson Divinity School;
David B. Calhoun (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary), Emeritus Professor of Church History, Covenant Theological Seminary;
A. Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge), Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School;
Bryan Chapell (PhD, Southern Illinois University), President Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Practical Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary;
Paul R. House (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Professor of Divinity, Old Testament, Beeson Divinity School;
John W. Mahony (ThD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary), Professor of Theological and Historical Studies, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary;
Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews), Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College Graduate School;
Christopher W. Morgan (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary), Professor of Theology and Dean, School of Christian Ministries, California Baptist University;
Sydney H. T. Page (PhD, University of Manchester), Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Taylor Seminary;
Robert A. Peterson (PhD, Drew University), Professor of Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary;
Robert W. Yarbrough (PhD, University of Aberdeen), Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary
Fallen: A Theology of Sin, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 314 pages.