Confessing Christ Bloggers
Jul 30

Written by: gfackre
7/30/2008 8:18 AM

Karl Menninger, one of the 20th century’s great psychiatrists, wrote a widely acclaimed book in 1973, Whatever Became of Sin? He made a powerful case that we avoid both the word and the idea behind it. He asserts that we have to face up to our culpabilities, not simply attribute the world’s problems to mistakes, circumstances, lack of education and the like. Transposed to our issues here, “sin” is not to be ignored in our preoccupation with suffering. Otherwise put, our hope is for its being dealt with. Indeed, this is the main burden of the Christian Story. Give the stumble and fall away from the invitation of God to be together—with God and with the world—how can this alienation become reconciliation?

Sin is very personal in our Story. However, it metastasizes into corporate phenomena, as Reinhold Niebuhr helped a generation to understand better in his Moral Man and Immoral Society And Menninger traces the relationship of individual sins of commission and omission to their social ravages. That same Story calls us to address this larger evil as we have noted in the pressing issue of “suffering and hope.” Thus we hold to hope in this world for the historical struggles against it based on the transcendent conquest of it by Christ in his Person and Work, and therefore our call to counter it empirically in the time between the Times.

Such a struggle also includes evils and Evil that are more than of our making. The Fall includes both nature and supernature, as well as human nature. Those circumstances too are our lot, also to be encountered in hope and for the same reasons, and with recognition of their persistence to an End where they will finally end. Like historical evil/suffering, so too natural evil/suffering is an enemy to be contested by our best resources. And the Demonic beyond human and natural evil, the fallen “principalities and powers,” they too are to be confronted in the “spiritual warfare” whose chief weapon is prayer.

The historical evil external has its roots in sin internal, however complex and circuitous the pathway from one to the other. Thus “sin’ as our own personal fist shaken in the face of God is at the heart of the Fall. Christian hope in this chapter of the narrative we are tracing is , therefore, hope for, as Cruden expresses it, salvation from “sin and its consequences.” Sin in the self is, according to the biblical account of its inception is “playing God.” ( Gen 3:5) In all of us the self places itself at the center rather than honoring the One who belongs there. “I, me and mine” unseats the one and only Thou who brings us to be, and calls us to be together-- our I and the divine Thou.

One of the ecumenical breakthroughs of our time is the 1999 Lutheran-Roman Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” In it there is core agreement that “the Father sent the Son into the world to save sinners….Together we confess that by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (29) Here we have a remarkable consensus on was commonly assumed divided the Western Church at the Reformation. Salvation from sin is by the Work of Christ shared with persons by grace alone, and received in faith that is “busy in love.” Yes, the document acknowledges differences in what is accented by each tradition, but also invites the question of complimentarily concerning these differing emphases. (See the writer’s “The Joint Declaration and the Reformed Tradition” in William Rusch, ed., Justification and the Future of the Ecumenical Movement for a discussion of the convergence and divergence.)

Thus the Story so far has moved toward the Hope of alienation overcome, accomplished in Christ and applied to us by a graced faith. Of such is the personal heart of the chapter on salvation. We are now at the edge of the last chapter. To it we next turn.


Copyright ©2008 Gabriel Fackre

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Re: Whatever Became of Sin?; Justification by Grace through Faith

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