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Fallen (Theology in Community) [Paperback]

Christopher W. Morgan , Robert A. Peterson , Gerald Bray , David B. Calhoun , D. A. Carson , Bryan Chapell , Paul R. House , John W. Mahony , Douglas J. Moo , Sydney H. Page

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fallen: A Theology of Sin 21 Oct 2013
By Kyle E. Mcdanell - Published on Amazon.com
"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)

The above argument, taken from the pen of Dr. Gerald Bray, certainly is not new but might be surprising to many readers. Orthodoxy, in many ways, swings on an orthodox view of sin. Though sin remains an unpopular subject, Christianity exists because of it. Christ was incarnated because of it. We long for the parousia because of sin. Though many have turned a blind eye to the doctrine as it becomes increasingly marginalized by our immoral culture, it remains key to understanding the gospel.

In the most recent edition of their Theology in Community series, editors Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson tackle the doctrine of sin with the help of some of the world's greatest theologians in their book Fallen: A Theology of Sin. The scholars and their chapters are as follows:

DA Carson, Sin's Contemporary Significance
Paul R. House, Sin in the Law
Paul R. House, Sin in the Former and Latter Prophets and the Writings
Robert W. Yarborough, Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation
Douglas J. Moo, Sin in Paul
Christopher W. Morgan, Sin in the Biblical Story
Gerald Bray, Sin in Historical Theology
John W. Mahony, A Theology of Sin for Today
Sydney H. T. Page, Satan, Sin, and Evil
David B. Calhoun, Sin and Temptation
Bryan Chapell, Repentance That Sings

A couple of thoughts regarding the book. First, though the book is a work of theology, it is much bigger than systematic theology. Typically, systematic theology textbooks discuss various "hot spots," if you will, regarding sin. The doctrines of original sin and total depravity usually receive the most attention as they are the most attacked. This book, however, is different in that sense. Though the contributors deal with such theological doctrines as they appear in their respected chapter, the book is not structured as one might suspect. The editors masterfully offer a helpful, though more academic, book that covers harmartiology from a variety of theological perspectives. Chapters 2-6, for example, reflect a biblical theology perspective. Though some of these chapters are a bit broad (like chapters 3 and 4), they offer a helpful survey of what the biblical writers have say regarding sin.Chapter 7, on the other hand, offers a historic theology perspective to harmartiology. This chapter highlights both the Western and Eastern churches as well as the influence of the Reformation and its development since. Finally, the editors do not shy away from discussing the difficult subjects of Satan, demons, temptation, repentance, and the contemporary relevance of the doctrine. No one else wants to talk about sin, after all, so why are we?

Secondly, one theme that appears throughout the book regards the connection between harmartiology and soteriology. The quote at the beginning of this review is one such example. In his chapter, Dr. Morgan dedicates more space to the subject. After highlighting six major motifs of the cross (including spheres of Relations, Slavery, Law, Warfare, Creation, and Worship), Morgan shows how such images informs us fuller regarding the pervasiveness of sin. He 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)."

Thirdly, the contributors offer a book that is deep in theology without being speculative. Thus the authors are not defending, necessarily, their version of Calvinism or Arminianism or whatever. Instead, they seek to present precisely what the Bible says. Perhaps a good example of this regards the origin of sin and evil. The contributors are clear that Scripture is simply not clear on the subject. All we know is the origin of human sin - the garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Beyond that, we can only speculate. I appreciate this honesty.

Overall, this is a helpful book on an important doctrine of Christianity. Though it is an academic book, it is not over everyone's head. I have found that such books are either purposefully limited to experts in the field of theology (like this book I reviewed) or academically minded yet sensitive to a broader audience. This book fits in the latter category. It is for this reason I would recommend it to more than just seminarians and their professors. Pastors and theologically minded lay people will benefit from this book. As Christians, this doctrine is too important to abandon. The gospel depends on it.

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

This book was provided for the purpose of this review by its publisher, Crossway Books.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on Bible, a Little Light on Theology 29 Jan 2014
By Marc Cortez - Published on Amazon.com
Part of Crossway’s Theology in Community Series, editors Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have put together a nice collection on a range of issues relative to the doctrine of sin, trying to help people develop a strong biblical-theological framework for understanding sin. And despite some unevenness, they largely succeed.

Fallen includes eleven essays from a range of biblical scholars and theologians. After an introductory chapter from D. A. Carson on “Sin’s Contemporary Significance,” the following five chapters offer a biblical theology of sin. Four of them tackle different parts of the canon: the pentateuch (chapter 2), the rest of the OT (chapter 3), the Gospel, Acts, and Heb-Rev (chapter 4), and Paul (chapter 5). Then Christopher Morgan offers a more synthetic look at skin in the biblical story as a whole (chapter 6). The next chapter offers a historical perspective, tracing the development of the theology of sin throughout church history. And then John Mahony tackles the challenge of offering a chapter-length summary of “A Theology of Sin for Today.” The final three chapters look at sin in relation to specific topics: Satan, sin, and evil (chapter 9), sin and temptation (chapter 10), and repentance (chapter 11).

As you can see just from the distribution of chapters, the book is particularly strong on tracing a biblical theology of sin. As Carson points out in the introduction, sin is a prominent motif throughout the biblical story. So nearly half of the book focuses on summarizing that material. Doug Moo’s chapter on “Sin in Paul” was a particularly fine summary of the material, usefully pulling together much of what Paul has to say and how it impacts a theology of sin. And I appreciated the inclusion of Christopher Morgan’s chapter looking at sin throughout the entire biblical narrative. That helped pull the entire biblical section together, helping connect the dots in the story of sin.

Although several chapters included some comments on how the doctrine of sin relates to issues of everyday life, the two concluding chapters on temptation and repentance helped orient the volume toward practical issues in life and ministry. Anyone who wrestles regularly with the painful realities of living in a broken world will wish that the book had more to say about real-life challenges. But that would probably require another book entirely. Given the limitations of its focus, Fallen still does a nice job in places of connecting its biblical/theological material with everyday issues.

And Gerald Bray’s historical summary of the doctrine of sin was excellent. It’s no small task to summarize what the church has thought about any theological issue throughout history, let alone one as vital and complex as the doctrine of sin. But Bray succeeds in offering one of the better chapter-length summaries of the historical material that I’ve seen.

In addition to these strengths, Fallen does have some unfortunate shortcomings. First, despite calling itself “A Theology of Sin,” the biblical theology of Fallen was much stronger than its systematic side, with Mahony’s chapter the only one focused exclusively on developing a constructive theology of sin. The book gives the distinct impression that once you have summarized the biblical material, there’s not much theological work left to be done other than dealing with a few specific issues like Satan and temptation. And that limited theological engagement contributes to most of the book’s other weaknesses.

Second, although several authors address the fact that sin in the Bible is a corporate reality, always impacting more than just particular individuals, the corporate side of sin is never developed in full. Thus, Fallen contains no real discussion of social sin (i.e. the ways that sinful social structures perpetuate sinful practices and ways of being), focusing largely on individual sin and salvation. The closest is a brief section in Mahony’s chapter emphasizing that sin “is both personal and social.” But less than a page is hardly adequate for discussing the ways that sin transcends individuals as it is embodied in social structures and practices. And the sections of the book focused more on practical application are almost exclusively individual as well, with no mention of racism, classism, or other more corporate issues.

Similarly, I would have liked to see something on how our cultural context shapes the way that we view sin. For example, Fallen’s index doesn’t contain a single reference to poverty, despite the fact that economic injustice is frequently mentioned in biblical discussions of sin. Granted, a relatively brief book like this can’t talk about everything. So the authors have necessarily selected what they think most important. To what extent, though, does our cultural context shape what we think is important, the sins that attract our attention?

Finally, Fallen does little to bring sin into dialog with the other doctrines. Carson notes in the introduction that sin is “enmeshed” with other theological issues, but the book never unpacks this. Despite containing a chapter on “Sin, Satan, and Evil,” the book contains little on questions about so-called “natural” evils (e.g. earthquakes) or whether God is the “author” of sin, both of which connect sin to the doctrine of God. And we could say the same about other doctrines like Christology (e.g. the significance of Christ’s sinlessness), pneumatology (e.g. the connection between sin, sickness, and healing), anthropology (e.g. sin and the image of God), and eschatology (e.g. hell). Of course, the book would have been much longer if it had tried to tackle these issues in full. But it wouldn’t have taken too much to help the reader see these connections and understand how one’s view of sin impacts a variety of other theological issues.

In the end, though, Fallen is a tremendously helpful book. It brings together a combination of biblical, theological, and practical perspectives on an important topic, packing an awful lot into just 300 pages. And it will be most useful when you understand what it really is—a biblical theology of sin with a quick overview of how that biblical material relates to several theological and practical issues. To get the most out of Fallen, then, I think you would do well to pair it with a book that offers a more constructive theology of sin (e.g. Plantinga’s very readable Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin or Shuster’s more involved The Fall and Sin: What We Have Become as Sinners).
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive overview of the doctrine of sin... 25 Oct 2013
By Luke Geraty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
When is the last time you read a book all about sin? You know, that icky stuff that a lot of television preachers don’t like to talk about much. The last book I read that was almost exclusively on the topic of sin was John Piper’s Spectacular Sins and that was in 2008. In seminary and Bible college I had to read a few treatments, but that was a number of years ago (and counting!). Truth be told, I don’t often read systematic treatments of what those of us who are Reformed like to say is a foundation for much of our anthropology and soteriological convictions. Enter Fallen: A Theology of Sin, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, one of the most comprehensive and engaging books I’ve read on the doctrine of sin.

Let’s be honest. When you edit a book and have contributors like D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Robert W. Yarbrough, you raise this New Testament freak’s interests. Add Gerald Bray and I’m basically guaranteed to read your book. Fallen is the fifth book in the Theology in Community series, which I have thus far enjoyed immensely.

Fallen, after a brief introduction, features eleven chapters focused on the doctrine of sin and its significance to the global church. After the introduction lays a framework off of Reinhold Neibuhr’s famous statement that “the doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith,” the follow chapters handle a number of biblical, theological, historical, and practical issues related to sin. Here are a few of the standouts:

Carson’s first essay, “Sin’s Contemporary Significance,” is a great way to start the conversation. Carson makes a great case as to why a book on sin is relevant for a postmodern world as well as lays out some helpful insights into how sin is connected to many other biblical and theological ideas (e.g., anthropology, soteriology, sanctification, etc.). We’re also reminded of issues challenging the world today related to sin, including the fact that sin is quite common (extraordinary violence and wickedness), there is a reluctance in our culture to identify evil, and today’s pressing cultural concept of “tolerance” is making the identifying of sin more difficult. Clearly the subject of sin has contemporary significance.

The next four chapters address sin related to specific areas of the Bible. Paul R. House writes on “Sin in the Law” and “Sin in the Former and Latter Prophets and Writings.” Robert W. Yarbrough addresses “Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation” and Douglas J. Moo tackles “Sin in Paul.” Each of these essays are great and, in general, provide readable and well-researched thoughts on the subject of sin and the biblical genre or author in question. Moo’s essay on the pauline corpus’ theology of sin is, in my mind, the standout.

Christopher W. Morgan’s next essay ties it all together – “Sin in the Biblical Story.” As an avid student of biblical theology, I enjoyed Morgan’s approach and the numerous threads of thought that he weaves together. Far from being disconnected from real life, Morgan’s essay demonstrates how sin has been a recurring issue throughout redemptive history and has connection to me while not being the big idea of redemption… that’s left to Jesus. It’s a great biblical theology of sin and salvation. The glory of the gospel is only highlighted when we see it in comparison to what we’ve been delivered and saved from. Get Fallen for this chapter along and all of the others are additional theology candy.

The last few chapters cover a variety of subjects related to sin. Bray addresses “Sin in Historical Theology,” Mahony tackles “A Theology of Sin for Today,” and Page and Calhoun offer two good chapters too, the former “Satan, Sin, and Evil” and latter “Sin and Temptation.” Finally, the homiletically esteemed Bryan Chapell writes “Repentance that Sings” as the final essay in Fallen.

For the most part, nothing new or groundbreaking is written within the pages of Fallen. Readers will not encounter much that hasn’t been stated in many other places for hundreds of years. Yet there is a remarkable freshness about this theology of sin that the contributors offer. Yes, it’s rooted in historical constructs that have been taught by Christians for literally hundreds of years but it’s clearly applicable in a time when many struggle to define, discuss, or clarify what sin is and when people are doing it.

Students of theology will want to get a copy of Fallen. If you are like me, thinking about reading a book about sin sounds depressing. However, reading Fallen was actually rather encouraging and helpful. How many books about sin can be said to make you smile? I don’t know, but I can say without reservation that Fallen is a great place to begin when one is thinking about sin and how today’s church needs to think about the subject and then interact with a world that is fast becoming less aware of the consequences of sin.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*
4.0 out of 5 stars A Theology of Sin 23 Dec 2013
By C. Hennessey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Sin is one of those words today that has become taboo within the church and ministry world for many. We don’t want to offend people so many believe we must stop using the word all together. I actually served in a youth ministry that would not allow us to use the word “sin” in any of our messages to kids because they didn’t want to hurt or offend the kids. Here is the truth and why I Fallen: A Theology of Sin edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson is so important: Sin is real and the gospel is offensive to sinners. We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God according to Scripture, and in time in western history when we have become over-sensitive to not want to offend others this book is perfect and necessary to remind us just how dangerous sin is in our lives, and how we must seek to remove it from our lives at all costs.

The editors of this book have collected eleven essays from pastors/theologians that walk through sin in the Bible, sin in history and sin today to show the importance that we have a solid theological grasp on sin. As you read through the pages you begin to see the biblical importance of sin and how the gospel of Jesus Christ saves alone undeserving people. In today’s culture we want to believe that we are good enough and our sins are not as bad as the Bible says they are. Many churches show this by their lack of preaching and teaching on the danger of sin in their people’s lives. I would recommend this book to any pastor to refocus on what the church is about: making disciples which begins with helping people to see Jesus and realize they have sinned against God. Both are necessary, and we cannot truly repent unless we fully see our sin. This is the second book that I have read in the Theology in Community series, and I am interested in checking out all of the books. Read this book in the new year. You can get it here.
5.0 out of 5 stars Robust Theology of Sin 5 Dec 2013
By Jeff Manning - Published on Amazon.com
“…sin establishes the plot line of the Bible…” Although Fallen is an entire treatment on the doctrine of hamartoliology (study of sin), one may not expect such a phrase since most speak of the Bible being a text whose framework is that of redemption, salvation, covenants, etc. So, why would D.A. Carson in the opening section describe the biblical plot line as being established in sin. Simply put, if there is no sin, there is not need for redemption. Maybe for too long, the doctrine of the sinfulness of man has been assumed or too loosely stated. Its nature is not understood properly and its pervasiveness is not seen clearly.

As a book in the Theology in Community Series, this book contains scholars that approach the subject of sin from a biblical theological, systematic theological, historical, pastoral, missiological, and cultural perspective; in a word: comprehensive. Generally speaking, the contributors are Reformed but Fred Sanders, who is Wesleyan and sympathetic towards Reformed writings, says, “Fallen may be the most complete resource on the doctrine of sin in this generation and will certainly serve well as a comprehensive introduction to this neglected topic.” Sin is the one doctrine many people do not have any trouble conceding. Reinhold Neihbur famously said, “The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith (19).”

Structurally, the book is formed into eleven chapters and covers a number of subjects including sin in the law (chp. 2 – Paul House), sin in Paul (chp. 5 – Douglas Moo), and sin in historical theology (chp. 7 – Gerald Bray). There doesn’t seem to be a strict form to it but it is comprehensive in that Fallen addresses sin in the Old Testament, New Testament, the metanarrative, historical theology, special issues (Satan, evil, & temptation) and concludes with a chapter on repentance.

Specifically, Fallen offers a treatment on sin that would not normally be found in a systematic text. Though the text includes a systematic approach, the book is more of an expansion than a few pieces of Scripture on the doctrine of sin. Each author seeks to remain in the text of Scripture, offering word studies, canonical interpretations, and pastoral insights into the significance of sin. The contemporary applications reach into some ethical, philosophical, moral, and sociological realms but it is not overwhelming. Particularly helpful for those interested for the sake of definition, Fallen moves beyond modern evangelicalisms (“missing the mark”, “making mistakes”) into a more robust understanding and articulation of sin. In Christopher Morgan’s chapter, Sin in the Biblical Story, he addresses sin as it relates to death, darkness, hardness, bondage, blindness, and flesh while also showing its effect on the mind, will, actions, words, ways, and attitude. They do not take Ephesians 2:1 (“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…”) lightly but as a universal corruption.

Of course, all of these discussions cannot take place without an intermingling or announcement of the Gospel. Salvation is so great because sin is so bad. While sin is pervasive and corrupts the entire being, God uses it for his glory and righteously redeems. David Calhoun, in his discussion on Satan, quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying, “Nothing can happen on earth without the will and permission of God, Satan also is in God’s hands. He must – against his will – serve God (245).” Just as Carson stated earlier, sin is all throughout the plotline of the Bible, but Christ is more. Richard Sibbes in his book The Bruised Reed says, “Satan will object, ‘You are a great sinner.’ We may answer, ‘Christ is a strong Saviour.’”

Fallen is certainly a refreshing book in the sense that it uncovers the old language of the Scriptures as it concerns sin and brings it into the contemporary setting. A revival of theology in community (that is the church) is occurring and this is a good thing. This text is a useful contribution to this series and can be read by a variety of people including lay leaders.
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