"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.