Some people are concerned that the church is afraid to use the word "sin," that we have de-emphasized it so much that we have created a gospel of "cheap grace." I think of the great H. Richard Niebuhr's famous critique, "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." And while I deeply agree with Niebuhr's sentiment on at least one level, I have to say that I think that we have overemphasized sin in the church. I think, by and large, that we are obsessed with sin and that it has so infiltrated every aspect of our atonement theory that we are incapable of understanding any other dimensions of Christ's work. Sin has, in some ways, domesticated the gospel.
Perhaps its semantics to some, but the common-usage definition of "sin" is largely "spiritual," ethereal, even gnostic. It only holds implication as to our standing in the heavenly realm--do we have a place there or don't we? Are we cleansed of our sin or aren't we? What does God see when God looks at us, regardless of what our real life looks like? Sin has no relevance in the corporeal and so the cross has no relevance there either... we undo the incarnation. The cross should liberate us to speak out against all sorts of real-life exploitation, against systems of power and coercion, against apathy, greed, and selfishness. The cross should give us courage to endorse a very real social ethic in the world, a life marked by the cross, a life of love and forgiveness here and now. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection should imply more to us than some ethereal spiritual enlightenment or redemption. The gospel should expose our darkness to light not only in the spiritual realm but in the realm of real life. It should empower us to sell all we have and follow Jesus, to completely change the location of how we engage the world, not just rearrange the furniture of our spirituality.
This domestication of the gospel due to our obsession with sin has also domesticated the church in the political and social realm. Look at the token issues of the church... we are so concerned with "sin" issues--about gay marriage and abortion-- that we don't allow the life of Christ to offer any commentary on economics, foreign policy, corporate gluttony, etc. And look at the sort of activism in which the church engages. Our mission trips are so much about getting people "saved" from their sin that we look beyond victims, we can't see their physical needs. We serve in a soup kitchen (as long as they let us pray first) but the rest of our lives undermine that work completely, contributing to the plight of those we are serving. We want to be friends to the poor, to make sure they believe in Jesus, but we don't want to be their advocate. We as so obsessed with seeing everyone as sinners that we forget to see them as victims, not to mention as human beings.
Rather than talking only about sin, let's also talk about injustice, exploitation, victimization, poverty, pollution, and violence. Perhaps all these have their roots in sin, but these, unlike sin, have a very real and physical relevance. They are realities here and now, in the world in which we actually live. The cross is relevant not only for our postmortem residence but for the real world. It's not just about sin, it's about the whole curse of corruption.
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