Rethink #1: Sin – How I was taught to speak (Pt. 1)

For a while now I have been working through how I understand and talk about particular aspects of the Christian faith following my studies in theology. One such aspect is sin.
This is a difficult thing to write about because it is possible the things I say risk a certain palatability (mostly directed toward myself) and may at times touch on a whole bunch of other areas that cannot be explored (i.e. atonement theories and the nature of salvation – though I have a bunch of books lined up to read on this, which I’m looking forward to).
How I was taught to speak
Sin is an immensely loaded term and many of us approach it with a lot of baggage.
Here are some of the basic principles that I grew up with regarding sin.
  1. The default place I was taught to start with is the rules – or more specifically, breaking the rules. Sin was a violation of rules or commands.
  2. The consequences of such violations I understood to be punitive. The violations, regardless of what they were, were deemed to warrant punishment – no doubt they do in certain cases, but more often than not all rule breaking deserved punishment in hell.
  3. I also grew up understanding that I was sinful by my very nature. Not only did I sin in act but I was sinful by virtue of my very existence.
  4. I understood that I needed Jesus because of this. I stood guilty before God because of my sinfulness and sin and needed rescued or I risked being punishment, which of course I deserved. Jesus died on the cross for me, staying God’s anger – forgiveness was mine all I had to do was trust.
It is this outline that I grew up with I have been questioning, wrestling with and re-evaluating as I have found myself relearning how to speak Christian.
Without going into all the details as to why I disagree on particular details, aspects and over-emphases of the above points there are a few particular concerns I would like to sketch out about what I grew up thinking.
  1. The above locates sinfulness too much within our acts of transgression (not that this is completely mistaken – it is just extremely over-emphasized).
  2. I would also suggest that while a case for the inherent sinfulness of human nature can and should be made, there is too much that needs qualified and defined. Primarily, a misunderstanding lies in understanding that “original sin” makes us culpable before God and therefore deserving of His “wrath”, which brings us to the next point.
  3. What worries me most is that the above view too easily distorts our understandings of God and Jesus, which no doubt arises from the acute emphasis on, almost vindictive, punishment.
  4. The above has also been commandeered by what Scot McKnight calls the soterian gospel. So much so that it struggles to grapple with, or even recognize, numerous other vital aspects that may give greater meaning to the term sin.
  5. Finally, in relation to the previous point, this understanding of sin is so heavily individualistic that it almost totally fails to talk about and discuss the implications of sin on any other level other than that of the personal.
As a result the questions I have been working through include:
What is sin? How much does it have to do with me, specifically? If I am sinful is the primary emphasis on my needing punished? If I have sinned will it be held against me like a criminal record? These are the questions I have found myself asking, it is with them I have been rethinking.
Maybe you will join me as I try to find out what to think?
Question: How have you learnt to talk about sin? What is your primary understanding of it? Feel free to drop a comment.
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