Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taking Sin Seriously by Not Taking it That Seriously

For our systematics seminar next week we've been reading David H. Kelsey's Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology. In one section Kelsey illustrates the problems that arise when focus on human decision blurs and overtakes recognition of divine gift. He points out that 20th century Christianity was heavily influenced by anthropologies which focused on the self-decision between good and bad; grace and nature. Since this led to two kinds of despair--either one despaired of making a good decision or one despaired of making a good decision--faith in God became the solution to this despair (Kierkegaard).

However, this is not without its own problems, especially when the content of the faith blurs into hows and whats of coming to faith. The way to the answer becomes a matter of figuring out and feeling the problem. Kelsey explains:

"[S]uch theological focus on human beings' weakness becomes problematic when it serves as the primary, and therefore the theologically determining, conceptual framework within which the anthropological implications of God's relating to humankind are worked out. . . . Perhaps the most forceful expression of theological protest against [this construal] is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's often-quoted remark . . . . [that God]

'becomes the answer to life's problems and the solution of its needs and conflicts. So if anyone has no such difficulties, or if he refuses to go into these things ... he cannot be open to God; or else he must be shown that he is, in fact, deeply involved in such problems, needs, and conflicts, without admitting it or knowing it. If that can be done . . . then this man can now be claimed for God.'
. . . The methodological problem is that when this question becomes the focus and organizing theme of theological anthropology, the content of the anthropology," rather than centering on "God's free, wise and generative love," becomes centered on "human failure, an exclusively intrahuman defect or distortion (sin) that is in need of correction. . . .

The irony is that, methodologically speaking, precisely because sin and salvation are centrally important to the logic of Christian beliefs, an account of the logic of overcoming sin in the move from unfaith to faith cannot be substituted for an account of the place of beliefs about sin and reconciliation in the logic of Christian beliefs without moralizing and moralistic distortions of the concepts under discussion."

In other words, we take sin and evil seriously by not taking them that seriously; by not taking them seriously that way. They don't get to tell us what we are about, or who God is, or what God is ultimately up to. We should realize that we do not even know our need or our sin or our evil until we have seen true God and true humanity in Jesus Christ. Thus it is in gratitude that we turn to Him, and not in guilt. Awareness of guilt takes place, no doubt, and there is danger in ignoring this, but guilt and sin do not take the wheel in either forming the content of what we believe or dominating the picture of what coming to or living in faith looks like.

1 comment:

Chris E W Green said...

Ahh ... I haven't read much of Kelsey, but I like this. Thanks for sharing.