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January 18, 2006



But--to stay on the Luther drum--this is precisely the problem. This way lies works righteousness, Luther warns.

D. C.

Derek writes: "... This way lies works righteousness ....."

Derek, you say that like it's a bad thing .... (g) Seriously, I doubt that the study of behavior would increase the chance of our adopting a soteriology of works righteousness.

Even if it did, it wouldn't trouble me. If indeed there's such a thing as "salvation," its mechanism is what it is, not what we claim it is.

In any event, the channel between faith and works seems to be a two-way street. Faith often leads to good deeds (cf. James 2.14-26). Conversely, a doubter's good deeds can shape his thinking and help lead him to faith. So I see no danger in studying human behavior as part of our effort to understand the nature of sin.

* * *

I may not have put enough stress on an important point: We don't have the luxury of relaxed, academic contemplation of the nature of sin. That's nice if we can do it, but we definitely need a more utilitarian "take" on the question. If we take the Great Commission seriously, we have a job to do, namely helping people (and ourselves) find their way out of sin. Inasmuch as sin manifests itself so often in behavior, it behooves us to study the behavior and its causes.


Here's one problem, D.C.: you're not going to get a "scientific study" of this sort, at least not anytime soon.

Secular scientists don't think in these terms. I've never seen a Psychological study that asked a question like this, for instance.

The second, of course, is your assumption that people will be able to escape sin. I'm afraid this just can't be done; the moment you leave one kind of sin, you're head first into something new.

But of course, that's our major point of disagreement, isn't it?


D. C.

You mean the National Science Foundation won't approve the grant proposal I'm writing? Say it isn't so!

In this area, we're likely to have to rely heavily on "borrowed" evidence from other fields of study — psychology, neurology, sociology, etc. We won't have the luxury of being able to run controlled experiments, at least not many of them. We'll have to make do with whatever observational evidence we can scavenge elsewhere.

We're in somewhat the same boat as the cosmologists. Their ability to run controlled experiments is fairly limited — for example, they can't create stars in the lab, let alone entire universes. That hasn't stopped them from doing good science with such observations as they have been able to get.

Footnote: This is one area where some of the orthodox go seriously astray. They argue that religious matters cannot be studied scientifically, because (so they claim) the essence of science is the controlled experiment, and we can't do controlled experiments with God. Their premise is WRONG: the essence of science is not controlled experimentation, but careful observation and analysis of real-world evidence from any and all sources. Controlled experiments are merely one way of obtaining such evidence.

* * *

I don't assume people will be able to escape sin, but neither do I assume a priori that only the Holy Spirit can help them. I commented at greater length in the other post. In a nutshell, I think we're pretty much on the same page in this area. by and large, we seem to be working out details of language and articulating a few immaterial differences in viewpoint.


To use the classical language, it seems that we're fussing with the difference between virtue and justification with the whole messy notion of sanctification tying them together.

I don't know how to determine whether, in fact, another person's dealings with God (if any) satisfy whatever definition of "living in relationship" that we choose.

Well, then it's a good thing that it's not your job to make that determination. Both Jesus and St. Paul exhorted us to avoid making these kinds of judgements.

I think the best you can do is to help someone make that decision for themselves by listening to their self-reflection, praying with them about it and consulting Scripture for guidance. This is essentially the Christian discernment process.

Another observation is that we're all going to be out of relationship with God at some point -- we're all going to be in sin. The only human who has been able to avoid sin was Jesus who was -- up until the moment on the cross -- in perfect relationship with God. Note Jesus' words at the moment when he takes the sin of the world upon himself "God, O God, Why have you forsaken me?"

I thin it's very useful to get the whole mess of sinful acts/good acts out of your mind for a while and consider the problem from a different point of view. It's scary. Not everyone has the stomach for it, but I really think it's worthwhile.

D. C.

Ruidh, I still fail to see how the "in relationship" concept is of any use at all in either theology or moral analysis.

You and I seem to be in violent agreement that it's not our job to judge whether someone else is in relationship with God. Unfortunately, many traditionalists (of many different faiths) insist on doing just that.

It's all well and good for folks to intuit that their particular beliefs put them "in relationship" with God. If that makes them feel good, that's great, although it strikes me as no more than wishful thinking (it also brings to mind Marx's opiate-of-the-people dictum).

My concern is when folks take the next (il)logical step: They assume that someone who holds different beliefs must not be "in relationship," and then they use that assumption to govern their actions concerning that other person.

My main point is one with which I think you agree: We simply cannot reliably know who is or is not "in relationship" with God — and therefore we have no possible justification for using the in-relationship concept to brand others as "sinful" and treat them differently because of that alleged status.

If "Alice" takes an action that "Bob" doesn't like, Bob is certainly free to disagree. He's free to try to persuade Alice and others that his view is the right one. He's even free to physically oppose Alice's action in appropriate circumstances (which of course is a whole other topic).

What Bob shouldn't presume to do is to declare that Alice supposedly is not "in relationship" with God. As you say, that's not his job.

If we take Jesus's reported teaching seriously, what is Bob's job, and ours too, is to keep working to achieve "the best" (how we go about provisionally deciding what constitutes "the best" is a far bigger topic, of course) for Alice, just as as we do for Bob, Carol, David, Ellen, etc. All of them, and all of us, are co-workers in God's cosmic construction crew, each of us presumably making some contribution to the work. All of us need to look out for the rest of the crew, out of loyalty to the Superintendent.

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