Friday, May 13, 2011


Following a confession of the sin of Fundamentalism, a discussion of the doctrine of sin (hamartiology) is in order. Why? Because correct hamartiology shattered a great deal of my fundamentalist heterodoxy.

As a Fundamentalist, I had the concept of sin all wrong. Sin was something outside, something out there in the world. Something I avoided. Something I confessed and God forgave of course, but still treated as something I “fell into” and then crawled back out of. Unfortunately, this view of sin is completely backwards.

How so? Well, rather than reinvent the wheel, I will instead provide two excerpts from a friend of mine's explanation that was a prime mover in my journey out of Fundamentalism. (Read her entire discussion here)

1. Sin is not a THING.

It doesn't "exist" as its own entity somewhere, rubbing off like black tar on "good things" ... so that we can simply keep ourselves away from the tar.... Sin is a twistedness, a perversion, a brokenness, a falling short. It exists only as the perversion of what is good....

2. and more precisely & biblically, sin exists IN ME. Not in objects. This point is well established in orthodox theological literature.

Paul writes in Titus that "to the pure, all things are pure." Jesus says in Matthew (and He was speaking in that context of physical things, and in a conversation with the law-loving Pharisees), it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out from the heart that defiles a man. Jesus locates the problem of sin within humans, not outside of them. We are "drawn away by our own lusts and enticed" (James 1).

Jesus then goes on to name a representative short-list of sins as His examples. His "going in" examples were food (reminds me of Paul's meat discussion). His "coming out" examples are all sins of the heart -- envy, hatred, lust, etc.

The sin problem is INSIDE ME. This is foundational to biblical thinking. As soon as you define any particular thing as sinful, you've missed the point.... because we must agree that God Himself sees all things yet does not sin.

We sin because we are sinners.
The sin is not in the object.

Heterodoxy leads to bad practice, and I believe nowhere does that bad practice exhibit itself more clearly than in the Fundamentalist concept of “standards”.

A wide variety of “standards” exist in fundamentalism about a number of outward issues. For example, some feel that it is unbiblical for a woman to wear pants. Ever. Even in the house or to bed as pajamas. On the other extreme, there are those who have no issue with it at all. In the middle, one might say it’s best reserved for activities such as horseback riding or hiking, but shouldn’t be worn as everyday wear and certainly never to church.

You know what always bothered me about that? Essentially the same logic is being used to arrive at the extreme view (“taking the higher ground”) as the more moderate view. If a woman puts a pair of pants on at the wrong time (from ever to just at church), she’s now in sin. And let’s be honest - the extremist is actually more true to the logic that got the moderate halfway there, because what gets defined as “the wrong time” is completely arbitrary. When I was deep in Fundamentalism, I knew in my heart that the extremist was a little nutty, but could find no intellectually satisfying reason why other than that I just felt there was something wrong about “taking it that far”.

The “something wrong” was this error in hamartiology.


  1. Reading Tired of Trying to Measure Up. It was my beach reading:) I am trying to figure out his view on the sin nature. I agree with what you wrote hear. Curious if you can shed any light on how his view that we don't have a sin nature passed on to us by Adam ( I do understand that he agrees we are sinners) but I am kind of confused on the difference. Am enjoying the book and it has been helpful already.

  2. And I can't spell- hear should be here:)

  3. Thanks for coming by, SJ.

    I looked at the section you mentioned (p. 154 for those who want to follow along), and it appears to me that he's not saying we don't have a sin nature inherited from Adam, but that the actual character of that sin nature is really death. We inherited death. We are dead in sin until God regenerates us. He differentiates between "having a sin nature" (he argues is an incorrect description of the theological concept) and "being in the flesh" (a correct theological concept).

    Some of what he says seems to be semantics. (And what would a good theology discussion be without them, I ask?) I think a good sentence that encapsulates what he's trying to say is, "The man's problem who is outside of Christ is not what he has; it is who he is."

    Does that help?

  4. Yes, that does help. I agree that it is probably semantics. Your last sentence is actually very helpful. Thanks!