fallenThe Theology in Community series , edited by Christopher Morgan (California Baptist University) and Robert Peterson (Covenant Theological Seminary) is published by Crossway. The fifth volume of six (thus far) is entitled Fallen: A Theology of Sin.

Jason Meyer of Bethlehem Baptist Church calls this book “the most far-reaching, well-rounded modern treatment of sin that I have ever read,” and Fred Sanders of Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute says it “may be the most complete resource on the doctrine of sin in this generation and will certainly serve well as a comprehensive introduction to this neglected topic.”

Below is some interaction with some of the contributors and the editors:

  • Don Carson
  • Paul House
  • Bob Yarbrough
  • Gerald Bray
  • John Mahony
  • Sydney Page
  • David Calhoun
  • Bryan Chapell
  • Chris Morgan and Robert Peterson

Peterson-ColorChris Morgan and Robert Peterson 

1. This is the fifth volume in the Theology in Community series. What are some of the other books in the series?

The first four volumes in the Theology in Community series are Suffering and the Goodness of God, The Glory of God, The Deity of Christ, and The Kingdom of God. The sixth volume, Heaven, is fresh out, published only days ago.

2. What are the goals of the series? Why is it important? How is it distinct?

We named the series as we did for two reasons.

First, Theology in Community means we want to promote clear biblical thinking and godly responses to theological issues, both historic and contemporary. As we examine issues central to the Christian faith, we strive not only to follow a sound theological method but also to display it. Chapters addressing the Old and New Testaments on the book’s subject form the heart of each volume. Subsequent chapters synthesize the biblical teaching and link it to historical, philosophical, systematic, and pastoral concerns. Far from being mere collections of essays, the volumes are carefully crafted so that the voices of the various experts combine to proclaim a unified message.

Second, Theology in Community seeks to do theology in teams. The teachings of the Bible were forged in real-life situations by leaders in God’s covenant communities. Theology was formulated by the church for the church. This series seeks to recapture that biblical reality. Scholars from many backgrounds, disciplines, and experiences with academic credentials work together. They have a high view of Scripture, robust evangelical convictions, and love grace. They are personally involved in ministry, serving as teachers, pastors, and missionaries. They stand in continuity with the historic church, care about the global church, share life together with others in local churches, and aim to write for the good of the church.

DACDon Carson

1. In your chapter “Sin’s Contemporary Significance,” you develop a section “Sin Is Deeply Tied to Passages that Disclose Important Things about God” (pages 24-26). What passages stood out to you, and how did they shape your thinking?

What I was trying to say is that sin and God do not occupy individual silos in biblical theology. They are intertwined. Some of the most probing biblical texts on sin simultaneously disclose utterly wonderful things about God, and many of the glories of God in the Bible expose the appalling awfulness of sin. For example, the God who is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin,” yet he “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod. 34:6-7)—a tension not resolved until the cross. David’s profound confession of sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah focuses on his recognition that he has sinned against God (Ps. 51:4). And what shall we make of Isa. 53:4-5, 10, of Hosea 13:4 and 1 Cor. 15:55, and countless other passages?

2. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

Sin is painfully complex; it is twisted, wretched, often deceitful, sometimes violent. Like the grave, it always yearns for more. If we take what the Bible says seriously, sin should never surprise us, but it should constantly horrify us. The more clearly we see sin’s horror, the more we shall treasure the cross.

house_paulPaul House

1. In your two chapters on sin in the Old Testament, you utilize Exodus 34:1-7 as a key aspect of your methodology. Why?

Exodus 34:1-7 is one of the Old Testament’s most-quoted passages, so it is clearly a core passage in Old Testament Theology. Its statement about God’s character includes his forgiving nature, which includes specific names for the behavior he forgives: transgression, iniquity, and sin. Later passages like Joel 2:12-17, Jonah 3:10-4:2, and Nehemiah 9:1-38 quote Exodus 34:1-7 as reasons enough to believe God will forgive in those settings.

2. What material from the prophets does the contemporary church need to hear afresh related to the corporate aspect of sin?

The prophets stress that judicial injustice, mistreatment of the widow, orphan, and immigrant, and physical and economic enslavement have both individual and systemic elements. Passages like Amos 1:3-2:7 indicate that whole societies are held responsible for sins they commit together. I think today the prophets would likely denounce, for instance, China’s forced relocation of 250 million rural people in the name of economic reform and the United States’ unseemly debates over and treatment of political refugees at our border crossings. Might not the prophets claim God will bless those who show mercy, particularly to the helpless?

3. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

I continue to wrestle with the nature of sin. Sin is so persistent, at least in my life. It is like a genetic disorder that keeps causing illness. I am slowly becoming more and more grateful for Christ’s atonement and more in awe of God’s daily grace through the Holy Spirit.

Yarbrough-ColorBob Yarbrough

1. In your chapter on sin in the New Testament, you note the invitation to repentance and conversion as “indirect evidence of sin.” How is this important, and why did you begin with that?

We’ve all heard the expression, “there’s more caught than taught.” We learn not just from what a teacher says but from that teacher’s underlying assumptions and attitudes. Well, when it comes to sin, figures like John the Baptist and Jesus and the apostles are our teachers. Yes, they explicitly identify and condemn sin. But they do more: they assume their whole nation (Galilee, Judea, by extension the whole Roman world) is guilty of it. Even at Athens, Paul told hearers that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Biblical figures and writers call every single person, no exceptions, to turn from their crooked ways. And, just as important, each must turn to the true and living God who is present in Jesus and his teaching.

I began with that because that’s the truth that the NT starts with: John the Baptist, and Jesus in his wake, came preaching repentance and the dire need to enter God’s kingdom. That is at least as instructive regarding humankind’s “fallen” condition as all the NT’s various words and statements about “sin” proper.

2. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

I used to be amazed how people can do the kinds of things we read about or see in the news—beheadings, abductions, maimings, desertions, thefts, deceptions, deprivations, cruelties, other criminal or immoral acts. My amazement was a sort of question: Whoa! How can this be?

The older I get, the more I see how I could be or almost have been guilty of these kinds of things myself. Part of it is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount insight that to entertain an immoral act (murder, adultery) brings the same divine displeasure as committing it. Part of it is admitting how close I have been, over my 60+ years, to grave wrongdoing. God has mercifully prevented many a lethal misstep.

Why? How? For what purpose? Questions like that were my main personal takeaways from my study of sin. Why does God forgive, and in particular forgive my sins? And then by extension, the sins of small groups and families and churches and nations? One of the most-repeated confessions about God in the OT is: slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Why?

I am still trying to get to the bottom of two things: 1) roots and symptoms of my own corruption; 2) divine resources for redeeming what is fallen and recreating it for holy deployment. I expect to be wrestling with questions in these domains as long as I have breath—always making progress, but conscious that just as God’s goodness is unfathomable, so are the machinations of human darkness in which I am sadly implicated.

chris-morganChris Morgan

1. Why did you focus on the biblical story in your theology of sin?

For four reasons.

First, I do not recall seeing sin treated in this way. Second, I was surprised at how most of the key issues concerning sin emerge in the broad storyline. Third, I think the storyline itself and the major events (Creation, Fall, Redemption, New creation) shed much light on the doctrine of sin. Fourth, the storyline helps us see sin in proportion, not as the key theme but as a backdrop and context of God’s grace.

2. What do you mean by the “domain of sin and death” (page 149-150)?

Romans 5:12-21 joins Adam’s sin, humans constituted as sinners, universal guilt, universal death, and the domain of death. The domain of sin and death is the macro-environmental condition in which life occurs; the particular human corruption is a part of the personal and individual aspects of the domain of sin and death. Herman Ridderbos captured the idea:

So sin has entered in, here represented as a personified power (cf., e.g., v. 21); through and with sin death has come in as the inseparable follower and companion of sin…. [T]hat the share of all men in the sin of Adam is indicated, however, and as its consequence they have been brought under the dominion and power of sin and death. The presupposition of the whole chain of reasoning lies in the inclusion in the supraindividual situation of sin and death represented by Adam. Here again the basic structures of Pauline theology are not individualizing, but redemptive-historical and corporate. It is a matter of two different modes of existence, that of the old and that of the new man, which are determined by two different aeons, and concerning which an all-embracing decision has been made in Adam and Christ…. Death is thereby not only a punishment that puts an end to life, but a condition in which the destiny of life outside of Christ is turned into its opposite…. In addition to the future, however, sin brings forth death already in this life. . . . Thus death works itself out in the sinful life of man. (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 96, 99, 112-13)

3. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

Why would I have a tendency to measure myself or others by achievements when all I contributed to salvation was my sin? What do I have that I have not received? I need not only to believe in the fact of God’s super-abounding grace, but also accept that it is my primary identity via the saving work of Christ.

gerald_bray_0Gerald Bray

1. In “Sin in Historical Theology,” you cover a vast terrain. In your estimation, which theologians most ably captured the heart of sin and why? Who missed it and why?

To my mind there is no doubt that those who most ably captured the heart of sin were the greatest theologians of the Western tradition-Augustine, Anselm, Luther and Calvin. The basic reason for this is surely that they saw beyond the surface. Most people think of sin in terms of actions that we commit, which makes it impossible for them to think of a newborn child as a sinner, for example. But the great theologians I have mentioned understood that sinfulness is a state of separation from God. The actions that a person does merely reflect that more fundamental alienation. Even if they are good in themselves, they cannot bring us closer to God because our relationship with him has been broken by something that goes deeper than that.

Unfortunately, there have been many people who have not grasped this fundamental point. Pelagius, whom Augustine opposed, would be an obvious one, but there have been many others, and it is probably true to say that most people today would fall into this category. To them, sin is a moral failing which they try to put right by changing their attitudes and behavior. It is well meant, of course, and that is the problem. They trust in their own righteousness, as the New Testament puts it, to save them, and not in that of Christ. The fact that it is often assumed rather than articulated makes it more widespread—and more dangerous.

2. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

For me, the hardest thing about sin is dealing with the fundamental fact that it is a spiritual separation from God. I struggle with this in my own life because I am always trying to set goals for myself, as if righteousness were some kind of fitness training program. The problem is that there is nothing wrong about leading a morally upright life. Indeed, we are meant to do that as far as we can. The apostle Paul has told us that it is absurd to go around sinning just in order to see God’s forgiving grace at work in our lives, and I have to remember that. But at the same time, I also have to bear in mind that however hard I try, my success or failure in this does not determine my standing before God. He loves me in my sinfulness, and Christ has united me to himself in order to give me his righteousness, which I cannot acquire on my own. It sounds fine in theory, of course, but putting it into practice on a daily basis, especially when I am tempted to think that I have achieved something that God will be proud of, is the hardest thing to deal with. How can God love me when I have done nothing to deserve that? This is the deepest mystery of our faith, and the thing that I struggle with most of all.

John Mahony

1. In “A Theology of Sin for Today,” why did you begin with the “post-fall reality” of sin?

The “post-fall reality” is the present state of existence of all humankind. The fall of Adam is the fall of the entire human race. The Bible records that tragedy for us as well as an account of its devastating results. It occurred to me that the “post-fall reality” is also the post-fall perspective for all of us, even the biblical authors. So the question this raises is: do we as fallen beings have a true sense of the awful nature of sin as we read the account in Scripture?

2. What do you mean by the “pre-fall paradigm” and how does covenant play into it?

The “pre-fall paradigm” refers to the two covenant heads, Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:12-21). “In Adam” the human race fell; “in Christ” believers participate in a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Again, for me, the issue is the nature of sin. The only two humans who experienced “sin-free” existence are the two covenant heads. Thus, how desperately bad is sin if righteous humans can be tempted by it?

3. What questions about sin arose for you or still linger for you?

Many questions about sin remain. First, is sin a privation/absence only or does it actually come into existence with each thought or action that doesn’t conform to the moral will of God? Also, is the perpetuation of wickedness in society (prejudice, greed, injustice) sin as well? Is culture a projection of the sin of its people or is culture morally neutral? What is the relationship between human sin and an individual’s mental states? How does this influence counseling?

Sydney Page

1. Your chapter “Satan, Sin, and Evil” fills an important gap in books on sin. What myths about Satan do contemporary evangelicals need challenged?

Evangelicals tend to fall into one of two errors when thinking about Satan. Their devil can be too big or too small. On one hand, they can get caught up in a speculative interest in him and so exaggerate his role that they compromise either God’s sovereignty or human responsibility. On the other hand, they can ignore or downplay the biblical teaching about Satan, with the result that they fail to do justice to the cosmic conflict between good and evil and what Christ accomplished through his victory on the cross.

2. How does Satan relate to sin?

Satan’s fall into sin antedates the fall of humankind, and as a fallen being, he seeks to lead others down the path he has chosen. He does not have the power to compel others to sin, but he can and does entice them to do so. The battle with sin is ongoing, and complete freedom from it will be achieved only when the devil receives his final punishment.

3. What aspect of the biblical teaching about sin and Satan did you find most surprising?

I was struck by the subtlety with which Satan operates. For instance, where we might be inclined to detect the activity of the devil behind licentious living, Paul refers to how Satan might take advantage of people who embrace an ascetic lifestyle in 1 Corinthians 7:5. Similarly, a passion for the purity of the church is admirable, but it can degenerate into an unwillingness to forgive, which according to 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, Satan can exploit.

Calhoun-David-2002-e1336682520484David Calhoun

1. What are common misconceptions related to temptation?

Since the matter of temptation is constantly facing us, we are “tempted” to think that it is not something that we can do anything about. We just carry on and hope for the best. But the Bible says a lot about temptation, and it behooves us to listen carefully.

2. As you wrote this chapter, what stood out as helpful to your own walk?

I cannot avoid temptation, but I can be prepared for it. I can study the wiles of the devil (Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is a good primer). At the same time I must not so focus on temptation and the devil that I forget my main resource—Christ who dwells within and enables me to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil. 3. What questions about sin and temptation arose for you or still linger for you? It is difficult to determine the exact line between temptation and sin. Luther makes the line quite clear, but Calvin brings the two much closer together. We should constantly pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” throughout the experiences of our daily life.

620x400_Bryan-ChappellBryan Chapell

1. How did you come up with the title “Repentance That Sings”?

So often repentance is presented as entailing an attitude of grief. It is certainly that, but not completely that. There is no repentance where there is no grief for sin, but when repentance is complete, the heart is unburdened, released and made joyful. Repentance certainly involved conviction of sin, but repentance is not complete until there is convincing of grace. If repentance is only a matter of feeling bad for a sufficient amount of time, then we are depending on our feelings rather than on the atoning work of Christ. If holiness is only defined by somber acknowledgement of our lowliness and filth, then we actually deny the efficacy of the blood of Christ.

2. As you wrote this chapter, what stood out as helpful to your own walk?

I often hear “true” repentance described as “turning from sin.” But, if this is the definition of repentance, then it is essentially a work of human effort and merit—we stop being bad and start being good to get God’s grace. The Reformers were more careful in their definition, indicating that repentance is “turning from sin unto God.” This means that repentance is not dependence on our goodness, but a forsaking of all that is in us and a total reliance upon God’s grace. The fruit of repentance is new obedience, but the cause of forgiveness is not our better performance, but God’s unconditional mercy. Repentance is not so much a “doing” as a “depending”; not so much a “reform of behavior” as a “reliance upon mercy.” Repentance defined only by a corrected behavior is actually a fresh descent into pride; repentance defined by total dependence upon God’s grace results in humility and hearts yearning to please him.

3. What questions about sin and grace arose for you or still linger for you?

Since “God’s kindness is meant to lead you repentance” (Rom. 2:4), I am always wondering how to keep that kindness so present and powerful in my own heart (and preaching) that sin loses its allure—and consequently its power—without creating sinful presumption upon the grace of God.