These are some brief notes related to my November 2 sermon, part of our series on the “Seven Values” that guide us as a church.
There is a popular Christian perspective that insists that sin and evil are the defining essence of humanity and creation. In this view, people are inherently sinful from birth, the world is filled with evil, and everything is just getting worse. The “good news” in this view is that God graciously chooses some people who will be rescued from God’s future destruction of creation and torment of humanity.
This view has some variations to it, but most Christians have heard some version of it. Maybe, like me, you’ve even believed it at some point. Maybe you still do. But there are several serious problems with this popular view. Here are four.
First, everything is not getting worse. Injustice, war, earthquakes, disease, and the like have always been around, to similar or even greater degrees as now. The reality is that today more people in the world live longer, healthier lives in relative freedom and security and prosperity than at any time in human history. That doesn’t mean there are not millions upon millions in the world still affected by extreme poverty, disease, racism, sexual violence, slavery, and war. Evil is still ever-present, but things are not worse than they have been in the past.
Second, this view does not reflect the broad stream of orthodox Christian theology. It is an exaggerated form of one particular version of Calvinism, a caricature of Reformed theology that misses some much-needed wider perspective. “Total depravity” doesn’t mean that people are always as bad as they could be, but rather that sin has affected every part of who we are as human beings—our minds, our will, our emotions, our bodies—and so we are incapable of overcoming sin apart from the gracious work of God. “Original sin” is disputed among theologians: is it that all people are born already bearing the full guilt of human sin, or that all people are merely born with an inclination toward sin, or simply that all people experience the effects of sin in the world?
Third, this view does not reflect the biblical story. The biblical story starts with the goodness of creation and humanity created by a good God (Gen 1:27-31). This is the default mode of humanity. This is the grain of the universe. Even after sin enters the world, and a deep, comprehensive death through sin, the Bible continues to insist on the goodness of creation and humanity (e.g. 1 Tim 4:4-5; Jas 3:9-10).
This basic orientation must then shape how we read important biblical passages on sin like Romans 3 or 5: we need to start with the inherent goodness of humanity and creation grounded in the goodness of God, and then move to talk about sin. Do not misunderstand: sin is real, sin is serious, and Christ has come to deal with our sin. But this view that says “human beings are essentially sinful and are only worthy of destruction” is just not the biblical story.
Fourth, this view can create an unhealthy, even destructive, worldview. Many children who grow up being told “you are bad,” even if this is followed up with “but God loves you anyway,” will simply live out what they have been told they are: they will indeed grow up to do bad things. They can’t be anything else (so they think), so why try?
Many will also grow up with a fearful view of the world. After all, if sin and evil are the default mode of everyone and everything around them, then why trust anyone? why step out in hope? why take the risk of love? why pursue any good thing? Better just to batten down the hatches with others who think like me, condemn the sin and evil all around us, expel the sin and evil from among us, and wait for the divine fire escape of Jesus’ return from heaven.
And many who believe this bad-news story will have a throwaway view of our planet. If sin has infected everything, even creation, and if God is just going to burn it all up one day anyway, why care about the world around us? But this perspective is the opposite of the biblical story, which starts with the goodness of the heavens and earth created by a good God, and ends with the heavens and earth restored and renewed by that same good God.
Here is the good news of the gospel: God is good, God created us and all things good, God created us and all things for flourishing life, God created us to love and be loved. This is our basic human identity, and Christ comes to deliver us from our sin in order to restore us and all creation to this original intention.
At Morden Mennonite Church we value goodness. We recognize the inherent goodness of all creation, including every person, even through their failures and brokenness. By God’s grace and enabled by God’s Spirit, we strive to be good people, being kind and generous, patient and gentle and joyful, seeking peace with all and justice for all, loving all with the love of Jesus.