Keller and THE PROBLEM (RJS)

We do not live in the Garden of Eden (Utopia, Shangri La, Paradise — you name it). Most of us would agree that it is self evident that something is fundamentally wrong with the world we currently occupy. The 20th century, with genocide, war, greed, injustice, and selfishness, has disabused the optimistic view of the inherent goodness of humanity and the evolution of human society. So then, what is the problem — and — what is the solution?

In Chapter 10 of The Reason for God Tim Keller tackles the problem. The Christian answer of course is Sin – but this simply begs the question, unless we first come to an understanding of sin.

Keller defines sin fundamentally as seeking to establish self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God. (p. 162) Sin is failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

Sin has far-reaching consequences. If we fail to love God, we will fail to love our neighbors. If we fail to love our neighbors, we have first failed to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Here we can move on to 1 John 4:7-8

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

This does not mean that non-Christians or those who fail to love God are intrinsically amoral monsters. It does mean that all will fall short of the ideal, tainted by pursuit of something less than ideal.

Keller expands on this idea of sin. He suggests that identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Self worth and self identity can disappear in an instant if founded on freedom, success, parenthood, work, achievement, church leadership, the esteem of others, social action, charity, …, even the most honorable and altruistic goal.

Worse yet – Keller claims that identity apart from God is socially destructive.

If our highest ultimate goal is centered in the good of our family we will tend to care less for other families.

If our highest goal is the good of our nation we will tend to care less for other nations, and may “defend” ours at all costs.

If our highest goal is our individual happiness we will put our economic and power interests ahead of others.

If our highest goal is our religion we will despise and demonize those from other religious traditions.

If our highest goal is the good of our church, if our identity is centered in our church or denomination, we will defend it by denigrating other churches and denominations.

And – think about it — if our identity is centered on our class, our race, our gender — classism, racism, and sexism are the unavoidable consequences.

So racism, classism, and sexism are not matters of ignorance or lack of education. Foucault and others in our time have shown that it is far harder than we think to have a self-identity that doesn’t lead to exclusion. The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them. (p. 169)

The problem is not “human evil” – power, domination, and violence. These are devastatingly present in our world of course, but they are merely unavoidable consequences of the root problem.

In this chapter Keller quotes Soren Kierkegaard, CS Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Thomas Oden, Jonathan Edwards, and more.

Sayers in Creed or Chaos concludes:

The Christian dogma of the double nature in man – which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him – makes the present parlous state of human society seem less hopeless and less irrational. (p. 168)

Keller ties all this together with the Biblical account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve turned away from focus on life with God at the center and we all follow suit. We intrinsically turn away from a life with God at the center. He also looks at Romans 8 and ties this back to the Fall.

The Solution? When Sin is defined not as the bad things we do, but as this reorientation away from God as the center and Jesus as Lord, the solution is both easier and harder. It is easier because it requires only one thing, a refocus on God himself, and harder because it requires a total refocus of everything we are and desire. Here Keller quotes CS Lewis from “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”.

The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” – our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field – all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat … I must be plowed up and re-sown. (pp. 171-172)

Keller then gives his own take on the power of the solution.

But we all are being pursued by guilt because we must have an identity and there must be some standard to live up to by which we get that identity. Whatever you base your life on – you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you – who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?

Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally. (p. 172-173)

Ok — Keller has had his say, now lets open the general discussion:

Is Keller right in his definition of sin ? and Is this the problem?

How would you define sin – and based on your definition, what is the solution?

On a more general note – in our current post-Christian culture:

How would you convince a skeptic of both problem and solution?

Is there any general agreement that Keller is right and there is a problem?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Tim

    I don’t agree with Keller’s assertion that one must make some thing “lord” of their lives. While some may resemble the narrowly focused ethos Keller describes, many are not quite so unidimensional. Many just try to do the best they can to love and care for others while trying to get by in life. They succeed. And fail. And try again. Not expecting perfection. Just expecting to keep trying to do their best. Is this idolatry then? I don’t see how.

    Keller is simply following in the long tradition of accusing everyone not of the Christian faith of idolatry. He’s just doing it more gently than we’re used to from those of a more fire and brimstone orientation.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    I don’t know, I kind of liked it. Thank you, RJS.

  • RJS

    Tim,

    This idea of making something Lord of one’s life is worth some discussion. I don’t think it can be dismissed as readily as you suggest. Some people are much more intense about it than others – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true for the less intense sort as well.

    As I read this chapter one of the things that occurred to me is that Keller really seems to believe this and to shape his approach around it. I don’t get the same feeling with many Christian leaders. It colors Keller’s book on work and his approach to many who disagree with him on a wide range of issues. With any public figure it is possible to be fooled, but from what I know (only his writing, some speaking, and being at the same conference twice) he lives this way.

    When we have this view of human sinfulness unity without uniformity is possible.

  • http://thepracticeofdiscovery.wordpress.com/ nathan

    brilliant work by keller! yet another book to add to my growing pile of “must read”. if we understand the reality of the cross then YES sin is the problem & i think keller’s definition is spot on. isn’t sin, in any form, the thing that takes us away from the Lordship of Christ, removing Him from primary place in our lives?

    i too think he’s right when he talks about “lord of our life” issues. we don’t want to surrender to Christ, so we seek something else to satisfy that need/craving. and that craving is a strong one! so when the pursuit of an alternate lord doesn’t “bring home the bacon” we find another.

    his comment about “being pursued by guilt” is powerful. we don’t talk too much about guilt today…maybe we should.

  • Rick

    Keller does it again by removing the layers and getting to the core issues.

    We are broken eikons, we try to fill the vacuum left with unhealthy things, and the impact hits our relationship with God, ourselves, others, creation, etc… (as Scot has regularly said).

  • T.S.Gay

    The Humanist Manifesto III is summed up in closing by saying “The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone”. There is no document on God’s green earth that has been agreed to by more Nobel Laureates than this manifesto. Figuaratively these are people crowned with a wreath as the highest achievement a scientist can receive. I think the closing sentiments of the Humanist Manifesto III are natural, and also you have to notice that they are reactionary. We have a problem, and the solution is not a natural reaction. To think that people in church or not come to the solution is naive. One way that has been said to picture the analogy is that within each of us is a throne. You are seated on it or you are not. If you are, your playing god. Busy setting up our own kingdoms or trying to find a unifying solution to one kingdom. And even “Christianity” when it reached a position of power, instead of its earlier marginal position, succumbed to the human condition. Being marginalized really is preferable to being in the mainstream of any ideal that starts and propogates the capital “I”.

  • John Mark

    From scripture: Whatever is not of faith is sin; knowing what you should do and not doing it is sin, sin is lawlessness, all wrongdoing is sin (from Romans, James and ! John). Is idolatry obvious in all these? Certainly not loving God is evident. Luther spoke of sin as being curved in on oneself, and that is idolatry.

  • Phil Miller

    To quote the great prophet of our times, Bob Dylan, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”.

  • T

    I think there are several accurate ways to describe “the” problem, and I think a failure around the greatest commandment(s) is a good one.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    If you read Keller’s description of idolatry closely, you will see that his criticisms might encompass many who consider themselves part of “the Christian faith.” He is not describing boundary markers and saying, those on this side are idolaters and those on that side are not; he is making a claim about the propensity of the human self to center its actions, desires, and will around things that are not God (who revealed himself most fully in the man Jesus).

    There are a number of intertwined issues here that will affect how one perceives the force of his reasoning:
    – Is it true that human beings tend to make decisions and structure their time / desires around things that they consider to be, on some level, of “ultimate” significance, regardless of whether this is conscious or not? How would we know?
    – Is it a negative on any level for a person to have her desires ordered by things that are not the God of the Bible? How would we know?
    – Does the God of scripture, revealed fully in the man Jesus, exist; how would we know?
    – Was Jesus who he said he was? How would we know?

    In other words, it strikes me that Keller is making an anthropological claim rooted in a historical/theological claim. If Jesus is who he says he is and the New Testament can be trusted on some level, then this indicates something about the things for which the human heart was meant; and it seems he’s also suggesting that we can see this borne out in the ultimate failure of many identity-shapers and human pursuits to ultimately deliver on the things they seem to promise.

  • http:pl-d.net PaulDz

    There are two things that bother me about the post. The first is that he polarizes the conversation. It helps clarify but then he never speaks realistically. There is almost never a ” highest ultimate goal” that is centered on anything. When we talk about ‘lord’it is more realistically lords with a few sub-deities hanging around. This realism will help frame the solution much better.

    The second is that he does not get around to saying how the solution changes things like genocide, war, global poverty, national prejudice, etc.. How does the solution he gives impact these?

  • RJS

    PaulDz,

    Rory Tyer notes that Keller’s description of idolatry encompasses many who consider themselves part of the Christian faith. I think it encompasses many who consider themselves successful Christian leaders, especially entreprenurial Christian leaders.

    So I think this vision of problem and solution will wipe out genocide, war, global poverty, national prejudice, sexism, classism, racism, and on … not only that it will wipe out interdenominational fighting and the tendency of Christians to “eat their young.” There is a depth here that we don’t begin to fathom.

  • norman

    RJS asked: Is Keller right in his definition of sin ? and Is this the problem?
    How would you define sin – and based on your definition, what is the solution?

    Actually I think Keller misunderstands “part” of the discussion of Sin in the Hebrew concept as outlined by Paul in Romans 5-8. However that doesn’t preclude his examination of the nature of “sin” at its human core as a needed investigation.

    Paul is actually saying that the reason “sin” is a problem is because of the lost stance of the Covenant Garden standing that was assumed to be in play before the fall. Therefore indeed Paul is looking for a return to Garden life. However Garden life in the Bible as interpreted through the eyes of Paul is not a physical Shangri-La per se but a return to right standing before God in the here in now. It’s not talking about a pie in the sky concept. It brings people back into Peace and Harmony with God by getting rid of the mindset that caused the fall/separation.

    Rom 5: 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14

    Rom 7:8 …For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

    In Paul’s world view people who are in a covenant relationship with God should not be encumbered with the guilt of sin lying over their head. But if they are like most people we all naturally attempt to manage our relationship with God through work list that brings self-righteousness. Through Christ then we are provided an anvenue to God that sets aside our ineffective human strivings. Paul calls this striving the embodiment of Law or Pharisaical Legalism which interferes with how God wants His Image manifesting its strength within us. So the Garden of Eden has been restored but it never was Shangri-La as we imagine it.

    We can disagree with this understanding but that is what brought division between Jesus, the Apostles and the Jews who rejected Christ. They wanted the physical Shangri_La and many Christians still focus on that same concept not realizing that Christ wasn’t about giving us that kind of Kingdom.

    Luke 17: 20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ FOR INDEED, THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU.”

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    Actually, I think Keller has some useful things to say. But, I’d like to offer another perspective. It may be unfamiliar to many, so please be patient.

    We do not live in the Garden of Eden

    Of course not. Never have and never will. Genesis is a mythic/metaphorical expression of the fundamental truth of man’s imperfection, which is rooted in the metaphysical fact that man is a limited creature–not God and therefore incapable of perfection. Genesis is in no sense historical, and taking it as such leads to insoluble problems for Christian theology–1500 years or so of fruitless controversies over nature/grace/freedom/God’s justice should be enough to convince anyone of that.

    Most of us would agree that it is self evident that something is fundamentally wrong with the world we currently occupy.

    Actually we should all be able to agree that an objective survey of history demonstrates that humanity has always been a mess–imperfect. It’s called the human condition and the situation will not change this side of the second coming, or heaven.

    Keller defines sin fundamentally as seeking to establish self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God.

    Not bad at all. This reflects the traditional, metaphysically expressed, Christian understanding of sin as a “privation,” the lack of a good that should properly speaking be present. As creatures we are all necessarily in a relationship with God, given that our human nature is part of God’s creation. Sin occurs when we act in ways that are destructive of that nature. The Ten Commandments offer some basic ideas of ways in which we destroy or damage that nature–which amounts to a refusal to accept the nature that God has given us and to reject a proper relationship with God.

    The 20th century, with genocide, war, greed, injustice, and selfishness, has disabused the optimistic view of the inherent goodness of humanity and the evolution of human society.

    Yes, but … It’s important to recognize that man IS inherently good–to the extent that he lives in accordance with his God created nature. After all, God did see that what he created was good. Traditional Christianity expressed this metaphysically via the philosophia perennis by stating that all being is good in so far is it actually is–that is why it defines evil and sin as a privation of being: a lack of or falling short of the degree of being that should properly be present. It’s very important to get this conceptually straight.

    Keller expands on this idea of sin. He suggests that identity apart from God is inherently unstable. … Worse yet – Keller claims that identity apart from God is socially destructive.

    Of course. Well put.

    Sayers in Creed or Chaos concludes:
    The Christian dogma of the double nature in man – which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him – makes the present parlous state of human society seem less hopeless and less irrational. (p. 168)

    Man is necessarily imperfect, but there is no need to posit any “disintegration” of man’s nature. In fact, to orthodox Christians the notion that man by his sinful actions can somehow “destroy” or “disintegrate” something that God created (human nature) should seem distinctly suspect–more gnostic than Christian.

    Keller ties all this together with the Biblical account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve turned away from focus on life with God at the center and we all follow suit. We intrinsically turn away from a life with God at the center.

    “Intrinsically,” by our nature? That nature is God’s work and is good. It remains good despite sinful acts. Again, there is no reason to posit some intrinsic “disintegration” of God’s work (human nature) to understand that man through his free will can choose–or choose not to–commit disordered acts: acts that contradict the order of his God-given nature and disrupt his relationship with God.

    Please bear with me while I once again offer several links that address at great length the misguided doctrine of Original Sin.

    The first (Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra) presents the fact that Judaism has never interpreted Genesis as presenting a doctrine of “original” sin. Further, neither the Gospels nor any other early Christian writings presumes such a doctrine–instead they presume a Judaic anthropology (which is presented). Jesus offers forgiveness of our personal sins, not of a mythic/metaphorical “original” sin–an idea that was only adopted centuries later.

    The second (Early Christian Thought on Original Sin) argues that this same basic understanding of human nature continued into the “sub-apostolic” age of the early fathers, i.e., no doctrine of “original” sin.

    The third (Original Sin: The Later Fathers) presents the history of the adoption of a doctrine of “original” sin, especially in the West and especially under the influence of Augustine–whose later influence on Western theology was “all in all,” so to speak. The influence of gnostic and Platonic thought on this development is stressed.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    PaulDz – exactly.

    Historical facts are often glossed over too. The idea that we have kept descending into bloodthirtsy savages – the imminent decline of everything – all of that plays into this quite well.

    After the Second World War, the idea of the noble savage, and the bloodthirsty modern got a lot of traction (understandably). Anthropologists noting anything to the contrary were ignored. But gradually, the research showed a different picture: Among “primitive” hunter-gatherers and similar groups, homicide is quite substantial, and tribal warfare is more or less ongoing. In one memorable estimate, the violence associated with on tribe in the new world was so substantial, that if humanity at large were so prone to warfare, we would have lost 1.2 billion people in the 20th century (quoted in “Before The Dawn”, by Nicholas Wade). Whereas many people are still killed in war, and lost to torture, starvation etc etc., the rates have been coming down, albeit jerkily.

    I’m quoting this because it underlies the questionable nature of the polarization (as PaulDz notes) of the conversation / argument. The idea that “If we fail to love God, we will fail to love our neighbors.” simply doesn’t hold water in the absolute. It contrast, it is interesting to note that (paleo-) anthropologically, the development of religion per se (likely) was a tool for social cohesion and equalization. Sin was “upsetting” the balance, directly or indirectly (for those who used the term. Other terms apply for different religions). If one were to use this definition, there is no real “solution”, however, there is a process (or processes) of minimization. Note too that in the Christian tradition, there is no practical solution for sin: We have not stopped it, have we? Although, as per my comment earlier, things are actually getting better. But that would not really be the case if you view it from an orthodox Christian point of view, which declares us all to be sinful etc etc.

    No, the Christian solution, when all is said and done, is largely a “forensic” solution. Otherwise you’d have fall into the camp of claiming that there are no decent non-Christians (atheists, Buddhists, whatever), an that Christians are morally superior. Which is not well supported by the facts. So what’s the point then?

  • Phil Miller

    No, the Christian solution, when all is said and done, is largely a “forensic” solution. Otherwise you’d have fall into the camp of claiming that there are no decent non-Christians (atheists, Buddhists, whatever), an that Christians are morally superior. Which is not well supported by the facts. So what’s the point then?

    I actually don’t think many Christians would say that there are no decent atheists, Buddhists, etc. There might be some. But I think the term “decent” is vague. Sure most of us can manage to not kill each other, but That’s the thing about railing against social problems. None of us have clean hands.

    I actually think breaking down sin basically to idolatry is not too far off. We are either serving God or we are serving a less master. Often time that end up being our own self-interest, but there are other things that fall into that as well.

  • RJS

    Klasie,

    I think your kind of academic analysis misses the point.

    First, the “if we fail to love God we will fail to love others” is my statement, not Keller’s so don’t blame him.

    Second the Christian ethic is a revolutionary one – it is not that more often than not we love others, but that always, in every single action, we are called to love God and love others. No wiggle room. Ever.

    The comment about Christians as morally superior to Buddhists or atheists or whatever also misses the point. In a counter argument I think Keller would agree with (although I don’t know for sure and don’t claim to speak for him) – all humans are created in the image of God, no matter what they profess today or how closely they follow. Therefore we should expect to see substantive moral sense in every group.

  • Dana Ames

    The western Christian solution is a forensic one. The eastern Christian solution is an ontologic one, wherein the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ actually change something about human beings and God’s relationship with them.

    Keller’s definition of “seeking to establish self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God” comes close in that he recognizes identity is a major part of the problem. For the eastern church, the main problem is Death and our slavery to fear of death, Heb 2.14-15. Certainly it is a vicious circle in that fear of death causes us to sin, and sin feeds death; but at the center of it is death that has come with turning away from union with God, the source of life, and preferring to find one’s source of life within oneself. Identity is part of this, but more as a result, not the core issue. The issue is that each person seeks his/her own survival as an individual entity, without regard to communion with God or any other humans. Everyone has “a standard” and most people actually make an effort to hold to their standards. And anyone can do this as an individual entity without regard to God or anyone else. Therefore, holding to a standard can’t be the ultimate problem.

    But redemption actually starts with the incarnation, as Heb 2.14 says: Jesus himself partook of our nature (became human while remaining God) that he might destroy death by death – his crucifixion and resurrection. That is what the writer of Hebrews sees as the problem and its solution. “Reorientation” is a better connection with this idea than missing a standard, but the reorientation is not possible unless we have been rescued from the fear of that which we cannot escape. God has done that.

    In terms of identity, God in Christ identified himself with humanity in the incarnation. We identify ourselves with God in baptism, about which St Paul has much to say.

    Keller seems to have a lot of integrity and care for people. That goes a long way. His list of socially destructive behaviors is astute. I think at the bottom of every one of them he brings up – less care, lust for power, denigration and demonization – is the tendency of individuals to avoid death or anything that “feels like death”, and often the tribalism that gives the illusion that we can survive by cutting off relationship with “the Other” on a group level as well as an individual level.

    It’s when we’re not afraid of death that we can truly love and give ourselves for the Other. In terms of convincing a skeptic, I’m with Newbigin – The existence of God is not something that can be proved or disproved; the final apologetic is a community that people who identify with Jesus and worship the Triune God, and exhibit self-giving love for one another and those “on the outside.” That seems to be what “worked” in the early days of the church in a society every bit as pluralistic as ours, or maybe even more so. Apologists as such were rare birds in those days.

    EOrthodox theology tends to start with the cross and resurrection, and work back from there, as to figuring out what the problem is. This is difficult and somewhat disorienting for us 21st century heirs of the western philosophical/theological tradition of Reason-ing. It’s not that we shouldn’t use our reason, but that reason is a tool which can be utilized in helpful and unhelpful ways, and is not the point. The point is The Eternal Kind Of Life – which is also available to those who cannot reason.

    Dana

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJD – to love others is a variety, or a strong restatement of “to do unto others as you’d want them….”. If you accept that – well, not only is that known from the NT, but also from Chinese religious writings (Confucius and Laozi), religious writings from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt and elsewhere (India).

    As to no wiggle room – well, one can get that from Aristotle’s Ethics. Plus some of the writings quoted above also come close to that: From the Tao Teh Ching (Laozi):

    The Sage has no fixed heart of his own
    Those who look at him see their own hearts

    Those who are good he treats with goodness
    Those who are bad he also treats with goodness because the nature of his being is good

    Those who are truthful he treats with truth
    Those who are not truthful he also treats with truth because the nature of his being is truthful

    The Sage lives in harmony with all below Heaven
    He sees everything as his own self
    He loves everyone as his own child
    All people are drawn to him every eye and ear is turned toward him

    (see http://taotechingme.com/chapter-49-the-sage-has-no-fixed-heart-of-his-own)

    I am particularly pointed out the Christians as not morally superior thing – because I fully realized that that was not what you were saying. However, if Christianity is not about reducing sin, it boils down to a relationship with the unproveable deity, does it not? Thus, any investigation of the existence of God from a internal logic pov (as we discussed the other day) thing would have to look at God, and not man, as the latter fails/sins/reacts regardless, does it not?

  • RJS

    Klasie,

    Why would you say Christianity is about reducing sin? And what counts as sin in your definition?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS: I’m not saying that, but that was pretty much the point of all my upbringing. The other approach is to state the moral law, tell you your’e not going to make it anyway, and then have some sort of forensic declaration.

    But if you get back to Keller, he states the problem is sin. But if you accept my second approach in my previous paragraph, you are not going to solve the problem. Unless you believe it can be minimised. Which gets back to your question. If your answer is no, that is not what Christianity is about – then what is the problem then? So we have to fall back on this idea of a God that creates us, let’s us create a problem, and then either judges us, or declares us to be problem free. And THAT is the “internal logic” I’d like to get at.

    You asked, what is sin (according to me?): I’m debating that with myself. Either it is not loving God, but then I need an answer to the internal logic problem, or it is the more anthropological answer (things that are bad for me, the group and the species, threatening our well-being, and thus our survival – basically, a sophisticated Darwinian answer).

  • Jon G

    Anybody read Peter Rollins’ recent book, The Idolatry of God? He has some interesting takes on this discussion, including Original Sin = 1st separation (sin literally means separation). By framing it this way, sin is not an act requiring punishment but a gap requiring closing. And we try to close it with idols…the one thing that promises happiness but never delivers.

    He says that Original Sin is actually the ‘percieved’ gap (he doesn’t really believe there is a gap, but that we always think there is) at the core of our being that causes us to imagine something that might fill that gap…something that will make us whole and finally bring us satisfaction. He goes on to show that that “something” is a fantasy (it doesn’t exist) and, whereas many people put things like money, power, sex, whatever in the place of that “something” meant to fill that percieved gap, the modern church does the same thing with Jesus. But even people who claim to have gotten Jesus still want more and never seem to be fully satisfied.

    Basically, the problem lies with our constant desire to fill the gap, whether with worldly values or with God Himself. It is the “gap filling” that causes problems instead of the things we try to place in that gap.

    I’m probably not doing a great job of explaining the book, but I highly recommend it.

    So, what if, instead of making idols out of everything, including God, we stop trying to fill this percieved gap? That is what the rest of the book is about…

  • Jon G

    I should clarify because the first parenthetical statement in my 2nd paragraph might be misleading. I don’t think he believes there is nothing wrong, like there isn’t something “broken”, but rather that our sin stems from our thinking that we have lost something that we never really had. We’ve created something out of nothing (he uses the provacative phrase “ex nihilo”), felt that we lost it, and are trying to constantly replace it with things that can’t fill the gap…all because there is no gap to begin with…so nothing is meant to fill an imaginary gap.

    I know that sounds confusing, and to be honest, I get mixed up sometimes with Rollins’ thoughts…but I think he’s on to something.

  • http://www.seethefractals.com Jason Hine

    I like Keller’s definition of sin, which uses relative terms: We sin (“miss the mark”) when we make something else more central than God. By this definition, loving my self, country, family, church is not a sin per se, but putting my love for any of these *ahead* of my love for God is “missing the mark”. What we need to remember is that the path of “loving God first” actually enables our jars of clay to love and bless everything and everyone around us (including self, country, family, church) more fruitfully than we might otherwise be able to do. The truth of this is demonstrated in the life of Jesus… but note that the way Jesus loved those around him sometimes didn’t seem like love to those people at that time, but rather indifference, or worse — How unloving of Jesus to fall asleep here in the boat, leaving us disciples to battle this storm ourselves! How unloving of Jesus to stop and talk with that woman when his friend and our brother Lazarus lay dying, and is now dead! We are often angry with Jesus for the way he loves, and it is only some time afterward, when anger has subsided and the seeds planted by love have grown, that we can look back and see Jesus’ acts as love. This is not the tame love of Valentine’s Day; it is a frightening Love able to cut with surgical precision to the core of our being to free us from that in which we’re ensnared. This is the Love we enable when we love God first, and in light of this Love I can more easily see the shortcomings of my own efforts to love: How my love often “misses the mark” and, while intended for good, can easily do more harm — and even be socially destructive, as Keller says.

  • Jon G
  • Doug

    Brilliant chapter by Keller; excellent summary by RJS, thanks!


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