From Ethics to the Gospel (03b) – ordered creation (follow up)

18 11 2008

Following my earlier post, Phil raised some useful issues. Generously giving me the benefit of the doubt, he commented:

“I’d also be careful to point out that all of these are a result of humanity’s sin and the fall (God giving the people over to shameful lusts because of their sin), which I’m sure you mean to imply in your post.”

Phil’s comment sparked some useful thoughts for me:
Yes, I was meaning to imply that these things are the result of sin and the fall. Although maybe “imply” isn’t the best word. I didn’t intend the post to be talking about something other than, or additional to, sin and the fall. I was intending the post to actually be talking about sin and the fall – but trying to put flesh on the bones for what that means in certain areas.

So it’s true to say that (e.g.) the creation of human-animal hybrids is a result of sin and the fall. That is perfectly true, but highly generic. It wouldn’t help us identify how sin is manifesting itself, so as to produce this result. And without identifying the particular expression of sin, we’ll be handicapped when we try to address and prevent the sin.

Think of the parallel with medicine. Suppose your stomach is sore. It is useful if a doctor can tell you: “Your stomach is sore because you have a disease – it’s not just indigestion.” But it’s far more useful if you doctor can tell you: “Your stomach is sore because you have bowel cancer” (or IBS or Crohn’s disease or tape worms or …) “ – and here’s what we need to do about it.”

Romans 1 contains some brilliant descriptions of the generic way sin works. And because they are generic, they apply to every situation. But Romans also contains some highly particularised discussions of specific instances of sin. Eg. Romans 14 (the ‘weaker brother’ discussion)– it doesn’t explicitly use the word “sin” at all until the very last word of the chapter1 – but it’s all about a particular expression of sin, and how to overcome it.

What I was trying to tease out is one of the ways in which, through sin, we suppress the truth, and exchange God’s truth for a lie. That isn’t an alternative to thinking through how “shameful lusts” operate – it’s integral to thinking it through. Now for any given individual, there will be all sorts of complicated feedback loops at play:

  1. Sin may become obvious through wrong desires. But putting those desires into action predisposes you towards changing you beliefs to match your actions – i.e. accepting a lie, a false view of reality.2
  2. Sin may become obvious when you accept a lie about the way the world really is. But when you build your life on a false view of reality, that opens you up to all sorts of disordered desires too. (And you may be blind to their disorder – you may be sincerely wrong.)
  3. Both of the above at once.

All this is enormously important for preaching. We need to teach about sin generically, to help people see how the same underlying dynamics are at work in every area of life. We also need to teach about sin specifically, so that people can learn to see how the truth is being suppressed in any given situation.

In a sentence:
Thinking wrongly about God’s good order in creation is sin. (Or one expression of sin, anyway.)

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the major, world-shaping sins of our age. But even saying that is still generic. For any given issue (homosexuality, transgender, animal-human hybrids, etc) it needs to be complemented with:

  • the specific ways in which we think wrongly about God’s order
  • the specific ways we distort that order in practice (and what the consequences are)
  • the specifics of how that order is redeemed in Christ
  • the specific responses of faith and repentance to which Christ calls us

We can’t do the specifics for everything – life is too short. That’s why we need to preach the generics. But if we don’t do the specifics for some things – especially the big sins of our own cultures – then people don’t learn how to apply the generics to everyday life.

Think of those evangelicals who had a strong doctrine of sin (in general) but who argued in favour of the slave trade.  They’d got the hang of the generic, but they were blind to the (world-shaping) particular expressions of sin in their age.

1 Or, if you’re following in Greek, the second last word of the chapter. 🙂

2 For a non-theological take on the same issue see ‘Cognitive Dissonance.




3 responses

18 11 2008

Thanks for that Rick. Yeah I rushed off my original comment before work this morning so the wording wouldn’t have been that great. 🙂

I guess my reason for posting was because that things some homosexuality and transvestism must have a reason behind why they happen. For example, God Created the world with an order, and his Creation was good, so there must be a reason for people to have (and in some cases struggle with) homosexual or transvestite urges –> sin, generically and specifically.

People have said to me, if God doesn’t like homosexuals why do they have these desires. I find it important to gently make the point that anything that isn’t a part of God’s good, natural order springs from the Fall and humanity’s sinfulness, hence my original comment. Glad it’s brought up some discussion points. 🙂

19 11 2008
Tim Adeney

Rick, I agree with the thought that thinking wrongly about God’s good created order is one of the world-shaping sins of our age.

It seems to express itself in the tendency, both Christian and secular, to try and ground what is good in some abstract universal principal or motive, supposing that all the details of life will fall out automatically once this principal is observed, rather than acknowledging that what is good is an interconnected bunch or particulars woven into the fabric of creation by God. Flowing out of this, of course, is the fact that we are then much more comfortable talking about ‘sin’ in the generic abstract, rather than ‘sins’ concrete particular.

Most preaching runs aground because it neither helps people deal with ‘sins’ nor live the details of being good, it (to mix metaphors) hovers and never quite lands in reality, of course the solution here isn’t merely a ‘generic view on how to preach details’ but rather ‘a concrete view on how to preach about work’ and ‘a concrete view on how to preach about marriage’ and so on.

It is a different issue, but a similar dynamic I think, when we think about who we will divide with. The temptation, in search of the universal principal, is to reduce everything to either a ‘gospel’ issue or an ‘authority of Scripture’ issue, when in fact a better description may in fact be ‘a detail of the created order’ issue. This kind of dynamic seems to be in play when Paul calls those who forbid marriage demonic – the demonic thing here is not that they deny the gospel or the authority of Scripture, but that they have got an important detail of creation wrong.


19 11 2008
Rick Creighton

Thanks for making those links to preaching, and to divisions.
Good food for thought – I’ll ponder further, and then maybe pick up on some of those sometime soon.

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