A VINTAGE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO OF HOPE • 7Not the Way It's Supposed to Be
0—Progressive: Let’s Get Vintage!
1—Manifesto: Resist Progressive Christianity, Reclaim the Fundamentals
2—Vintage Faith: 10 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
3—The Bible: This Book is God’s Book
4—God and gods: The Mars Hill Effect
5—Creation: God Spoke and…What?
6—Humanity: We’re Not Talking Monkeys
7—Homosexuality: An Honest Chat About Its Reality & Revelation
8—Sin: We Really Are that Screwed-Up
9—Jesus: Gandhi on Steroids or God Made Flesh?
10—Cross: A Love Note or Butcher’s Block?
11—Resurrection: Better Than a Zombie
12—Church: No Church No Christ, Know Church Know Christ
13—Universalism: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
14—Hell: For Real and Forever?
15—Heaven: A Place on Earth?
16—The End: Go Backwards to Go Forwards
Sin. Rebellion. Yuck!
Here are two more yucky words for you: sinner and rebel.
Probably the least liked terms ever in the history of the Christian faith! And rightly so, because some have used them as weapons to shame and manipulate people.
I understand many of us have a difficult relationship with this word, sin. Many people have been beaten over the head with it with fire-and-brimstone sermons or neon signs. Yet it’s an important aspect of faith, because it explains so much of life.
We must have an honest conversation about this aspect of our human existence if we are to have any chance of finding or helping others find the rescue and re-creation we so desperately desire—no, desperately need.
Sin helps answer some of life’s burning questions: If God is so good, why is life so bad? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God made me good, why am I so bad?
But how do vintage Christians understand sin? More importantly, how should we understand our participation in it?
On January 3, 2013 I performed my first funeral. And it sucked. It sucked because the man I officiated for was only 34. It sucked because he died after a 14-month struggle with cancer. It sucked because he left behind a young mother and twin boys.
A seminary professor of mine used to say, “Being a Christian means embracing the fact that life sucks until Jesus comes.” So true.
And it’s OK to say so! It’s OK to say that this part of life—death—sucks. And the reason why is because death isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
Deep down we know this is true, don’t we? If it was supposed to be this way, we would mourn, but then chalk it up to something that was natural. Yet we know death is wrong, unnatural. Same for cancer, racism, gossip, and everything else in life that sucks.
Then how can we explain why so much of life is so messed up? An early Christian, Methodius, reminds us:
“After their creation, the first human beings received a commandment from God. It was from this that evil sprang, because they did not obey the command. Disobedience is the root cause of all evil.”
Disobedience. Rebellion. Sin. Strong words, I know. But true. The vintage Christian faith tells us this world is fallen, and so are we.
Vandalism of Shalom
Christian thinker Jacque Ellul called this event The Great Rupture. The vintage Christian faith calls it the Fall. It maintains that at one point everything was whole, at peace, just right. But then it all changed. Now things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be; we aren’t either.
This world is messed up. The national headlines remind us daily: unemployment, Ferguson and Baltimore, New Orleans and Nepal, a billion people without clean water, ISIS. So do the personal ones: we cheat on our taxes, gossip about our neighbor, lust after images online, curse our neighbor on the road and rage at the way they drive (hand up on that one!).
Sin is a vandalizing of shalom, an intentional ruining of God’s creation. When we act in ways we know deep down are wrong, we purposefully, deliberately, actively vandalize the way its supposed to be — and God hates it. Cornelius Plantinga puts it this way:
God hates sin not just because it violates his law but more importantly because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be…God is for shalom and therefore against.1
Shalom is the way it’s supposed to be. Like one man and one woman in marriage for life. Like contentment. Like loving our neighbors as ourselves. Like an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.
Sin is anything we do that vandalizes shalom, but it’s also the things in life that aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Divorce. Pollution. Gossip. Nuclear Weapons. Envy. Sin sucks so much because it ruins what God intended; it’s existential vandalism.
It’s also a deliberate attempt to be like God. Genesis 3 makes this clear: when Mama Eve and Papa Adam rebelled against his command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were in essence grasping after God’s power, after his authority. The authority and power to decide what was right and true, what was wrong and false.
This desire is the core of sin, and it resulted in our ultimate existential plight. Death is the tragic consequence and our “wage,” as Paul puts it, for vandalizing creation and idolizing ourselves in place of God.
Every time we sin, we scream a big “Yes!” to the vandalism of shalom. We say we want “More!” of the way things aren’t supposed to be and “Less!” of the way things ought to be. We’re also saying what God originally intended is just flat out wrong. That things should be this way. That I have the right to act this way. This is how things should be, not what God intended.
When I perform or attend a funeral, I’m reminded that death isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It represents the tragic consequences of ruining God’s original intent and grasping after God’s power to define for myself what is good and evil. And it causes me to consider how I’m retracing my ancient ancestors’ footsteps.
Which reminds me of a story.
A Personal Story of Sin
Before I went to seminary I took a job with a national upscale department store in the men’s fashion department selling $150 shirts, $200 ties, and $1,800 suits. It was a great gig! In fact, it was so great and I did so well that I was headed toward management.
Somehow, this thoroughly salesmanship-handicapped individual quickly rose to number three in department sales. Because I sold so well, I developed a good relationship with the store director, which almost translated into an assistant management position.
I say “almost” because the day before I was going to be promoted I got a call from Human Resources. I thought I was going to complete some paperwork for the promotion. I was wrong. Instead, I was asked to step into a room for a little chitchat with the head of loss prevention and an internal investigator.
Let me stop here and say if you’re ever called down to a tiny room with a member of HR, loss prevention, and an internal investigator…let’s just say it’s not going to be pretty!
I stepped into the room, sat down, and the investigator began talking about the different things he investigated: Theft. Abuse. Harassment.
I sat there trying to appear as calm and cool as possible, all the while reeling inside. Then they arrived at my issue:
In this company, sales people are paid on commission, which is based on sales minus returns. At this particular department store chain, if someone returned an item and we couldn’t determine when they bought it, we could zero-out our employee number to complete the transaction. And my new friends offered surveillance photos of me returning items, receipt in tow, while zeroing-out my employee number. They accused me of deliberately violating the commission policy.
Here’s the thing: they were right. I stole from the company by deliberately failing to honestly account for my returns. Worse yet: I lied about it to the face of the man who pushed for my promotion and was this close to convincing him it was all a mistake.
I’m glad he did the right thing and fired me; I deserved it. I vandalized shalom by sinning against God and my neighbor. I ravaged my relationship with this company and my store director. I screamed a big “Yes!” to Mama Eve’s and Papa Adam’s original rebellion by stealing and then lying about it. The same is true for us all.
Brilliant and Bad
Vintage Christians recognize what I have realized about myself: “Humans are both brilliant and bad,” as one theologian put it. We’re all Good Monsters. While we are still fundamentally statues of God, we are thoroughly broken, busted statues. Deep down we know what my story illustrates: we are crooked. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” as Paul wrote.
Until that episode, I never thought I was capable of stealing. Yet there I was, a thief in Christian clothing. It makes sense, though, because all of us are born rebels in desperate need of rescue, as the vintage Christian faith insists.
Nothing compelled me to ruin God’s creation so spectacularly, so brazenly. My background — white, middle-class, Midwest suburbanite — didn’t. The “Man” — democracy, capitalism, corporatism — didn’t.
I was the problem. I’m still the problem. So are you.
Progressive Christians say something very different, though. They teach that the problem isn’t inside me, but outside me. I’m not the problem, the bad examples and destructive stories that compel me to do bad things are.
They take their cues from a very ancient source. A heretic, actually. The British monk Pelagius, who answered a very important question that gets to the heart of our human nature and the nature of our fallen reality.
1 Cornelius Plantinga, Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 14.