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ISBN/ASIN : 0802842186
Manufacturer : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company|
Release data : 01 January, 1995
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Renewing a vision for how it IS supposed be
Dr. Cornelius Plantinga provides a theology of sin that is insightful, delightful and provoking, at the same time. I think not many readers will be able to complete this book without awakening both a desire and a renewed acuteness in their conscience.
Plantinga starts off painting a (very attractive!) picture of what life might look like apart from sin; the point of the book is for us not to simply avoid sinning, but to move to positively create that life. He uses a couple vocabula with special significance, "shalom" to mean a general rightness in the world and society, and "spiritual hygiene" to a rightness in an individual. It may be distracting to get into Hebrew etymology and be concerned with that vocabulary itself -- it seems to have been adopted by the Christian community that specialises in such things, so I'll adapt.
The majority of the book addresses various dimensions in which this sinless state isn't what we observe in the current state of our universe. Representatives of the dimensions Plantinga addresses include:
* The traditional "deadly sins" -- things like envy and immorality -- and the modernly perceived absolute evils such as sexism, racism, and lack of tolerance. While I don't necessarily agree on all of the details of what's really wrong in the modern evils, the bigger point is that a right society would be free of contamination by both sorts of evil, the ones that "the good old days" would have objected to and the ones to which it would have been oblivious.
* Religiosity. He urges believers to make sure it's the God who is there that we worship when we're being religious, rather creating a different god the way we want him to be and then attacking anyone who questions our religiosity.
Generally, he looks at how we err or fail to take responsibility. It is written within the context of God's grace being the solution to this problem, but doesn't spend much space on grace; part of the reason the book was written to offset the imbalance of how much is being spoken and written on grace without materially addressing sin - why grace matters.
Some of the focus of this book fits especially well in a post-modern western context, but the work is clearly applicable to the whole of human experience. When appalled by some of the examples, those of us who don't belong in the setting whence they were drawn will do well to think of our own parallels rather than to set about casting stones at "the west" / neoliberals / the US / New Yorkers / etc. There is much in this work to remind each of us, to make each of us conscious, of our guilt and responsibility -- not only for things of which we have always felt secretly guilty, but for things that likely never crossed our minds. Certainly my conscience has been piqued!
Plantinga points out how we live in a world where the evil people do may be 'caused' be evil they have suffered. He lightly broaches the subject of non-exclusivity between being cause and result -- how sin can be a result of one's conditions, and how one's conditions can be a result of sin. To explore the theological and logical relationship between these two more fully, I recommend two books by D A Carson:
* An academic "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension" for an in-depth study of the relationship between the two, or
* The more popular "How Long O Lord" for a broader study on evil that includes the summary conclusions of that work, and complements Plantinga's study on sin.
Plantinga's book is a nice complement to a book like "The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Chrisitan Life" by J. Douma, who works out pragmatic implications of the positive side of Ten Commandments in modern life, answering the question of what we should be doing in a parallel dimension.
We can never agree on everything, of course. While I enthusiastically embrace most of the conclusions that Plantinga presents in this book, his underlying epistemology fails to qualitatively distinguish between the
* eternal truth of scripture -- open to fallible interpretation no doubt, but objective since it is given by Special Revelation
* the current "knowledge" of science which, since it is inductively learned, may reflect the objective truth of nature with increasing approximation but never with certainty and always subject to change; and
* the current mores posited by sociology, where something seems wrong because society rejects it rather than because it contradicts God's revealed objective demands.
Let us not blithely ignore what current society believes to be true and false, right and wrong, but let us not put those beliefs on the same footing as what God has objectively revealed. To (slightly mis)quote Professor Kirke in Plantinga's admired C.S.Lewis, "Don't they read Plato or Bishop Berkeley or Pierre Duhem anymore? I wonder what they do teach them at these schools."
Old Truth in New Clothing
Professor Plantinga's work is an eye opening and refreshing treatment of the problem of sin. He is successful in offering the Church effective ways of speaking of an age old subject in contemporary terms without sacrificing the essence of the issue. While his treatment is in no ways comprehensive, any thoughtful reader will come away with much food for thought and a multitude of helpful hints for exposing the reality and pervasivness of sin in our preaching and counseling. His discussion of the social diminsions of iniquity was incredibly penetrating and really meets the needs of the present hour. It is a short read that handsomely repays the time spent.
Pastor Reddit Andrews, III
Soaring Oaks Church
Elk Grove, CA
sin as vandalism
"Not the Way It's Supposed to Be" is an insightful, thoughtful, and engaging book. I, and no doubt millions of other Christians love Jesus because of his grace and never-ending love. How easy it would be to so focus on these aspects of God and to lose sight of why He is truly so great. Plantinga's book reminds us of the monumental problem that Jesus has saved us from--Sin. Sin is a loaded word. Many people have and still abuse it. Plantinga does not. Plantinga eloquently terms it "Vandalism of God's Shalom"--God's perfect created order. This metaphor shocked me at first, but then opened my eyes. This is a book that will challenge any reader. It is a classic.