Has the Notion of Sin Been Lost?

Hi all.  I found this article a couple of weeks ago on USA Today and I found it very interesting.  Please feel free to comment on it.  May the Lord Bless and Keep You!


-Rev. Charles



Has the ‘notion of sin’ been lost?

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Is sin dead? No, not by a long shot. Yet as Easter approaches, some pastors and theologians worry: How can Christians celebrate Jesus’ atonement for their sins and the promise of eternal life in his resurrection if they don’t recognize themselves as sinners?

Take it from Pope Benedict XVI. He says the modern world “is losing the notion of sin.” And not just personal sins such as greed, lust or the rest of the infamous Seven Deadlies, but social sins, too, such as polluting the planet or allowing injustice to flourish.

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Take it from the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, who doesn’t give a jelly bean for the modern version of Easter.

“All the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny are even more extraneous to the purpose of Easter than Santa is to Christmas,” Mohler says. “At least Santa Claus was based on a saint. I wonder whether even some Christian churches are making the connection between Christ’s death and resurrection and victory over sin — the linchpin doctrine of Christianity.”

Take it from pollsters.

A new survey by Ellison Research in Phoenix finds 87% of U.S. adults believe in the existence of sin, which is defined as “something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.”

Topping the list are adultery (81%) and racism (74%).

But other sins no longer draw majority condemnation. Premarital sex? Only 45% call it sin. Gambling? Just 30% say it’s sinful.

“A lot of this is relative. We tend to view sin not as God views it, but how we view it,” says Ellison president Ron Sellers.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research, a company in Ventura, Calif., that tracks Christian trends, draws a similar conclusion: “People are quick to toe the line on traditional thinking” that there is sin “but interpret that reality in a very personal and self-congratulatory manner” — I have to do what’s best for me; I am not as sinful as most.

Indeed, 65% of U.S. adults say they will go to heaven, and only 0.05% believe they’ll go to hell, according to a 2003 Barna telephone survey of 1,024 adults.

“They give intellectual assent to the story about Jesus rising on Easter Sunday: 75% say they believe the biblical account of Jesus’ death and resurrection is literally true, not a story meant to illustrate a principle. But they don’t have any personal application of this Monday through Saturday,” Kinnaman says.

Popular evangelist Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, never mentions sin in his TV sermons or best sellers such as Your Best Life Now.

“I never thought about (using the word ‘sinners’), but I probably don’t,” Osteen told Larry King in an interview. “Most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church, I want to tell them that you can change.”

The Rev. Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif., calls this “moral therapy.”

“It’s changing your lifestyle to receive God’s favor,” Horton says. “It’s not heaven in the hereafter but happiness here and now. But it is still up to you to make it happen.”

He finds sad truth in an old newspaper headline he once saw: ” ‘To hell with sin when being good is enough.’ That’s the drift of American preaching today in a lot of churches. People know what sin is; they just don’t believe in it anymore. We mix up happiness and holiness, and God is no longer the reference point.”

In other words, he asks, if you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?

People have to see themselves as sinners — ultimately alienated from God and unable to save themselves — for Christ’s sacrifice to be essential, Horton says. “(The apostle) Paul didn’t see Easter as therapy.”

Pope Benedict, in his prayers last week, said, “People who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their own ‘I,’ and their hearts harden in sin. On the other hand, those who recognize themselves as weak and sinful entrust themselves to God, and from him obtain grace and forgiveness.”

Even some people who say sin is real still steer by a compass of “moral pragmatics,” not a bright line of absolute truth, Mohler says. “People say, ‘I have high moral expectations of myself and others, but I know we are all human so I’m looking for a batting average.’

“We find a comfort zone of morality, a kind of middle-class middle level where we think we are doing well. We cut the grass. We don’t double-park. But we ignore the larger issues of sin.

“Instead of violating the law of the Creator, it becomes more a matter of etiquette. … We want our kids to play well in the sandbox and know their place in line. We want people to do things decently and in order. But it’s etiquette of morality without the ethics. The end result is that when we do things we wish people wouldn’t do, there’s no sense of guilt or shame.”

Rules have changed

The rise of secular culture also is exerting an influence. More than one in five Americans (22%) say they never go to church, not even on Christmas or Easter. And 12.1% told a new Pew Forum survey they believe “nothing in particular.”

They may be without a church, but “most people still have a notion of sin — like bringing cheap wine to parties,” jokes Karsen Case, 34, of Reno. “Seriously, you know what sin is when you get a feeling in your gut that something’s wrong.”

He hasn’t been to church in a decade, although he grew up within the conservative Lutheran Missouri Synod. “I would call myself an atheist now,” he says. “But I think the Bible has a lot of good stories. And I do connect with the story of Easter, of redemption and rebirth. It tells me you are going to make mistakes, and you will get another chance to do right in the future.”

Secular people still believe there’s sin, judgment and punishment, says sociologist Barry Kosmin, a research professor in public policy and law and director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

It’s just a different list of sinners than religious traditions teach.

“What is unacceptable has changed,” Kosmin observes. “Racism and sexual harassment, which were not sins in the past, are now. Adultery and addiction are just bad or sad behavior. And commercial sex is a no, but breaking the bonds of marriage is not.

“Secularism is situational without fundamental, universal rules. Explanations are kosher. Mitigating circumstances, too. But if people are held guilty, the punishment, of course, has to be in this world, not the next. Secular people don’t burn in hell, they burn in the court of public opinion.”

Self, not sin

Two pastors serving youthful congregations in big cities, long the statistical capitals of secular culture, say they must talk about sin to be true to their calling. They just have to use 21st-century lingo.

Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan is a modern-day variation of the circuit-riding preacher. He dashes across Central Park to three different leased locations to serve 5,000 worshipers at five services on Sundays.

When Keller, author of The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, speaks about “sin” to his audiences, which are 70% single and younger than 40, “I use it with lots and lots of explanation, because the word is essentially obsolete.

“They do get the idea of branding, of taking a word or term and filling it with your own content, so I have to rebrand the word ‘sin,’ ” Keller says.

“Around here it means self-centeredness, the acorn from which it all grows. Individually, that means ‘I live for myself, for my own glory and happiness, and I’ll work for your happiness if it helps me.’ Communally, self-centeredness is destroying peace and justice in the world, tearing the net of interwovenness, the fabric of humanity.”

Mark Driscoll says a little talk of hellfire, so out of fashion these days, would do the world good.

Driscoll founded Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a non-denominational megachurch with 7,000 in Sunday attendance, chiefly singles in their 20s.

He defines sin as “anything contrary to God’s will. People assume the way they are is normal, not that something has gone terribly wrong, and this world is abnormal.”

Although his primary audience is newbie Christians, Driscoll is sharply clear: “Without an idea of sin, Easter is meaningless.”


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