I sat down to write this editorial the week before the Australian federal election, and there was a controversy raging over the current Prime Minister’s comments about the New Testament, slavery, and same-sex marriage.
Quite apart from the details of this particular altercation, I found it striking that the tone of comment threads on blogs and Facebook was one of utter revulsion at what is a basic Christian tenet: we are all sinful, every last one of us. Much of the push-back when talking about Christian ethics in public is really a wholehearted rejection that a) there is a God at all, and b) there might be actions that displease him, or that are against our nature as beings created in his image. All talk of sinfulness is recast then in terms of Christians just being judgemental of others with whom they disagree. Declaring there is such a thing as sinfulness has become the ultimate and only sin. Merely acknowledging its existence is to cast the first stone.
Of course the Australian political context is not the only place this happens. Wherever and whenever Christian ethics or the Christian world view are debated, this treatment comes along with it. It’s not at all surprising when it happens in discussions between Christians and non-Christians, since the latter don’t have any reason or basis for a doctrine of sin. But sadly we also find it within the church, couched in very biblical language. Primarily, it happens when our talk of the abundant love of God overwhelms our talk of other aspects of God’s revealed character, pushing away the notion of sin, anger, and judgement—that’s when we start having problems. Ultimately, the cross is stripped of its meaning and power.
That’s why Mark Thompson’s article heads this issue of The Briefing. It deals with the important doctrine of sin, and why we need to keep talking about it despite its horror. It’s a version of a talk that Mark gave at a conference earlier this year, and the full version will appear in a forthcoming Brief Book.
In a similar vein, Simone Richardson’s piece questions our collective fascination with sin, in this case under the particular guise of erotic fiction. From Amish romances to Fifty Shades of Grey, romantic and erotic fiction is increasingly popular in the culture at large, and is worth talking about and wrestling with biblically. I hope you find her article useful in not only raising questions, but also helping you interrogate your own thoughts and practices in light of God’s word.
Something that’s a little out of the ordinary is the long book review we’re publishing in this issue. Yes, it’s long. But it’s on such a central and important issue—the church—and the review is of such a thoughtful and engaging book from an influential teacher—Center Church, by Tim Keller—that it’s well worth taking the time to read it. It helps that Jonathan Leeman is an entirely engaging, witty, and thoughtful reviewer.
As always, I pray that this issue of The Briefing will be of benefit to you in following Jesus, and encouraging others to do likewise.