Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saved from What?

USA Today has an excellent piece about our culture's diminished concept of sin and its significance for the church (HT: Between Two Worlds). Here are a few excerpts:

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?...

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.

The article continues with some good commentary by a diverse assortment of Christian leaders – from the Pope to Mark Driscoll (and an example of the problem in Joel Osteen!) – but I wonder if this disconnect is really new. Have not people always been quicker to see sin in others than in themselves? Was it any different during the first Holy Week, when the leaders of God’s people saw themselves as the righteous even while calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, when Jesus' own disciples were fleeing and denying him? We are the same, and this week of all weeks we would do well to remember it.
If it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

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