Sin and Death in *Two Stories of Everything*

In Two Stories of Everything I take a more Eastern Orthodox approach to the Fall. I argue that the main enemy is death, that death entered the world through sin, that sin is a very real problem, but that redemption in Christ addresses more than just sin alone, and that sin is one symptom of death. A colleague and reader, George, asked about this. Here is his question and my answer (with some editing, of course):

Hi Duane,

So, to my first question about your book. I am certain I will have many questions, mostly about Islam, but my first question is actually about Christianity. In Chapter 4 you write that “Christianity proposes that the foundational problem is death.” This really caught my attention, because I have never actually seen it written that way before. You state that sin is a manifestation of death, and state that the problem of death is deeper than the problem of sin.

It is a very interesting way of looking at it. But to be completely honest, I really don’t agree with it. Now my purpose is not to start an argument. It is inevitable that friends will disagree on something. […] So I will be very interested to read why you believe that death is the foundational problem proposed in Christian theology.

Hi George,

Love the question. It is a very good one. Let me outline where I’m coming from with this. […] What I’m doing in emphasizing the problem of death is actually returning to an older, pre-Reformation vision. The emphasis on sin as the fundamental problem is largely a characteristic of the Reformation. And that makes sense in its historical context. The presenting issue for Luther was the sale of indulgences, and those were very specifically purposed to erase a very certain type of effect of very specific sins. So I don’t think I’m saying anything fundamentally at odds with the main gist of the Reformers, it’s just that they were focused in a very specific issue, and I’m focusing on a much larger stage–the entire metanarrative of Christianity.

I’m returning to an older, Eastern Orthodox approach to the problem. At Bible college you were given Bible verses that prioritized sin, and so you were taught that it is the fundamental problem.

However, note that in the Garden narrative there is no mention of the word sin though death is there. Also, note that at the eschaton the last enemy to be destroyed is not sin, but death. Note also that Paul is very concerned with certain principalities which keep the world in bondage. Those are Sin, Death and the Law. Paul hardly worries about Satan–he’s concerned with how Christ is victorious over these three principalities. Also, the great victory of Christ is Easter–Christ is victorious over death. In being victorious over death he can then grant us the forgiveness of sins, not the other way around.

Note also the central role of the word ‘life’ in John’s gospel. In him was the life…I am the way, the truth and the life…whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life…I am the resurrection and the life…and the list goes on. But your Bible college, I’m guessing, did not teach you soteriology from John, or Genesis, or Revelation. And when taught from the Pauline epistles the central concern of Paul with the principalities was rarely, if ever, mentioned. No worry, that is very common. Christians the world around focus on the texts that agree with them and don’t address the ones that leave them mystified.

In the book I use the phrase, more or less, ‘the entrance of death through sin,’ and that is most concise summary of how I view the issue. The fundamental problem is indeed death, but there is also a priority for sin in that the original distrust of God (i.e., the first sin) was the conduit for the corruption of the cosmos.

Another point: an ignorance of the problem of death can lead to a wan view of the redemptive nature of Christ’s work. Death means the child with cancer. Death means human trafficking. Death means the earthquake that kills thousands of people who have not committed any deliberate sin that would presumably warrant an earthquake.

Death does keep us separated from God. Death is the cancer infesting our souls and bodies. Death is the reason that we sometimes do not know right from wrong. Death is the reason that sometimes knowing right from wrong we choose that which is evil, destructive. Sin is giving in to death. Sin is saying no to life. But again, the fundamental problem is death. Killing the cancer–not just treating the most drastic symptom.

Peace and grace! I love these conversations. Hope you are well and send out Epiphany blessings to everyone there.

Duane

Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I live in Madrid now where I teach and minister. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. I am associate professor at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE) and priest at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid, Spain. Visit my blog (duanemiller.wordpress.com) or academia.edu page for more information.

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