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

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Al Kresta interviews me for Ave Mario Radio

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Al Kresta, the host of Kresta in the Afternoon for Ave Mario Radio. He’s a sharp guy and always has some good questions. Here is the most recent interview on my new book, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity.

Here is the link to the audio at Ave Mario Radio, or just listen to it right here from my own blog:

The interview with me begins at 21 minutes, but the first section, with John Allen on the Vatican and China, is also very interesting!

Chuck Huckaby on *Two Stories of Everything*

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Rev. Chuck Huckaby on Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity recently. The two-part post has his review and then an interview. This is from the interview:

CH: You write: “After living in the Middle East for most of a decade, I must say that I find the public religion of Muslims (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) compelling and refreshing. Yes, sometimes it can be confrontational, but the introspective Christianity of the West with its quietism and compartmentalization strikes me as defeatist, bland, and feeble-hearted.” This relates to one of the key elements of secularism, the internalization of belief. You expanded on this in the book, but I wonder if you have seen this done in a Western context?
DM: The word introspective is from Latin and means looking inwards. The response to this is public religion, meaning an expression of religious commitment lived out in the midst of the people. I have seen baby steps towards this in America—it is easier in Europe. A church opened its grounds to local families for a movie night and it was well-attended, for instance. But that was still on the church grounds. I remember doing theology at the pub in Edinburgh with a local church. The deacon, who was quite liberal I’ll say, and I went to buy pints at the bar and this old Scotsman just saw his collar and started telling him about God. The point is he wore his collar in public, and that allowed a space for witness.
I’m in Spain and I wear my clericals several times a week because our cathedral is a very busy place. One day an old Spanish lady stopped me in the street and said, “I’m glad to see a priest wearing a collar! They used to do that all the time!” So obviously she thought I was a Roman Catholic priest, not an Anglican deacon, but it doesn’t really matter. We need to find ways of bringing the presence and reality of our religious commitment into the public world. No, we don’t need to be confrontational and abrasive—though we should realize that God may indeed call us to that sometimes. And here is me as the evangelical preacher who wants a practical application for everything: be deliberate about saying grace with your family when you eat out. Hold hands, bow your heads, make the sign of the Cross. Not to impress people. But to witness to Christ. To witness that his Church is still alive and well and it’s there at Applebee’s or Taco Cabana.

Read it all at his blog Disciple Making in the Historic Church.

Entrevista con Duane Miller

Tuve el privilegio de ser entrevistado por Moisés Cornejo sobre mi experiencia y trabajo en el Medio Oriente para el blog de la catedral. Escúchalo (todo en español).

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Moises Cornejo about my background and work in the Middle East for the cathedral blog. Check it out (all in Spanish).

Marthe Curry interviews Duane Miller

Last year my book Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians was published by Pickwick.

I sat down with Dr. Marthe Curry, director of the Department of World Mission based out of San Antonio, Texas, to talk about it. That interview has now been published in Global Missiology (15:1). Here is an excerpt:

MC: Why do MBBs [Muslim-background believers] seem to be more comfortable in evangelical settings? Or is the correct question Are evangelicals more evangelistic than liturgical/traditional denominations?

DAM: One might think that since the ancient churches of the Muslim world are mostly Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, that people would be converting to those forms of Christianity. But that rarely happens. First, those ancient churches are still suffering from the trauma of centuries of living as dhimmis under the sharia. It was a belittling and dehumanizing way to live wherein Christians (and Jews) were routinely publicly humiliated by Muslim rulers. Christians could always convert to Islam, but were not allowed to evangelize Muslims or even learn about Islam. This has led in many places to quietism and seeing Islam as invincible. One pastor has likened how these Christians see Muslims to how a prostitute views her pimp as someone who really loves her, even though no one else sees it that way. Second, evangelicalism—as broad as that term is—places a great deal of importance on conversion. The strength of evangelicalism is that each and every Christian is seen as an evangelist. In other churches people tend to assume the priest or bishop is in charge of evangelism—if they even know what the word means. I will say that theologically there is nothing in Anglicanism, Catholicism or Orthodoxy that preclude vigorous evangelism by the laity. The barrier really is pastoral.

Read it all online HERE or read the PDF through academia.edu.

David Roseberry interviews me for LeaderWorks

I sat down with the Rev. Canon David Roseberry some time ago for this interview, which he titled “Are Muslims really coming to faith in Christ?”

For those of you who have followed my research on this topic, you know the answer is yes. We also talk about the role of Anglican Christianity in relation to converts from Islam to Christianity.

Do also check out David’s fine website, LeaderWorks. You will find it well worth your time.