Book Write-Up: Original Blessing, by Danielle Shroyer

Danielle Shroyer.  Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The “About the Author” page on Amazon says: “Danielle Shroyer is a sought-after speaker, respected pastor, and a founding member of the emerging church movement. She holds a BA from Baylor University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is the author of Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place, Where Jesus Prayed, and The Boundary-Breaking God.”

Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place challenges the Christian concept of original sin and instead defends a concept of original blessing (a term coined by Matthew Fox, as Shroyer acknowledges).  Original sin states that the guilt of the sin of Adam and Eve was passed on to their descendants, along with a sinful human nature, a propensity to sin.  By “original blessing,” Shroyer seems to mean God’s unconditional love for and faithfulness towards human beings.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Shroyer does not argue that human beings are morally flawless.  She likens human beings to Adam and Eve in the Garden: they were not weighed down by a sinful human nature, but they were still capable of making mistakes.  She also draws from the rabbinic contrast between the good and evil inclinations: the evil inclination is not “evil,” per se, but is egoistic and must be controlled.  Genesis 4:7, in which God tells Cain that he must master sin, features in her discussion.

B.  Shroyer’s treatment of Genesis 3 was well-informed, as she explored scholarly interpretations of the chapter, including the identity of the serpent.  Her conclusion was rather nebulous.  On the one hand, she seems to maintain that Adam and Eve were wrong to disobey God.  On the other hand, she holds that their disobedience was an essential aspect of their maturation.  Shroyer also makes the interesting observation that the Garden of Eden did not go away after Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience.  She disagrees with the narrative that Adam and Eve ruined everything through their sin.  Shroyer also observes God’s faithfulness to Adam and Eve after their sin, which coincides with her view of original blessing.

C.  Shroyer contends that Cain should have rested in God’s love for him rather than becoming upset after God had rejected his sacrifice.  She states that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, not Cain himself.  She does not interact with Genesis 4:5’s statement that God was not pleased with both Cain and Cain’s sacrifice, however.  Yet, her observation that God was faithful to Cain after Cain’s act of murder is a good argument for original blessing.

D.  The book wrestled with some Scriptures that have been associated with original sin but not others.  She does attempt to address Romans 5:12-21, which has been prominent in discussions of original sin.  She did not, however, address Paul’s depiction of the flesh as corrupt and sinful, which is a glaring challenge to her arguments against original sin.

E.  The description of the book on Amazon states: “In this book, Danielle Shroyer takes readers through an overview of the historical development of the doctrine, pointing out important missteps and overcalculations, and providing alternative ways to approach often-used Scriptures.”  In my opinion, the book was rather thin in describing the historical development of the doctrine.  History did feature in her discussion, on such topics as the dearth of the concept of original sin in early Christian writings, the negative attitude towards sexuality within ancient Christianity that resulted from the doctrine of original sin, the contrast between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity on the problem Jesus came to solve (death or sin, respectively), and the eighteenth century debate about infant damnation between Jonathan Edwards and Jeremy Taylor.  But, as far as I can recall, she did not really discuss how and why the doctrine of original sin developed.

F.  Shroyer addresses a question that a priest asked her: If original sin is untrue, then why did Jesus come?  She does well to argue that there are valuable things that Jesus said and did, apart from addressing the Fall.  I would add that there are few explicit references to the Fall throughout the Bible, which is odd, considering the emphasis on it within Christianity.  While one could conceivably tie everything that Jesus said and did to the Fall and its effects (e.g., Jesus healed people, which ameliorates disease, a consequence of the Fall), perhaps we should not be reductionistic, since the biblical authors may not have emphasized the Fall to the extent that later Christians did.

G.  Shroyer also did well to discuss the effects of sin-focused conceptions of the Gospel.  She said that many Christians hear the Gospel and say “whew!” because they have been delivered from God’s wrath, rather than “wow!” at what God has done.  One can respond that Christians can do both: that they can rejoice that God has delivered them from wrath and hell while also being awed by God’s acts of new creation.  They would have a point.  At the same time, speaking for myself personally, sin-focused Gospels often draw from me the “whew!” reaction.

H.  While Shroyer rejects original sin, she still seems to believe that Jesus came to solve some problem, some brokenness.  She also states that humans can resist sin with God’s help.  In a few places, however, she appears to suggest that Jesus came to improve what is already within humans, to add to the goodness or the potential that is already in God’s creation.

I.  This book is not exactly a rigorous Scriptural refutation of original sin.  It is more informal and anecdotal, though Shroyer does seem to know what she is talking about when she draws from church history.  While this book was not entirely what I expected, I am still giving it five stars because it did have good insights.  For example, Shroyer says that, instead of telling people that they are gifted at something, we should commend them for doing the right thing: for studying, for working to improve, etc.  That makes sense.  The book’s winsome quality also enhanced it and made what Shroyer said relatable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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