Romans 7-8 and Review of Discerning Ethics

Here are a few items from church, followed by a book write-up on an IVP review book.

A. The Bible study was about Romans 7-8. The pastor said that the mind of the Christian is yielded to God and is not under the condemnation of the law, but the body of the Christian is still pulled by sin and death. This makes a degree of sense to me. When one becomes a Christian, one still has a physical body, and that physical body dies, in accordance with God’s curse on Adam for sinning. But is it the body, apart from the mind, that encourages me to sin? In the realm of sexuality, it arguably does, for sexual organs contribute to sexual desire (lust). But I have my share of sinful thoughts: hatred, resentment, unforgiveness, a temper, etc. Is that solely a mind-thing, or does the body contribute to those things, meaning that the flesh, indeed, is what pulls me down spiritually? Of course, materialists would attribute everything to the body, including the mind. But, if one is not a non-materialist, where does the mind begin and the body end?

B. According to the pastor, when Christians allow themselves to become mastered by sin, they risk being pulled back into the law’s condemnation. The pastor was arguing against the idea that Christians can indulge in the flesh yet still feel happy that they are uncondemned by God. Yet, the pastor was depicting mastery by sin almost in an absolute sense: one’s life is shaped by a pursuit of sinful pleasure and rebellion against God. I doubt that even the non-Christians I know are that bad: they, too, can be benevolent towards others. And I doubt that even the Christians I know are that good: they, too, can be shaped by the promiscuous and misanthropic attitudes of the world. The pastor tried to stress that Christians, in sanctification, do not pull themselves up by their boot-straps. Sanctification is God, not us, being in the driver’s seat, meaning we need God to become holy.

C. In the sermon, the pastor referenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. One way that Christians can live life together, according to the pastor, is by confessing their sins to one another and offering forgiveness in Christ. I agree that this can contribute to vulnerability, honesty, and relatability in interpersonal relationships. But I have a couple of problems with it, personally, due to my past experiences. For one, there are judgmental Christians: those who marvel that any Christian would think sinful thoughts, as if they themselves are perfect. Second, I question whether I am repentant enough. In the liturgy, we asked for God’s forgiveness for our temper, unforgiveness, and lack of concern for others. I cannot just ask God for forgiveness and go on and try not to be those things. Those things are a significant part of who I am, like it or not.

D. Hak Joon Lee and Tim Dearborn, ed. Discerning Ethics: Diverse Christian Responses to Divisive Moral Issues. IVP, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

This book includes chapters about ethical and political issues today. These include climate change, guns, abortion, poverty, racism, and others. Each chapter opens with a story about the issue under discussion, followed by a summary of three Christian positions. Then, the contributor analyzes and assesses the positions and offers his or her own Christian view.

The book is nauseatingly woke. The opening stories are largely liberal: the chapter on guns talks about Dylan Roof, and the chapter on public schools is about a kid who decides to go to a public school after his experiences at a Christian school. There are cases in which this undermines the effectiveness of the chapters. The chapter on immigration, for example, fails to engage the problems that critics have with massive immigration: the lowering of wages, immigrant reliance on government benefits, and the undermining of a common culture. It dismisses that last one as nativism, which has no place in a Christian worldview. Not only does the book have a leftward bias, but it is also overly dramatic, as when the chapter on poverty says America is as bad today as it was during the Great Depression (this book is pre-Covid), and the book also sees white racism everywhere.

On a positive note, the book effectively summarizes different Christian perspectives. Most of the chapters provide documentation and statistics that one should at least address, even if one disagrees with the authors’ conclusions. Some of the stories paint a graphic picture of the struggles with which people deal: a released convict trying to get back on his feet with the system stacked against him, a resident of an urban area seeing the city decay in front of his eyes, and a disabled woman pursuing ministry and confronting the biases and prejudices that fellow Christians possess. There is also a yearning for creative solutions rather than divisive rhetoric.

The book was important for me to read, nauseating as it was.

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

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. 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. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also 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.
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