Tuesday, 22 June 2010


The two fundamental affirmations of Christianity are that God is good, and that we are sinners. The two go together. It is tempting, however, to split them. Most people seem to quite like the first; even those who don't believe in God! It is the second that causes all the trouble. Some people don't know how to make it an affirmation; they only hear it as destructive and over time can't stop it demolishing their carefully constructed sense of self. Others embrace the appellation of 'sinner' because it fits their low sense of self. Just another way to flagellate themselves.

We can hide from the harshness of the designation 'sinner' by looking at 'sin' and 'sinner' as forensic terms, with the simple meaning that we fail. 'Sinner' becomes a bare fact, rather than saying something about our identity as human beings. As a purely forensic term it remains external to who we are. However, a more nuanced and deeper exploration of our failure makes us realise that everything we do is tainted: we are sinners, not just occasionally falling into sin. And this is when it start to gets harder and people are tempted to recoil from 'sinner' altogether. This rejection of 'sinner' is completely understandable if our sense of self is dependent on us creating our sense of worth, through a kind of moral standing. (I'm a good person, I'm worthwhile, etc.) The 'self-made man' remains in control, separate and ultimately alone. But must at all costs avoid anything that can tear down the self-creation. (Good people can occasionally sin, but they remain essentially good, i.e. I am good.))

The alternative is offered by the gospel. God loves us. God comes to us when we are sinners to show not only that we don't have to create ourselves, but also that we can gain our true identity in that relationship of love.  Or to put it another way, when we are at our weakest God comes to us in an act of utter grace to show that we don't need to earn God's love. In Christ God's love is given freely and lavishly. And although grasping onto our self-creation will only hinder the full realisation of that love and our true identity in it, our self-creation can't prevent the generous showering of love that God gives to us. It can make us lovers of God and others. (Luke 7:47)

And we can go further than this. God's gracious act in Christ shows us that our self-creation remains irrelevant to receiving God's love. Grace is not a stepping stone to a spot where we can take over ourselves, eventually creating a self that doesn't need God entirely and utterly. We don't at some point take over from God's grace and do it ourselves and thereby eventually earn a grudging acceptance from God. Our identity is always to be found in God's gracious action in Christ.

Moralists are suspicious of the bold statement that our moral standing is irrelevant to receiving God's love. They are worried that grace then becomes cheap. St Paul's critics thought the same. Whatever you do with the call to holiness it should never be at the expense of our utter dependence on God's love irrespective of any self-created personhood or moral standing. On the other hand, St Paul did not preach cheap grace, and for all those who accept the pure gratuity of God's love an annual reading of Bonhoeffer on costly grace is a necessity. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 35-47.) Grace is not to be universalised as a principle that is everywhere present and automatically available apart from God's free act in Christ. This is the error of liberal Christianity: moving from God's love in Christ freely given and without reserve to a necessary principle universally available, conceived almost as a right. Cheap grace in other words.


  1. Its astounding to know such hateful doctrine is being held with strong conviction by members of my community. To suggest love is not an innate ability of a human being, To suggest this is exclusively accessed though your said god sickens me, so sickening is to think of how many people in my community who over the years reached out in need of real help and advice only to be met with this hateful, counterproductive literal nonsense.

    The only thing that gives me optimism is the amount of young free thinking families which are increasingly populating my community who do not stand for this nonsense. Who know that love is not an exclusive feature of religion, who know it is not even an exclusive feature of humans and know that we should not, by default hate ourselves as you would suggest.

    There is no place for this hateful doctrine in our society. Religion has already caused irreparable damage to our societies psyche. Know that this nonsense does not go unheard. Hateful, self preserving religious ideals are coming to an end, this you can be sure of. :)

  2. Go a little easier on Warren as he is doing his best as he understands it.

    It is sad that some of the words used by Adam should not be used by anyone especially a Christian as they build walls instead of removing them.
    Also Adam the words that you have used are a part of your makeup.
    There is a poem on the website “www.tojustbe.hereweb.com
    “ called FACE YOURSELF and I would suggest that you read it.

    Religion just needs to empower people a little/lot more.

  3. Correction:
    Some of the words used by Adam should not be used by anyone especially a Christian as they build walls instead of removing them.

  4. I do not agree with Warren in any way shape or form.

  5. How does my language create walls my friend? I am the one saying love is not exclusive to any one group of people, ideals, faiths or beliefs.

    We are all fundamentally entitled to love and be loved.

    you are the one creating walls by regurgitating this hateful nonsense.

    Good day.

  6. May I add a comment by Don Cupitt (Jesus and Philosophy), which may or may not be relevant…
    "A whole group of words such as 'philanthropic,' 'humane,' and 'humanitarian' were for a very ling time used chiefly in a derogatory sense by people on the hardnosed Right, worshippers of a cruelly authoritarian God. Then, about twenty years ago, the word 'humanitarian' suddenly overcame its own long history – more than a century – of being used as equivalent to "bleeding heart liberal' or 'do gooder.' When thinking about the claims of moral realism and its lofty pretensions to objectivity and rationality, we need also to hear in mind its ruthlessly dirty tricks with language, and its sheer ugliness. When you hear people prating about morality and 'the difference between right and wrong,' start counting your spoons. They are all potential crooks."

  7. Adam, I did not regurgitate the hateful nonsense. I know from experience that we are all the love, light, grace and the truth.
    Also I said quote "I do not agree with Warren in any way shape or form." if you bothered to read the second to last blog.
    Definitely good words for removing walls, hateful, sickening, literal nonsense. No wonder the world is at war.

  8. You are trying to justify his comments.
    You think religion can enrich people.
    Every religious based opinion is one of regurgitation as religion does not allow new thought or ideas.

    you are regurgitating.

  9. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for reading the blog. I can see that you are not impressed with religion. However, I reckon you have missed the guts of the post. But no matter, I enjoyed the vitriol and then your comments with Cecil.



  10. My point is, that it is through Christian philosophy flowing into Life over the past 2000 years - with considerable struggle and strife - that has led to modern humanitarianism. This has nothing to do with any beliefs in supernatural dogma.
    As we evolve, develop, and become less judgmental, our humanitarianism and compassion for each and every one of us will increase.
    If you are not satisfied being part of, and assisting with the ongoing maturation of Christian thought, have a look at the Zen Buddhist Big Mind philosophy of personal and spiritual insight.
    "All generalisations are false (including this one.)"

  11. Adam. I am not trying to justify Warren’s comments, Warren has to do that himself.
    If you bother to have a look at my web site you will find that I see things very differently to conventional religion.
    If you need to use vitriolic comments then you have a challenge within your whole being that needs cleaning up and you are the only one that can do it!.

    Those who think that they are free thinkers live in an elusion of their own making.

  12. Cecil, how on earth do you come to the conclusion that someone who uses "vitriolic comments" are "challenged" within" ? Thats quiet the assumption.

    and thank you for the reply Warren.

  13. "All generalisations are false (including this one.)"
    It is a generalisation to say that, "We are All sinners." I have worked with children with such severe intellectual disabilities that they are unable to speak/sign and think. I disagree with Descartes' statement, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am.) Without exploring the flawed argument behind his statement I ask: Would we say that these children are not human? I think not.
    These children can have no notion of sin and are therefore cannot be sinners.

  14. A random bit of informatiom
    I went to a Uniting Church and this was their opening blessing
    Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained Us, who has brought us whole to this moment.

    (Ancient Hebrew)

    Notice the word whole!

    Far better than broken sinner etc.

  15. Hello Adam,
    I now understand why you have used the words that you did in the first comment. Sorry it took me so long.

  16. I've just had a reread of the original post. Are you sure the two of you have read it through and understood it? Your comments don't match the post itself.

  17. Hi M,

    Give me a clue what the problem is, and I'll try another post. Remember that I say sinner goes with the goodness of God, who is good to us. It's a couplet. Most people, as i say in the post, split the couplet and focus on one or the other. The comments so far seem to be doing exactly this.

    But give me a starting point, briefly.