Progressive Christians, sin and Sin

I want to follow up on yesterday's post, about how if we want to understand what Paul means by "salvation" we have to understand the difference between sin and Sin, between sin as a moral performance error versus Sin as an enslaving power.

The point I want to make is one I raise in Reviving Old Scratch, a point about one of the reasons progressive Christians need a vision of spiritual warfare.

Specifically, many progressive Christians don't like penal substitutionary atonement. Consequently, progressive readers probably like the contrast I drew in the last post between sin and Sin. In the shift from sin to Sin the emphasis moves away from moral "mistakes," from the guilt and shame that surround what I called "little s" sin.

And yet, progressives are also ill-equipped to see Sin in its "Capital S" variety as well. For two reasons.

First, as I point out in Reviving Old Scratch, many progressive Christians have a lot of doubts about the supernatural, often doubting even God's existence. Consequently, it's hard for many progressive Christians to wrap their heads around Sin as a cosmic force that enslaves humanity. That view of Sin, Paul's view of Sin, the Christus Victor view of Sin, is too metaphysical.

Second, a lot of progressive Christians are liberal humanists. That's not a criticism, I'm a fan of liberal humanism, but liberal humanism can make reading the Bible difficult. For example, liberal humanists have a very positive and optimistic view of human beings and the world. Because of this, progressive Christians don't like to draw hard moral distinctions between the church and the world, between the saved and the lost. Thus, it's hard for progressive Christians to see humanity and the world as enslaved to dark cosmic forces.

Basically, some work has to be done to wed visions of inclusion and tolerance with the notion that the world is in thrall to Sin, Death and the Devil, and that salvation is emancipation from those forces:

"For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son." (Col. 1.13)

To anticipate some responses, the easy move for progressives would be to identify "the kingdom of darkness" with current systems of systemic oppression. But that creates subject and verb problems.

The verb problem. The salvation verbs are past tense, not future tense. God has already rescued us from "the kingdom of darkness." This isn't political work for the future. To be sure, there is an "already/not yet" dynamic regarding salvation, salvation has a future-oriented aspect. What I'm speaking to is the "already" part, how the church has already been rescued from "the kingdom of darkness," even in the midst of Imperial Rome, even in the midst of the Trump administration. Can progressives describe what it means that the church has already been rescued from the kingdom of darkness?

The subject problem. God saves us. God is the subject, we are the direct object. Salvation is grace because God is the one who acts unilaterally to save a stuck and hopeless humanity. Our activism cannot, will not, save us in the end. At least that's what Christians believe. We cannot save ourselves. To be sure, we can and must participate in God's salvation, working it out in "fear and trembling," but participation assumes the prior work of God.

In short, if being "rescued from the kingdom of darkness" simply means our political work and activism then we've become the Messiahs we've been looking for, the agents of our own salvation. In the grammar of salvation we've become the subject.

All that to say, making a facile one-to-one correspondence between "the kingdom of darkness" and current oppressive systems doesn't address the issue I'm raising.

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