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Sin Boldly!

Sin Boldly!: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls

Ted Peters
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Sin Boldly!
    Book Description:

    Can faith as trusting God make a difference? Absolutely—by relieving our anxiety over self-justification and the need to scapegoat others. When we discover we don't justify ourselves because God has justified us, we become free. What Sin Boldly! points to is the presence of the crucified and living Christ in the human soul, placed there by the Holy Spirit. And this becomes transformative. Sin Boldly! provides an experiential analysis of the contrast between self-justification and justification by God. Those among us with fragile souls are anxious, and we shore up our anxiety with walls of self-justification that victimize those whom we scapegoat. Those among us with broken souls have lost the very moral universe that makes any kind of justification possible, and this usually leads to anomie and suicide. We must pose the question: how can the gospel of grace provide transformation for both fragile and broken souls? After an exposition of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, this book proposes the following answer: trusting in the God of grace relieves anxiety and provides a divine vocation that transcends our moral universe with the promise of forgiveness, renewal, and resurrection.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9673-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Martin E. Marty

    While this book is not only for those who are Christian or those who are not and may never be Lutheran, it would be a waste of your time and it would blur the theme if I did not introduce Martin Luther in this first paragraph.

    Just as sunlight brightens the path through an otherwise dark forest, the thoughts of Martin Luther illuminateSin Boldly!Luther informs every page, and with Ted Peters’s deft guidance, he will jostle his way into much of the argument.

    Introducing Martin Luther in a book on justification, as in the biblical context of “justification...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
    Ted Peters
  7. 1 The Fragile Soul and Spiritual Duct Tape
    (pp. 1-40)

    While studying in Heidelberg, Germany, some years ago, I rented an attic room. The landlord had many rules, and almost daily I could hear him mutter, “Alles muß in Ordnung sein,” which translates, “everything must be in order.” Indeed, my landlord felt much better when everyone followed the rules.

    Why, you may ask, is the author of this book talking about a Heidelberg landlord? I thought this was a book about justification-by-faith and bold sinning! Well, it is. One of the traditional problems with the doctrine of justification-by-faith is that is has been tucked away for centuries in a theological...

  8. 2 The Legalist within Us
    (pp. 41-66)

    The outer shell of a Kosta Boda bowl is thick glass. Since 1742, glassmaker Kosta Boda in Småland just south of Stockholm has been making artistic glassware that decorates many home interiors in Europe and North America. Kosta Boda glassware may look delicate, but it is sturdy. Normally, it does not need reinforcement. Duct tape would add nothing to its strength and would only detract from its beauty. Yet, a fragile soul might want to reinforce the exterior with spiritual duct tape, just in case. One brand of such duct tape is legalism, the most popular form of self-justification. We...

  9. 3 Our Love of Justice
    (pp. 67-88)

    If God exists, we need to ask: Is God just? If we affirm that God is just, then we must ask why. Is justice just because God has established justice, or is God just because God adheres to the laws of justice? Which comes first, God or justice?

    What is important about these questions, I think, is that we intuitively believe that justice is eternal, universal, and everywhere valid. To say that justice is local or relative or merely one’s private opinion seems inadequate.

    Justification-by-faith is important because it pours the moral beverage that allays our deep inner thirst for...

  10. 4 Justice and Our Moral Universe
    (pp. 89-108)

    Like the outer shell of a Kosta Boda bowl, the outer shell of the soul’s world is the moral universe. The moral universe is structured according to the principles of justice. We invoke these principles of justice—such as goodness, rightness, fairness, caring, loyalty, authority, and sanctity, when engaging in self-justification. However, we rarely stop to analyze our worldview, which includes our moral universe. We take it for granted, even though without it our very souls would disintegrate into emptiness.

    In this chapter, let’s continue to savor our love of justice. First, I will cut the justice pie into three...

  11. 5 From Justice to Love
    (pp. 109-130)

    For justice to become personal, it must be loving. Love transcends and reshapes justice. The mistake made by the fragile soul is the assumption that justice is ultimate, that justice is eternal. Certainly, justice transcends our cultural filters, and it may even be immortal; but ultimate it is not. What is ultimate is God’s grace. We know this grace when we experience love.

    One of my tasks as a theologian is to pause, reflect, and think through what I am experiencing. The experience of God’s love, which is manifested in gifts of grace that we appreciate through faith, is well...

  12. 6 Consciousness and Conscience
    (pp. 131-164)

    Many of the fragile souls among us who have fled conservative Christian homes for post-religious spirituality have a similar complaint: “I didn’t like feeling like a worm in church. All this talk about sin and grace made me feel worthless. I need to escape from sin and grace.” While getting rid of sin might appeal to many of us, I doubt that we want to eliminate grace.

    Should we scrap all this traditional stuff about sin and grace? Does the inner psyche require it, or can we dispense with it? Might we be spiritually healthier without the dialectic between sin...

  13. 7 Self-Justification
    (pp. 165-200)

    The fragile souls among us want to be right, absolutely right. We want our lives to conform to the eternal criterion of justice, goodness, and rightness because we mistakenly think that we can beat death. God forbid if anyone gets in our way of obtaining eternal life through self-justification! We will decimate and obliterate everyone who obstructs our way. Of course, this is the implicit lie we tell ourselves, but it is human nature to live in this lie. Just how do we construct this lie?

    We are aware that we are going to die. When we die, we will...

  14. 8 Ethics for Bold Sinners
    (pp. 201-224)

    Suppose we draw a line between good and evil, and God places himself on the evil side. What would happen to our attempts at selfjustification? They would be nullified. That’s the downside of the gospel message.

    This shocking reversal is what we Christians think God is addressing to us in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than identify with the powerful Romans or the learned Pharisees, Jesus identified with the outcasts, the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the poor, and especially with those called “sinners” in the four Gospels. His parables pounded away at an important...

  15. 9 Scapegoats and Broken Souls
    (pp. 225-272)

    From deep within our souls, we yearn to be just. We yearn for justification, whether we call it justification or not. Yet our pursuit of justification can have a dark and violent side. If we reject being declared just by God’s grace—if we reject justification-by-faith—then the only alternative is self-justification. When we pursue selfjustification, we become dangerous to others.

    Unconsciously or semiconsciously, we draw a line between good and evil, between what is just and what is unjust. And we place ourselves on the good side of the line, on the just side of the line. Sometimes this...

  16. 10 Faith as Belief
    (pp. 273-296)

    We all live with faith. We all trust something, whether we think about it or not. We could not negotiate our world on a daily basis without trusting most of what makes up our world. When driving, we trust that the driver coming in the opposite direction will not cross the median and hit us head-on. The child trusts that the ropes on the swing will not break. The scientist trusts that the natural world is rational; and this trust makes experimentation and the pursuit of new knowledge possible. Faith as trust provides an unconscious prop for the theater of...

  17. 11 Faith as Trust
    (pp. 297-314)

    In the previous chapter, we looked at how—in faith—we give attention to God’s Word, perceive that God is gracious, and believe selected doctrines to be true. If we wanted to be persnickety, we might dub these acts of faithworks. It takes work on our part to believe in the truth of doctrines. If it takes work to have faith as belief, then we might rightfully ask: How can our faith be saving faith if it is a form of work? Faith as belief looks like one more way to climb the spiritual ladder, right? What happened to...

  18. 12 Faith as the Indwelling Presence of Christ
    (pp. 315-340)

    The spiritually healthy soul is a strong soul, a robust soul. Its strength comes from God, from the presence of God within. The emptiness in the self’s vortex becomes filled with the person of Jesus Christ, who is placed there by the Holy Spirit. Christ in both natures—the suffering humanity and the resurrected divinity—are present. Like a dynamo spreading power to light a city, this presence provides power that emanates from eternal life.

    However, we must remember that it is not our faith, as such, that has justifying power. Faith empowers daily life, to be sure; but in...

  19. 13 The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
    (pp. 341-366)

    Luther’s insight and conviction led to a theological eruption that resulted in a religious lava flow. For five centuries, it flowed down the medieval mountainside, increasing in speed until it crashed into the ecclesial hierarchy and hardened into the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The medieval edifice underwent a torrent of change as new rivulets divided the mountain; these divisions came to include the Lutherans, the Reformed, the Anglicans, and the radicals (or Anabaptists). Eventually these groups fractured further, giving rise to the Quakers, Methodists, deists, and revivalists. To change metaphors, like Humpty Dumpty falling to pieces, Western Christendom...

  20. 14 Gift
    (pp. 367-384)

    Can we refer to justification in the human soul as a gift? If the concept of grace (gratia) refers to God’s disposition of mercy toward us, and if the concept of gift (donum) refers to what is given to us, we must ask: Are there any strings attached? Is this gift of grace unconditional, or does it come with obligations? If the gift comes with obligations, does this make it a conditional gift or even a non-gift?

    Consider the statement offered by the emeritus Methodist bishop Kenneth Carder: “Our identity as children of God is God’s gift to us; living...

  21. 15 Sanctification by Grace
    (pp. 385-420)

    Christian theologians are accustomed to speaking of human loving as empowered and guided by God. We love because God first loved us. First John 4:11 reads: “Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” But atheists and SBNRs might object to this. Human love doesn’t depend on divine love, does it?

    We all know atheists and agnostics who exhibit personal integrity and even give time and money to charity. It appears that their inclination to perform good works is built in to their common humanity, not dependent on their religious affiliation or even religious beliefs....

  22. 16 The Life of Beatitude
    (pp. 421-456)

    The future comes first. Then the present. Who you and I will be in God’s future kingdom influences, if not determines, who we are today and even who we have been in the past. Trust and hope in life of beatitude forms us into robust souls.

    Our present and our past are defined by our future, by God’s future. This makes the human soul’s identity contingent, dependent on what we will yet become. The end of the story will retroactively determine the meaning of all previous chapters in this story.²

    Let me repeat what I said earlier—who we are...

  23. Conclusion: Sin Boldly!
    (pp. 457-464)

    I opened this book with an imperative: Sin boldly! This curious imperative arises out of faith in our gracious God who justifies us.

    I began by asking whether faith understood as trust in God can make one’s daily life better. My answer is yes, indeed! How? By relieving our anxiety over self-justification. When we discover that we don’t need to justify ourselves because we have been justified by God, we experience both contentment and vitality. The key is found in Rom. 8:33b: “God is the one who justifies” (theos ho dikaiosune). What justification-by-faith points to is the presence of the...

  24. For Further Reading
    (pp. 465-468)
  25. Index of Names
    (pp. 469-474)
  26. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 475-479)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 480-480)