When is the last time you read a book all about sin? You know, that icky stuff that a lot of television preachers don’t like to talk about much. The last book I read that was almost exclusively on the topic of sin was John Piper’s Spectacular Sins and that was in 2008. In seminary and Bible college I had to read a few treatments, but that was a number of years ago (and counting!). Truth be told, I don’t often read systematic treatments of what those of us who are Reformed like to say is a foundation for much of our anthropology and soteriological convictions. Enter Fallen: A Theology of Sin, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, one of the most comprehensive and engaging books I’ve read on the doctrine of sin.
Let’s be honest. When you edit a book and have contributors like D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Robert W. Yarbrough, you raise this New Testament freak’s interests. Add Gerald Bray and I’m basically guaranteed to read your book. Fallen is the fifth book in the Theology in Community series, which I have thus far enjoyed immensely.
Fallen, after a brief introduction, features eleven chapters focused on the doctrine of sin and its significance to the global church. After the introduction lays a framework off of Reinhold Neibuhr’s famous statement that “the doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith,” the follow chapters handle a number of biblical, theological, historical, and practical issues related to sin. Here are a few of the standouts:
Carson’s first essay, “Sin’s Contemporary Significance,” is a great way to start the conversation. Carson makes a great case as to why a book on sin is relevant for a postmodern world as well as lays out some helpful insights into how sin is connected to many other biblical and theological ideas (e.g., anthropology, soteriology, sanctification, etc.). We’re also reminded of issues challenging the world today related to sin, including the fact that sin is quite common (extraordinary violence and wickedness), there is a reluctance in our culture to identify evil, and today’s pressing cultural concept of “tolerance” is making the identifying of sin more difficult. Clearly the subject of sin has contemporary significance.
The next four chapters address sin related to specific areas of the Bible. Paul R. House writes on “Sin in the Law” and “Sin in the Former and Latter Prophets and Writings.” Robert W. Yarbrough addresses “Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation” and Douglas J. Moo tackles “Sin in Paul.” Each of these essays are great and, in general, provide readable and well-researched thoughts on the subject of sin and the biblical genre or author in question. Moo’s essay on the pauline corpus’ theology of sin is, in my mind, the standout.
Christopher W. Morgan’s next essay ties it all together – “Sin in the Biblical Story.” As an avid student of biblical theology, I enjoyed Morgan’s approach and the numerous threads of thought that he weaves together. Far from being disconnected from real life, Morgan’s essay demonstrates how sin has been a recurring issue throughout redemptive history and has connection to me while not being the big idea of redemption… that’s left to Jesus. It’s a great biblical theology of sin and salvation. The glory of the gospel is only highlighted when we see it in comparison to what we’ve been delivered and saved from. Get Fallen for this chapter along and all of the others are additional theology candy.
The last few chapters cover a variety of subjects related to sin. Bray addresses “Sin in Historical Theology,” Mahony tackles “A Theology of Sin for Today,” and Page and Calhoun offer two good chapters too, the former “Satan, Sin, and Evil” and latter “Sin and Temptation.” Finally, the homiletically esteemed Bryan Chapell writes “Repentance that Sings” as the final essay in Fallen.
For the most part, nothing new or groundbreaking is written within the pages of Fallen. Readers will not encounter much that hasn’t been stated in many other places for hundreds of years. Yet there is a remarkable freshness about this theology of sin that the contributors offer. Yes, it’s rooted in historical constructs that have been taught by Christians for literally hundreds of years but it’s clearly applicable in a time when many struggle to define, discuss, or clarify what sin is and when people are doing it.
Students of theology will want to get a copy of Fallen. If you are like me, thinking about reading a book about sin sounds depressing. However, reading Fallen was actually rather encouraging and helpful. How many books about sin can be said to make you smile? I don’t know, but I can say without reservation that Fallen is a great place to begin when one is thinking about sin and how today’s church needs to think about the subject and then interact with a world that is fast becoming less aware of the consequences of sin.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*