Can the Orthodox doctrine of sin be post-modern?

I have come across an alternative view of original sin which I find very compelling. The Eastern Orthodox view of sin is a little different from how Luther and Calvin saw original sin. The Reformers saw our human nature and essence as so thoroughly corrupted and damaged (total depravity) that it cannot be recognized by our human technical reason but only from logos Word and through ontological reason. This Evangelical view has been my view for a long time. But the reason I find the Orthodox view of sin compelling is in its starting point. Orthodox theology seems to view sin more in terms of a relationship than judicially (i.e., right and wrong). Holiness is still a virtue. Original sin is seen from the viewpoint that humanity has stopped being hungry for God and for God alone. It considers humanity’s failure to be hungry for fellowship with God’s Spirit. In other words, we humans have stopped seeing our whole life as a fellowship with God. It is not that sin has less to do with disobedience and unrighteousness; it does not condone sin in any way way shape or form. It emphasizes our relationship with God while not making light of sin–which is what evangelicals would agree with too. Guilt is not seen as being inherited, rather, human beings are born into an environment where doing evil is easy and doing good is more difficult. This view seems to make a lot of sense for those who do not see how human beings have inherited sin from our ancestors Adam and Eve. This doctrine of sin could potentially be repackaged as a post-modern view because it’s a way to view sin that is more understandable (perhaps you could say it is contextual to our post-modern generation). Perhaps our evangelical view could also incorporate our traditional view of sin with this Eastern Orthodox view of sin. It might also help contribute to a stronger sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Total depravity is not the only way to help us rely on God, but also, knowing Christ relationally can also help us to not trust in our own power, will, intellect, etc.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

12 thoughts on “Can the Orthodox doctrine of sin be post-modern?”

  1. I don’t think your characterization of Luther’s view of original sin is at all correct. Luther’s understanding is that original sin is one of man’s whole existence being oriented away from God, rather than simply being born with a legal sentence imputed from Adam, or even simply a lack of the moral power necessary to live 100% morally. It is a corruption springing from turning away from God. There’s a huge relational component to it, as can be seen in the explanation to the First Commandment in the Large Catechism. Against the scholastics, he insisted that natural man lacked the power to love God and in himself actually hates God. As he said, “The root and source of all sin is unbelief or the turning away from God, just as, on the other hand, the source of all righteousness is faith.”

    There’s nothing the Orthodox have here that the Lutherans don’t, except maybe a tendency to semi-Pelagianism.

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  2. I don’t think I was actually speaking about Luther’s view of sin in particular. I was speaking about the reformers’ view on concupiscence though, which is different from sin(s). I do agree with what you said about Luther’s view on sin. Moreover, what I was saying about inheritance was that some people may have a false conception that we have inherited sin from Adam and Eve. I do not believe this. We all have sin in the same way that Adam and Eve first had sin. We were born in sin no differently than the first man and woman were. However, whether sin is inherited or not does not really matter. It is a moot point because in the end, we are all still sinners. The Orthodox understanding of sin is similar to our view in the sense that they do not view sin as inherited from Adam and Eve. We are born in sin and are naturally curved in on oneself. In the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon says that “all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God.” As a result, our natural human inclinations, without the grace of God in our lives, are that: we do not love God, are ignorant of God, despise God, lack fear and trust in God, hate and want to avoid the judgment of God, are angry at God, and despair the grace of God.

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  3. Welcome to Orthodoxy.

    It was little jewels of insight like this that over a number of years led me to convert. Hop aboard a journey into historic Christianity.

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  4. orthodox, yes this view of sin is very compelling because we are encouraged to be hungry for more of God’s Holy Spirit. It also allows us to escape from seeing sin as an inheritance from the first sinful human being. This makes it seem more post-modern but yet it does not minimize the gravity of sin. Very compelling and attractive. Orthodox, did you convert all the way into the Eastern Orthodox church?

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  5. Kevin, I think the biggest difference between Eastern Orthodox Christians and those in the West is the way we perceive God’s “personality”. If you hear me and my Southern Baptist friends talk about him, you will wonder if we are talking about the same guy. Then there is the issue of salvation. Orthodox believers are puzzled by the “Are you saved?” question that is so popular in some denominations. It’s my observation (and I could be completely mistaken) that most Protestants are motivated, at least initially, by a desire to avoid the torments of Hell. The impetus behind Orhtodox people’s desire to be “saved” is never the fear of Hell, but always the desire to be one with God. It’s the longing to come home, and salvation is that long and trying journey (not a singular moment in time). Hell is… I was going to say a secondary concern, but it’s not even a concern. There is a really interesting article (speech actually) that you can easily google, “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros that addresses these issues in much more depth. It should be an interesting read.
    Martin

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  6. Martin, yes, some protestants are motivated by the scary thought of hell. I agree with you. I really like the theology that motivates us to seek a closer relationship with God. It is more in alignment with a loving God who desires to be one with humanity. That’s the kind of God I would like to preach and teach about. My theology has changed to see God as a loving God who seeks to be in relationship with us. Thanks for the link. I’ve printed out the article and will get read to it. So far it’s an interesting read.

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  7. It’s my belief that the depravity that we see in the world today is a product of the exponential ramifications of the original sinful act of disobedience. Like a feedback loop of amplified echoes.

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  8. Well, I wonder what is the difference of modern Orthodox to their Byzantine ancestors on Hell or Hades. I read the historian Evagrius on the emperor Justinian. He thought that Justinian soul was headed Hell or Hades. Also, many Byzantines of the 6th century according to historians of the day saw the plague as the punishment of God, even though some state it happening was a mystery. Also, Procopius secret history very critical of the emperor and his empress had several tales to pove they were demons in human form like Justianian was able to separate his head from his body. Probably, Orthodox theology even base upon church fathers teachings developed somewhat from some of the thinking of the 6th century.

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