Hamartiology


Christians often disagree regarding matters of personal holiness.  Those defending themselves against the charge of sin for some X will often respond by saying, “It’s not that bad.”  Of course, to say something is “not that bad” is tantamount to saying it’s “not that good” either.  In such cases, we should be honest with ourselves and others and just admit that X is not spiritually advantageous for us, even if it is morally tolerable.  Would we be better off if we abstained?  Perhaps.  Are we sinning if we don’t?  No.

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IFWe should not confuse permissiveness for grace. Grace says, “I love you and forgive you, so you need to stop this sin,” not “I love you and forgive you, so it doesn’t matter what you do.”  We are living in a culture that thinks love and forgiveness mean we should permit people to continue in their sin while we continue in our silence.  This is not grace, and this is not love.  Grace and love will always confront sin, because grace and love are the remedy for sin, not the license to continue in it.

J. P. MorelandAlmost everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, knows of Jesus’ teaching, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Mt 7:1).  I have addresses the proper interpretation of this passage elsewhere in my treatment of judgmentalism, but I recently read some brief comments by J. P. Moreland on the matter that I found  helpful as well.  Moreland writes:

[W]e need to distinguish two senses of judging:  condemning and evaluating.  The former is wrong and is in view in Matthew 7.  When Jesus says not to judge, he means it in the sense that the Pharisees judged others:  their purpose was to condemn the person judged and to elevate themselves above that person.  Now this is a form of self-righteous blindness that vv. 2-4 explicitly forbid.  Such judgment is an expression of a habitual approach to life of avoiding self-examination and repentance and, instead, propping oneself up by putting others down.[1]

The distinction between moral condemnation and moral evaluation is an important one.  We cannot and must not avoid moral evaluations.  Such are necessary and good.  What we must avoid are moral condemnations of people that elevate our own sense of moral superiority and blind us to our own moral inadequacies.


[1]J. P. Moreland, “On Judging Others: Is There a Right Way?”; available fromhttp://www.jpmoreland.com/2012/12/19/on-judging-others-is-there-a-right-way/; Internet; accessed 31 January 2013.

One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too.  Even God himself is not above their judgment.  They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster!  They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc.  Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned.  You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!

Is what they say true?  Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil?  Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT.  Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.  

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Tim Keller had this to say about the relationship between immorality and irrationality:

Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.

In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to want the good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.[1]

See also What I’ve Been Reading: The Making of an Atheist, Part I

HT: STR


It is often said that Adam and Eve did not know the difference between good and evil prior to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE).  This does seem to be the straightforward meaning of Genesis 3:22a: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’” (ESV)  There are a couple of problems I see with this interpretation, however:

  1. The text does not say Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of evil after the Fall, but knowledge of “good and evil.”  If we understand “knowledge” in a cognitive sense, this would mean God originally created human beings as amoral beings, having no knowledge of moral concepts or moral categories.  If we were created as amoral beings, then our moral intuitions and our capacity for moral reasoning are not part of the imago Dei (image of God) in which we were created, but rather a consequence of the Fall.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for two reasons: (1) Moral reasoning is one of the unique characteristics of God that among God creatures, humans alone exhibit.  Since humans alone were created in the imago Dei, it stands to reason that moral reasoning was part of that original imago Dei; (2) How is it possible for an act of disobedience to produce in us the knowledge of good?  Evil, yes, but good?
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The evidential problem of evil points to the improbability that the amount of evil we see in the world – particularly gratuitous evil – would exist if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists.  The argument usually takes the following form: 

(1)   If God exists, gratuitous evil would not exist
(2)   Gratuitous evil exists
(3)   Therefore God does not exist 

Many theists attempt to undermine this argument by attacking the veracity of premise two.  For example, William Lane Craig and William Alston argue that humans are not in an epistemic place to judge any act of evil as gratuitous since we cannot see the big picture of history.  For all we know, an act of seemingly gratuitous evil will result in a greater good years or even centuries from now, either in the life of the person who experienced the evil or in the life of another person in another country.  Our cognitive limitations should not be used as evidence that gratuitous evil exists.  At best we must remain agnostic on the question.

This is an appeal to the Greater-Good Defense, which argues that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all evils—including those that appear gratuitous to us—such as using them to bring about some greater good that could not have been brought about apart from those evils.

In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi, Kirk R. MacGregor provides some reasons for thinking that this response to the evidential problem of evil is misguided.  Just because our cognitive and temporal limitations make it impossible for us to prove that any act of evil is truly gratuitous does not mean that gratuitous evil does not exist.  He argues that the belief that some evils are gratuitous is a properly basic belief.  For example, we do not believe that every time we are bitten by a mosquito or stub our two that these evils have some greater purpose or will be used to accomplish a greater good.  Such things make virtually no difference in our own lives, yet alone on the grand scheme of things.  Given the proper basicality of belief in gratuitous evil, MacGregor says the burden of proof is on those who would deny the existence of gratuitous evils, and to meet their burden of proof they must explain how every instance of gratuitous evil actually results in some greater good.  This is not possible, and thus the person who believes in the existence of gratuitous evil is prima facie justified in maintaining that belief, even given his cognitive and temporal limitations.

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