“The gospel is not a story of us being separated by sin from God. It’s the story of a God who is so faithfully for us and intent on being with us that God became human to help us embody the wholeness and fullness of life we’ve been made for. It’s not a story of separation. It’s a story of invitation and participation.”      (Introduction)

 

The world offers us plentiful evidence for Total Depravity. And if our earthly experience weren’t enough, the Western Christian tradition has been grounded in the concept of sin and atonement for centuries. Danielle Shroyer’s 2016 book Original Blessing: Putting sin in its rightful place offers a corrective. In an accessible and relatively concise manner, she surveys the biblical story and theological history, and suggests how our worldview might be more faithful to scripture if we lay aside the Augustinian “original sin” idea and look instead at the story of God and God’s people as a story of faithfulness: God’s faithfulness, specifically.

She uses as her hook throughout the book some variation on “God is sticking with it.” She compellingly articulates how God has stuck with humanity and creation through a variety of unfaithfulness on our part, and suggests that the way we have read the story of the Garden of Eden has been so influenced by dualist philosophy that we have lost the good news in the text.

Time and again she comes back to the fact that scripture seems intent on showing us a God who desires Life, and we have turned God into little more than a purveyor of forgiveness. While forgiveness is an aspect of Life, it is just that—a part, not the whole. Shroyer does not ignore the reality of sin, but does argue that when we focus too heavily on forgiveness, we miss the fullness of Life that Jesus promised. She also addresses the big questions people have when we start to dismantle either Original Sin or Substitutionary Atonement—questions like “then why do we need Jesus?” and “what about Satan?” and about baptism, the cross, and Adam and Eve being barred from the garden.

This book would work well for church study groups; though it does not include discussion questions they would be easy to create as you go along. The prose is easy to read, the theology is well explained and scripturally grounded, and there is enough repetition to guide people who miss a week now and then. The author’s interpretation of The Fall will likely cause some waves, but would be a good springboard for conversation.

A few of my favourite quotes:

God is not stuck inside a dilemma we created out of our preoccupation with our own sin. God’s hand is not forced to reconcile a problem God never had in the first place. God is not trying to figure out how to pay for our sin. We are trying to figure that out.” (Emphasis hers. Chapter 12)

(Jesus) “is the tree of life no matter where he is standing.” (Chapter 13)

“Goodness is both an origin and a goal. It is given to us as a gift, but it is also given to us as a calling.” (Chapter 5)

Shroyer, Danielle, Original Blessing: putting sin in its rightful place. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016.


The Rev. Teri Peterson is a Presbyterian minister currently in the process of transferring into the Church of Scotland. She is borrowing another RevGal’s seaside flat near Edinburgh and enjoying every moment of beach living with her two cats while assisting Ina parish on the south side of the city. She is the co-author of Who’s Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation (Chalice 2013), a contributor to There’s A Woman In The Pulpit, and longtime blogger at CleverTitleHere.


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