Monday, July 13, 2015

Esolen's "Temptation Mysticism" and "Lutheran bad boy syndrome"

Anthony Esolen writes from a Roman Catholic perspective, but he describes something that is found in many different traditions.  He calls it "Temptation Mysticism."  In Lutheran circles it manifests itself in what I have heard called "Lutheran bad boy syndrome" - the idea that profligate sins of the past are part of a narrative that magnifies the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  

The danger is that when repeated again and again, the perspective on sin itself begins to shift. Sin becomes something that shows how great the forgiveness of Christ is, rather than something against which Christians are called to struggle.  When paired with an understanding of the Christian life that is centered on Roman 7:14-25a it easily leads to an assumption that Christians will fail.  Yet this in itself ceases to be a real problem because our failure in sin simply magnifies the grace and forgiveness of Christ, and this is what really matters. 

However, Paul does not assume that Christians will fail.  Instead while acknowledging the reality of failure in the Christian life, his discussion moves beyond Romans chapter 7 to say:  "So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:12-15 ESV).  Paul does not assume perfectionism.  But he does believe that Christians are called to struggle against sin, and he believes that because of the work of the Spirit this struggle can and does succeed.  The apostle extols the forgiveness found in Christ, even as he urges Christians to live as what Christ' s Spirit has made them to be.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Pastor. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling.