Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a book of theology. On Friday, it’s Speaking of Sin by the American Episcopalian priest, Barbara Brown Taylor.
I like this book, and not just because it’s short!
As she begins her examination of words like sin and repentance, asking if they
actually have any meaning outside of our Church culture, she says, rather playfully
‘I think it is safe to say Christians need never fear the commercialisation of
Ash Wednesday’ – probably an understatement!
This book isn’t one that in any sense denies the reality of sin, even though it
brought to my attention the fascinating revelation that our Jewish cousins
actually have no doctrine of Original Sin – you learn something new every day!
Instead of denying the pain sin causes us and others, Taylor writes, ‘We really
are free to make the most disastrous decisions.
Our choices really do have consequences.’
It’s the facing up to this challenge that is addressed by our book tomorrow.
Taylor is not convinced that the old Church vocabulary will do. So, she has a stab at trying to define the
essence of sin using other language.
One of the most beautiful passages in the book, in my view, is a sort of
Deep down in human existence, there is an
experience of being cut off from life…
Deep down in human existence there is an experience of seeing the light and
turning away from it…
Deep down in human existence there is an experience of reaching for forbidden
fruit and pushing away loving arms…
For Taylor repentance is fundamentally about us positively and determinedly
restoring broken relationships. In that respect,
she finds much overlap with the teaching of the Buddha who taught more about orthopraxis than orthodoxy.
Repentance, in Taylor’s view, is never simply a personal act of piety. To repent is to DO something that brings
For me that would be epitomised by the life of The Revd John Newton. Yes, he wrote in Amazing Grace about the God who ‘saved a wretch like me’ and that’s
because he wasn’t at all proud of his time as a Slave Ship Captain. Yet, for Newton, repentance and salvation are
not just words that describe a personal relationship with God. No, he used all his power as an Anglican
priest to support, encourage and mentor William Wilberforce as he put the
Abolition Bill before Parliament. Newton
used his repentance to build a better community.
Speaking of Sin struck me initially
as such a bleak title for a book, yet it turned out to be a very uplifting and
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