Why Sin Matters: The Surprising Relationship Between Our Sin and God’s Grace, by Mark R. McMinn, 179 pages, was published in 2004—almost ten years ago.
How I First Encountered Why Sin Matters
I was a final judge for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) book awards in the theology category. When I received the five books I was to review, I was discouraged to find that one of them was about sin. I had read so many books and heard so many sermons against sin and sinners that I did not look forward to reading another one. I thought this negative approach was misguided and counter-productive, though at the time I had not clearly defined my own way to discuss sin.
Then I read the book. It was one of those incredible experiences that catches one completely by surprise; it was refreshing! McMinn was the first author I ever read that approached the subject of sin from a reasonable perspective.
Since then, my thoughts on sin have developed into a more coherent form, as can be seen in my last few posts. As I contemplated ending my series on sin with this review of a volume I read over eight years ago, I realized I could not remember a single word McMinn had written! I was curious whether re-reading it would reveal that my understanding of sin is a copy of his. It is not.
I re-read the book and my view is not derivative, though I think I see how he influenced my thinking in places and perhaps provided some helpful language. However, he is generally more conservative than I and even accepts the historicity and fall of Adam, but this does not reduce the value of his book; I recommend it highly to everyone.
Sin as Breaches in Relationships
McMinn anticipated my initial negative response to his title:
Sin is an unpopular word. Perhaps it evokes images of angry fundamentalist preachers who seem more intent on condemning and judging than searching for forgiveness and grace. Maybe the word has been used to manipulate and coerce you to behave more like someone wants you to behave. (page 13)
The man must have ESP.
Throughout his volume, McMinn addresses sin as an issue of human interaction and the consequences of sin as results of our causing hurt and harm. This is extremely consistent with my view. He never writes in terms of infractions of rules but focuses on how we relate to each other. He constantly talks about how we hurt each other and occasionally how we hurt ourselves.
All of us are profoundly scarred by the sin of others, and we have wounded others deeply with our sin. (136)
He also addresses legalism straightforwardly. He speaks of good intentions for holy living giving way to excessive rules and empty ritual. He says that many are unable to grasp the concept of sin:
The idea of sin as an inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power, is largely unknown. People today think more in terms of sins, that is, individual wrong acts. (38)
But he adds rightly that:
If leaving grace out of the story produces legalism and alienation, leaving sin out of the story robs us of life-giving grace. (18)
The Prodigal and the Counselor
McMinn begins his book with a particularly good reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal. And, though the book is not based on the parable, he revisits the imagery of the parable quite effectively.
As a trained counselor he brings insight from psychology. He adds a twist to the transactional analysis watchwords I’m OK—You’re OK and I’m OK—You’re not OK by adding I’m a Mess—You’re a Mess to illustrate the reality of our experience.
McMinn emphasizes the importance of admitting our sinfulness before we can begin to progress against our offenses. I agree and can declare, “Hi. I am Tim and I am a mess!” We must first realize we are a mess before we can begin to experience grace. He states also that it is never useful or true to say “You’re a Mess and I used to be a Mess.”
The author says pride gets in our way of acknowledging our sinfulness. We defend ourselves and blame others. Yet he writes:
Herein lies the stunning truth of God’s grace. God know every darkened corner of our existence, every rebellious thought, every distorted passion, every insecurity, every prodigal’s venture to a faraway land, and still God chooses to reach out with forgiveness and faith. (32)
A Final Word
This review only scratches the surface of this wonderful book. I heartily recommend it to anyone. You can find it at Why Sin Matters (I receive no compensation from orders of this book). If you read it, I would love to hear what you think!