The Idea Of Sin In Twentieth-Century Theology -- By: Bruce A. Milne

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 26:1 (NA 1975)
Article: The Idea Of Sin In Twentieth-Century Theology
Author: Bruce A. Milne

The Idea Of Sin In Twentieth-Century Theology

Bruce A. Milne

The Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture 1974*

*Delivered at a special Winter Meeting of the Tyndale Fellowship held in London, 3 January 1975.


‘The whole nature of the Christian religion stands upon these two great pillars, namely, the greatness of our fall and the greatness of our redemption.’1

So wrote William Law, thereby reminding us that at the core of Biblical faith lies a certain dialectic, fall-redemption, death- life, law-gospel, sin-grace. In this lecture I invite your attention to one of the poles of this Biblical dialectic, the idea of sin.

As far as the doctrine of sin is concerned this recent period has been one of profound challenge. Man’s self-understanding has undergone radical revision in the last hundred years and in the process all manner of problems have been raised for this Christian doctrine. It is perhaps indicative of the complexity of these issues that, apart from its being treated within the compass of larger systematic projects such as those of Barth, Brunner or Tillich, one looks almost in vain during this century for a major discussion of sin. Among the many new factors to be contended with one might mention three fairly obvious ones. One is the emergence of the modern scientific view of man and his origins as expressed in the theory of biological evolution, giving rise to questions such as — What may we say of the creation and fall of man, with all its traditional implications for the idea of sin, in face of the claims of Darwinian theory? Who was Adam, and what relation, if any does he have to the race? Another new factor during this

last century has been the emergence and widespread dissemination of the ideas of Karl Marx, facing us with questions such as — What meaning and significance can we give to individual sin in the light of Marx’s all-embracing socio-economic account of behaviour and values? What kind of victory over sin can we claim in face of his scathing exposure of the Church’s social and political record? Then also this period has seen the rise of the whole psycho-analytical approach associated with the work of Freud, Jung and others. Hence we find ourselves being asked — What can guilt before God mean now? How does such guilt relate to alleged behavioural and character determinants in the individual’s conscious and unconscious past? And this list is not exhaustive. Any one of these developments would have created problems enough. The combination of the three and their various more contemporary cousins goes a l...

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