The Seven Deadly Sins, Part 4 (of 4)

PEDuring the month of October, RTB editor Sandra Dimas and I have discussed the seven deadly sins and their virtuous opposites. This week we conclude the series with pride and envy. In case you missed the previous articles, you can click on the following links to read part 1 (sloth), part 2 (greed and gluttony), and part 3 (anger and lust).

****

Let’s start with envy. How would you define this sin?

Envy is when I can’t be happy about something good happening to you because I’m so needy that I want everything to be given to me. It’s such a self-centered lack of generosity.

What about the virtue that contrasts envy?

In contrast to envy is charity or being grateful. I can be grateful that something good happened to you because I love and care for you. Thus I extend charity or gratefulness to you and to others.

Can I ask which of these deadly sins you struggle with the most?

For me, I’d have to say envy. When I was playing baseball as a young man, I envied friends who signed professional baseball contracts. Now I envy my apologist friends whose books sell better than mine do. There was a particular book I didn’t think was half as good as mine, yet it sold like hotcakes! Everyone was just falling over themselves trying to get this book. (laughs) So, I’m aware of envy, but I think it also probably depends on the season of my life, which sin I’m most susceptible to.

Now let’s talk about the big sin of pride.

C. S. Lewis said there were two kinds of pride. The first is a humble pride where you have a low self-image. The second, which according to Lewis is a much worse form of pride, is the diabolical pride, where you don’t care what anybody thinks and you don’t value the opinion of anybody—not even God. Lewis also said pride is the anti-god state of mind.

Is this “anti-god state of mind” why some would consider pride the worst of these seven deadly sins?

Pride is this antispiritual state of mind where it’s difficult to be generous and loving because you have contempt for everybody but yourself. Is it the worst of sins? Lewis thought so, and a lot of people would agree. Saint Augustine said the sin of Lucifer was that he exalted a good thing (himself) above the greatest thing (God). If pride is what made Lucifer the devil, it’s a pretty serious state of mind because it puts you at odds with others and with God.

What is the contrasting virtue to pride?

Contrasting pride is humility, which means you stop comparing yourself to others. Instead you recognize that whatever God does in other people’s lives doesn’t mean that you’re the odd man out. It just means that God’s grace flows over into all kinds of people’s lives.

Earlier you mentioned a “humble pride.” How would you compare “humble pride” with true humility?

Pride is the ultimate competitive state and always at odds with everybody else. Humility is accepting acknowledgment with gratitude. Christians sometimes get this false sense that humility means we deflect compliments. But being made in the image of God means God has put His fingerprint upon us. We have inherent dignity and moral worth.

Can you give an example of when you’ve experienced true humility?

A young man once shared with me that something I had written brought him out of a state of depression that could’ve led to suicide. I felt immediately humbled. I thought, how would I ever know that God could use something I had written to powerfully impact somebody’s life? What a wonderful thing that God would use a difficult writer like me for His glory.

You mentioned previously that medieval theologians formed the list of seven deadly sins. It seems that behaviors once considered vices are applauded today. Greed might be considered good because it’s good to be successful. Pride is considered good because too many people have low self-esteem. Sloth is good because you deserve to binge on Netflix. For that matter, gluttony is good because you deserve to binge on cupcakes.

I like your cupcakes, by the way.

Oh, thanks. (laughs) But do you think today’s Christians can look at these “deadly” sins as true vices rather than things we should strive for?

It’s helpful to realize that much of our sins are not directly doing the wrong thing but taking good things and misusing them. Instead of recognizing that food, money, sexuality, and so forth, are gifts, we misuse them. Sometimes we demand more than these things can give us. We’re asking finite things to meet a need that only the infinite God can fulfill. In Confessions, Augustine writes that “you’ve made us for yourself and our hearts find no rest until they rest in thee.” We were made for God.

How do these sins affect how we engage God? It seems they strip away our trust in God.

I think that’s a great point. Jesus called Yahweh Abba, which is an Aramaic term of endearment. Some scholars would say it is equivalent to “daddy.” When we lose control of ourselves, we’re not trusting in God’s fatherly care for us, His sovereignty.

Any final thoughts on this topic?

We’ve discussed the deadly sins and cardinal virtues, but there are also the theological virtues. Those are faith, hope, and love. I think the seven deadly sins show a lack of affirming faith, hope, and love. That may be the heart of it: we’ve lost our faith, hope, and love. Thus we’re scrambling to hold onto every thing we can get our hands on.

****

For more on the seven deadly sins, see Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle.

 

Quote

Quote of the Week: Michael Reeves

When you proclaim Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father, you proclaim the triune God.

—Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 37–38.

The Seven Deadly Sins, Part 3 (of 4)

This week RTB editor Sandra Dimas and I continue our discussion on the seven deadly sins and the contrasting virtues. Read part 1 and part 2 to see which vices and virtues were already discussed.

****

ALKen, so far we’ve discussed sloth, greed, and gluttony. Now let’s take a look at two more sins. Let’s start with how anger can become a sin. What does Scripture have to say about anger?

The Bible says, “In your anger, sin not.” Jesus became angry. He went into the temple and turned over tables. I’ll bet you Paul felt anger, too, when his dignity and the dignity of his companions was cast aside or by hypocrisy he saw in the religious leaders.

Considering this, what is an acceptable reason for someone to become angry?

Anger is sometimes a very appropriate response. For example, if somebody were harming someone I care about, being angry over that would be perfectly justifiable. I can tell you, though, it’s very difficult not to sin when your anger has reached a certain level.

When does anger become a sin?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been angry where you’ve lost control of yourself. I have. When this happens you are enormously vulnerable to do something you may regret for a long time. You’ve lost all of those resources that keep things in check. Anger can cause people to lose control over their actions—and unchecked anger could even lead to murder. Think of how road rage over this small little thing can lead to someone pulling out a gun. How vulnerable we all are when we lose control of ourselves. So, while anger is a good thing in the appropriate context, it’s such a powerful emotion that it could lead to some of the worst sins—either murdering someone or using slurs that degrade people.

What is the contrasting virtue to anger?

The contrast to anger is meekness, that is, composure or self-control. When Peter talks about doing apologetics he talks about doing it with gentleness and self-control.

In fact, 1 Peter 3:15 influences how we at RTB engage apologetics.

Right, and that’s a very powerful thing. When people hear your presentation, even if your arguments are good, if they think you have an arrogant attitude or you come across as impersonal, that affects persuasion. We’re persuaded for reasons other than just intellectual ones. We don’t often think of a champion apologist as being meek, but it’s certainly there and needed.

Yet people often misunderstand meekness as synonymous with weakness. Can you explain the distinction between the two?

I think in the minds of many people meekness means you let people push you around and don’t stand up for yourself. Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly of heart, take on my yoke. I’m gentle of heart.” It seems to me that there was nothing about Jesus that was weak. He could talk to the Samaritan woman at the well. He could touch the lepers. Or He could stand up to the religious leaders of His time. So I don’t think meekness involves letting people abuse you or push you around. It simply means having a deep sense of self-control and composure. It’s about treating other people with dignity because we are all made in the image of God.

Let’s now discuss the sin of lust and how that differs from sex.

Like the other deadly sins, lust is misusing something that was originally meant to be good. Sex according to the Christian worldview is a good thing. It’s a God-ordained thing. In fact, whenever Yahweh talks about His relationship to the covenant people, the analogy is marriage. When Jesus talks about His intimacy with the church, it’s marriage. So there is this sacredness to marriage and sexuality.

What sort of behavior would be identified as lust?

Sex becomes lust when it is out of control and out of the proper context of marriage. But it’s also lust when we use the other person for sexual pleasure rather than an expression of love and giving in charity. I think in our culture sex has become a type of idolatry. Pornography is a very serious problem and some of the statistics I’ve read indicate that even among Christian men pornography is a problem.

With the popularity of the book Fifty Shades of Grey (and its film adaptation coming out next year), it seems that lust is an issue for women as well.

You’re right.

How has sex become a type of idolatry?

By saying that sex is the end all, be all, as if your hedonism would bring this incredible fulfillment. In reality, when I have talked to people who have had multiple sexual affairs and relationships, they often seem very lonely and unfulfilled. Thus people have made the case that married people are happier.

What virtue contrasts lust? And how do we battle the sin in our lives?

That would be purity, which is self-control in a physical way. I think the power of sin points to the deep sense of grace. The only way we can be saved and the only way we can have godliness is through the gift of God’s grace—His love, His forgiveness, His empowerment.

****

We will conclude this series next week with the deadly sins of envy and pride.

For more on the seven deadly sins, see Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle.

Quote of the Week: Blaise Pascal

Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.

— Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 1995), no. 149/430.

The Seven Deadly Sins, Part 2 (of 4)

In part 1 of this series, I began a discussion with RTB editor Sandra Dimas about the seven deadly sins. This week we delve deeper into the topic by looking at two more sins and their virtuous counterparts.

****

GGLast week we talked about the deadly sin, or vice, sloth and the virtue of zeal. Let’s now move to the sin of gluttony.

Gluttony by definition is an unreasonable preoccupation with food, that is, having no limits. But it could refer to more than just food. It could include drinking or any number of things.

I’ve heard gluttony described as “the only sin you can see,” which could be true if you think of it on a basic level as just an excess of food or alcohol. I had a conversation with someone who challenged me to guess what his deadly sin was. It turned out to be gluttony because of his excess of books.

Hey. You’re getting personal here!

Well, you might have way too many books, but I’m probably the same but with music. Gluttony can be viewed as an overindulgence or overconsumption of anything to the point of waste. That part about waste seems vital.

Exactly. One thing of note about the seven deadly sins is that it’s often about taking things that are good and misusing them. So, for instance, food is a good thing. We can’t live without food. But you can take eating food and abuse it or exceed its purpose.

What would you say to those who are hurt when they’re told that obesity is a sin?

Again, this is a good thing gone bad. That’s the sinful condition. We have kind of twisted the good things of life. Food is absolutely necessary, but if there are no limits to it, it becomes a very serious problem. I’ll put it in a biblical context: instead of eating to live, you live to eat. So the orientation is switched. Instead of us being in control of it, it controls us.

How else might the sin of gluttony show up in one’s life?

Gluttony as a state of having no limits could apply to any number of things and could spill into other areas of our life.

What would the virtue be in contrast to the vice of gluttony?

The virtue in contrast to gluttony would be temperance, an older word meaning moderation, be it of food or drinks or books or music. Temperance or moderation is a very important virtue in any number of the areas of our life, not just food and drink.

Greed can be similar to gluttony in that it’s a sin of excess.

Yes, that’s interesting. The Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Again, it’s a perversion. Money could provide for a person’s education. Money could provide for healthcare for somebody. Money is a powerful resource. Greed emerges when we have an obsession with money. It’s not that I want just enough money to provide for my family, I want more money than you! As with food, money is a good thing but it could be exalted and misused.

What would be the contrasting virtue to greed?

In contrast to greed or obsession is generosity. Instead of hording things or wanting to control things, a generous person is giving. They would also credit other people for the good things that they do.

In what ways do you see generosity in your life?

I think about my role as a father. My kids are no longer children, so my fatherly role has changed. I want my kids to say, long after I’m gone, “My dad was so generous with what he did.” It’s difficult to have that generosity if you’re holding on to every little thing. Greed often manifests itself as an attempt to control all of the resources in your life rather than putting them out there to help others. But, in fact, I think the more you give the more you may receive, from a theological point of view.

How does our view of generosity impact our Christian walk and how we relate to God?

One thing that I love about God the Father is that He’s so generous. He’s so giving. His love spills over. So I think, how can that be reflected in my life? Can I have a generous spirit? Can I be generous with my time? Not just generous with my pocketbook, but is there a spirit of generosity where I’m always looking to give? That’s part of my own spiritual approach. I want to see the characteristics of the triune God evident in my own life.

****

Next week this series will continue with two more deadly sins and cardinal virtues.

For more on the seven deadly sins, see Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle.

Quote

Quote of the Week: Proverbs 20:9

Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?

— Proverbs 20:9

 

The Seven Deadly Sins, Part 1 (of 4)

Fall is upon us, and with that brings pumpkin spice lattes, the turning of leaves, and the ever-tricky topic of Halloween. RTB editor Sandra Dimas joins me to discuss something far scarier than haunted houses and bubbling cauldrons. Join us for this month-long series on the seven deadly sins.

****

Ken, can you name the seven deadly sins off the top of your head?

sI can. In fact, I’ve memorized them alphabetically. They are anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth. Sometimes old English words are used. For example, I would say greed but some would say avarice.

Where did this grouping of sins originate?

That’s a great question because that collection of sins doesn’t appear anywhere together in Scripture. Scripture addresses all of those sins in various places, but the list itself doesn’t have a direct biblical origin.

So if there is no biblical origin, then how was this list created and by whom?

The seven deadly sins were initially talked a lot about in medieval Catholic monasteries and nunneries. These were people in the religious orders who took holiness very seriously and they wanted to avoid those sins that would potentially damn them.

How did the medieval Catholic Church determine which sins were “deadly”?

Having a Catholic background, you’ll remember the distinction in the Catholic Church between venial sins and mortal sins. Venial sins are lesser, “forgivable” sins that do not destroy one’s state of grace.

A mortal or deadly sin—sometimes called a capital sin—is what medieval theologians believed to be those sins that were so serious, so injurious, if you will, that they would destroy the state of sanctifying grace within the soul. At that point if you were to die you would go to hell. So you would need to go to the sacrament of reconciliation or confession in order to get that state of sanctifying grace back.

Considering this list of seven deadly sins was intended to help guide those in monasteries and nunneries to lead holy lives, how did the list’s reach eventually extend beyond its point of origin?

Slowly and gradually, the awareness that these are sins that everybody struggles with grew. Protestants don’t differentiate sin the way Catholics do, but that doesn’t mean that Protestants don’t appreciate that some sins may be more serious or more consequential than others. We just don’t typically talk about them as “deadly sins.”

We might recognize that certain sins are foundational. That is, these sins lay the groundwork for other types of sin. For example, anger may be the very root of what could be murder. Or lust could be the root for adultery.

Let’s begin to dissect these various sins and how each might show up in everyday life. How about we start with sloth?

Have you ever seen an animal the sloth? They’re very slow moving. Based on this animal’s behavior, some would identify the sin of sloth as being lazy or slow moving. My dad would always joke that I had the sin of sloth. Though, theologically speaking, sloth is not so much about a general laziness, meaning you’re not hardworking or you don’t have a lot of energy and drive. It’s actually more of a spiritual sloth. That is, you stop taking your spiritual life seriously. Maybe you avoid reading Scripture or you find it hard to go to church or you don’t pray regularly. Sloth is seen as the sin of having lost your passion and your love for God. Your spirituality is no longer vibrant.

Interesting point. I had always understood sloth as physical laziness. This is the first time I’ve heard it explained as spiritual sloth.

Right. I had always thought sloth was about laziness, too. But the context seems to suggest sloth is more that “you have left your first love,” as it says in the Book of Revelation, and therefore your spiritual life is not vibrant. The idea is that if you’re not doing those things that energize your Christian experience—such as attending church regularly, hearing the Word of God preached, receiving the Lord’s Supper, or praying regularly—then that will impact the rest of your life. It could mean that other sins would be more likely to appear in your life because you’ve lost that spiritual vibrancy.

Most Christians are aware of the seven deadly sins. Yet not many would know the seven cardinal virtues that contrast these sins or vices. Can you name them?

Sure. Meekness is the contrasting virtue to anger. Charity contrasts envy. Temperance contrasts gluttony. Generosity contrasts greed. Purity contrasts lust. Humility contrasts pride. Zeal contrasts sloth.

How might Christians exhibit the virtue of zeal, particularly if they begin to recognize the sin of sloth in their lives?

Sloth or complacency—again with more emphasis in this context to the spiritual side of life—is contrasted with zeal. That is, I have a zeal for the Lord and I want to honor Him. Zeal even involves the idea of integrity, meaning that everything I’m committed to is for God. In pursuing the tough road of sanctification (inner godliness), Christians must always keep in mind that their relationship with God is accomplished and maintained by the Lord’s loving and forging grace and not in their specific growth rate in sanctification (Titus 3:4–7).

****

Come back next week as we look at two more deadly sins and their virtuous counterparts.

For more on the seven deadly sins, see Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle.

Quote

Quote of the Week: Kenneth Samples

Christian apologist Walter R. Martin used to say that some people will not look up until they are flat on their back.

— Kenneth Samples, Sunday morning church class lecture

How a Climatologist Integrates Science and Faith

This summer climatologist Kevin Birdwell returned to RTB headquarters for his third stint as a visiting scholar. RTB editor Maureen Moser sat down for a chat with Kevin about the role science plays in his faith and his experiences as a Christian apologist.

****

What piece of evidence do you view as the most powerful in support of Christianity’s truth?

I’ve never tried to narrow it down to just one—it’s a compiled case of many evidences. One of the reasons I got into Christian apologetics is because I wanted to find out how all the evidence fit together.

However, I believe there’s always a measure of faith involved. It is informed faith, not blind, but it’s also not just a bunch of facts.

Sun-cloudsNow, you study meteorology, climatology, and earth science. Where do you see evidence for design in those fields?

I certainly see it in the earth itself. Our planet possesses so many unique and fine-tuned features. We hear a lot about discoveries of “Earth-like” planets. These exoplanets might have one or two characteristics similar to Earth’s, but many others must be considered—from plate tectonics to the Moon impact to the nature of the atmosphere.

Obviously, the Moon impact had an influence on Earth’s atmosphere, so that affects meteorology. Without this event happening just the way it did, we would have a planet like Venus. It really is miraculous. I’ve seen it described as a 1 in the 1022 chance.

How does your research impact your faith?

Very positively! In my early college days, I was threatened by my science studies—mainly because I didn’t understand the difference between science and the philosophy of science. People will often impose the philosophy of naturalism onto science, but naturalism is not the same thing as science. As I started developing a better understanding of science and science philosophy I found, in conversations with nonbelievers, that I could discuss my view from a position of strength, rather than weakness.

What I’ve also found is that there are a lot of things that point back to design. The atmosphere, for example, is on a knife’s edge in terms of its design and its ability to support us. If Earth’s gravity were just a little bit stronger, then it would likely hang on to too many substances like ammonia; but if gravity were just a little bit weaker, it wouldn’t hang on to enough water.

Who were the critical mentors in the development of your faith?

Certainly my parents were a big factor. No family is perfect, but they had a genuine Christian faith—it wasn’t just something they did on Sunday. That made a huge difference.

I would also have to include people like Dr. Ross, C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Michael Brown on the list.

What has been the greatest challenge to your faith?

I think we sometimes get the wrong idea that we can answer every question that ever pops into our heads. Sometimes we might read something in the Bible or something happens in life that makes us think, “This doesn’t make sense, God.” He will give us some answers right away, but others we have to wait for.

There were times, particularly in college, where I felt I had wasted my time on this or that, but later on (even as much as a decade) I’d look back and realize why God had me go through something. Again, Christianity is not a blind faith, but it is still a walk by faith. God gives us enough; He gives what we need to know.

Let’s talk about creation views. What convinced you that old-earth creationism (OEC) is the best explanation for the relationship between nature and Scripture?

There’s no question that the scientific evidence was a strong factor. In college, when I was searching these things out, I joined a YEC society and tried to be open to the ideas presented there. But when someone explained “flood geology” to me I gave up because I knew enough about geology already to make me doubt YEC’s validity. (Even in my home state of Tennessee we have thousands of feet of limestone that can’t be explained by flood geology.)

As the years have passed, I’ve seen a lot of evidence from the Bible itself that supports an OEC reading of Scripture. All the creation passages are consistent with each other when viewed in an OEC context, but this becomes questionable when viewed in a YEC context. I understand that people are trying to interpret the Bible in a way that they believe is consistent. But when you look at something like flood geology, you don’t find a lot of support from Scripture. It seems to be more of a speculation that’s imposed onto the text.

You’ve been telling me about a conference series that you’ve been involved with. How did that get started?

In the Knoxville area where I live we’ve been doing these God’s Not Dead conferences. It started in July. We’ve done two events already and we’ve been invited to do a third.

Now are these events associated with the recent film God’s Not Dead or just named in honor of it?

More the latter. Our local Ratio Christi chapter organized the events and our RTB chapter and the local Reasonable Faith chapter participated. Basically, we expand on topics that were presented in the movie and invite students to come listen to our talks. For example, I’ve been doing a talk on cosmology. One of our other speakers did a talk on the evidence for the Resurrection. Another did an introduction to apologetics.

How have audiences responded?

I think the response has been very positive. A lot of feedback has expressed appreciation for the information we presented and told us that people are looking for this type of information.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to engage a scientist in a discussion about faith?

This would be true for most situations, but it would help tremendously if people took the time to understand the culture of science and where the scientist is coming from. This includes actually learning some science. You don’t need a PhD to evangelize to scientists, but you do need to know some of the basics.

****

You can also listen to my interview with Kevin on Straight Thinking.

Quote

Quote of the Week: Deuteronomy 6:4

 

Hear, O Israel: The LORD [YHWH] our God [Elohim], the LORD [YHWH] is one [ehadh].

– Deuteronomy 6:4