Against God and Nature: The Doctrine of Sin (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) by [McCall, Thomas H.]Title: Against God and Nature:
The Doctrine of Sin
Author: Thomas H. McCall
Genre: Theology (Hamartiology)
Pages: 448
Rating: 3 of 5
Future Release Date: 6/25/19 (Thank you to the author & publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley. This does not affect the content of the review)

Last year I reviewed another book from this Foundations of Evangelical Theology series: Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture. That book was by John S. Feinberg, the general editor of the series, and I found it helpful and academically rigorous. I was a bit less impressed with this offering by Thomas H. McCall.

McCall deals with the doctrine of sin; not a pleasant topic, but crucial to a proper understanding of the Christian faith. He approaches the topic with an Arminian point of view, which sets him apart from many of the other authors in the series as they tend to be more Reformed. Though I lean in a more Reformed direction myself, that wasn’t what irked me about this book (though he may have spent more of his page count than was strictly necessary on “Arminian vs. Reformed” related concerns).

The book covers pretty much all the facets of the doctrine that you would expect, but there was relatively little direct exegetical interaction with Scripture compared to other broadly Evangelical systematic theology books I have read. McCall spends much of his page count surveying what different councils and theologians have said about the topic down through history. While I appreciate the use of historical theology (something Evangelical theologians aren’t always very good at), I do not appreciate how it dominates the book. After the second chapter which surveys what the entire Bible says about sin, there is little directly digging into the grammar, examining possible cross-references, or other biblical theology concerns. Instead we get to hear what the Council of Carthage, Augustine, John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Karl Barth, etc. thought about the matter.

This focus on historical theology means that most of the time the book is dealing with Scripture at (at least) one remove, occasionally going into Scripturally iffy territory (e.g. some death existing before the fall). I did find some of the discussions profitable (e.g. the section on original sin helpfully explored many possible understandings of the difficult concept), but overall I was disappointed by the relative scarcity of detailed exegesis or direct appeal to Scripture.

4 thoughts on “Historical Hamartiology

  1. That is too bad. Glad it’s still a 3 star though.

    Slight change of topic, but a sentence from your last paragraph jogged my mind. Any idea how theistic evolutionists get around the whole “death entered the world with the fall”? I don’t personally know any so I can’t ask them and the places that they would frequent I stay away from. Just curious 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The author spends quite a bit of time on that, offering various options. His preferred option seems to be that there was always animal death/predation and the fall brought only human death since that is what is emphasized after the fall. He further proposes that Adam and Eve were basically evolved hominids “refurbished” to now have the image of God and be the first humans, so he can even have homo-sapien death before the fall.

      Essentially, he just plays ridiculously fast and loose with Genesis 1-3 and largely ignores passages that mention all of creation being affected by the fall (e.g. Romans 8:19-23) and the eternal kingdom of God including nature in perfect predation-free harmony (e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25)

      He offers a few other possibilities as well (including one involving alternate universes) and the only one he really brushes aside as untenable is a death/predation-free world before the fall. This was by far the most “out there” part of the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. He thinks through the implications of his non-literal/semi-literal views more carefully than the average proponent of theistic evolution and nuances his position to eliminate some of the more problematic aspects, but he still plays much too fast and loose with the text.

    Like

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