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Each, then, has to explain how God in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit brings about such salvation. These diverse notions of salvation each responds to diverging perceptions of where the problem lies. Is the problem best understood as sin, or as pain, suffering, anxiety, death, injustice or oppression? These predicaments are typically intertwined. Take suffering for example. These sources of suffering can seldom be clearly separated but should also not be conflated. Being raped is for example a clear case of being sinned against, while the psychological trauma suffered by torturers is quite another matter.

There is ample room for confusion here. This is aggravated by widely diverging notions of what sin entails. Some would focus on sin as guilt and then attend to things that individuals do. Others would focus on sin as power and then attend to how individuals are influenced by forces beyond their locus of control. Consider this list of conflicting interpretations of sin:. In this contribution I wish to highlight one underlying and unresolved tension in contemporary Christian discourse on sin, namely regarding the so-called universality of sin.

Are we all sinners before God so that there is an underlying equality of sin? Or is a distinction needed between perpetrators and victims, between sinners and those sinned against? In churches of the Protestant reformation it is customary to insist that all humans are sinners, that no one sin is bigger than another, that we all stand guilty before God, that we are beggars, that we all need forgiveness and grace.

From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, for there our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin. Contrary to much of public opinion, there is something profoundly liberating in such an emphasis of the universality of sin. In a world in which there are so many ways in which human inequality is reinforced financial assets, academic grading, sport achievements, promotion, beauty contests, ecclesial hierarchies any emphasis on equality before the law based on equal human dignity is deeply counter-intuitive but constitutes the core of constitutional democracy and any bill of human rights.

This equality is radicalized in ecclesial communities through the evangelical affirmation that members of the body of Christ are nothing but forgiven sinners. To allow for gradations of sinfulness in such a community would open a can of worms in terms of levels of holiness, self-justification, hypocrisy, envy and the like. A recognition of the universality of sin may allow for human solidarity: we are all in this mess together. Guilt is, in most contexts, mutually implicated so that a confession of sins may help to stop a cycle of mutual accusations.

In distorted marriage relationships, between parents and children or between neighbours or business partners it is often necessary to reach a point where it is acknowledged that guilt is shared. Even if guilt is not shared equitably, it becomes futile to quantify the proportion of guilt, to engage in a bookkeeping of injuries and injustices. Instead, open confession is good for the soul and for the sake of community. Beyond individual and communal relationships, an emphasis on the universality of sin also has social and political significance, especially in contexts where evil is always blamed on someone else or on some system of oppression apartheid, colonialism and where no one seems to be willing to accept responsibility for the destructive legacy of sin.

The radical universality of sin also implies that evil cannot be attributed to only one group; stigmatizing and scapegoating others can be avoided. Evil is not merely something out there that has to be overcome or defeated or escaped from — since evil cannot be located somewhere outside ourselves. Moreover, moral exhortation and evangelical appeals for conversion remain insufficient to overcome an addiction to sin that is widespread, pervasive and delusional.

At best, the universality of sin serves as a protocol against any easy answers or quick fixes to eradicate evil.

Christ's Grace and Your Sufferings

There may be stations on the road to sanctification but there are no easy seven steps to holiness or degrees of sainthood. All believers are both saints and sinners, as Martin Luther would say: simul iustus et peccator. This applies within feminist theology the distinction between patriarchs and their families or rapists and their victims , in liberation theology oppressors and the oppressed , black theology white supremacists and the enslaved , indigenous theologies colonisers and the colonised , Minjung theology the shame or han of victims , postcolonial theology Empire and the conquered and ecotheology the human and non-human victims of capitalist exploitation.

For the sake of justice, such a distinction between perpetrators and victims should not be blurred. It would be obscene to equalize sinners and their sins in such cases. It risks blaming rape victims for being raped or slaves for being enslaved. Moreover, there seems to be a self-centeredness in traditional discourse on sin in that the focus remains on the sinner rather than on the wounds of the victim, on the consequences of sin. Whereas confession may be the cry of the sinner, lament is the cry of the victim.


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Where guilt is collectively, even universally assigned, it conceals the ones who are truly responsible. Worse, any emphasis on the universality of sin can easily be used for condoning the world as it is, rejecting the possibility of radical change, and undermining the struggle for justice. Worse than suffering due to the sins of others is being punished for the sins of another and hence to be regarded as the perpetrator of that sin oneself.

This is what horrifies many about imputing the guilt of Adam on all of humanity. There is, then, a need to distinguish between sinners and their victims, who should clearly not be held accountable for their own victimization. Likewise, if evil has become deeply embedded in social structures leading to structural violence and a subsequent spiral of revolutionary and repressive violence, there is a need for a distinction between oppressors and the oppressed.

For the sake of justice, the distinction between victim and perpetrator should not be blurred. It may be true that perpetrators are affected by their own actions, but it would be obscene to suggest that Jack the Ripper should elicit our deepest sympathy as if what was really wrong about his killing all those women was that he radically undermined his own flourishing. On this basis, those marginalized by oppressive social structures may be regarded as the more-or-less innocent victims of forces beyond their control.

This is especially important given the tendency for perpetrators to minimize the significance of their acts and for victims to maximize such significance. Where some may talk about sin as depravity, others realize the sociological and psychological impact of deprivation.


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  • In situations of long-standing conflict e. Of course, the victims of history often become perpetrators. A victim does not become virtuous by being victimized. Likewise, men who are the victims of racial subjugation may come to express their frustration and anger over the violation of their dignity through domestic violence. As Willie Jennings recalls in The Christian Imagination Yale University Press, , sailors on slave ships, recruited from the impoverished proletariat, were beaten and tortured and, in turn, took out their anger on black bodies by beating, torturing, and raping slaves.

    Another example is that of gangsters who are clearly victims of socio-economic conditions but who are also horrendous perpetrators of theft, drug trafficking, rape and murder. In addition, there is the psychological danger of neurotically clinging onto victimhood in order to legitimize claims to justice, refuse responsibility, and sustain desires for attention and sympathy indefinitely. The marginalized may therefore have to be called to conversion if they are unwilling to accept others who are also being marginalized.

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    The righteousness of a cause does not assume the righteousness of those who champion that cause. Ironically, an exclusive emphasis on victimhood undermines the agency of victims. We are never merely victims but are also called to act upon injustices. We are always both accused and accountable, not only the subject of pity.

    This is not to deny the possibility of collective guilt, but such a collective understanding of guilt may, inversely, also be used to exonerate the individual. One needs to reckon with the strange experience of passivity at the very heart of doing evil; namely, that human beings feel themselves to be victims precisely when they are also guilty. From the discussion above it should be clear that there are strong arguments to support a notion of the universality of sin and perhaps even stronger ones to reject that.

    How, then, does one proceed? One option is to suggest that the gospel contains two distinct messages, one for sinners and one for those sinned against. This option has support from the ministry of Jesus, at least according to the gospel narratives. There is an equally clear message for the rich, the powerful, the oppressors in those texts. Return to Book Page.

    This is a study of the atonement, the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. The book surveys historical views but also proposes that the atonement be seen as the death of Christ for both victims and the oppressed, for sinners and oppressors, for the whole creation--including animals and nature. This "triune atonement" refers to the involvement of the Trinity in the atoneme This is a study of the atonement, the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. This "triune atonement" refers to the involvement of the Trinity in the atonement, here presented from an Asian American perspective.

    Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 1. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Triune Atonement , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. Apr 27, Lori Neff rated it it was amazing.

    I really enjoyed this book on the atonement. The author was clear and rather thorough in this short book. I particularly enjoyed the author's perspective on the atonement for both victims and perpetrators. The author's own background was helpful and he brought in different cultural narratives that I was previously not exposed to. Jan 12, Corey Hampton rated it it was amazing.

    Sinners and the Sinned Against

    A wonderful little piece of theology. Very appropriate for a pub theology, group study, or any form of practical theology group. Highly recommended. Feb 14, Johannes C rated it really liked it Shelves: home-shelf-free-to-borrow. The first third of the book consists of concise profiles of major atonement theories, including some strengths and shortcomings from the perspective of the author. The rest is an explication of his own theory of triune atonement.

    Christ's Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole Creation

    I think the section very concisely introduced womanist and feminist critiques of both the pena The first third of the book consists of concise profiles of major atonement theories, including some strengths and shortcomings from the perspective of the author. I think the section very concisely introduced womanist and feminist critiques of both the penal substitution Calvin and satisfaction Anslem theories including: 1 the implied suggestion that those suffering domestic violence or child abuse should silently and submissively suffer for and forgive their oppressors, like it imagines Christ doing, 2 its erasure of God's forgiveness why couldn't God forgive people without violently punishing them or their substitute, there are many examples throughout the biblical text of God and Christ forgiving people without punishing them or anyone else , 3 is it not unjust to punish someone who's innocent?

    Park also provided an introduction to Rene Girard's scapegoat theory that I found useful, and summarized the advocacy role Girard saw in the Paraclete, which was important to me because I mainly started this book because my faith community is doing a sermon series on the Holy Spirit. Park further develops the role of the Paraclete in his own triune atonement theory. His main critique of Girard was that he thought Girard's idea that "conflict, rivalry, and violence" were foundational to "human nature, culture, and civilization" to be unfounded. I'm not familiar with the literature on that, but it is surprisingly Hobbesian for my initial impression of Girard, though I personally do think neoliberal ideology has often perpetuated these values of conflict, rivalry, and 'legitimized' violence, which we do as humans have the potential to actualize.

    The thing I most appreciated about this book was the anti-oppressive framework it provided for understanding atonement and sin. I like how it focused its understanding of sin on actions with a victim i.

    Christ came to both liberate the oppressed, and forgive the repentant oppressor who changes their way; that is, ultimately, Christ came to change the ways of oppressors such that they would no longer oppress, liberate the oppressed, transform the world into one that would be more just i. The work of the Christ follower, hence, is to participate in working toward that vision. I think Park is firmly situated within the tradition of liberation theology, but from a Korean-American perspective and his introduction to the concept of 'han' or suffering was important for me.

    I also see his work as carrying on James Cone's conception of God's action on the cross as ultimately an identification with victims of violence. Liberal theology has at times avoided the embarrassing violence that seems to be very central to God's redeeming work in their faith tradition. However, I think Cone and Park are right in emphasizing the violence of the crucifixion, not to reinforce penal substitution theories of atonement, but because people continue to be victims of violence in similar ways today, and our society in many ways was built on that type of violence.

    Therefore seeking to understand God and express love towards God, means paying religiously fervent attention to victims of violence and the oppressed Isaiah 1 , as our care for them is care for God. I do think there's potential to further recover the Christus Victor theory, and Park alludes to it by introducing the non-violent narrative Christus Victor theory. But I don't think Park really explores that himself very much. In a beautiful sermon, Brueggemann talked about what Christ's victory over death means for us: i.

    Park, Andrew Sung [WorldCat Identities]

    The idea of defeating death and sin is quite important to me, because its central to Paul's magnum opus Epistle to the Romans, and fundamentally entangled with the Exodus narrative which is about liberation from slavery. The Exodus narrative to me is central and foundational to the entire Christian Testament, which in my view would be very insubstantial without the rich categories, language, and narrative strains of the Hebrew Bible. Apr 14, E. This is a good, concise survey of atonement theory.

    The first part succinctly surveys the historical options, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each model. Then Park presents his own views.