Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Matt Jenson, "The Gravity of Sin"

In case you haven't noticed yet, the people over at T&T Clark in the theology, religion, and other related discipline departments are just about the nicest people you will ever meet. I have interacted with them both as a humble theo-blogger as well as a book review editor, and their willingness to supply review copies of their volumes to those interested in spreading the word about them is amazing.

As a meager attempt to repay them some of their kindness, I thought that I would post on one of their titles - Matt Jenson's book, The Gravity of Sin: Augustine, Luther and Barth on Homo Incurvatus In Se. I'm reading this book in preparation for one of my exams and, while the good folks over at T&T probably would have sent me a copy for free had I asked, I thought that I would go ahead and pay for my copy and post about it to boot.

The following is comprised of some of my notes on the volume, which is concerned with the concept of sin that Jenson is developing with reference to feminism. If you want a full account of the volume, I suggest my friend Jason's review.




Jenson is interested in developing an account of sin that takes seriously the notion that persons are constituted by their relations. He thinks that the traditional notion – traced from Augustine through Luther and to Barth – of the sinner as homo incurvatus in se provides such a notion. The basic insight is that when one turns in upon oneself, making oneself the center of one’s world, one withdraws from relation. Throughout much of the tradition, this incurvatus has been associated with pride, such that it is seen as an assertion of oneself, attempting to become not only the center of one’s own world but the center of the world. Sin conceived as pride is critiqued rigorously by Daphne Hampson. As a post-Christian, she argues instead that women could use a bit of ‘pride’, that is, self-assertion and actualization. The problem for women is not pride, but self-abasement. Jenson offers a number of internal and logical critiques of Hampson’s position, but finds greatest fault with its unwillingness to speak theologically of sin and salvation. He posits that understanding sin as incurvatus in se provides a broad enough picture of sin to account for the aspects of sin that Hampson calls to attention. This he demonstrates by an examination of Barth’s account of sin, and especially with Barth’s treatment of incurvatus in se as pride and sloth. Sloth here does not simply mean laziness. Rather, it is resistance to elevation by God in Christ. Barth understands Christ’s work as the judgment and exaltation of humanity: pride resists the judgment and sloth resists the exaltation. Both are instances of homo incurvatus in se in that both are anthropocentric. One resists God’s judgment by asserting oneself and one resists God’s exaltation by self-abasement. In both case, one focuses on oneself and not on God, thus turning in upon oneself and away from relationship with God.

2 comments:

Tom Kraft said...

Domine, non sumus digni...

Thanks four your comments about T&T!

I can only add that Matt Jenson is certainly one of the friendliest and most wonderful authors we have ever worked with! I am very glad he is currently writing his next book: The Church - A Guide for the Perplexed, together with his friend and colleague David Wilhite. I am very much looking forward to that one.

WTM said...

Tom,

Thanks for stopping by. You guys are doing good work - keep it up!

I'm currently working in your "Tillich: A Guide for the Perplexed," and I'll look forward to the 'Church' volume.