Beyond the “Addict’s Excuse”: Public Addiction and Ecclesial Recovery

A chapter in The Other Side of Sin: Woundedness from the Perspective of the Sinned-Against, edited by Susan Nelson and Andrew Sung Park, SUNY Press, pp 77-108. 23 pp.

“The vocabulary of Christian faith suffers from misunderstanding at every turn, but no one term is as badly understood in both society and church as the little word, ‘sin,'” writes Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall (1995:8). Most modern critics of Christianity would concur. Dour Christian discourses of sin have been favorite targets of the culture of narcissism. For such critics, however, the problem lies in churchly concepts of sin that are too severe, too absolute, and too ubiquitous—in short, too big. Hall’s argument, however, is that the notions of sin circulating in the North American churches persist in being too small.

A fatal mistake is made, Hall contends, whenever the church switches its focus from sin, a matter pertaining to the human condition, to sins, transgressions to be catalogued and controlled. “The individualism fostered by pietistic and liberal expressions of Protestantism has greatly aggravated the tendency to identity sin with negative qualities (sins)—specifically, negative personal failings” (ibid).

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