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BOOK REVIEWS 501 The Return of Splendor in the World: The Christian Doctrine of Sin and Forgiveness. By CHRISTOF GESTRICH. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997. Pp. xxiv + 344. $40.00 (paper). ISBN 0-8028-4164-3. At a time when sin is little discussed either among the general public or even within ecclesial and theological circles, Professor Christof Gestrich of Humboldt University in Berlin has set himself the task to write a major study on the topic. He stresses that it is this very absence of discussion and knowledge of sin that closes us off from "the meaning and hope for our future" (xiii). "Invariably the knowledge of sin is no longer pursued by anyone, by any group that could act as a representative of society as a whole: it is this lack of knowledge that seals our doom. This is the main reason I am writing this book" (170). What is important to grasp already at this juncture is that, for Gestrich, only a proper and comprehensive understanding of sin, in all of its sociological, psychological, philosophical, and theological dimensions, can provide humankind with hope. Unless and until humankind regains a right understanding of sin, there is little, if any, hope for God's response to sin in Jesus Christ to achieve its goal-that is, the return of splendor. Gestrich sees his book then not as a gloomy study narrating humankind's desperate plight in the face of sin, but rather as an attempt to uncover the means whereby, in recognizing the truth of sin, humankind is able to appropriate the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Here, I believe, Gestrich is absolutely correct. The splendor of the cross and the glory ofthe resurrection are only thoroughly manifested against the somber backdrop of sin. According to Gestrich, contemporary men and women tend to think that the evil they are suffering comes from "outside themselves," instead of discovering that their suffering is due to "their own 'sin'" (36). Thus "forgiveness of sins seems to have become an embarrassment for theology and a vague experience among Christians, who desire it in declining numbers" (36-37). But how did such a situation develop? Gestrich is convinced that present-day theology, in its understanding of sin, is "paralyzed" by the Enlightenment's religious agenda (11). Modern theological hamartiologies consider sin only in relationship to "the human pursuit of freedom and identity," and as such are modeled after various eighteenth-century philosophies (75). To confirm this point, as well as to bring new clarity to the truly biblical concept of sin, Gestrich devotes a substantial portion of his book to examining the notion of the Fall and sin within the writings of such men as Herder, Rousseau, Fichte, Holderlin, Schiller, Freud, and especially Kant. While this makes, at times, for some rather dry and heavy reading, Gestrich is quite insightful in his commentary. However, it is his conclusion that is significant. He judges that Kant and Schiller (though similar judgments could be made of many of the above named), understood the conquest of evil as a task exclusively for man himself. They ignored the key religious event of evil and sin: human separation 502 BOOK REVIEWS from God. They also read the stories in Genesis 2-3 not as explanations of the relationship between man and God but as coded statements about man becoming mature that must be judged from a purely anthropological perspective. Thus they also fail to appreciate God's essential part in overcoming evil and its consequences. (127-28) How then does Gestrich himself define sin? His answer to this question, with its psychological, philosophical, and theological implications, is where he is most perceptive and creative. Human beings, from the dawn of their existence , have desperately sought their own justification: to be affirmed and sanctioned in their worthiness to exist. "Man's hunger for his own justification is that primeval place in human existence where sin first cast its shadow on all that is human" (173). In order to obtain such justification and approval human beings demand it of others, and so use and abuse others, including God. Whenever one demands that others validate the justification of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 501-504
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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