If you pay attention to certain theological circles, you’ll have heard someone say something like this:
“Preachers who do not use the word “sin” in their sermons are watering down the gospel. If you aren’t willing to name sin, than you are deceiving people and offering a people-pleasing message.”
There is certainly reason to worry about the message of the Cross, Resurrection, and other foundational Christian concepts being lost or ignored. To ignore that concern, in my opinion, seems a bit naive.
Yet I’m not so sure that it can be said that if English speaking pastors do not use the word “sin” in their sermons in the way that these self-proclaimed gatekeepers insist is actually watering down the gospel. I have two basic reasons why I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that.
First, there are missional and contextual reasons to use a combination of words to communicate the biblical concept of “sin” to modern English listeners. The Hebrew verb חָטָא (ḥāṭāʾ) and nouns אָוֶן (ʾāwen), חַטָּאת (ḥaṭṭāʾt), עָוֹן (ʿāwōn) and פֶּשַׁע (pešaʿ) and the Greek nouns ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) and παράπτωμα (paraptōma) along with verb ἁμαρτία (hamartia) are all variously translated as “sin” or “trespass” or “wicked/evil acts” or a variety of words and concepts (often understood as “sin”).
But the bottom line is that no English word communicates a full scope of biblical theological data concerning the word “sin,” so it’s not necessarily true that an English speaking pastor who does not use the word “sin” is misleading people or watering down the gospel. One could argue that to simply use the word “sin” is to actually water down the biblical theological underpinnings of this complex and much more nuanced concept.
Second, these biblical theological underpinnings require us to talk about more than just “sin” in our discussions and we need to do that well and fully aware of the richness to, for example, Pauline soteriology. I’m concerned that those self-proclaimed gatekeepers who want to have a word count on the word “sin” in others’ sermons really miss the point. In fact, discussions on “sin” really are stepping stones toward a christological solution that restores human beings to their image bearing call!
What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts. While I plan to address how I communicate this concept, I’d love to know how you do!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.