In The Divine Conspiracy, Willard takes to task popular ideas of salvation and gospel with the theme of “The Gospel of Sin Management.” I will take the next few posts to outline the contours of this classic Willard idea.
He notes the popular bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” This bumper sticker philosophy (and others) is absurd. Willard suggests that there is a wide gap between “perfect” and “just forgiven.” Willard offers a suggest of what people are getting at when they ascribe to these words,
“It says that you can have a faith in Christ that brings forgiveness, while in every respect of your life is no different from that of others who have no faith in Christ at all.” (36)
Willard uses a metaphor of a scanner in a department store to illustrate this point. A barcode only pays attention to the code, it calculates and scans what it sees. If a barcode intended for ice cream happens to be placed on dog food, then the dog food becomes ice cream. Even though the properties of dog food have not transformed into ice cream, the scanner has called it ice cream. Willard suggests that many messages about justification appear to follow this logic. Some suggests that, in attempting to show that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, have, in turn, expressed that being a Christian has nothing to do with the kind of person one is.
Willard zeroes in on this “confession” with some serious interrogation:
“The real question, I think, is whether God would establish a bar code type of arrangement at all. It is we who are in danger: in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us. Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched? Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social, and global? Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after? Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are?”
“And for those of us who think the Bible is a reliable or even significant guide to God’s view of human life, can we validly interpret its portrayal of faith in Christ as one concerned only with the management of sin, whether in the form of our personal debt or in the form of societal evils?”(38)
Before I finish the opening post on The Gospel of Sin Management I want to add an image Willard borrows from Helmut Thielicke, who wondered if celebrities who endorse food or beverages actually consumed them. Willard closes,
“Surely something has gone wrong when moral failures are so massive and widespread among us. Perhaps we are not eating what we are selling. More likely, I think, what we are ‘selling’ is irrelevant to our real existence and without power over daily life.” (39)