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Shaping the Human Soul, Part 5

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October 5, 2012 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's post features Curt Thompson and James K.A. Smith. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In Washington DC, Church of the Advent has teamed up with The Trinity Forum to offer an exciting series of lectures exploring the synergy between modern science and Christian Faith. We are pleased to share the recent presentation given by psychiatrist Curt Thompson and philosopher James K.A. Smith. Together they discussed the process of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation through the lens of neuroscience.

In this 5-part video series, we began by featuring an talk by Dr. Thompson (parts 1 and 2), followed by Dr. Smith (parts 3 and 4). During the question and answer period that followed their individual presentations, they offered their thoughts one especially challenging subject-- the essence of Sin.

After Curt Thompson and James K.A. Smith finished their individual presentations, someone asked them about how they understood the nature of Sin.

Dr. Thompson responded that while the essence of Sin is ultimately mysterious, he suggests that there are some ways to think about Sin in the language of interpersonal neurobiology.

On the other hand, Dr. Smith found the wisdom of St. Augustine in The Confessions quite helpful—The essence of Sin is loving the wrong things in the wrong ways. It’s a disordered love.

We need to have an account of Sin in terms of habit. A lot of Christians today think of “sins” and discreet choices, but historically Christians have thought of Sin as a habitual tendency and disordering. It is formed over time—that’s what a vice is. Virtue and sanctification require ongoing re-habituation, a counter-formation of our inclinations.

Dr. Thompson followed up with a reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and noted that people who are really good at what they do generally acquire it through lots of practice. Thompson then asked the audience, “How are we, in an embodied way, going to practice Christianity for 10,000 hours?”

We hope you have enjoyed this video series. If you'd like to learn more, we encourage you to read Curt Thompson's The Anatomy of the Soul and James K.A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Dr. Smith also has a new book coming out this winter entitled Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.

Dr. Curt Thompson is a psychiatrist in private practice in Falls Church, Virginia, and founder of Being Known, which develops teaching programs, seminars and resource materials to help people explore the connection between interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spirituality which lead to genuine change and transformation. He is also author of Anatomy of the Soul.
James K.A. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, as well as a Senior Fellow of The Colossian Forum. He writes and speaks frequently on philosophy, theology, and cultural criticism. He is the author of numerous books, including Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. His latest book is How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #73363

October 5th 2012

Sin is love of self as opposed to love of God, others, and self.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73379

October 6th 2012

Sin is not habit.  Sin is orientation or wrong relationships.

Skl - #73389

October 7th 2012

The last line of the article: “How are we, in an embodied way, going to practice Christianity for 10,000 hours?”

It sounds like a trick question, an impossibility. Just as we might think of some of Jesus’ commands to be unrealistic (cf. Mat 5:48).

I think Jesus knows we won’t and can’t achieve actual perfection in this life. However, I do think He expects us to be moving in the direction of perfection (i.e. present progressive tense).

That’s why I liked the “ongoing” in the article’s statement “Virtue and sanctification require ongoing re-habituation, a counter-formation of our inclinations.”

Real faith, the obedience of faith, is for now and is never ending (in this life). I think that’s why Jesus said “But he who endures to the end will be saved.”



Precious few comments on this five-part series. Many issues are important (e.g. origins, biology, astronomy). But some are more important than others. The issue of “Shaping the human soul” is probably the most important.


wesseldawn - #73392

October 7th 2012

...historically Christians have thought of Sin as a habitual tendency and disordering. It is formed over time…

I agree that sin is habit that gets further ingrained over time so that a person has no chance of escaping from it on their own…rather it would take a miracle….the renewing of the mind is good psychology (which God’s word taught correctly is) but the subsequent saving of the soul is something that only God can accomplish…all attempts to produce their own righteousness would end in futillty.




wesseldawn - #73403

October 8th 2012

I don’t like the way the word “sinner” is used in Bible circles. The translation is: to miss (the mark, way, the goal, or path, go wrong, etc.). I think the word “dysfunction” is more correct. The world is not fair, none of us can pick or choose where we’re born, or the situations we’re born into. Some of born into good families, others into families that abuse and mistreat them…you can’t expect someone not to be dysfunctional when they’re mistreated! To then judge someone on the basis of something they had no control over is wrong.

You don’t see functional people doing harmful things to their family, friends, associates or other people, regardless if they go to church or not.

As far as I can see, Jesus never called anyone a sinner directly, people were attracted to him because they knew he didn’t judge them but wanted to help them:

 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. (Luke 15:1)

It was the religious scribes and teachers of the law who singled out individuals as being sinners:

 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (Luke 15:2)

I see this same attitude today in the churches (and not just Christian), the us and them mentality. The supposed non-sinners are the ones that judge the supposed sinners most harshly! This is not only hypocrisy, it’s arrogant.





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April 3rd 2013

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Bronx Mili - #78113

April 3rd 2013

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