Friday, September 25, 2009

An exchange about chapter four


This chapter can be extremely helpful to the reader. But the first part — generally speaking, everything before the “living in sync with the gospel” section — seems to suffer from issues of labeling and reader expectations. Prior to diving in to begin a close edit, I'm sharing these thoughts to see if you wanted to comment or perhaps even undertake some rewriting.

Here are some questions and observations that the early part of this chapter raises for me on behalf of the reader.

As your target reader, the typical Christian in a good church, you ought not to assume I am significantly different from the average American. Greatest country in the world, cradle of opportunity, and all that good stuff being true, there are also the downsides. I want to be spoon-fed. On average I am intellectually lazy, materially spoiled (yet feeling entitled to more), chronically overscheduled and/or poor at personal time management, and I am constantly being trained by the culture to expect things to be even more clear and simple, and even more quick and convenient, than they were just six months ago. You can either meet me where I am or miss the opportunity to reach me.

The purpose of this chapter. How does this chapter follow from the preceding chapter? As a reader, I want to be perfectly clear, before the introduction to this chapter is over, how it relates to the preceding chapter and how this present chapter represents the next link in the book’s logical chain. I don't necessarily need to know the full structure of the chapter this early, but I do need to sense it's important to you that I always have a good handle on where this book is going and how the big-picture components I have so far been introduced to fit together.

The structure of this chapter. In the first section you say there are two ways we fail to grasp the implications of grace. First, we see grace as a license for sin. Second, we leave grace behind when it comes to personal change (and you call it a kind of legalism... what exactly is legalism? Why is it a problem?). This leads me to think that these are the two subjects that will be covered in this chapter, and since you have introduced them to me in clearly labeled categories, license and legalism, I expect to see them discussed in clearly labeled categories. Will that be what I find?

What do you mean by the curse of sin (assuming the previous chapter had not made that perfectly clear). More directly pertinent to this chapter, what do you mean by the power or rule or stranglehold of sin? The bondage of sin? Slavery to sin? Are they all the same thing? If so, is there a reason for saying it all these different ways? Maybe the New Testament authors or various theologians used some of these synonyms for perfectly good reasons relating to audience and circumstances, but does that mean they all have to be used interchangeably when talking to me? (On the other hand, if there are genuine nuances of difference between them, is it important for purposes of this book that I grasp each one? Would a single summary phrase suffice?) If this is going to be a core concept of the chapter, I'd like to have a clear definition right at the beginning so I have a category in my mind. Is being free of sin in this way the same as being saved? Is it an aspect of being saved? Does it relate more to ongoing transformation, or more to those once and for all events like justification?

(You might consider serving the reader by allowing this book to create {or adopt} a nomenclature as it goes. If you teach them in an early chapter to think in terms of accomplished-once-and-for-all events {such as justification} versus gradual-change categories {such as progressive sanctification}, then explicitly reaching back to pull that same language forward re-emphasizes core teaching concepts and allows you to build on those concepts as foundational.)

Early in the chapter, following your mention of the errors of license and legalism, you say these errors are "deadly." If I'm safe in Christ, and if my sanctification is inevitable, both points being fresh in my mind from the preceding chapters, what does "deadly" mean here? Didn't we just conclude the previous chapter rejoicing in our freedom and new life? (Sometimes in answering anticipated questions like this you need to say something like, "as we will learn in chapter X...")

Sometimes in this chapter it is clear to me that you are saying that a habitual pattern of sin or a lifestyle of embracing sin is incongruent and incompatible with being in Christ — such as when you use language like "living in slavery to sin." At other times, you seem to be saying (or at least it is not clear to me that you are NOT saying), that committing individual acts of sin is incongruent in the same way. When you are speaking of lifestyle sins, my conscience has to agree. When it seems like you are speaking of individual, discrete sins, I can just start to feel condemned. Is it both? Is there a clear line between these two (actually, that question may not be asked too often, and is probably one you don't want to get into)?

Other comments:
The opening illustration for this chapter seems weak. As a story it is not terribly compelling (although I suspect it would be if you knew the guy) but it also doesn't open the right door for the subject matter of this chapter.

Before I received your overview of this chapter I too had questioned the utility of the "Best is still to come" section.

Again, my hope here is that in asking these questions you will be able to look at the chapter in a fresh way and perhaps conclude that a reworking of the first couple of sections would be a better way to move this forward than for me to try to answer all these questions "for you" and do the reworking myself. If we can put this chapter on a new foundation, I think the rest of the content will be much better served and working on it will be much simpler.

Does this make sense? Please let me know if you find this approach helpful.



Yes, I do like this approach and these are kinds of e-mails that assure me that you will make this a better book. Keep them coming. Here are my thoughts:

1.    I’m fine with scrapping the lead in the introduction. If you don’t find it compelling, most readers probably won’t either. I don’t have a new lead immediately in mind, but will think on it.
2.    I also appreciate you helping me think through a reader’s questions and expectations. In crafting a new introduction to the chapter, I want to keep these concerns front and center.
3.    I just scanned over the chapter again to determine what is essential to the argument of the book. I think everything before the section titled “Union with Christ” can be scrapped or rewritten. “The Best is Still to Come” and everything following can be scrapped (or perhaps moved to another section of the book?). But everything under “Union with Christ,” “Closing the Gap,” and “Living in Sync with the Gospel,” is, in my mind at least, essential. These sections are really just an exposition of Romans 6 – but they lay out the gospel story as the pattern for a Christian’s progressive transformation. One of my goals it to show how the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ connect to the believer’s death to sin and newness of life. I’ll pick these threads up again in chapter six.
4.    The implications of Romans 6 are both that (1) grace means you cannot continue in habitual sin (I agree that individual acts of sin are different) and (2) that we don’t need to add works to grace in order to be sanctified; rather we need to live out the gospel story – to let what is already true of us in Christ become true in our actual character. So, that’s where I’d reconnect with the legalism/license problems.
5.    I realize this is difficult stuff. This was the most difficult chapter of the book to write (and I think it was the last one I completed), because of the close exegesis of Romans 6. But, in some ways, I view it as the most important, because everything that follows hinges on the realities explained here.
6.    Because of this, I’m more inclined to do directed rewrites of specific sections – that would allow me to answer the questions you think the reader is asking, while at the same time retaining the integrity of the exegetical argument.
7.    Do you have specific ideas for how to rework the introduction/conclusion?

I’m hoping to take ½ a day next week to work on chapters 2-3 and maybe start reworking sections of this chapter.



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