Danielle Shroyer. Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
The “About the Author” page on Amazon says: “Danielle Shroyer is a
sought-after speaker, respected pastor, and a founding member of the
emerging church movement. She holds a BA from Baylor University and an
MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is the author of Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place, Where Jesus Prayed, and The Boundary-Breaking God.”
Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place
challenges the Christian concept of original sin and instead defends a
concept of original blessing (a term coined by Matthew Fox, as Shroyer
acknowledges). Original sin states that the guilt of the sin of Adam
and Eve was passed on to their descendants, along with a sinful human
nature, a propensity to sin. By “original blessing,” Shroyer seems to
mean God’s unconditional love for and faithfulness towards human beings.
Here are some thoughts:
A. Shroyer does not argue that human beings are morally flawless.
She likens human beings to Adam and Eve in the Garden: they were not
weighed down by a sinful human nature, but they were still capable of
making mistakes. She also draws from the rabbinic contrast between the
good and evil inclinations: the evil inclination is not “evil,” per se,
but is egoistic and must be controlled. Genesis 4:7, in which God tells
Cain that he must master sin, features in her discussion.
B. Shroyer’s treatment of Genesis 3 was well-informed, as she
explored scholarly interpretations of the chapter, including the
identity of the serpent. Her conclusion was rather nebulous. On the
one hand, she seems to maintain that Adam and Eve were wrong to disobey
God. On the other hand, she holds that their disobedience was an
essential aspect of their maturation. Shroyer also makes the
interesting observation that the Garden of Eden did not go away after
Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience. She disagrees with the narrative
that Adam and Eve ruined everything through their sin. Shroyer also
observes God’s faithfulness to Adam and Eve after their sin, which
coincides with her view of original blessing.
C. Shroyer contends that Cain should have rested in God’s love for
him rather than becoming upset after God had rejected his sacrifice.
She states that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, not Cain himself. She
does not interact with Genesis 4:5’s statement that God was not pleased
with both Cain and Cain’s sacrifice, however. Yet, her observation that
God was faithful to Cain after Cain’s act of murder is a good argument
for original blessing.
D. The book wrestled with some Scriptures that have been associated
with original sin but not others. She does attempt to address Romans
5:12-21, which has been prominent in discussions of original sin. She
did not, however, address Paul’s depiction of the flesh as corrupt and
sinful, which is a glaring challenge to her arguments against original
E. The description of the book on Amazon states: “In this book,
Danielle Shroyer takes readers through an overview of the historical
development of the doctrine, pointing out important missteps and
overcalculations, and providing alternative ways to approach often-used
Scriptures.” In my opinion, the book was rather thin in describing the
historical development of the doctrine. History did feature in her
discussion, on such topics as the dearth of the concept of original sin
in early Christian writings, the negative attitude towards sexuality
within ancient Christianity that resulted from the doctrine of original
sin, the contrast between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity
on the problem Jesus came to solve (death or sin, respectively), and the
eighteenth century debate about infant damnation between Jonathan
Edwards and Jeremy Taylor. But, as far as I can recall, she did not
really discuss how and why the doctrine of original sin developed.
F. Shroyer addresses a question that a priest asked her: If original
sin is untrue, then why did Jesus come? She does well to argue that
there are valuable things that Jesus said and did, apart from addressing
the Fall. I would add that there are few explicit references to the
Fall throughout the Bible, which is odd, considering the emphasis on it
within Christianity. While one could conceivably tie everything that
Jesus said and did to the Fall and its effects (e.g., Jesus healed
people, which ameliorates disease, a consequence of the Fall), perhaps
we should not be reductionistic, since the biblical authors may not have
emphasized the Fall to the extent that later Christians did.
G. Shroyer also did well to discuss the effects of sin-focused
conceptions of the Gospel. She said that many Christians hear the
Gospel and say “whew!” because they have been delivered from God’s
wrath, rather than “wow!” at what God has done. One can respond that
Christians can do both: that they can rejoice that God has delivered
them from wrath and hell while also being awed by God’s acts of new
creation. They would have a point. At the same time, speaking for
myself personally, sin-focused Gospels often draw from me the “whew!”
H. While Shroyer rejects original sin, she still seems to believe
that Jesus came to solve some problem, some brokenness. She also states
that humans can resist sin with God’s help. In a few places, however,
she appears to suggest that Jesus came to improve what is already within
humans, to add to the goodness or the potential that is already in
I. This book is not exactly a rigorous Scriptural refutation of
original sin. It is more informal and anecdotal, though Shroyer does
seem to know what she is talking about when she draws from church
history. While this book was not entirely what I expected, I am still
giving it five stars because it did have good insights. For example,
Shroyer says that, instead of telling people that they are gifted at
something, we should commend them for doing the right thing: for
studying, for working to improve, etc. That makes sense. The book’s
winsome quality also enhanced it and made what Shroyer said relatable.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss. My review is honest!