Last time we met up, we checked out the first part of an evangelical pastor’s terrible listicle (archive) about Jesus’ resurrection. He wanted his flocks to feel more certain that Jesus’ resurrection really happened in the real world. And I’ve no doubt that he did very best he could to reassure them. It’s not entirely his fault that the results were so hilariously bad. As we’ll see, this is just how evangelicalism works.

Our OP’s (original poster’s) first three reasons were bad enough: full of logical fallacies, circular reasoning, and unsupported assertions that he never bothered backing up with reality. We couldn’t actually test any of them! But now, he’s about to plunge into one that is not only testable but a testament to evangelicals’ utter lack of self-awareness.

(This post went live on Patreon on 4/19/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and is publicly available right now!)

Claim #4 about the Resurrection: On the nature of sin

So far, Robb Brunansky has barreled through three supposed “results” of Jesus’ resurrection:

  1. Without a resurrection, evangelicals’ evangelism attempts would be worthless.
  2. Likewise, their faith would be worthless and meaningless.
  3. Literalist Christians like them would also not be able to trust the Bible to be true in all particulars.

But yay hooray! Since Jesus totes for realsies resurrected himself, none of that’s the case! Except as we saw, there’s simply no way to reach his conclusions with any real-world evidence.

Undeterred by any doubts about his arguments’ effectiveness, Brunansky now galumphs along to his fourth claim. This one concerns sin, and it’s easily the most baffling of the list:

Fourth, if Christ had not been raised, our sins would still rule over us. [. . .]

First, we would be under the power of sin. In Romans 6:11, Paul said, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If the resurrection did not happen, then the power of sin would rule over our lives. Not only this, but we would remain under the penalty of sin.

A sin is simply an offense against the Christian god. Often, sins are victimless and may even simply be thought crimes. But that doesn’t mean Yahweh’s chill about them. Committing even one sin is all Yahweh needs to send a human to Hell forever.

So if you hear this and immediately think about the glaring hypocrisy of evangelicals as a group, you’re not the only one. Out of every group of Christians I’ve ever encountered, in fact, literalists seem to be the very worst hypocrites of all. They sin so often and so egregiously that one might be forgiven for thinking they’re trying to gather up all the divine grace that they can, as Paul mentions elsewhere!

(This reminds me of something Mark Driscoll once wrote in one of his books. Years ago, Driscoll was the lizard king of the alt-right Calvinist dudebro fundamentalist-evangelical movement. Eventually, his own boorishness and mean-spirited leadership style cost him his megachurch empire. Long before that downfall, though, he wrote about stealing electricity and A/V equipment for his first church. He shrugged away these thefts, saying they “were sins Jesus thankfully died to forgive.” That statement steamed a lot of evangelicals. WEIRD, isn’t it, that so many of these movements that yank evangelicals rightward tend to be spearheaded by the worst imaginable hypocrites?)

The difference between constant sinning and “the power/penalty of sin”

But evangelicals use terms like “the power of sin” and “the penalty of sin” in very different—and infinitely more self-serving—ways than outsiders to their culture might. They are Christianese, and as such are meant to obfuscate reality in a way that makes evangelicals happier than the truth can.

Evangelicals don’t mean that Christians don’t commit sins anymore. Nor do they mean that they’re freed from the effects of what they call sin nature. Sin nature is also Christianese. It means an imagined predisposition humans have to commit offenses against Yahweh. Many Christians call this state original sin. The only humans who haven’t suffered from it are Adam and Eve themselves, Jesus, and if you’re Catholic, the Virgin Mary.

Supposedly, sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In response, Yahweh decided to penalize the entire human race. Though Brunansky doesn’t define anything directly, I suspect sin nature and original sin are what he means by “the power of sin.”

The penalty of sin simply means Hell. Hell-believing Christians think that every human who ever lived (except Jesus, and if you’re Catholic, the Virgin Mary) deserves an eternity in Hell for their few decades’ worth of offenses.

Evangelicals compartmentalize these two concepts well away from the actual process of sinning. Their actual sins can exist and keep existing even if they have psychically apologized to Jesus and have escaped the power and penalty of sin.

And they think this because they’ve largely hitched their wagons to one particular explanation for Jesus’ resurrection.

Resurrection theory a-go-go: Atonement

Evangelicals think that the Crucifixion piled all the blame for all of humanity’s past, current, and future sins onto Jesus. Jesus was supposedly completely sinless and innocent, so he was the only human on the planet who could accept the blame for that sin. In effect, he was a “living sacrifice” via Roman execution—or a “scapegoat,” to use an Old Testament term for a decidedly ancient-pagan-sounding ritual.

Either way, Yahweh accepted this sacrifice of himself to himself. He punished an innocent for the crimes of the guilty. Forever after, humans could escape Hell by psychically apologizing to him. Their apologies allowed them to become covered by Jesus’ sacrifice.

This idea is called atonement theory. It is just one of many ever-changing explanations for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Even the Calvinists like atonement theory. However, they needed to find a way to make this ghoulish and cruel explanation even worse. So they came up with limited atonement. That means that sure, Jesus’ resurrection might have been the potential atonement for everyone. But it only works out that way for the few people he wants to see in Heaven. Those he wants to damn forever don’t get atoned-for.

(I admire their utter dedication to the cause of making Christianity sound somehow both mind-bogglingly evil and yet comically absurd. Every atheist alive couldn’t team up to do this much damage to Christianity’s image with power tools, a year’s paid sabbatical, and a mission statement. That’s how I knew “He Gets Us” was about something else entirely.)

Whoops: But there are multiple explanations for Jesus’ resurrection

Evangelical pew-warmers usually have no idea that atonement is not the only theory, though. It’s become such a big part of their culture that often, they don’t even name the theory as they glurge about it (archive). Unbeknownst to them, Christians have been trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection since they first heard about them. As a result, their favorite explanations change every so often.

One interesting earlier idea about the resurrection is “ransom theory.” Catholics favored it from the 4th-11th centuries. In this idea, Satan had no right to Jesus. So Jesus’ death put Satan into debt to Yahweh. Because of that debt, Yahweh can now take humans’ souls from Satan. St. Augustine liked ransom theory, but it fell from favor eventually. Catholics really don’t like it nowadays. When I learned catechism as a little Catholic girlchild, I sure didn’t hear about it. I got atonement theory.

If you’re wondering, though, the earliest theory might be “recapitulation theory,” which got started by the end of the 1st century thanks to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons. In recapitulation theory, Adam screwed up the divine plan for humans. But then, Jesus came along to be Adam 2.0. With his death, he got things back on the right path again. He became like us so we could in turn become like him.

This theory beautifully reflects the influence of mystery religions on the earliest Christians (archive; and yes, that’s an essay by Martin Luther King, Jr). As Jesus had lived, died, and been resurrected in the spiritual world that mirrored our own, his followers could do the same through rituals and mysticism.

Obviously, Christians rejected that theory with a quickness once the religion began centering on Jesus and Jesus-ing in the real world.

How our OP guest-star conceptualizes sin as it relates to Jesus’ resurrection

But these days, evangelicals prefer atonement theory. Thanks to it, they think they can sin all day long for the entire rest of their lives. No matter what, “the power of sin” no longer controls them. Nor will they face “the penalty of sin.” Because they psychically apologized to Yahweh, Christians have been born again. Thus, they are now “dead to sin.” Unless they really mess up, they are safe from Hell.

Brunansky’s fourth claim, remember, is that without Jesus’ resurrection, Christians would still be chained to the power of sin and its penalty. He supports this claim in a now-familiar way:

But because Christ has been raised, sin’s power has been broken in believers, who are also free from sin’s penalty. 

See? That’s how evangelicals will escape the fate of almost every other human who has ever been born!

And they’re safe because they have so successfully separated their actual and constant commission of sins from the power of sin and the penalty of sin.

Debunking Claim #4: Yes yes, but what does it look like?

Something purely imaginary can be defined however someone wishes. A whole lot of people can even agree on one definition for it. That’s why every culture seems to have its own agreed-upon definition of what unicorns look like. But nobody can examine that definition using real-world tools or senses. We can tell the difference between Homo habilis and Homo erectus in real-world terms (archive). But when it comes to unicorns, nobody can point to a skeleton to advance their own preferred definition of unicorn-ness!

Meaningful definitions of “dead to sin,” “the power of sin,” and “the penalty of sin” would differentiate each state from its opposite. In other words, p cannot be equal to not-p. I’ve never seen an evangelical manage that with any of their religious claims, so I was not surprised to see one forgetting to do that here. Why would any of them start now?

That said, I would love to hear an evangelical try to explain what it would look like if Christians were not “dead to sin,” or what it’d look like for evangelicals to still be under the power and penalty of sin. There’s no way to falsify this assertion. Nobody can tell when death-to-sin is present or absent, nor the power-and-penalty-of-sin.

If Christian claims were true, I’d 100% expect Christians to be famous for how well they follow their own rules. Instead, we see the complete opposite. Evangelical hypocrisy in particular is entirely too common for me to think they care overmuch about their god’s rules. Even space aliens could figure out how little they care about those.

Um, sin still completely exists

On that note, every Christian I’ve ever seen or read dealing with sin—not just every evangelical—has made clear that nothing magical helps them avoid committing sins. For all the blahblah about Jesus’ resurrection defeating sin, there’s still tons of sin in the world.

At most, evangelicals may claim Jesus sorta-kinda helps them not want to sin anymore on an intellectual level. Perhaps he even makes them feel extra remorseful afterwards. Otherwise, Jesus doesn’t do much to help them. That’s why evangelicals’ reparative therapy for gay people bombed so spectacularly.

Instead, most Christians make very clear that they must constantly train themselves—almost entirely using their own mental and emotional resources and those alone—to resist future temptations to sin. They must figure out how to unlearn a lifetime of offensive behavior, which isn’t possible because of sin nature anyway. Even after having psychically apologized repeatedly, Christians still struggle with that. Jesus didn’t defeat sin nature, either!

In a way, I’m glad evangelicals recognize this reality. If they were counting on their god alone to prevent future sins, their constant scandals would only be worse.

Luckily for them though, a quick psychic apology to Jesus is all it takes for him to forget all about their newest offenses.

Unluckily for them though, the process of apologizing psychically creates its own thorny problems for evangelicals.

The resurrection does nothing to soothe Christians’ fear of Hell or death

There’s a purpose to this bizarre mashup of sin with no-more-sin and definitions that allow Christians to sin while insisting that they’re no longer under sin’s power.

With few exceptions, Hell-believing Christians tend to greatly fear Hell even after psychically apologizing to Jesus. From the moment of conversion to their deaths, they must keep track of their freshly-committed sins so they can psychically apologize for those, too. Should they die without apologizing for something, that lapse might be all Yahweh needs to doom them to eternal torture.

Back when I was Pentecostal, before fundamentalists fused with evangelicals, a lot of my tribemates did what they called “topping up the prayer tank.” That meant apologizing for the newest sins. They wanted to make sure they had a clean slate at all times, but they knew it wasn’t always practical or possible to stop, drop, and pray right after offending Yahweh.

And that sheer logistical difficulty led many Pentecostals to be terrified that they might commit an offense moments before the Rapture—and thus be “left behind” to deal with the Tribulation and Endtimes. I think they feared that fate more than they feared dying with a sin left on their conscience, and thus facing Hell forever.

I’m just really glad to be out of that whole mess. Sure, millions of Christians don’t fear Hell because they count on their god to love them and cut them slack for being human.

Deconversion led me entirely out of that reindeer game. I know none of it’s true just as I know that unicorns aren’t real. When I realized that, my terror of Hell dropped away from me like a burial shroud. I don’t know another way to put it. I felt like I’d been reborn. Minutes earlier, I’d been pushed to the utter brink of my fear; the next, I felt completely poured out and ready to take in the sparkling water of life. The cup holding that water wasn’t Christianity, but humanness itself.

That’s the real good news for humanity: Jesus and Yahweh aren’t real. No gods are. There’s no do-over after we die. This is it. We’re in this thing together. Whatever good happens, it’s on us to make it happen. Wherever we can, we should try to be excellent to each other.

And that means sins don’t matter. A god who is offended by victimless crimes but who strangely doesn’t care about the very real harm his followers do? That god is not worth anyone’s worship. What matters is not trying to hurt each other if we can avoid it in the real world, to show love in ways that feel loving, and to try not to increase the net suffering in the world where it’s possible.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


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