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Sin Bravely: A Joyful Alternative to a Purpose-Driven Life Paperback – April 1, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It seems hard to believe that anyone would want to take on Pastor Rick Warren and his purpose-driven life agenda, but Ellingsen, associate professor of church history at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta does just that in this brief but persuasive volume. Steeped in the pietistic leanings of American religion, Warren, the author insists, has promoted an agenda that focuses too much on personal development and not enough on the larger issue of man's utter sinfulness. Can a Christian separate his sinful condition from the works that he does? Luther, and Paul the apostle, would insist that while every bit of our lives is sinful and needs to be redeemed, we can overcome the tension... between being 100 percent a sinner and 100 percent a fully forgiven saint of God. The author convincingly and passionately argues that Warren's emphasis on personal transformation is indicative of the narcissism of the early Puritan divines from whom Warren draws his inspiration. Instead, Christians should be in the business of transforming society, not merely themselves. (May)
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"The author believes that Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life is too focued on the self to combat the rampant narcissim of a me-driven culture in modern America...Ellingsen offers important critiques of Warren's purpose-driven faith."
-David C. Drebes

Product Details

  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826429645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826429643
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #559,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Paul Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
The title of Mark Ellingsen's recent book caught my eye: Sin Bravely: A Joyful Alternative to a Purpose-Driven Life. I wondered if this would be a satirical jab at the Rick Warren empire. I figured the author wasn't a Christian, but was a secular comic. Turns out that Ellingsen is real live seminary professor at an actual Christian seminary! And if I remembered my theology a little better, I would have recalled that the title is actually from a quote by Martin Luther. In an oft-quoted letter to Philip Melanchton, Luther argued against the idea that we can achieve purity, to live without sin. "Be a sinner and sin bravely, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more bravely, for He is victorious over sin, death, and the world." Similar quotes and themes can be found in several places in Luther's writings. Neither Luther nor Ellingsen advocate sensual hedonism; both require some fleshing out to clarify what they mean.

Ellingsen does engage Rick Warren, about whom he has a few good things to say. But he demonstrates how Warren's popular teachings and the Prosperity Gospel movement, as exemplified by Joel Osteen, are derived from a Puritanical works theology and feed into the Narcissism of American culture. These movements, in Ellingsen's estimation, boil the Christian life down to, on the one hand, what do I have to do to measure up to God's standards, and on the other hand, how will it benefit me to follow God? It's all about self.

I think he's a little unfair to Warren (I'll let him bash Osteen and the prosperity gospel all he wants). I think my religious programming may be too strong to completely reject Warren's perspective. I was raised in a tradition that was perhaps too moralist and Revivalist, as well as highly individualistic.
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Format: Paperback
The goal is to provide "a joyful alternative to a purpose-driven life," so the subtitle declares. Is it an alternative that Sin Bravely gives the reader? Yes. Is it joyful? If you have a fairly good grasp of history and theology, you might find it so but alas, it is more ponderous than joyful.

Professor Ellingsen does a masterful job throughout of researching and presenting the width and shallowness of purpose-driven and prosperity thought. At the heart, Professor Ellingsen seeks to reintroduce the freedom of God's grace and Martin Luther's call for Christians to "sin bravely." "...the concept, `sin bravely,'" writes Ellingsen, "is a word of permission to do God's `thing' joyously and with reckless abandon (64)." This idea is intended to contrast with Rick Warren's Purpose Driven model and the prosperity gospel that Ellingsen argues, is an extension of a narcissistic world view.

It is worth noting that Professor Ellingsen also delves into modern scientific discoveries to make his case. Chapter 3 includes the subsection entitled, "Biochemistry, genetics, and original sin," which any pastor, theologian or counselor ought to read. Documentation, footnotes and references to reformation theology, past and present, abound. A good deal of the work includes the history and influence of Puritan thought in the United States, which is worth the time to read.

There is no doubt Professor Ellingsen's book is far better grounded than any of the purpose-driven and/or prosperity gospel materials. While he takes a weak shot at Wesleyan-Arminian thought, I found he does make the case for sinning bravely by using Wesley's quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
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In a world of pop psychology where therapy rules and i the contemporary Christian sub-culture where prosperity peddlers and purpose driven models abound, Ellingsen provides hope of authentic Christianity taking his cue from sixteenth century reformer, Martin Luther. Sin Bravely is not about reckless abandon or a life of licentiousness, so those who think you can have your heavenly cake and eat it too, or a fool's paradise of wasteful exuberance in this world, Ellingsen will disappoint. No, he is clear that what we ought to be doing is less doing that focuses on ourselves and believing in real grace that frees us we can live genuine lives that focus on others, especially the poor and disenfranchised. Though he sets his sights on Osteen and Warren in the popular evangelical/prosperity school, he also chastises the entire puritan paradigm that Ellingsen claims is co-conspirator in the dealy game of right wing politics and profiteering capitalism, which have led to the ethos that fosters such preying preachers. Readers will find some of Ellingsen's ideas a bit hard to accept, and other ideas hard to follow,especially when he delves into neuroscience and brain-talk. However, if one will zero in on his specific goal of getting you to seriously engage your own sinfulness in its overwhelming reality of tarnishing your entire life and hence getting you to genuinely accept and appreciate God's grace, then you can join the ranks of brave sinners and dream big and serve God and love people in the game of life, and you may be surprised that this is a high that nothing else will provide.
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