How We Got the Seven Deadly Sins - page 4

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From the Summer 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

How We Got the Seven Deadly Sins

by Rebecca DeYoung, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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  Communal enterprises such as athletic teams and musical ensembles are good metaphors for disciples of Jesus, for we are not isolated individuals but part of the body of Christ. For example, thinking of Christian discipleship as a social enterprise shifts our focus from vainglory as a purely individual problem to the way vices are communally fostered and communally resisted. Vainglory, while certainly a personal spiritual problem, also warps social structures and does institutional damage in society and culture. As a counterpoint, however, creating a culture of “good glory”—a way of affirming and encouraging one another in goodness that is a beautiful witness and a light shining in the darkness—is something that also requires a communal effort.  We will need not only people with integrity and good character in the limelight, but also a good audience to support them and celebrate their gifts—an audience that knows glory is rightly rendered ultimately to God.
  Evagrius and the Christian tradition after him teach us how to use the seven deadly sins as a tool of self-examination, designed to lead us from repentance to regeneration. But the focus should not, finally, be on sin—whether vainglory or any of the others. After all, God used Evagrius’s downfall to bring him new life, even into the desert. God can break the power of sin in all of us, and if we remain in the true Vine, we will bear much godly fruit, showing ourselves to be his disciples. Frederick Buechner once defined Christian saints as those who, when we are with them, make us feel more alive. It is ironic, perhaps, that a study of sin can be a first step toward freedom, and that knowing the power of such self-destroying habits can be a gateway to the grace of abundant life. Evagrius wrote to tell us that truth but, more important, to show us how to live it. 

1. N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 89.
2. Evagrius’s list of eight has been variously modified over the centuries, now generally known as a list of seven, vainglory usually being assumed into the larger category of pride.

Dr. Rebecca DeYoung is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, where she has taught since 1998. She received her MA and PhD from the University of Notre Dame and specializes in research about the seven deadly sins and spiritual formation. A highly sought after speaker on moral and spiritual life, she is the author of Glittering Vices, Aquinas Ethics and a forthcoming book on vainglory.


Recommended Reading:
Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Brazos Press

Contemporary culture trivializes the “seven deadly sins,” or vices, as if they have no serious moral or spiritual implications. Glittering Vices clears this misconception by exploring the traditional meanings of gluttony, sloth, lust, and others. It offers a brief history of how the vices were compiled and an eye opening explication of how each sin manifests itself in various destructive behaviors. Readers gain practical understanding of how the vices shape our culture today and how to correctly identify and eliminate the deeply rooted patterns of sin that are work in their own lives. This accessible book is essential for any reader interested in spiritual disciplines and character formation.

Excerpt: Very simply, a virtue (or vice) is acquired through practice repeated activity that increases our proficiency at the activity and gradually forms our character. . . . We often need external incentives and sanctions to get us through the initial stages of the process, when our old, entrenched desires still pull us toward the opposite behavior. But with encouragement, discipline, and often a role model or mentor, practice can make things feel more natural and enjoyable as we gradually develop the internal values and desires corresponding to our outward behavior. Virtue often develops, that is, from the outside in. This is why, when we want to reform our character from vice to virtue, we often need to practice and persevere in regular spiritual disciplines and formational practices for a lengthy period of time.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.
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