A while back Bill Smith, Presbyterian in exile, made this observation about the ongoing debates in Reformed circles over antinomianism and sanctification:
I think I understand the problem the “obedience boys” have with the “grace boys.” It is that the “grace boys” can seem to teach grace in such a way as to make people indifferent to sin: “Sin is not such a big deal. It happens. No need to get all worked up about it. Just accept that you are a sinner and that God loves you no matter what. Bask in the knowledge you are a child of God.” I get the problem the “obedience boys” have with the “grace boys.” As far as taking exception with that portrayal of the life of grace goes, I agree.
What I don’t think the “obedience boys” get is how normal sin is. Perhaps they really do not know this reality in terms of their own experience. It could be that for them there is a regeneration-created night and day before and after story. Or, it may mean that there has been a steady upward trajectory to their sanctification without harrowing nosedives into sin or wearying discouragements of slow or no progress. Or, it may be that they do not know themselves very well. Or, it may be that their theological understanding of regeneration and conversion does not allow them to acknowledge that believers can have messy lives – chronic struggles and frequent defeats. That believers can by their messy lives inflict great damage and hurt on other believers and can be badly damaged and hurt by the messy lives of other believers. That the church is a messy place where messy lives are intertwined with and sometimes disillusioned by other messy lives.
Smith recommends that SNAFU makes more sense of how Christians should understand the presence of sin in this world (which would also apply to the neo-Calvinists and Roman Catholics prone to talk about “human flourishing“):
SNAFU – situation normal, all messed up. A National Guard radioman may have invented the term just before World War II, but it became standard, if unofficial, military jargon during the War. It was an apt description of reality as soldiers and marines experienced it. Supplies and equipment did not get where they were needed when they were needed. Battle plans went awry. Stupid orders were issued. Men found themselves in desperate situations. Usually the “human element” was in part or whole responsible. Military men came to expect mess-ups as normal.
A further indication of how few “conservative” Christians (Roman Catholic and Protestant) are willing to apply the category of SNAFU not only to persons but also to the United States, is to consider the degree to American exceptionalism resonates with self-professing believers. Defining American exceptionalism is tricky, but it generally involves a belief that the United States is singularly blessed by God, has accomplished untold good in the history of the world, and even if it has declined the nation was truly great because of its divine sanctions and virtuous performance.
It would be one thing, say through the extra-confessional idea of definitive sanctification, to argue that the individual Christian has broken definitively with sin and so now lives a life that should not be characterized by SNAFU. But to view a nation as on balance wholesome or even as an exceptional force for goodness, truth, and beauty is downright inconceivable given what we know about human depravity (think Woodrow Wilson) or about human politics (think The Wire or Homeland).
To avoid the dark thoughts that follow from Total Depravity is truly gullible. Non-believers tend to think that Christians are remarkably prone to believe all sorts of nonsense. A pronounced understanding of human wickedness should function as a hedge on such gullibility. If it does not, it explains the appeal of the “obedience boys” and the Salem Radio Network.