Signature Sins

Michael Mangis, professor of psychology at Wheaton College, has a new book out titled Signature Sins: Taming Our Wayward Hearts. It is published by InterVarsity Press in their Formatio line, which focuses on spiritual formation.

Signature Sins begins with the question of why we sin, making the case that each of us has a specific sin or tendency toward sin that has a unique presence in our lives. Even if countless people struggle with pride or envy or sloth, we each struggle with our signature sin in particular ways due to our circumstances, personality, gender, culture, and so on. The next two chapters look at pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, and fear, often drawing upon Augustine’s Prayer Book, a devotional resource created by the Order of the Holy Cross. The Prayer Book itself is a tremendous resource for understanding various expressions of signature sin and could be an important adjunct to personal spiritual formation.

The next few chapters of Signature Sins encourages readers to identify and name their signature sin, to explore how their own temperament is reflected in their struggle, and to consider how culture, gender, and biology interacts with their sin. The book then focuses on spiritual disciplines “to tame the wayward heart.” What is particularly encouraging is the importance Mangis places on navigating spiritual formation in the context of community. He is here drawing upon his own appreciation of community coming from a rural community in Montana, recognizing the connections to ancient Christian practices emphasizing community, and drawing implications for contemporary spiritual formation.

Each chapter ends with helpful questions to facilitate one’s own spiritual journey, and the book ends with additional chapters a small group could use. This makes this resource particularly helpful and practical.

My experience has been that many Christian psychologists are wary of discussing sin, and it comes in part from our training, which is often steeped in humanistic and hedonic assumptions. But Christians in the field fun the risk of not appreciating an important area of reality when we do not have a way of understanding the fallen human condition and its expression in everyday life. Signature Sins addresses this head on, but does so with an emphasis on grace, so that the reader is invited in – so that the reader can develop his or her own Rule of Life, going deeper into greater spiritual maturity. This makes Signature Sins an important contribution to the literature on spiritual formation and Christian integration, and it is also a helpful reminder of the state and condition of sin that extends into all facets of human experience.

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