In his book Satan and the Problem of Evil, Greg Boyd points to what he views as a deficiency in Augustine’s conception of sin. In discussing Barth’s conception of das Nichtige, he argues it is inadequate b/c it lacks the actual reality of a free morally responsible agent. He writes that
Only when ‘the nothingness’ is chosen and incarnated in an agent as real does it become real evil. Now it is no longer a mere ‘absence.’ It becomes a concrete embodied presence.
It is this basic conviction that we must speak of the actuality of evil over the potentiality of evil that leads Boyd to make this passing comment on Augustine’s view of sin:
I would submit that this is the missing element in the traditional Augustinian definition of evil as ‘the absence of good.’ The definition describes the potentiality of evil but not the actuality of evil. Evil becomes actualized when it is chosen by an actual agent. This is also why I argue that evil can never be properly discussed in the abstract. We must always have concrete instances of evil before us if our discussion is truly to be about evil and not just the potential for evil.
I think that Boyd’s thoughts here are worth some reflection. While i’m not an expert on Barth, from what i know of him i have a hard time thinking that Boyd is giving him a fair reading here. Folks who are deeply engaged in Barth’s work, your thoughts are requested here.
However, when it comes to Boyd’s thesis on Augustine, his argument seems compelling to me, since it requires that theological thinking about evil happen in the concrete reality of evil, rather than in mere speculation about a deficiency. There seems to be a resistance to the common modern dualism between faith and practice.