Defending Depravity
Has the American church gone soft on sin?

A century and a half ago, Herman Melville (he wrote Moby Dick, but don't hold that against him) observed, "In certain moods, no man can weigh this world without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance." It's remarkable to me that even today artists often come to the same conclusion: human experience doesn't quite make sense without some provision for inborn and radical evil. Even Hollywood has explored this theme in recent years. There Will Be Blood is a chilling story of humanity's incorrigible greed. Cormac McCarthy's novel (and the Cohen brothers' movie) No Country for Old Men deals directly with the concept of incarnate evil through Anton Chigurh, a villain who toys with human life mostly out of boredom. Apparently screenwriters are beginning to ask questions novelists have been asking for years.

G. K. Chesterton called sin "a fact as practical as potatoes" and original sin "the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." Of course, not everyone takes it so seriously. Comedian Eddie Izzard calls it a "hellish idea. People have to go, ?Father, bless me for I?did an original sin. I poked a badger with a spoon.'" And there are those, too, like Oprah and Eckhart Tolle, who think too highly of human potential to entertain the idea of depravity.

But it's not only non-believers who lampoon the doctrine. Many Christians consider it an Augustinian idiosyncrasy that unfortunately made its way into Christian dogma - the invention of a guilt-ridden philanderer. An appeal to Martin Luther is little help; he'd no doubt be on antidepressants were he alive today.

However you feel about it, though, either embracing or rejecting the doctrine has its consequences. In his new book, Original Sin: A Cultural History (HarperOne, 2008), Alan Jacobs shows how a society's position on the doctrine affects everything from child rearing and education to law making and the formation of government.

Surely there are religious consequences as well. It seems to me that how we think about ourselves will have direct implications for how we understand discipleship. If we think we're basically all right at the core, then Jesus will be for us a sort of life coach to smooth off our rough edges and help us make good choices. But if we suspect that we humans are deeply and ontologically flawed, then we can understand what Paul means when he says that those who are in Christ are new creations.

Should we strive to become the best possible versions of ourselves, or altogether new persons? When you put it that way, most of us will say, "New persons, clearly." After all, evangelicals have a reputation for taking sin seriously. On paper, most of us affirm some version of original sin.

May 23, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 70 comments

HBS

June 04, 2008  10:04pm

Can we be totally depraved as we are and yet to have a good self-esteem, self-image and a good self-identity without going delusional? The answer is a categorical YES. We need more self-recognized sinners that admit that they are wretched, a worm of the earth, dead, and lost eternally going to Hell. Those Christians of the past are viewed in modern day psychology as totally deranged, suicidal, and dangerous. But these are the Christians that did not deny the Lord and suffered even unto death singing joyful hymns to our Lord. Nowadays psychologists try to spruce up the people by "injecting" self-esteem as when we pump air into a tire. A person can be totally unworthy but feel falsely"fulfilled," inflated like a balloon with air that bursts easily. Then the same psychologists and scientists tell the people that we are animals, an accident of nature, an unworthy insignificant speck of dust in the universe, and that the earth is allergic to humans like us. For a Christian is not so. When we are truly saved our Lord comes to live in us and now we have a new nature, His nature, keeping at the same time a defeated sinful nature that should be and is under the control of our new nature, Him, our Lord. Our self-esteem, self-image and self-identity is Him, our Lord. It is no longer I but Christ in me as Paul stated. NOW we can afford to say that our sinful nature is totally depraved because our standing is in Christ and not in our sinful nature. If we are unsaved appearing falsely as Christians but not being true Christians, our sinful nature is all we have and it is impossible to accept that we are totally depraved for our sinful nature is all we have as an unsaved person. The saved person is totally thankful and joyful with the new nature (Him) that empowers the person. This joy and thankfulness are not self-generated but imputed by God into us in Jesus our Lord. This brings His peace that surpasses all understanding in the middle of the tumults of daily life. As we grow in Christ, all becomes magnified in His love. Problems come but we are at the top of problems rather than buried by problems. What a difference, and this is by His power in us, not by ourselves.

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HBS

June 04, 2008  7:04am

There seems to be confusion on the definition of legalism. Legalism in simple words is the way society and lawyers must see the civil law. Remember that the government is a restrainer of sin and not an entity to make people moral or heal people of their sin, or give eternal life. Legalistic gospel is the one that is not based on the LOVE of God but rather gives man a satisfaction of being righteous by himself because he/she did follow the regulations implanted. For example, if a minister or a congregation feel very satisfied as good Christians because they attend church meetings three times a week, read the King James translation, every man is dressed in suit with jacket and tie, tithes (10% at least), and looks pious and collected on Sundays, goes canvassing on Saturdays with the Pastor, etc. What is wrong with all that? Well, nothing by itself, however, the legalistic people cites those good actions to show that they are righteous before God and men and they "work hard at it". WHERE IS THE LOVE OF GOD IN ALL THIS? That is, the imputed righteousness from God to man given in salvation based on the love of God is transformed into a do-it-yourself enterprise and a strong criticism is brought about against somebody that does not fulfill the above standard. All these rules of self-righteousness are accompanied with finger pointing in pride of ourselves. To avoid finger pointing, people gather in church out of fear of being degraded to lesser beings rather than to worship the Lord and have fellowship together. If the people were saved, they forgot to love God (first love) and concentrate in a set of rules and regulations very stiff to define their righteousness. And they consider that the stiffer the rules the better. Eventually those fleshy works of self-righteousness become heavy and bothersome and people just falls away. They are not inspiring, life giving, or bring anyone closer to God, on the contrary, they are like the Ephesian church in Revelation as well as the Galatian church in Paul's letter. Those saved people have abandoned their first love and the Lord demanded them to repent and start from where they fell. The Pharisees did just that and the sin is repeated often nowadays. And then the unsaved also will love the self-righteousness because it is more expedite than faith in the Lord and it magnifies their ego. There is no joy but a lot of burden and people forget that instead of "working for God" they should let God work through them in submission to Him. The Lord said to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him.

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Kay

June 01, 2008  7:52pm

Robert stated, "If our self-identity is to see ourselves as a wretch and depraved, we will be defeated. If we see ourselves as God sees us, a new creation, we are on the path to be victorious." We MUST understand that in and of ourselves, we ARE wretched and depraved, and it is ONLY through our expressed faith in Jesus Christ that we are imputed the righteousness of Christ and become a new creation. If it weren't for that, God couldn't stand to have a relationship with us because He is Holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. Only as we die more and more to self and allow more and more of Christ to live in us, do we become more and more mature as Christians, sanctified for HIS glory and HIS use. It is not at all about us, and our efforts to improve ourselves! It is about Him, and His glory, His sacrifice, His love for us and the glory of God! We glorify God in our service to Him. And yes, contrary to what someone else said, Jesus DID preach hell. It is a critical concept. Who is not familiar with His teaching that if one's eye or hand offends him (causes him to sin) that he should cut it off, rather than his whole body be cast into Hell? (Matt 5:29-30) Jesus clearly taught the reality of Hell. Unless we understand that we DO have a sin problem, and that sin problem, left unaddressed, will result in an eternity in Hell, we don't grasp the enormity of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us all - we don't see the need for Jesus to be our Saviour and the Lord of our life. Far too many are converted today to the idea that they need Jesus so they can be happy and prosperous. Jesus may be pleased when we are happy and prosperous, BUT THAT IS NOT WHY HE DIED ON THE CROSS. HE DIED TO SAVE US FROM OUR SINS! Happy and prosperous, IF we are so blessed, are merely by-products of salvation - and they are NOT guaranteed to everyone. The sacrifices of all those who have been martyred, and all those who have lost everything because of their faith in Christ Jesus may not sound as appealing as "happy and prosperous," but those who have suffered as our Lord suffered will be rewarded for their faithfulness. In summary, we can't divorce sin and depravity from the whole. If we had no sin, there would have been no need for Christ to die on our behalf. The simple fact is "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Rom 3:23 The only good that comes from us is through our faith in Jesus/God, because "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shadow of turning." (James 1:17)

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Tim Graham

June 01, 2008  4:25pm

In response to sheerahkahn's most recent: I'm not sure that anything I say will help you. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that nothing I have to say really matters that much at all. But I do know that God has said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin and will lead us into all truth. And I am convinced that if you, from your heart, approach the Scripture wanting to know what God thinks of sin and what our attitude is to be toward sin, that He will show you. Blessings.

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Tim Graham

June 01, 2008  4:21pm

In response to HBS's two most recent posts: Amen.

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HBS

May 31, 2008  2:11am

Fallen man (woman) always has tried to take blame-shifting as an evasive tactic. It started with Adam blaming God and the woman (Gen. 3:12) blaming God for placing the serpent in the Garden and blaming the serpent (Gen 3:13). They also acquired a paranoid fear of God by being afraid of Him in a paranoid superstitious way (hiding from Him) rather than in a reverential respectful way as before the fall but glad to see Him. They also covered themselves with fig leaves trying to make themselves presentable by covering their nakedness (dead state). Since then fallen man has been trying to do the same all along inventing and following false religions and creeds where Scriptural God is minimized to the stature of man or gotten rid of totally, where the Cross and the Scriptural way of salvation instituted by God is changed and obscured by self-righteousness and where man is elevated to the category of a god. Therefore all those "isms" such as genetic determinism, communism, materialism, satanism, atheism, and idolatry where the true God is substituted by false gods such as money, sex, etc. are a consequence of sin of a fallen mankind. To chase constantly those false doctrines (doctrines of demons) can be very distracting and misleading for a true believer. If know the basis of the false doctrine we can easily get rid of wasting time with lies. It is infinitely better to spend time with the Truth than with the lie. Fallen mankind always tries to justify itself artificially by man's means instead of by the provision of the Biblical God in Jesus Christ. The results are Hell (eternal damnation). And as the Coming of the Lord comes nearer, satan is intensifying deceit at all levels. Our Lord warned us that before His Coming we needed to watch for two things, namely, not to be deceived (Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5), and not to be alarmed or troubled (Matthew 24:6). Lately there are heresies claiming that the Cross is a brutal sacrifice brought about by an arrogant and brutal Father on a poor innocent Son and only brutal violent and vile people can accept such a brutal sacrifice. They also state that "what is the difference between the blood of animals and the blood of Christ?"" They forget that they damnation is sure before the foundations of the world for these false teachers as stated in the Book of Jude and in the Book of Hebrews. The latter one also includes a great curse for the ones that call the blood of Jesus "common", that is, vulgar or worthless.

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HBS

May 30, 2008  5:34pm

Much preaching tells us that WE are the center of God's values. That WE are the center of His creating and redeeming work and that God in His love makes much of us. And this preaching makes very hard for us to understand and enjoy the holiness of God's love, or what love is. However and in Scriptural truth, the CENTER of God's values is His Holiness and the human saved by grace are and should be the DISPLAY of the radiance of His Holiness which we call the glory of God. Therefore, the love of God is manifested towards us in his divine will to allow us to be the DISPLAY of the glory of God. There is no greater privilege than this one for any created being. The Cross of Jesus brought all this to be a reality for a fallen human race that comes short (Greek keep on falling short) of the glory of God. That is, by our own efforts (every one of us) we are totally unable of measuring up to the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, our fullness of joy and completion is NOT in being made much of, but in making much of HIM. Somebody asked: Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or when he bears the pain it takes to enable you to enjoy making much of Him forever? And the answer given was that we would not make it our aim to make much of people. We would make it our aim to help them enjoy making much of God. We would not spruce them up and give them a mirror. We would pick them up and, by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, put them on the glorious Himalayas of God's holiness for their everlasting and ever-increasing joy. Love leads people to the holiness of God for their joy and His glory. Indeed this is God's love placed in His redeemed towards others, and everything is centered in the Holiness of God rather than man-centered in total agreement with Scripture.

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Mark Pettigrew

May 30, 2008  2:50pm

Bud Brown insightfully wrote the following: There is an interesting irony at play in the doctrine of original sin. If the doctrine is rejected, human dignity is evacuated of any genuine value. We are reduced to a mechanistic anthropology of some sort or other. If evil is not innate in human beings then it must be the result of external factors. It is only logical, then, to seek explanations that in essence reduce us to a bag of reactive chemicals that can be modified and manipulated. We are seen as programmable. Francis Schaeffer once wrote a great deal about the modern heresy of determinism and its numerous variants, such as genetic determinism. Genetic determinism is the basis for the ludicrous, falsifiable claim that gay can't control their sexual desires or actions, and that it's bigoted to expect them to do so. That argument may be politically effective in the short term, but the long-term effect is an erosion of appreciation for the human trait called "free will". Such erosion may bring long-range negative consequences only peripherally related to sexuality. The criminal justice system would be incoherent if we fully accepted the premise that people could not control their own thoughts or actions. Likewise, the concept of objective morality itself would be in jeopardy. That is why determinism is so dangerous. Logically, the goal for any true believer in moral relativism and genetic determinism should not be self-improvement, but mere acceptance (sometimes described by liberals as "tolerance"). The result is spiritual stagnation. Most people intuitively understand that that's an unacceptable result, but they're unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary for true transformation, so they settle for humanistic pseudo-solutions, which can't bring about true transformation, because they're based on the erroneous belief that true transformation is neither necessary nor possible. The Christian doctrine of original sin, properly understood, does not lead to a degraded or pessimistic view of man, but rather, to a view in which man's capacity for evil is an inherent part of man's capacity for glory.

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c6h6

May 30, 2008  7:00am

"And I'm not promoting a Calvinist view of total depravity. You don't need one to recognize that we humans are not what we were made to be (see the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example)." What?

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sheerahkahn

May 29, 2008  11:27pm

Tim, tbh...this mode of communication is rather limited, and I appreciate the effort you went to dig up those verses, though I suspect you don't fully comprehend the larger message behind them...but then again you could too. As of right now, I just don't know. As I said, this mode of communication is limited so there are possible personal nuances of thought that would qualify your thinking that is not coming through your writing which would clarify things for me a lot more. But... Right now your thinking strikes me as very legalistic, but Essene-like...um, monastically orthodox in a Dominican way...with just a hint of Jesuit thrown in to ensure conformity to the Benedictine maxim. Once again, the method of communication allows a lot of imprecise impressions to be entertained, so if you wouldn't mind clarifying your thoughts some more I'd appreciate it.

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