Maybe Original Sin is not Completely Depraved!?

I wrote a blog post a few days ago that caused a bit of controversy on the comments and on twitter. read it here 

One aspect of bible college that I really miss, and that I find in the blogging world, is that of discussion and debate. At bible college you can throw out an idea and people can grapple with it together. This is what happened with this post and it has resulted in me learning more about some of the nuances of original sin and I’d wanted to offer a follow up post.

(One helpful insight I have  learned  is that ‘original sin’ does not have to imply that we are all sinful because of what a ‘historical’ Adam did. This is helpful for me as I do not believe in a historical Adam.)

So here’s what i think.

I still do not believe that we all stand condemned from the point of birth. What I do believe is that we are born into a broken world because of the ‘sin’ of others. We have inherited those consequences. Because we live in a broken world, we ourselves are also broken because a) our world is not how it was intended to be and b)  we are influenced by said world. We have the ability to live sinless lives (just as Jesus did) but on a daily basis, because of our brokenness, we choose to reject God through a number of actions.

And we cannot fix this problem by ourselves. It is not simply a matter of being better people. We need jesus. We need the cross. We need the wisdom of God. The cross is a symbol of God’s reuniting with people. It is God bending down and embracing our brokenness (not just us personally but the entire created world) so that we may become whole again.

So that’s where I stand. It is a nuanced belief and the main difference for me between my view and a more conservative evangelical view is from birth I would define humanity as ‘broken’ rather than ‘guilty’.

This is still only the beginning of the discussion for me and I hope to hear other peoples responses.


4 responses

  1. resurrectionpower | Reply

    I miss the academic environment too Smoorns – that’s why I love you. Always taut for my theoramblings. I miss the stimulus of a rigorous learning community. Although I don’t miss the stress of deadlines, I normally have two sermons to prepare every week these days. Thankfully, I am finding church a very helpful community within which to discuss theology and Bible these days – it has not always been so. 😦 Anyway, because of my rusty blade, please forgive me when my thinking seems disjointed.

    Smoorns, you seem keen to avoid Augustine’s ‘original sin’, but accept that what was originally very good – all creation – was broken at some point. Although you don’t believe in a historical Adam, would you accept the narrative of Genesis 3? If so, clear (to me) in this passage is where sin came into the story. Adam, aka – Humanity. And clear (to me) in this passage is how sin was understood to have affected the whole creation. In retrospect, Paul in Romans 5:12-21 creates a whole theological treatise on the authority of that worldview. Would you accept that as authoratative?

    Maybe your concern is that post-modern humanity shouldn’t have to think of herself as (a) a filthy ‘sinner’, or (b) guilty of any responsibility for that brokenness (*pointing back at a non-historical Adam and saying ‘HE DID IT!!!’, or a crafty serpent and say ‘THAT DID IT!!!’).

    I can understand that dilemma from my own existential wrestling (1 Timothy 1:15 is right up my street). But I think I can see why it might be painful from a pastoral perspective – e.g. if someone is scared that a dying child might be particularly guilty of sin when they clearly have little control or responsibility for their choices. That is why many were concerned to baptise infants in a culture with a very high infant mortality rate (not to mention for census & taxation purposes). But for most adults, including young people, we are all able to acknowledge particular guilt for some measure of sin – even if its pride.

    Does it help, then, to distinguish between the ‘particular’ and ‘universal’ categories:

    ‘Particularly’ speaking, a newborn child has not acted or chosen sin, therefore they are innocent of all except dirty nappies and crying at inconvenient times. So they don’t need forgiven of a sinful choice. In any event, sin isn’t charged against anyone where there is no law. How can a child grasp the law?!?! How absurd. But they do need God’s grace to redeem them from the curse. Few theologians I know would condemn an unborn child to hell based on their inabiity to repent. Some would. Another discussion altogether.

    However, surely ‘universally’ speaking, all of humanity without exception is under the curse and consequence of this sin, regardless of our choice.

    But again, ‘particularly’ speaking, no one has ever been innocent of sin. Don’t ask me to be judge or arbiter of that. Perhaps a definition of sin would help… I would define sin as broken relationship with God and creation, with (offensive) acts that bear witness to that.

    Genesis 3, and all of scripture and history agrees that things tend to deteriorate and get worse as times goes on.

    I love Paul’s reasoning in Romans 5. I think it (and most of Romans actually) deals with the consequences of Adam’s sin on his offspring (all of humanity). But it also is filled with promise and hope through Jesus.

    I conclude my humble reflection on your blog by quoting one of my famous ancient Wesley hymns (I don’t care what youth workers say, the oldies are sometimes the best!) 😉

    “He left his Father’s throne above
    So free, so infinite his grace;
    Emptied himself of all but love
    And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
    Tis mercy all, immense and free;
    For o my God it found out me.
    Amazing love, how can it be
    That Thou, my God should die for me?”

    1. Hey James

      I appreciate your comments and haven’t replied this far because I wanted to wrestle with it a bit more. And I still am. So far you have helped me nuance my thinking and I am guilty of probably always putting experience before scripture.

      My wrestling is definitely from the pastoral side. I think of unborn children/young children dying without making a ‘commitment’ and what that says about God if they stand condemned and are depraved. I believe that people’s ‘sin’ has affected the whole world and the world is cursed so i’d hold to your universal category… but if we are under a curse it is not neccesarily because we have done something wrong but because we inherit the effects of what people before us have done. i do believe that at some point we will all ‘sin’. I have no problem to say that I have sinned or that i have a potential to ‘sin’ and cause acts of depravity. but those actions then do not define me. i’m then not defined as depraved. maybe it’s just that i find that word too strong. I do however totally agree with your definition of sin and that is is not about ‘act’ on their own. it is always in the context of relationship.

      I’m not entirely sure what i think of the narrative of genesis 3 anymore. I like Enns thinking that it is either a proto-israel story circa 587 BC explaining how they are now in exile or in the story of the ways we can attain wisdom (by fear of god or by our own methods) so I’d hold a general belief of them but then wouldn’t think that is then the story of ‘original sin’ or the ‘fall’. I have not thought deeply enough about the Paul passages you cite so I will need to take some time on them.

      On one of your other points I wouldn’t neccesarily agree that “history agrees that things tend to deteriorate and get worse as times goes on.” I think the good things are getting better and the bad things are getting worse. that’s just an aside point but thought i’d raise it.

      What I can attest to in scripture is that we can’t do things on our own. I do not believe in the narrative that one day as we all and science evolve we will create a dystopian society free of injustice. Because this world (specifically our cultures) are cursed then we can never act fully in the ways of the wisdom and god and we need a saviour to deal with the problems of death and evil.

      I’ll come back to your citings once I’ve thought a little more but I hope that makes some of my points clearer.

  2. resurrectionpower | Reply

    Thanks for that Steven. I was waiting for your reply and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. 🙂

    So, is Enns basically saying that Genesis 3 is a literary device to explain why Israel were in exile in Babylon? That’s interesting, and not something I have heard a great deal of before. But I can see why that would work – to a point.

    But it is a pity if it ruins the narrative for you. Its like explaining sex away as a mere biological exchange of bodily fluids, and then only when you’re too old to appreciate it. Oops, maybe shouldn’t put that on a youth workers blog. ??? But where is the passion, where is the inspiration of Enns view?

    You seem repulsed by the Calvinism of the Synod of Dort when you talk about condemned and depraved. Maybe that is the problem. It doesn’t feature a great deal in my thinking. Although John Piper was recently keen to tweet about how joyful those 5 points of TULIP are for him. 😐

    I tend to think that both the universal and the particular categories of sin are true for us all. And we can trust God to be a good, just and compassionate judge of all sin. But he has gone beyond that and

    And what I meant by ‘things tend to deteriorate’ is what is totally evident in the metanarrative of Genesis 3 – 11. What starts as relational breakdown (Adam, Eve, God) turns into murder (Cain, Abel) and sooner or later becomes systemic injustice and widespread a-morality (Noah), sometimes in the name of selfishness and Godless progress (Babel).

    And then all through the Hebrew scriptures, if you follow the journey up until the last verse of Judges (21:25) demonstrates persistent deterioration, even with the law of Moses: “In those days Israel had no king, and everyone did as they saw fit”.

    In spite of a ‘revolving door’ of restoration, rebellion, judgement, and mercy in the nation, nothing ultimately seems to change in the story of Israel, until Jesus comes on the scene, and from there thing begin to change. But lets not pretend that its all rosy even after that. Even if we take the 1000 year history from Constantine until the Reformation, there is much that is pretty bleak. And even now…

    I’m not at all pessemistic. I believe things can change, and must change, and in many ways are changing. But for that we need to be prophetic.

    I agree with you that Christians are not utopians. We believe in the coming of God, and that ultimately only the eschaton will bring about the restoration of all things. But that hope empowers us in making changes now. Who’s up for that?

  3. resurrectionpower | Reply

    I meant to say that “we can trust God to be a good, just and compassionate judge of all sin. But he has gone beyond that and” provided us with a way of salvation – Jesus Christ. Trusting him, and following him in seeking a new heavens and a new earth, reconciled.

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