More About the S Word

What does it matter that today’s western culture believes Man’s nature is good? A great deal, as it turns out. This tenet is the linchpin of humanism. It is the belief that releases Man from a need to believe in God.

If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life or (this is a favorite of atheists such as poor Christopher Hitchens) religion’s fault. Of course proponents of this position never offer an explanation for how society, the home, or even religion became tainted, since clearly, if Man was good from the beginning, then what he produced should have been good too.

If you could pin down someone who holds this “Man is good” view, I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.”

So a baby born in South Africa is imprinted with the culture and values of his home and community. What he believes about God is true for him. Whereas a person born in the US to a Christian is imprinted with his family and church values. What he believes about God, though it may be radically different from the South African (or Ecuadorian or Chinese or Libyan), is just as true for him.

Of course this “Man is neutral” view also means that harmful ideas can be written upon the innocent—harmful, such as the concept that Man is born sinful. This belief, so the thinking goes, tears down a person’s self-esteem and causes him to expect the worst, not the best. It loads him up with guilt, and guilt is the great evil of our generation. We are all, haven’t you hear, not guilty. Just ask the judges across the nation.

But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. Consequently, we don’t need God to save us because we have nothing to be saved from.

If we don’t need him to save us, them we might retain him as a crutch or as an opiate for the masses, but we’d be better off unshackling from the constraints of religion (and its nasty guilt).

Ultimately the “Man is good” position becomes a refrain: “Anything god can do, Man can do better.” Until, one day someone saying he is a Christian wonders whether or not he is perhaps nicer than god.

Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?
– Mike Morrell, Comment #64, page 1, “Attacks on God from Within”

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Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Comments (18)  
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18 Comments

  1. I wonder what would have happened if God would have killed Adam and Eve right then and started with a new man. Do you suppose that the new man would also “sin?”

    Is it really possible for man not to sin?

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  2. wellwateredgarden, who knows? God didn’t go that route. He chose instead to lovingly discipline his erring, fallen children and the road to the cross. I suggest you write a work of fiction around that presupposition and see what happens with it! 😉

    Becky, terrific food for thought. Thank you.

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  3. You said: “If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life…”

    Likewise, if original sin is true, then we would be no more to blame for our sin than we are responsible for the color our hair, or crookedness of our teeth. The Law says that a son cannot be found guilty of his father’s sins. (Deut. 24:16; II Kings 14:6; Ezekiel 18:4, 20)

    You said, “I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.””

    Why is that backpedaling? If a biblical case could be made for it, why should we assume that it’s a compromise between conservative and liberal theologies? The bible refers to babies as “innocent” (Jeremiah 18:4; Psalm 106:38) and I do not see a difference between calling someone “not guilty” and “a blank slate.” When you speak of postmodernism, then admit that it predates modernism, do you not contradict yourself? The truth of the matter is that the earliest and most prolific sponsor of Original Sin was Augustine, who formerly believed, as a pagan, that our bodies were evil. If denying original sin is postmodern, then accepting original sin is an equal measure of Gnosticism and, more specifically the Manichaenism

    You said, “But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. “

    That’s patently false. Adam and Eve needed a savior the moment they sinned, yet they were created perfect and sinless. The moment any one of us sins, for whatever reason, we need a savior, regardless of whether we were guilty at birth. Someone who suggests we are born blank slates is only suggesting that we are born with the same ability to sin as Adam and Eve. A child can be born addicted to crack, with crack in his or her system, of no fault of his or her own. We do not arrest those termed “crack babies.” Yet if they persist in their addiction when they’re fifteen or twenty, we do not say that they are guiltless. In the same way, we may be born pre-disposed to sin (as it is the easier route) but we are not born guilty of sin, but our pre-disposition does not excuse later sins, either.

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  4. Ah, Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca. I’ve succeeded for months now to avoid your wiles, but now you’ve gotta call me out by name yet again. Okay, I’ll take the bait. 🙂 As I’m sure as is abundantly clear by the context of my comment, “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?” is rhetorical. Now, I suppose it doesn’t have to be rhetorical; I suppose there are some folks out there who do believe in God but believe that God is a nasty so-and-so. The ancient gnostics come to mind – the God of the Jews was real and creator but He was the Demiurge, the bad god who created the world of fallen matter and flesh.

    But no, Rebecca, I – an editor of Sunday school curriculum and worker in the CBA world – am far less exotic than you and your friends frequently tend to characterize me and my friends. I believe, in accordance with historic and orthodox Christian faith, that God is good: Infinitely good, and infinitely better than we can possibly imagine. And yes, I believe that God is infinitely more than we can imagine in justice as well as mercy. I believe, along with you, that God’s ways are higher than our ways, be we humanists or pontiffs, lesbians or Presbyterians (as worship leader Kevin Prosch puts it).

    Isn’t it interesting, though, that the “My ways are higher than your ways” passage that’s so often quoted is quoted by people trying to give God excuses to be a cosmic tyrant, a heavenly father that no child would love freely were he an earthly dad? But that passage in Isaiah 55, in context, says a lot more about the goodness of God over & above what our miserly hearts tend to believe:

    7 Let the wicked forsake his way
    and the evil man his thoughts.
    Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

    8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the LORD.

    9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
    and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
    and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

    11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
    but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

    12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
    the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
    and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.

    13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
    This will be for the LORD’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    which will not be destroyed.”

    So, look: I’m not denying that you and I have verrrrry different beliefs. But mine aren’t borrowed from Deepak Chopra or Shirley MacClaine (peace be upon them); they’re rooted in Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald and (gasp! even) CS Lewis (particularly his most mature theological expression, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer). My view of the character and goodness of God is at least as historically well-formed and well-trod as yours, and just as well-versed in Holy Writ.

    I’m not sure why I bother. 🙂 I’m not trying to get you to agree with my historical inspirations, my theological views, and my reading of our canon. I know that it’s just as true for us as it was in William Blake’s day:

    “Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read’st black where I read white.”

    Even so, I’d like to believe that we could, in theory and in principle, worship together. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to English expressions of Christianity, be they Celtic or Anglican or Quaker. It’s the via media, the middle way, where you and I might not agree with everything, but we can still share in Word and Sacrament together (or in the Quaker’s case, the presence of Christ in Holy Spirit).

    Selah. And may the Pax Christi be with you.

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  5. Oh, and you might be shocked (!!) to know that I don’t have a hard and fast opinion on this beast we call “original sin.” I know that you expect we emergents are just tra-la-la-ing around, eyes blind to wickedness and destruction, insisting that all is hunky-dory while we practice Centering Prayer and say “Namaste” to each other.

    Well, I do commune with God in Centering Prayer, but jury’s out on this Augustinian formulation. On the one hand, I am intrigued by views that are far-too-hastily labeled (and dismissed) as Pelagian – see Newell’s Christ of the Celts for a compelling depiction of this sad trend. Or take some time to read Matthew Fox if you’re truly curious about Christians who vigorously insist on our inherent blessed-ness that even falls from grace cannot diminish.

    But on the other hand, I have to laugh knowingly with GK Chesterton’s assertion that original sin is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” (See his Orthodoxy, chapter 2) I am quite enjoying Wheaton professor Alan Jacob’s sympathetic history of the doctrine in his Original Sin.

    But to me, beyond all of this, I do chafe at your assertion that the only reason humanity needs God (or would love God) is if we were so tainted, so dragged down at our cores, that we have no other choice. I guess I’m into Paul’s idea, in Romans 2:4, that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance, pure and simple. And that we love God because of God’s blinding beauty, and we need God because we’re utterly contingent beings, and God – the true God, revealed in the face of Jesus – completes us, meeting us in a way that no contingent thing can.

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  6. The problem is that Scripture and the early church fathers never taught that our natures were fallen. God created our natures. For a nature to change, something has to die. For a bear to become a rug, the bear has to die. The nature has changed. For a human to become dust, the human has to die.

    Thus, if our natures changed, then we became a new species that is automatically guilty of sin. But this would mean that sin is inherent to our nature. Thus, with Christ we are left with the idea that He was guilty of sin by fact of being human (therefore not morally perfect and in need of a Savior himself) or he wasn’t human. Therein lies the problem with original sin being defined as “a fallen nature.”

    Rather, it is our wills that are fallen and subsequently can be perfected. Whereas natures are not capable of change without destroying the being associated with the nature, wills are capable of changing and being perfected without eradicating the being associated with the will. Thus, since human nature is good (as it was created by God), our wills are capable of being perfected. Christ had the only perfect will, but since He did it then allows us to perfect our own wills through Theosis.

    Just because one denies original sin and says that human nature is good does not mean one denies sin or believes that everyone is going to Heaven.

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  7. “Thus, with Christ we are left with the idea that He was guilty of sin by fact of being human (therefore not morally perfect and in need of a Savior himself) or he wasn’t human.” Not necessarily. Adam and Eve were just as human in their sinless pre-fallen state as they were post-fall, so it doesn’t follow that Jesus had to be sinful in his nature in order to qualify as human. In fact, Jesus is the only man who is explicitly labeled as sinless. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) But as for all other human beings, Scripture says differently. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:8, 10) Also, Jesus is the only human being to be born of a virgin, and the only human being to be God in human flesh. True, Jesus was human, but he’s also extremely unique among humans, and I don’t see that not having a sinful nature would disqualify him any more than him being God in human flesh.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that it has to be a “sinful nature” that causes man to sin, but I think man did inherit a problem that originated in the Garden of Eden that doesn’t allow him to be perfect in his own works. Whatever you might think of original sin, it at least tries to explain the many verses that depict all of mankind as being under the power of sin. Free will alone can’t explain that. If man could choose not to sin, than why wouldn’t the Scripture, in the millennia it covers prior to the cross, give us names of people who haven’t sinned?

    Sinful nature or not, I think Becky’s point is that part of the Gospel’s mission is to convict its hearers of sin so they would go to Christ and receive forgiveness. But if man believes he’s always been good, then he’ll have no reason to go to Christ. That’s why the commandments were introduced. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) Some translations describe the law as a “schoolmaster” or a “tutor.” The commandments convict man of the sin that’s already there, and that’s what leads him to faith. But if he thinks he has no sin, he won’t believe and seek forgiveness. That’s the dilemma.

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  8. Anyone who takes a good hard honest look inward cannot deny there is something dark and broken inside of us. Only God can heal that darkness and wash us clean again.

    And being the mom of twins, I can tell you the sin nature exerts itself very early in life. My twins starting fighting with each other when they were just 7 mos old (they weren’t even crawling yet!).

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  9. If humans are born with a sinful nature, then it automatically follows that Jesus was born with a sinful nature.

    I believe humans are born into a sinful world and prone to do sinful things, but that alone does not mean we are born with a sinful nature.

    Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God. Job was a righteous man. He argued about and with God, but through it all did not sin.

    Where in the original text and meaning of the Bible does it emphatically state that man is born with a sinful nature?

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  10. Krysti, Morgan, Jason, thanks so much for adding your thoughts to the discussion. I really appreciate your perspectives.

    wellwateredgarden, thanks for your thought-provoking discussion, too. I hope I answered some of your question in today’s post. I won’t reiterate all that, but since you brought up Job, let me ask you the same question I posited in my post today: why did he repent at the end of the book?

    I’ll have to disagree with your idea about Jesus, too. I don’t pretend to understand how the sin nature works, but the implication in Scripture is that it was passed on by Adam (not Eve). Hence, Christ, born of a virgin did not have an earthly father who passed on a sin nature.

    Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, but that doesn’t mean he was without a sin nature, rather that he was atoning for it (whereas Cain was not).

    But you yourself said you believe humans are “prone to do sinful things.” Isn’t that the “nature” of which I’m referring?

    Becky

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  11. Joel you said For a nature to change, something has to die. Good point. And isn’t that the very thing God said was a consequence for Adam’s sin? Death.

    I consider Paul one of the early church fathers, and he made a clear case for a sin nature in Romans 5 (which I discussed at length in today’s post).

    Some of the other things you assert, Joel, don’t have Scriptural basis. Why do you believe the will can be perfected? Why do you think Paul talked about a “new life,” and said the old things had passed away? Why did Jesus equate coming to him with new birth? And Paul equating baptism to being dead in Christ, raised to newness of life? Clearly, the teaching is that something fundamental changes in a Christian, just as something fundamental changed in all Man when Adam sinned.

    Hope today’s post explains more completely what I’m trying to say here.

    Becky

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  12. blueshacks, you said if original sin is true, then we would be no more to blame for our sin than we are responsible for the color our hair, or crookedness of our teeth. Sounds good, except Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, so clearly we aren’t trapped in sin. God extends His mercy to us.

    Someone who suggests we are born blank slates is only suggesting that we are born with the same ability to sin as Adam and Eve. As I pointed out in my post today, this position tears up Paul’s argument in Romans 5. Something fundamental had to change when Adam sinned or the contrast with Christ would be meaningless.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts—part of the reason I got carried away and wrote such a long post today.

    Becky

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  13. Mike, Mike, Mike, and so we meet again. We do agree that our views are veeeerry different. You say, My view of the character and goodness of God is at least as historically well-formed and well-trod as yours, and just as well-versed in Holy Writ. But you and I look at Scripture from a fundamentally different point of view, Mike.

    Not so very long ago, you commented here and on another blog [which shall remain nameless because I don’t want to give press time to said site] that you believe God is evolving. You gave a perfect description of a panentheistic understanding of God in everything and everything in God as the ultimate “end game.”

    You quoted from Deuteronomy and explained God’s statements about being One as statements that He is one with everything.

    The problem is, you take these things that support your views in isolation to the rest of Scripture, much as you do to make a case for Jesus being the “nice god.” I’ve written extensively in our previous long discussion showing that such an appraisal of Jesus is patently anti-Biblical, and that’s without looking at the book of Revelation.

    I’d like to believe that we could, in theory and in principle, worship together. We can’t, Mike, because we aren’t worshiping the same god. When you pray in Jesus’ name (if you do) you aren’t evoking Christ who will come in judgment one day. I suspect you are more inclined to believe in the idea of Christ (an idea divorced from any of those uncomfortable angry Godconnotations) rather than the person of the true, living Christ.

    One more point: But to me, beyond all of this, I do chafe at your assertion that the only reason humanity needs God (or would love God) is if we were so tainted, so dragged down at our cores, that we have no other choice. I don’t think I explained my thinking well. Jason did a better job of it in his last paragraph:

    the Gospel’s mission is to convict its hearers of sin so they would go to Christ and receive forgiveness. But if man believes he’s always been good, then he’ll have no reason to go to Christ. That’s why the commandments were introduced. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) Some translations describe the law as a “schoolmaster” or a “tutor.” The commandments convict man of the sin that’s already there, and that’s what leads him to faith. But if he thinks he has no sin, he won’t believe and seek forgiveness.

    If Man thinks he has no sin, he thinks he can find his own way to God however he wants to, not in the ways God laid out for him. He can believe what he wants to believe about God, based on this writing or that mentor, regardless of what God has said about Himself.

    Abraham gives us the right picture. He saw God’s promise to be fulfilled in his son and he saw God’s command to kill that same son and his faith was not shaken. He didn’t retract his trust and accuse God of being double-minded or unstable. He said, I believe the promise and I believe the command.

    That’s what it takes, Mike, and I would convince you if I could, because I believe your eternal destiny is at stake.

    Becky

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  14. Well, after reading some of the comments to your post, it’s obvious that the idea of original sin is very offensive. I wonder why? Because it’s construed to somehow make me guilty for something I never did? Because it means I’m really, really, really bad and that’s not a good feeling?

    I wonder, for those who believe we’re born good but somewhere along the way stumbled and sinned, what do they think we are saved from? That’s a no-brainer, they would say: Our sins! By that they mean that each sin has incurred a penalty and is either punished or forgiven. To be saved from our sins is to be forgiven and escape the penalty. Which is true of course. But if in their thinking this is what constitutes salvation in toto, then they are missing the boat, and…it makes me wonder if they are truly Christian.

    Yes, we are saved from our sins but more fundamentally we are saved from our sinfulness. If one denies inherent sinfulness, one would also have to deny that salvation is from such sinfulness. But that salvation is from sin and sinfulness is so obvious from scripture it stymies the imagination that one who claims to be a Christian would deny it.

    Paul explains to the Ephesians that they were dead in trespasses and sins in which not only they, but Paul himself, once walked and conducted themselves in the lust of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind. But that changed because they were saved from their sinfulness.

    Paul speaks of our being slaves to sin (before we were saved) to being freed from our slavery (after we were saved), Romans 6:6, 18. Sin once had dominion over us but now, having died with Christ, the saved sinner is no longer under its dominion, Romans 6:14, and therefore can (for the first time ever) yield himself as an instrument of righteousness, Romans 6:11-13.

    John in his first epistle distinguishes between sin (an offense committed against God, I John 1:10) and sin (the nature to behave contrary to God’s will, I John 1:8). The Greek in those passages bear out the distinction without question. John makes it clear that one who denies either is making God out to be a liar and the truth is not in him.

    Paul cites the psalmist in the charge that there is no one who does good, not one (Ps 14). If we started out good, how did we get to the point of absolute corruption in which we do absolutely no good? Well, one might say, weren’t Adam and Eve good when they sinned? A better way to describe Adam and Eve’s condition before they sinned is a state of innocence, that is, they did not know sin through experience, they did not have a knowledge of good and evil by having done the evil. Which makes their act of sin all the more appalling. But we sin because something happened to the human race in Adam when he sinned. The human race became corrupt, sinful within, and those born to man are likewise corrupt (David confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” Psalm 51:5).

    John Murray, late professor of Westminster Theological Seminary, in his commentary on Romans, writes on 5:19:

    “The many were constituted sinners.” In the preceding verses we found that death passed on to all men by reason of the sin of Adam (vss.[5:] 12, 14, 15, 17). We found also that condemnation was pronounced upon all men through the sin of Adam (vss. [5:] 16, 18). Implicit in these reiterated declarations is the solidarity that existed between Adam and posterity. It would have been a necessary inference from the solidarity in death and condemnation to posit a solidarity in sin also, because death and condemnation presuppose sin. But we are not left to inference. The apostle is now explicit to the effect that the solidarity extended to sin itself. We discovered earlier that the only feasible way of interpreting the clause in verse 12, “in that all sinned” is that this refers to the involvement of all in the sin of Adam. But again the propriety of that interpretation is demonstrated by what is now said expressly in verse 19, “through the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners”. The expression used here “constituted sinners” is definitely to the effect that the many were made to be sinners, they were placed in the category of sinners. Not only did death rule of over them, not only did they come under the sentence of condemnation, but sinnership itself became theirs by reason of the sin of Adam. It is here again that the variety of terms which the apostle uses to characterize sin becomes so eloquent of what is meant by being constituted sinners. Sin is transgression, trespass, disobedience, and therefore solidarity in sin is involvement in the disobedience, transgression, trespass of Adam. The last clause of verse 12 likewise can mean nothing less, for it says “all sinned”. By a confluence of considerations inherent in this passage we are informed that the sin of Adam was the sin of all and the solidarity in condemnation and death is traced to its source and ground, solidarity in sin. To attempt to escape from this conclusion is to waive exegesis.

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  15. A clarification. Original sin properly refers to the forensic declaration by God that we are sinners; because Adam our representative sinned, God judges us to be sinners; Adam’s sin is imputed to us, placed on our account so that we are guilty of it. The unity of the human race in its representative head is the reason by which Adam’s sin is the sin of all. Our involvement of Adam’s sin is not a peronal involvement in the same way that we are involved in sinning in our present existence. But our involvement was in Adam, who acted in our behalf, as our representative.

    Total Depravity and Original Sin are not the same thing. The former is a consequence of the fall of man. When man fell he fell into a state of sinfulness which is passed on from generation to generation; were are born sinners. The latter is also a consequence of the fall of man, but refers not to our being born sinners but our being constituted sinners – our unity with Adam, our representative head, is such that what Adam did, we did, whatever was put to Adam’s account was also put to our account.

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  16. This is such a large discussion with such well crafted responses that I being of little brain and most probably less than pure intentions (how’s that for a backhand reference to original sin?) might only make a few tangential comments.

    First, regarding Job’s repentance, an Augustinian, Anselmian or Calvinist understanding of original sin is not required for an emphasis on repentance. Orthodoxy does not share these interpretations and no one could accuse the Orthodox of being soft on repentance.

    Second, in regards to being able to worship together, I would like to be able to assert that with a slightly higher Eucharistic theology of Christ “just there” in the Sacrament Mike and Rebecca and all the rest of us could meet at Table in His Presence without having to agree or even completely understand, after all who can, exactly who the Person of the true, living Christ is, simply trusting Him to be present to each of us with the grace we need but unfortunately those who hold this view of the Eucharist don’t do a very good job of this themselves. Maybe the Quakers have the right idea and we should all just be quiet.

    And last, to address the issue of God and violence, the remarkable thing about the stories of violence in the Hebrew Scripture’s, including and perhaps especially “sacred” violence is not that they are there, they are there in the stories of most if not all of the world’s mythologies, but the way in which they are told. The stories are told in way that discloses the standpoint of the victim, so from the standpoint of the narratives, God is on the side of the victim. Not all of them do this but a new perspective can be seen to emerge in Israel. This perspective is brought to fruition in the Gospels where God Himself in Jesus Christ takes the place of the victim, who is of course innocent of all the charges against him and thus unmasks the mechanism whereby we justify scapegoating and violence as the means of maintaining the peace and unity of the social order. But this time a group of witnesses, the disciples of the victim, who have been prepared both by the tradition of the Hebrew narratives and by the teaching and life of Jesus, encounter the victim as risen from the dead and find themselves on the inside of the story, a very different story than they thought they were getting involved in and are empowered by the Spirit they receive to live this story out as witnesses to its truth. This story of rivalry and violence, so well demonstrated in the story of Cain and Abel, is really the old script we have been given, some might say by original sin, that Brueggemann points to and the undoing of that script in the message of the Gospel, the new script, is the story that we are undergoing in living it out by the power of the Spirit, a story that has nothing at all to do violence and death because God has nothing to do with them but instead has to do with Eternal Life and God giving us that Eternal Life, which is God’s own life.

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  17. What does it matter that today’s western culture believes Man’s nature is good? A great deal, as it turns out. This tenet is the linchpin of humanism. It is the belief that releases Man from a need to believe in God.

    If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life or (this is a favorite of atheists such as poor Christopher Hitchens) religion’s fault. Of course proponents of this position never offer an explanation for how society, the home, or even religion became tainted, since clearly, if Man was good from the beginning, then what he produced should have been good too.

    Two questions:

    1. How does a rejection of original sin absolve Man from his responsibilities? Wouldn’t they, rather, put all the responsibility on Man? (In a previous post, you said the rejection forces a works-based salvation. If man is not responsible for his salvation, then this position cannot be works-based. ) One reason some people reject the concept is because they are concerned about inadvertently putting God as the originator of evil or putting him in a position of punishing us for something completely beyond our control.

    2. How does a rejection of original sin negate a need for God? If we are, in fact, his creations, and we are, in fact, broken and bent and prone to evil (whether we act on it or not), then, clearly, we are no less in need of a Savior. Possibly moreso, if our free wills can still get it in our heads do to our own thing and reject God. The problem is and always has been in the human heart and that he simply is not God, therefore, no amount of good or evil actions is going to absolve you.

    If you could pin down someone who holds this “Man is good” view, I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.”

    Well, I don’t like the neutral position because I feel like it too easily leaves you at the mercy of whatever environment you grew up in–equally fatalistic. I know too many exceptions to make that rule.

    So a baby born in South Africa is imprinted with the culture and values of his home and community. What he believes about God is true for him. Whereas a person born in the US to a Christian is imprinted with his family and church values. What he believes about God, though it may be radically different from the South African (or Ecuadorian or Chinese or Libyan), is just as true for him.

    Eh, that’s just lame reasoning and no one with an ounce of sense really believes all roads lead to Rome. I do think Christians from other countries view God and Christianity differently than Americans, but that’s a world away from what you’ve described here.

    Of course this “Man is neutral” view also means that harmful ideas can be written upon the innocent—harmful, such as the concept that Man is born sinful. This belief, so the thinking goes, tears down a person’s self-esteem and causes him to expect the worst, not the best. It loads him up with guilt, and guilt is the great evil of our generation. We are all, haven’t you hear, not guilty. Just ask the judges across the nation.

    You used the word ‘self-esteem,’ so I have to go take Clorox to my eyes. 0=)

    I feel like this is another subject, so I’m going to leave it for now.

    But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. Consequently, we don’t need God to save us because we have nothing to be saved from.

    I think I already addressed this. At least, I asked about it. Again, some equally assert that the Calvinist idea of original sin ultimately puts God to blame whether we do good or evil, and, therefore, absolves us.

    My views…later. I personally dislike most, if not all, Calvin/Arminian debates. But I’m an oddball.

    If we don’t need him to save us, them we might retain him as a crutch or as an opiate for the masses, but we’d be better off unshackling from the constraints of religion (and its nasty guilt).

    Again, I think the very fact that we are created demands we have a need for our Creator. Deism is a kind of worthless mindset, all things considered.

    Ultimately the “Man is good” position becomes a refrain: “Anything god can do, Man can do better.” Until, one day someone saying he is a Christian wonders whether or not he is perhaps nicer than god.

    How so?

    I do think some people do believe they’re ‘nicer than God.’ I think those people need their minds checked. They tend to also think God is schizophrenic or something.

    Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?
    – Mike Morrell, Comment #64, page 1, “Attacks on God from Within”

    Words cannot express the depth of my hate for the MPD god people have created. But I think half that problem is people not teaching the OT and/or teaching people to be afraid of the OT.

    Seriously. Leviticus really isn’t that scary of a book. And Hebrews makes so much more sense after you read it. Jesus makes so much more sense after you read Deuteronomy.

    But hey. I’m the chick who can read Leviticus but gets stuck in Psalms. I don’t understand poetry.

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  18. Thomas – That’s sort of the angle I’m coming at, simply because I’m not completely convinced “totally depraved” is accurate of Humanity when Humanity is still capable of doing good things (even though those good things can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t, save). So the idea of man being born flawed is one thing, but to say that he is incapable of doing anything good is another. Even Jesus contrasted “you who are evil know how to give your children good gifts” with “how much moreso your Father in heaven.”

    I will also freely admit that the older I get, the less willing I am to try to figure out all the details of the cosmos. I like the unknown. It’s fun.

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