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DeYoung and Kluck’s Upcoming Release

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In July, Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung have a new book coming out, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. In the epilogue, I make the argument that the missing element in the contemporary church is a robust doctrine of original sin. It saddens me to get further confirmation that this assessment is correct.

Here’s a few paragraphs from the Epilogue.

The doctrine of original sin teaches that every single human being who ever was, is, or shall be inherited from Adam a sinful nature that make us predisposed to wickedness and rebellion against God. The Belgic Confession (1561) summarizes the doctrine this way: “We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature—an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn the human race…” (Article 15).For most of church history—certainly from Augustine on down—most Christians, especially the Reformers and their confessional and evangelical heirs, have believed in original sin. The rosey view of human nature espoused by Pelagius was condemned as heretical at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Since then, if there has been any shared starting point across the theological spectrum of Christianity it was this: we are born into the world with a bent toward evil and in need of a Savior.

More recently, however, prominent “evangelicals” have questioned the validity of the doctrine of original sin. Brian McLaren mocks it, making original sin the subject of Mary’s Magnificat until it sounds ridiculous.Steve Chalke denies it, claiming that “Jesus believed in original goodness.”David Tomlinson rejects it, finding total depravity “biblically questionable, extreme, and profoundly unhelpful.” And Doug Pagitt is completely fed up with it, basing his rejection of original sin on the belief that “Augustine’s doctrine of depravity was based on a particular linguistic and cultural reading of certain passages of the Bible.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point Alan Jacobs’ reflection in Original Sin: A Cultural History that those “who credit or blame Augustine for the ‘invention’ of original sin contend that he misread Paul; and it seems to me that the scholars who make that contention tend to be attached to the Christian faith in some way.” In other words, Christians don’t like to disagree straight up with Paul, so they try to sidestep the doctrine claiming that Augustine misinterpreted him. But as Jacobs points out, Tertullian, two hundred years prior to Augustine, saw “our participation in [Adam’s] transgression, our fellowship in his death, our expulsion from Paradise.”Tertullian believed that “the evil that exists in the soul…is antecedent, being derived from the fault of our origin and having become in a way natural to us.” His contemporary, Cyprian of Carthage, spoke of a “primeval contagion” and the “wounds” we all receive from Adam. So if Augustine misread Paul, he was not the first (and certainly not the last).

More important than the record of history is the testimony of Scripture. And it’s hard to see how the doctrine of inherited and total depravity is not taught in the pages of Scripture. No one is righteous (Rom. 3:10). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9). The natural man is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). By nature, we pass our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating on another (Titus 3:3). We are inclined toward evil (Gen. 6:5), conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). All of us like sheep have gone astray (Isa. 53:6).Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rages before the Lord (Isa. 64:6). We are by nature not just morally tainted, but children of wrath, deserving of God’s punishment, even before we actually sin in our flesh (Eph. 2:3). Even on the best of days, we are divided, doing what we don’t want to do and failing to do what we know is right (Rom. 7:18-19). Because of the Fall, we are hard-wired toward evil. We sinned in Adam and died through his trespass, inheriting his guilt and a corrupt nature (Rom. 5:12-20).

It’s precisely this doctrine of original sin, and the related doctrines of total depravity and the divided self, that need to be recovered if we are to have a biblical, realistic, and Christ-centered doctrine of the church.

ht: DeYoung

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