Thoughts on “Original Sin”

Recently I’ve been fascinated by Tony Jones’ blog series regarding the doctrine of original sin over at Both Tony’s thoughts and the blog comments have really stimulated me to think about the issue. I’ve never given it much thought and I’ve never cracked open the writings of Augustine or Calvin. It’s relatively foreign to me but I think I have a decent grasp of the basic premise as it relates to the doctrine of original sin and how that doctrine informs Calvinist theology.

Here are the questions I have: If human beings are inherently depraved and every human enters into an evil world separated from God, then how, if at all, do we find value in a human life? If a person is “unsaved” or excluded from “election” then why would we ever grieve their death? If the life of an unborn baby ends, making way for that potential life to sidestep an inherently depraved state and in an inherently evil world, how would that be a negative occurrence when taking into account the boundaries of the Calvinist doctrine?

My apologies if my understanding of all this is inadequate, which I’m sure it is, but these are the questions that popped into my mind as I processed Tony’s posts. I would love to hear from any of you who would be willing to enlighten me


10 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Original Sin”

  1. I’m not a Calvinist but I do love the doctrines of grace and believe that total depravity is true, but I like the way that a friend of mine–a Reformed minister (and a woman, praise God)–described the doctrine to me like this:
    It’s not that the doctrine of total depravity necessarily means that essentially all we are is completely evil. It means that sin has tainted every part of our existence.

    I think that’s true because I see it in my own life. I see where even the things I do with good intentions so often have an underlying selfish motive. When I think of virtue and sin, rather than think of them as things distinct from God, as concepts free and independent of his existence, I think that when we see virtue what we really see is reflections of God’s nature in relationships, and when we see sin we see the absence of his nature in relationships (to God, to others, to the Earth and to ourselves). So when we say that God is love, what we should mean isn’t that love is one characteristic of God, but rather that he actually is love. When we see love we’re not seeing an independent event but rather a reflection or aroma of the presence of God.

    And I see us as prisms made to reflect and refract God’s presence in our relationships, but total depravity/original sins means that every side of the prism is cracked and less able to refract and reflect God’s presence, continually cracking until there’s no light left going into us or coming out. (but Jesus makes us new, of course)a

    Maybe a lame analogy, but that’s how I think about it.

  2. I fall in line pretty much completely with Pipers “I’m Bad” videos on youtube. đŸ˜‰
    I gotta say in a semi-sarcastic-way that we definitely are not the reverse of totally deprived. That at least is obvious to me.

  3. From what I understand, an Augustinian understanding of original sin, articulates evil as some sort of positive parasitic force all men inherit as a consequence of Adamic sin. Since Adam fell, and he acts as humanity’s head – according to a literal reading of Romans 5 – we too are implicit in his actions. All of humanity, in some mysterious way, participated in the Adamic first sin. We thus inherit his depraved sinful nature, and all human life is, in an ontological sense, unworthy of existence. This depravity applies to unborn fetuses as well. You know, those sinful fetuses.

    I’m not sure I buy that, though.

    I think James Arminius lays out a much more palatable, realistic, and Biblically cogent option. The Arminian doctrine of original sin rejects total depravity in favor of total deprivation. Mankind receives the punishment of Adam – the absence of the Holy Spirit’s fullness in our lives – but not culpability in the first sin. This predisposition of deprivation, however, renders us inclined to sin, which all inevitably do at some point or another. However, under this paradigm, the purity of the unborn is maintained.

    Augustine: We sin because we are depraved.
    Arminius: We are depraved because we sin.

    I’m going to throw my lot with the Writings of James Arminius, on this one. Total depravity is a bunch of hooey.

    Millard Erickson does lay out a more palatable version of original sin in his “Christian Theology”, but honestly, most of his explanation sounds like a terrible cop out, and not much different from Arminian doctrine.

    No one’s really a Calvinist, push comes to shove, these days.

  4. I think your thoughts on total depravity and children follow, and they are just another reason to see extreme calvinism as a dehumanizing philosophy.

    If there is original sin, I perfer to think of it as an *infection* passed on to each successive generation.

    A person is made healthy, created good, is naturally in the flow of God’s creation, but her species is infected with a serious condition that will eventually rob this valuable human person of life, joy, and all things good if it is not addressed.

  5. In this type of stance I think the value of human life comes in being “saved”. You’re depraved, but some of humanity will be saved from this depravity because of Jesus. And if that’s the case, then there is no need to mourn the “heathen” except maybe that they aren’t elect.

    But, with a strong stance on predestination then you’re right, there’s not really a need to mourn them because God didn’t choose them. We just have to trust God that don’t we?

    But we also see this influence throughout church history where at times there have unfortunately been stances of “they’re heathens, so if they won’t repent go ahead and kill them.” (When combined with Augustine ideas of just war you’ve got bad news.)

    The unborn fetus too, is evil and depraved, therefore we mourn it not being born, because it didn’t get the chance to repent and be saved. But again, if you combine it with the strong predestination bent, then again you can easily wind up with a very cold mentality of God is in control, pulling the strings like a puppet master, and we have to trust God’s decision not to choose this fetus and let it be born without repentance.

    Of course this is an extreme, and there are many who have a more nuanced view. However, while it is an extreme, it is a less uncommon view than you might think.

  6. How then do we reconcile the idea that a fetus is evil and depraved with Psalms 139: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

    Does God wonderfully create us to be inherently evil and depraved beings before we even take our first breath?

  7. I think Jonathan’s argument is case and point. If his argument is true, then human beings have no inherent worth–in fact they have negative value because they are “evil”.

    Again it seems to me that such forms of calvinism are dehumanizing (this theology is the reason Calvin himself felt justified in burning heretics).

    Because they are dehumanizing they ought to be rejected. The activity of God is quite the opposite.

  8. Well put, Jeff. And while I appreciate Jonathan’s contribution, I’d love for someone who really holds to a Calvinist theology to provide their perspective.

    Jon, I saw the debate and I’m gonna write a post about it. One thing that kind of interested me in regards to this topic was that Driscoll seemed to agree that God gives humans free will to choose. Doesn’t that go against Calvinism in general? Like I said, I’d love for someone with a personal connection with this theology to enlighten me where I am misunderstanding.

  9. I believe that Paul’s argument in his writings is that we biologically inherit a sin nature through the man’s seed, which would be the reason Jesus was born of a virgin (to avoid the seed). Nevertheless, just as a person who has inherited the Christ nature (a believer) can choose whether or not to abide in it, a person can choose whether or not to abide in the sin nature.
    Before Christ and the Holy Spirit people could choose between good and evil (Abraham, Moses, etc). The nature does not require a person to obey it, but rather it is a tendency towards something. Therefore, the sin nature is a tendency towards sin just as the Christ nature is a tendency towards good. Paul doesn’t say we inherit sin though.
    David says he will see his baby again who died at birth, proving that it wasn’t going to hell…

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