Monday, April 21, 2008

People = NOT Good?

I don't know if anyone remembers, but recently I wrote a post which discussed, briefly, a letter which an APU student was writing to the faculty about the presence of the Border Patrol and Homeland Security on our campus. Here's the post. There is still quite a conversation going on where the letter was posted on facebook (I think you have to be friends with Armen to get to this). As of now there are 91 comments on the post. It's a hot topic, I guess...

What I wanted to talk about here has nothing to do with the letter itself or Mexican immigration but with a comment that was left in the conversation by a Music Professor at APU. He said,
"the core of the Christian teaching is that humans are NOT basically good. That is the secular humanist fallacy... and it is a very, very large one. Perhaps you do not consider yourself to be a Christian, or perhaps you have some peculiar definition of that which allows you to ignore the historical Christian teaching of the last couple of millennia."

The core? Really?

It's at least presumptuous to say that the core of all Christian theology is original sin (I can only assume that what he meant my "NOT" good, was sin nature). It's presumptuous for a couple of reasons. First of all, because Scripture is not clear on the subject. Sure, we all have verses that seem clear on their own until we put them in context with the whole of Scripture. The passages from which we get "sin nature" (all from Romans) are not clearly doctrinal. Paul talks of "those who live by the sinful nature..." (Romans 8:8) but he does not qualify everyone under this idea. He doesn't come out and say that everyone's inherited the sin of Adam. In the only passage in which he comes close to saying something like this, he says that "in this way death came to all, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). This does not automatically mean that all people are innately bad, they might be good, but they sinned. The Bible doesn't begin with sin, it begins with good. God creates people and sees people as good (Genesis 1).

One of the important points of Genesis 1&2 is that people are created good. In their essence, people are good. This is shown partially through the use of the phrase "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7). The word for "dust" here is עָפָר (Aphar), a very specific word for the smallest kind of dirt, maybe "powder" even works. This is contrasted by the story in the Ennuma Elish (the Babylonian creation story) where man is made from dirt mixed with the blood of Tiamat, the evil goddess who represented primordial chaos. Through a great battle, Marduk defeats Tiamat, defeats chaos, and creation is formed. But people a created with her blood mixed with the ground, chaos/evil runs through their veins. But in Genesis, the author is sure to use "dust" so as to assure the reader that there is nothing in there except good creation, there's no evil blood. In Genesis 1 & 2 people are essentially good! We have to remember that this is where the bible begins. Later on, the curse enters the scene but people are still made of the same stuff. Whatever sort of corruption has come about, we do not necessarily have to say that people are not essentially good at their core. On the contrary, I would say that the fact that people are essentially good is precisely what makes sin so bad--it' just unnatural. All this to say that the Bible is not clear on this, it doesn't even seem to think in terms of original sin.

The second reason it's presumptuous to say that original sin is the core of Christian theology is because not all the church has believed in it historically. It's almost purely a western idea, taught in the Roman Catholic church. Are we forgetting that not all of the church comes from this background? The Eastern Orthodox tradition has never agreed with the west on original sin. If we say that original sin is "core" then we are at least saying that the Orthodox tradition, which makes up a large portion of the global church, is distorted. The church has just not been unanimous about this throughout history, they've been far from it. Original sin is only important, let alone "core," in one half of the church.

I think "sin nature" is especially beloved by evangelicals because of their soteriology--everyone needs a personal savior. Perhaps we should allow for a more communal view, where sin is a problem for an individual even if that individual is not guilty of it. Even Jesus, being without sin, still thought that something needed to be done.

We need to think long and hard about what we mean by sin nature and where we get the idea before we go about saying that it's "
the core of the Christian teaching."


4 comments:

nate said...

hmmm...I see very little difference between the West's "original sin," and the East's, "historical sin" or "ancestral sin," but in both cases, I believe it is not the core of either school of thought...the core is Christ. I think that both groups see sin as pervasive throughout humanity, to deny this is to be deaf, dumb, and blind, I just think the Easter church addresses sin more personally, individually. Imperfection (Nate-ism for the term," is necessary doctrine regardless of Christian belief system, or else there would be no need for a savior--all the rest is semantics, in my known-to-be-found-wrong opinion.

wes ellis said...

Nate,
good thoughts. you're right, it's probably semantics. I don't think the east would like the statement that people are NOT basically good. But nevertheless, I don't think the Bible ever wants us to come to the conclusion that people are basically bad. Jesus comes to people and declares them good and offers them salvation.

nate said...

Right,
"created in the image of God" leaves little room for ABSOLUTE/TOTAL depravity, which is pretty ingrained in many streams of Reformed Christianity (notably the "T" in TULIP--a harsh take on original sin. The East and it's catholic sister lean on more of a deformed/diseased type of "original sin."

WES ELLIS said...

I always did like Pelagius!

I should have referred more to Total depravity, because I'm sure that's what the guy was getting at, instead of Original Sin. Original Sin is still too broad. Thanks for the critique. It's good.
Wes