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Evangelizing dead people

I’m either posting this cartoon because I think it could be used as a good discussion starter on predestination, total depravity, and evangelism, or because I just want to rile up the Calvinists. I’m not sure. Either way, here you go.

HT Fallen from Grace

Some Problems with Jonathan Edwards’ view of Original Sin

[This is a guest post by Andreas Lunden. Andreas is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary and is participating in this summer’s Th.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.] 

In The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended; Evidences of its Truth Produced, and Arguments to the Contrary Answered, Jonathan Edwards engages in the controversy over human depravity, a topic that occupied much of the eighteenth century. Edwards’ eagerness to refute his opponents on this matter indicates that a major cultural shift was ultimately at stake, since the Western man was viewing himself with increasing positivism regarding his nature and potentialities. In other words, Edwards was combating an increasingly prevailing drift of opinion that had begun in Europe and was now slowly but surely invading America.

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An Outline of Edwards’ Argument

The argument of this book is straightforward. Edwards spends well over three hundred pages defending the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. More specifically, for Edwards, Original Sin means, (1) the innate depravity of heart of all men OR, (2) the imputation of Adam’s sin to all men. Those who hold to one of these statements usually also hold to the other. On the contrary, those who oppose Original Sin usually oppose both these statements. According to Edwards, such “new interpretations”, which stray from Christian tradition, are unlikely to be correct. For Edwards, “mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin, both with respect to the moral evil they are subjects of, and the afflictive evil they are exposed to, the one as the consequence and punishment of the other, then doubtless the great salvation by Christ stand in direct relation to this ruin.” He finds support for his views both in general observations of man’s inclinations and behaviors (history), as well as the witness of the Christian scriptures.

The flow unfolds as follows:

  • Part One: Evidence of Original Sin from Observation, Experience & Scripture
  • Part Two: Observations from Scripture Proving Original Sin
  • Part Three: Observations Relating to the Process of Redemption
  • Part Four: Answers to Common Objections

What stands out is Edwards’ brilliant exposition concerning man’s inability to present evidence for capacity of goodness despite God’s “great means” to promote such virtue. He analyzes both the Old and the New Testament, focusing on the means used by God to draw man to Himself: from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Jesus in relation to the Gentiles, from Abraham to Jesus in relation to the Jews, and finally the “Church age.” For John Taylor (the main opponent of Edwards), the ongoing failures to pierce the heart of man were simply due to a wrong representation of the gospel. Such a view must have caused unpleasant affections in the heart of Edwards. According to our defender of Original Sin, the problem of man’s depravity stems ultimately from something much deeper than an “unfortunate” misunderstanding. Man’s apparent failure to respond to God lies in the realm of a thoroughly corrupted heart. Consequently, man’s redemption is obviously connected to a restructured heart, which is exclusively the result of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Some Problems with Edwards Argument

Edwards has a talent for arguing in such a way that he answers not only the questions currently on the table, but also possible “follow-up” issues that may surface in response to his own writings. However, one possible weakness in Edwards’ argument (as discussed in class) is his view that creation is a continuous event ex nihilo (from nothing). In arguing that God recreates the whole of the universe every instant, he is able, not only to combat Deist notions, but also maintain a sense of oneness, and connectedness between the first Adam, and the whole of mankind (as opposed to Taylor’s view that sin and guilt are to be seen as entirely personal). However, this begs the question, if history is divided into an infinite number of independent frames, how is the now related to the past or the future? What, then, is a person? How does one in this view understand personal identity?

Another area that I find problematic is Edwards’ somewhat condescending posture in relation to his opponents. His argumentation is ruthless, in style but first and foremost in intellectual force. While, I agree with most of Edwards’ argument it’s possible that his aggressiveness caused a more polarized debate, rather than mutual learning from one another. I am by no means arguing we should compromise truth, only that we constantly need to be on the lookout for ways to communicate creatively in a spirit of truth and grace, simultaneously.

Edwards’ Opponent

Finally, I conclude from this reading that nothing is new under the sun. I found myself chuckling at Taylor’s arguments since they sometimes sound similar to contemporary objections to Christian doctrines of Sin, Hell, Judgment, etc. Here are a few examples:

The doctrine of Original Sin…

…disparages divine goodness in giving us our being, so that we have no reason to thank God for our being.

…pours contempt on human nature.

…gives us an ill opinion of our fellow humans.

…hinders comfort & joy, and promotes sorrow & gloominess.

…is not mentioned by Jesus in the gospels.

Jonathan Edwards offers sound answers to every one of these objections, but I’m curious, how would you respond?

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]


Born with a black hat

Why do I do the bad things that I do? Because I was born with a black hat, of course.

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I’m sure you could use this as a good discussion starter for talking about things like original sin, total depravity, fatalism, etc.

Stephen King and the exponential depravity of human nature

Okay, Stephen King would never talk about the “exponential depravity of human nature.” But I thought that was a good summary for the dominant theme running through his book Under the Dome. This is one of the books that I took with me on vacation, and I really enjoyed it. Like most of King’s books, it gets more graphic than I would prefer in places. But he always tells an interesting story. And this one is no different.

The dominant motif in Under the Dome is mob behavior – the way that people do things they would not normally do when they come under the influence of mob psychology. And, King explains this to some degree by showing that we are all flawed beings, and that these flaws tend to multiply exponentially when they begin to feed off of each other in the mob. We normally control this process through a variety of constraints, but in unusual circumstances where the constraints are lost or temporarily ignored, watch out.

King doesn’t directly engage the question of sin – he rarely does – but it fits his narrative very well. In this story you don’t just see a bunch of fallen people doing sinful things; you see a mob, an exponential increase of sin feeding on sin. Even his best characters come across as flawed beings capable of succumbing to the pressure of mob behavior.

And sadly, the novel really ends on that note. There is no transcendent reality to offer any hope that there might be something beyond our fallenness. There is only an affirmation that we must wear our little lives like an ugly brown sweater that covers the nakedness and shame beneath. Under the Dome calls on us to face the evil that we are capable of, even the evil that we often enjoy, find some way of forgiving ourselves, and then just move on. It’s a powerful story, but one that demonstrates the despair inherent in a narrative with nowhere to go – no beyond, no hope, no gospel, no God.