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Original Sin: What’s not to like?

Original sin is a bit of a passion of mine (committed sin too but in a different way). I bang the 'original sin' drum in posts like these:

The Good News of Being Condemned Already

Original Sin (for the Evangelists Podcast)

The Importance of Adam

I'd love to see a proper renaissance of this teaching in our evangelism. Unfortunately Christians shy away from it for several reasons - not least a loss of confidence in the historical Adam. But let me leave that to one side and here sketch out three good reasons our culture ought to resonate with original sin and then address three dumb reasons why it really doesn't.

Three Reasons Our Culture Should Love Original Sin

It's holistic

We all know that we're perishing physically. We're born into a terminal condition called life. The Christian faces the fact that we are whole persons. We refuse to believe in a divorce between our physical state and our moral/spiritual state. We're born perishing - that's just a fact. There's no need to appeal to some other magical realm where we remain pristine and virtuous. Original sin treats us as whole people - dying on the outside, dying on the inside.

It's communal

Yes we live in an insanely individualistic age but actually the language of community is hugely prized. We're in this thing together. That's what original sin says: We're all in the same boat. No use pointing at the bad folks over there. I am them and they are me and we're all in a mess. Original sin levels the playing field and brings us together in the same place - a place of authenticity...

It's authentic

These days authenticity plays really well. If you can fake this you've got it made. Well here's a doctrine that says we've all got deep, deep issues. And no-one can claim an exemption. Nobody's perfect. Here is the death of all judgmentalism - no-one has achieved a different class of moral existence. All those religious types who think they're better than others are, beyond question, hypocrites. Original sin says we're all the black sheep of the family, so let's stop pretending to be 'on the side of the angels.'

Having said all this, here are Three Reasons Our Culture Hates Original Sin

We think we're immortal (The myth of limitless potential)

Modern westerners are in complete denial about our creaturely limitations. We spend our lives seeking to avoid and reverse our mortality. Actually we don't face our physical perishing so it's no wonder we can't face our spiritual perishing either.

We think we're islands (The myth of individualism)

For all our talk of community, our doctrine of humanity is thoroughly individualistic. I might like to get together with others, but it's my personal desire here that's important. I'm a community kinda guy. That's how roll. When the community starts making claims on me, I cool off big time. When you start telling me of my corporate identity and responsibility, I'm likely to get pretty offended.

We think our decisions make us free (The myth of choice)

It's so incredibly stupid and enslaving and obviously untrue but we are captivated by the idea that we create our own identity through the exercise of our personal choices. I know, I know - the multiplication of choices mostly ends up paralysing us (see, for eg, this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice) but still the mythology persists. And the  slogan "it's your decision" is so overwhelmingly persuasive it seems impossible to counteract.

But...

Let's keep holding out the holistic, communal, authentic side of this message and let's keep chipping away at the delusions we tell ourselves: that we're immortal; that we stand alone; that we create ourselves. Let's point out our mortality and our limits. Let's highlight the failures of individualism. Let's spotlight the slaveries we bring on ourselves precisely when we make our bold choices.

And all the while, our goal is not to burden people under the conviction of sin but to awaken them to the reality we all face. The whole point is to wake up the world to the obvious: we're sick. To embrace this truth is not our damnation, it's our salvation. For Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick. He did not come to call the limitless, individualistic self-creators but only original sinners.

4 thoughts on “Original Sin: What’s not to like?

  1. Cal

    Another Reason it's hated:

    It puts our (Western) civilizational aspirations, whether nationalistic or global, under the ban. If our technology, our education, our morality is nothing but another band-aid on humanity's internal bleeding, then we're called pessimist and backwards.

    Churches, at least in America, seem even more intractable. To question the America project is tantamount to heresy. Many churches here believe in sin, but this innocuates them to the Biblical testimony of sin. It's almost as if the half-truth has blinded them from the fullness.

    cal

  2. Glen

    Yes it makes us far more "realistic" than anyone likes to be - especially you American dreamers :)

    Add that to the list then

  3. Katharine KN

    Thanks for the post! This isn't directly relevant, but in Danish the term for original sin literally translates as 'inherited sin' which I think is quite a helpful way of thinking about it, and makes the distinction between it and committed sin more clear. So, for example, you can clearly say that babies have 'inherited sin' without trying to argue that they must necessarily be lying in their cribs plotting evil all the time, which can sound a bit unconvincing.

  4. Glen

    "Inherited sin" is indeed a better phrase. And when we unpack sin in terms of our disconnection with God we see how obvious a truth it is. We're not born with a vital connection to God. A lot of people I speak to are more than happy to grant that.

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