Goodbye, Original Sin

June 4, 2012

SBC

A group of self-styled “traditional” Southern Baptists have issued a statement articulating their view of salvation (the “traditional” view) in contrast to the Calvinism of Southern Seminary faculty and other Calvinists in the SBC. I have my own specific set of complaints against the “new Calvinism” of Piper, Mohler, and the ever-recurring same group of people at half a dozen conferences each year. However, their classical Reformed doctrine of election is not really one of my concerns, despite significant modifications I would make. I actually agree with Mohler that Reformed theology in the SBC is nearly the only place that young evangelicals can go (in the SBC) to find depth and substance. A good example, proving Mohler correct, is this recent statement by Southern Baptist “traditionalists.” Roger Olson has rightly pinpointed this curiosity, in Article 2:

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.

Free will remains intact after the Fall? We are born without guilt? The specter of Pelagius is near. This is well-beyond anything an Arminian would say, and it demonstrates a sloppy theology that is far too common in “traditional” Baptist circles. There is nothing traditional about this, at least not for those who have broadly followed in the Augustine heritage (including Arminians). On the first point, if a person’s free will is not incapacitated, then how is it that “every person who is capable of moral action will sin,” as the previous paragraph states? If we are bound to sin, then we are not really free. On the second point, if we are not born guilty, it follows that infants (or the severely mentally handicap) do not need Christ’s atonement. If we are only guilty when we have “personally sinned,” then only at that point are we in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. To be clear, I do not think infants (or the mentally handicapped) are damned. I think they are saved, or at least I have good reasons to hope that they are saved, but they are saved by the atoning work of Christ because they (along with all humans) are born sinners and in need of salvation. The logic of this “traditionalist” statement is that some people are innocent and are, thereby, without any need of the Cross.

Olson is right: “For a long time I’ve been stating that most American Christians, including most Baptists, are semi-Pelagian, not Arminian and not merely non-Calvinist.”

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16 Responses to “Goodbye, Original Sin”

  1. Cal said

    The legacy of the American, DIY bootstraps gospel of Charles G. Finney!

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, the average Southern Baptist church is steeped in pietism (and its bedfellow, anti-intellectualism) — a decisive turn from the SBC’s Calvinist roots.

  2. Kevin,

    All very good points. The statement is an embarrassment to Southern Baptists, but it’s a mirror of the kind of theological anemia lurking underneath the surface of the most noisily trafficked theology in the SBC. As you’ve pointed out, the document is internally incoherent and nowhere among its denials do we find a semblance of the resurgent Reformed theology that makes the authors so nervous.

    The SBC needs some serious dogmatic reflection that gets beyond the mere assembling of sundry Bible verses. I fear that if we opened up the dogmatic framework that this statement presupposes, we would find much more than semi-Pelagianism (I think it’s possible we’d uncover some subordinationism, too). Not to mention an underdeveloped ecclesiology and all-too-liberal hermeneutical presuppositions!

    • Kevin Davis said

      Glad to hear from ya, Tyler. I was wondering what your take was, as a recent Southern Seminary alum. It is, indeed, an embarrassment.

      The statement was not surprising at all — it perfectly reflects the exact same set of assumptions that I was taught in my independent (fundamentalist) Baptist upbringing. The sad thing is that the SBC is supposed to represent a more sophisticated and (relatively) mainstream evangelical alternative to the independent/fundamentalist Baptists on their right. This goes to show that the Conservative Resurgence has only enabled the continuing dominance of this mindset in SBC churches. They could use the moderates right now, who (whatever their faults) would at least have challenged the surface-level biblicism, underdeveloped ecclesiology, subordinationism, etc.

      • Well as a recent Southern Seminary alum, it makes me long for a new day in the SBC theologically. Our churches need to start catechizing her children and expecting more from would-be members besides a short walk down an aisle. All of this necessitates some serious questions to be asked about our ecclesiology. What is the nature of the church? Since the late 18th Century, it’s been primarily evangelistic. This wasn’t always the predominant understanding of the church (not that evangelism is a bad thing, but an exclusionary focus on it has deleterious results). These kind of issues are where it all starts.

        Also, Mohler is posting a response to the document on his blog Wednesday.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Unfortunately, that new day for the SBC seems far, far away.

  3. Joel said

    “However, their classical Reformed doctrine of election is not really one of my concerns, despite significant modifications I would make.”

    Just curious, what would those modifications be?

    • Kevin Davis said

      Those modifications would be along the lines of Barth’s Christological reorientation of the doctrine. Christ is the object of election, an election which takes the form of rejection. Since all flesh (all mankind) is included in his Incarnation, all people are included in “the rejection of rejection in the rejection of Jesus Christ” (Barth). Thus, all people as such are not the object of election, but all people are elect in Jesus Christ.

      Of course, since I reject universalism, the mystery remains: why did I come to faith and others do not, since there is nothing in myself that I can point toward (my will, my heart, my general disposition) as a cause in my coming to faith. From my perspective, my awakening to faith was indeed “irresistible,” yet others do indeed resist and reject God (and, thereby, reject their election). Thus, there is an asymmetry between the path of election (conversion) and the path of rejection (reprobation) — an asymmetry which no Calvinist (whether classical or Barthian) can “resolve.”

  4. reyjacobs said

    As PROTESTANTS it is unbecoming to bow to church councils which have NO I REPEAT ABSOLUTELY NO authority in condemning anything. In order to believe a church council has the authority to condemn a particular belief for all churches for all time, you must believe in the authority of the Catholic Church. The Jerusalem Council is not an argument here, because that was the APOSTLES. No council consisting of sub-apostolic men has any ecumenical or universal authority over the church. So, the condemnation of Pelagianism and the later condemnation of semi-Pelagianism, have no validity to a real Protestant — only to one who bows the knee to Rome. Every position must be judges on the basis of what SCRIPTURE says not what Rome, some moron paedofile priests in a church council back in the 500s, some synod in the 1500s or any other fallible “authority” has to say. AMEN.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Nowhere did I even reference a church council. Regardless, every Protestant from the magisterial Reformation (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) recognizes that all post-apostolic councils can only bear relative authority — authority relative to Scripture, which is alone absolute and binding on the conscience of men. The condemnation of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism was affirmed and defended by Protestants on the basis of Scripture, not on the basis of conciliar authority. Yet, every Protestant rejoices when a conciliar statement, especially those from the early centuries of the church, are seen to conform to Scripture. No Protestant affirms a conciliar statement because it is conciliar or because it has ecclesial weight; rather, it must have Scriptural authority.

      Thus, Protestants have traditionally been happy to affirm the creeds of Nicea and Constantinople, as well as the Christological definitions of Chalcedon. Once again, the Reformers did a rigorous examination of these creeds and definitions, finding them in conformity with Scripture. Thus, they were believed to be true and authoritative, not because they were conciliar, but because they were Scriptural.

  5. reyjacobs said

    “On the second point, if we are not born guilty, it follows that infants (or the severely mentally handicap) do not need Christ’s atonement. If we are only guilty when we have “personally sinned,” then only at that point are we in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. To be clear, I do not think infants (or the mentally handicapped) are damned. I think they are saved, or at least I have good reasons to hope that they are saved, but they are saved by the atoning work of Christ because they (along with all humans) are born sinners and in need of salvation. The logic of this “traditionalist” statement is that some people are innocent and are, thereby, without any need of the Cross.”

    In their view because infants haven’t sinned yet they are “safe” and don’t need to be saved. In your view infants are all damned (initially) but Jesus saves them all (without faith). Honestly, which view causes more problems for Christianity? Yours obviously, since it makes them saved without faith. Theirs, which views innocent infants who’ve clealry never sinned as “safe” cannot cause ANY problems, but yours that makes it possible to be saved without faith WILL cause problems. Plus, since the Calvinists believe in both elect and non-elect infants, and your view is too close to theirs, you are wrong — your view leads to emotional abuse of parents who lose their infants in stillbirths and early diseases. And Jesus himself treats children as innocents “unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom.”

    In any case, neither you nor your vaunted Catholic councils, nor the Calvinist synod of Dort has any authority over the church universal. AMEN.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Infants are born in sin, guilt, and condemnation — from the moment of their conception. They are born with a fallen nature (the nature of a sinner), which is why every person will eventually sin “personally.” We sin because we are sinners, not the other way around. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. If this is the case, then everyone is born with this fallen nature and must be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. No one is innocent. Every one is in need of redemption.

      If an infant is saved upon death, then faith is a gift, a grace, just as it is with everyone who is saved. Their life after death is a life of faith in their Savior.

      Once again, I really don’t care about councils as such, and no Protestant believes that a council as such can bind our conscience. Only the authority of God through Scripture can bind our conscience. If a council proclaims a truth that is proclaimed in Scripture (or derived from Scripture) then that proclamation has the authority of Scripture, not the authority of the church.

      • reyjacobs said

        “Infants are born in sin, guilt, and condemnation — from the moment of their conception.”

        This is not found anywhere in Scripture. And don’t trot out Psalm 51:5 which properly translated (as in the KJV) says “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David is talking about his mother’s sin. Its always interesting how you guys who believe so strongly in total inherited depravity, however, always defend David’s mother as if she is sinless! “David’s mother couldn’t have possibly committed adultery!” Another interpretation to accept the words as written is to understand this as spoken by the unborn child in Bathsheba’s womb who clearly was conceived in adultery. David did just lie in verse 4 and say to God “against you only have I sinned” and so one interpretation makes verse 5 the unborn infant’s protest of basically saying “What? You didn’t sin against me?” by declaring how he was conceived in sin by his mother (because you can’t directly speak against the King so the mother has to get the blame). And then in verse 6 David saying “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” is interpreted as praising God for causing the infant to speak from the womb and rebuke David’s lie.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Psalm 51 would not have been the first text that came to mind; and your interpretation of that text is perfectly legitimate. Rather, I would build my case on the Adam-Christ typology of Romans 5 and elsewhere. Moreover, I would never hinge my argument on a group of proof-texts. With a doctrine like Original Sin, we have to correlate it to our other doctrinal loci: Christology, anthropology, atonement, justification, etc. So, for example, texts that deal with regeneration and the drawing of the Father will play a role in how we conceive of our state after the Fall and whether “guilt” or “innocence” are proper categories.

  6. Michael Heiser has done a series on Romans 5:12 – it’s very good, supporting the idea that guilt is not inherited.

    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/romans-512/

    He raises a good point – if we are already condemned from birth as sinners… how does Jesus get a pass?

    It’s still necessary for infants to be raised to new life through the resurrection – their salvation is still only effected through Christ.

  7. botwinick said

    Ben,

    I’m sorry, but the point about Jesus is simply pure nonsense. Jesus is more than just merely a man. That is the whole point. He was not a sinner at all. He was the second Adam who lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for our sin. He was God Himself. He didn’t need a pass because He had no sin in His life or in His nature. Surely, you see that…right?

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