Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Creation before the fall...

The monk Pelagius (c. 360 - c. 420 AD) denied the doctrine of original sin, and this upset a lot of people who were more fond of the Augustinian position, which states (approximately) that humankind is inherently evil. Pelagius was deemed a heretic by the Synod of Carthage, and many people at the time felt that justice had been served. After all, how dare this anyone proclaim that human beings are inherently good?!

I'm not too sure about the finer points of Pelagian doctrine, but I'm pretty sure that he may have presented something worth considering. People are very good at raising the issue of original sin, and they have a history filled with hundreds of bloody wars, brutal killings and heartless cruelties to back them up. But what about the good stuff? Surely God pronounced his creation good before the fall. Surely we are not all totally depraved? 

Chesterton writes that what is wrong with this world is that we do not ask what is right. And I think this is an invaluable insight into this issue: it's easy to negate the negative, but not so easy (or natural) to affirm the positive. I know enough moral atheists to be able to tell you that even the godless are capable of being godly. I know enough fallen people to know that even the fallen are reflective of the fact that they were created good. In the end, I have no problem with the doctrine of original sin. But I do have problem with the denial of the doctrine of original good. 

1 comment:

  1. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen 6:5)

    One of the clearest statements of the state of humanity after the Fall. Pelagius effectively denied this, because he upheld human autonomy and total freedom of the human will while denying the sovereignty of God and the need for grace. He taught that human free will was completely without bias, because he maintained that to claim that after the Fall humans are inclined to sin (as the Bible teaches) would make God unrighteous. He went further to say that "since perfection is possible for humanity, it is obligatory". His idea of grace was that through reason and the will humans could choose to be perfectly sinless; thus, his concept of justification was based solely on merit.

    Creation was indeed good before the Fall, and had perfect free will. The idea of "original sin" does not mean that people were sinful before the Fall; rather, it means that we are all born sinful, with the inclination to sin: we sin because we are sinful, rather than being sinful because we sin. And "total depravity" doesn't mean that we are as depraved as we could possibly be; rather, it means that we are totally helpless in our depravity: there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from our sinfulness. Thank God that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us".

    A good resource on historical theology is Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An introduction 4th ed. (Blackwell, 2007)