Essential Goodness or Total Depravity?

Sin, not a word or a subject we are comfortable with – we’d rather talk about love and grace. We’d rather be affirmed than convicted. Patted on the backed rather than challenged and corrected.

Following my last post re Steve Chalke’s article in Christianity calling for a new understanding among Christians with regard to homosexual relationships – an article that received widespread attention from the press – I’ve found myself thinking more about the doctrine of sin.

The world has never liked it (that includes you and me).

Evolution has no place for it.

Psychology frequently has no place for it, or what follows – guilt (a religious idea).

And frequently there have been those in the church who have wanted to downplay it, or reclassify it in order to be accepted by those around them, and with the hope of reaching others – albeit mistaken.

It’s a doctrine that confronts and levels us all, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, advantaged or disadvantaged, the haves and the have-nots, etc.. The Bible doesn’t play with words, or feelings, it tells us ‘we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory,’ and that we sin because we are fallen – that there is a ‘natural’ leaning in all of us to do what is wrong, something that is evidenced in one of the first words a child utters: ‘No!’ and said with emphasis! Something that I’ve observed you never have to teach a child to say, in fact parents spend their lives attempting to teach their children what is right and providing discipline and correction when the line is crossed – you never have to teach them to do wrong, they do it!

One of the problems with the current debate is the focussing on one particular sin as if it has a category all of its own, to the neglect of other sins and the thing ‘sin’ in particular.

Some Christians talk of it in terms of Total Depravity, a strange couple of words perhaps to modern ears, words which seemingly imply that someone has ‘lost it’, and capable of no good at all. In reaction to this, some theologians and preachers have attempted to rework things and talk of the ‘essential goodness’ of humanity – having observed that we are not all that bad, that some people who are not Christians have done some very good things.

The problem is that isn’t where the Bible goes, quite the opposite. Yes we are capable of some good things, but the Bible makes it clear that even the good that we are capable of is no more than filthy rags in God’s sight – they may benefit others, but they have no merit with him. Sin is ingrained, and contaminates everything in such a way as to condemn us all.

If we undermine the doctrine of sin, we undermine the very Gospel itself, and the existence of the church and it’s mission is at stake – such liberal theology has a history of emptying churches, not filling them.

Perhaps we all need to go back to the Bible and rediscover exactly what it has to say.

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