Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news,and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Create an Account

Save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

We think you'll enjoy these articles:

Sexuality

Propaganda disguised as Sex Education

In 2009 Dr. Miriam Grossman (a medical doctor) released a book that explains the problems and agenda of the modern sex education movement: You're Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Ed and How They Harm Your Child. Though it is an American book, it provides a lot of material that is helpful for people in other English-speaking countries. Grossman explains the underlying motivation behind many school sex education programs, and explains how this motivation leads to the deliberate distortion of sexuality information given to students. The organizations and their agenda First of all, it’s very important to know about the main organizations involved in promoting sex education. Many of us have heard of Planned Parenthood, the US’s biggest abortion provider. Another key organization is the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Both Planned Parenthood and SIECUS are motivated by anti-Christian ideals. Grossman writes,

These organizations are still animated by the philosophies of the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey – whose work has been debunked – the birth control and eugenics advocate Margaret Sanger, the feminist Gloria Steinem, and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. These twentieth-century crusaders were passionate about social change, not health. Their goal was cultural revolution, not the eradication of disease.

Because of the cultural aspirations motivating these organizations, the materials that are produced for sex education classes are not just about the nuts-and-bolts of human biology. They are deliberately designed to encourage behaviors that are condemned by traditional Western morality. As Grossman puts it,

Sex education is about as neutral as a catechism class. And like a catechism, the “information” and “guidance” offered is designed to inculcate particular beliefs in young people.

In short, “Sex education is not about health – it’s a social movement, a vehicle for changing the world.” [Editor's note: that is made even more apparent with SIECUS' recent rebrand – they now want to be known as "Sex Ed for Social Change."] Alfred Kinsey Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the infamous sexologist mentioned by Grossman, was a prominent American researcher of the 1940s and 1950s. He produced groundbreaking studies on the sexual behavior of men and women in the United States. These studies claimed to demonstrate that the vast majority of people engaged in some form of perverse sexuality, such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality and more. On the basis of his studies, and the supposed normalcy of these behaviors, massive cultural and legislative changes were undertaken in Western countries. These changes were justified by Kinsey’s science. But there was a big problem. Kinsey’s so-called “science” wasn’t science at all. His research was deliberately skewed to generate results that would justify his left-wing social beliefs. Kinsey wanted to overthrow traditional morality, so he conducted his “research” in such a fashion as to produce results he could use to undermine conventional views about sexuality. Kinsey’s fraud didn’t get properly exposed until the 1980s when Dr. Judith Reisman (currently at Liberty University School of Law) carefully scrutinized what Kinsey had done and published her results. Unfortunately, outside of conservative circles, Dr. Reisman’s research has not been widely disseminated. She deserves a Medal of Honor or something like it. Anyway, it’s important to realize, as Grossman points out, “In the upside down world of sex education, the ideology of Alfred Kinsey has been enshrined.” SIECUS The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) was founded in 1964 by Mary Calderone, who had been a director of Planned Parenthood. Grossman writes that the focus of Calderone’s

newly launched organization, which was, by the way, founded with seed money from Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame, was not to treat or prevent disease. Like Kinsey, she was crusading for social reform. Her book for parents reads like a primer for his views, and quite a few Kinsey disciples had eminent positions with SIECUS

Hefner subsequently provided additional funding as well. That is to say, SIECUS received financial support from the sale of pornography. In short, much of the impetus for modern sex education in public schools is provided by organizations with a clear left-wing ideological agenda. Dr. Grossman’s experience For twelve years Grossman was a student counselor at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). She dealt with hundreds of students in their late teens and early twenties who had contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD). She found that they had received sex education at school, but had not been warned about the harmful consequences that were likely to result from sexual activity. Grossman is not opposed to sex education as such. She is opposed to ideologically-driven sex education that deliberately withholds information from students in order to advance a political and cultural agenda. Pheromones and oxytocin Grossman is particularly sympathetic towards the numerous young ladies she counseled who have been harmed by premarital sexual activity. Recent medical research has helped to establish that women are especially influenced by male pheromones (a pheromone is a chemical produced by one person that can be perceived by other people) and the hormone oxytocin. Male pheromones “have psychological effects on women, like increased attention and a feeling of well-being.” Oxytocin, known as “the cuddle hormone,” is released in women who have physical contact with a man. Among other things, oxytocin promotes social bonding, leading (potentially, at least) to a certain degree of attachment to the man. The gist of all this is that young women who engage in premarital sex are likely to develop emotional attachments to their partners that can potentially cause intense emotional pain. Grossman believes this information should be shared during sex education so that girls can be forewarned about the likely emotional stress they will face from sexual activity. At this point, however, “These biological truths are omitted by the sex-ed industry because they fly in the face of the ideology animating their very existence.” Another important scientific finding involves the development of the cervix. Before a girl turns twenty, a region of her cervix called the “transformation zone” has a covering of cells that is only one layer thick. As she ages, the covering becomes 30 to 40 cell layers thick. But until then, there is little protection from viruses or bacteria. In other words, teenage girls are especially vulnerable to STDs, much more so than boys. Grossman writes,

Based on this finding alone – something gynecologists and pediatricians have known for at least twenty years, girls should be advised to delay sexual behavior. Yes, delay sexual behavior.

Anal sex Another area where sex educators fail to properly inform children has to do with the dangers of anal sex. These educators seem to encourage students to engage in any form of sexual behavior they desire (as long as the partner is willing), and anal sex is considered to be one of the legitimate behaviors to explore. Grossman points out that there is an inevitable “ick factor” in any discussion of anal sex. Anal sex inevitably and unavoidably involves contact with feces. However, she quotes a prominent sex education website as claiming that “negative attitudes about anal sex” sometimes result from a “disgust about feces” but “more of it is often based in homophobia and heteronormativity.” In this view, since anal sex is a common behavior of homosexuals, people who think it is gross are likely to be homophobes. Since homosexuality is good, anal sex must be good too! From a Christian perspective, this is obviously complete rubbish. Because of the strong support for homosexuality among sex educators, there is unwillingness among them to tell the truth about anal sex. Grossman has no such reservations and points out that

“feces are filled with dangerous pathogens: salmonella, shigella, amoeba, hepatitis A, B, and C, giardia, campylobacter, and others. These organisms and others can be transmitted during anal sex or oral-anal contact.”

From a health perspective, anal sex is dangerous (not to mention gross and disgusting). Grossman makes an appropriate biological conclusion: “Unlike the vagina, nature put a tight sphincter at the entrance of the anus. It’s there for a reason: Keep out!” Sexually Transmitted Diseases Another aspect that is improperly taught has to do with STDs. Sex educators do discuss STDs and how to prevent them. The emphasis is on how to avoid STDs, and failing that, how to get treatment. But Grossman says sex education curriculum does not discuss the emotional consequences of getting an STD. Many people who contract an STD get very distressed as a result of their diagnosis. But this is of little concern in sex education. Grossman writes,

Educators often mention the hardships of living in a sexist and homophobic society, but rarely describe how devastating it is to discover blisters “down there,” to worry about cervical cancer, and to learn that these viruses might stick around – for a long, long time.

All STDs are completely avoidable. Anyone who delays sexual behavior and finds a mate who has also waited will be free from STDs as long as they are faithful to each other. In other words, obeying the Bible in this area of life results in the avoidance of all STDs. Grossman argues that all of the negative effects of STDs should be taught. But this is not the focus of the sex educators or their websites:

Instead of sounding an alarm about health risks – the association of oral sex with cancer of the tonsils, for example, or the epidemics of HPV and syphilis among gay men – kids get a hefty dose of leftist indoctrination and recruitment. On these websites, the enemy is not genital infections; it’s our oppressive, heterosexist society.

Conclusion The controversies over sex education in North America will continue. This is all part of the ongoing culture war. Dr. Miriam Grossman has done parents a huge favor by analyzing the materials produced by the sex education movement and comparing them with modern medical knowledge. From a modern medical perspective (i.e., a genuine scientific perspective), the best thing for people is to save themselves for marriage and then remain faithful to their spouse. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does, because that’s what the Bible teaches. The science clearly demonstrates that monogamous heterosexuality is the healthiest sexuality for human beings. But as Grossman notes, that’s “information our daughters and sons never hear, because it challenges the institutionalized ideology and – gasp – confirms traditional values and teachings.”

A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue.

Parenting

Ignore your inner defense attorney!

My friend Paul Tripp writes that becoming our own defense attorney is a dangerous and destructive practice.  In less formal language Paul is warning about becoming an excuse maker.  These are the words of a defense attorney in action:

• “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be angry.” • “I guess I’m just tired.” • “He was mean to me.” • “If you were just a little nicer, it would be a lot easier.” • “Being inside because of the weather makes me cranky.” • “It wasn’t my fault, I’m just not feeling well.”

Whether these words come from you or your children they are the words of excuse making, defending ourselves from our own shortcomings and sins. Excuse making keeps us from trusting God, erodes relationships and weakens our character and faith. The default mode for the excuse maker is to shift blame instead of looking to God in repentance. Excuse making is evidence of regret over sins. Excuse making is a way to conceal sin. The Holy Spirit warns against concealing sin in Proverbs 28:13: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Here is alternate translation from respected commentator and scholar Bruce Waltke: The one who conceals his transgressions will not succeed but the one who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy. The message is clear and profound: Repentance brings hope. Excuses result in frustration and blame-shifting. The flesh acts as our defense attorney by continually offering a stream of excuses so that we can avoid addressing and confessing our sin. This leads to disaster. Waltke makes this insightful observation about concealing sin: People may smash their consciences to avoid humbling themselves, but they cannot avoid the reality that God knows and will punish sin. How much better to give him glory by acknowledging this and to experience his mercy. Concealing sins — making excuses — destroys trust in God. But repentance yields mercy and the blessing of God. There is no freedom in making excuses, only regret and frustration. However, if repentance is your first response you can be confident of God’s mercy. You don’t have to look for an excuse. You know that your are forgiven and can trust God for help to change. Repentance is the path of freedom. Here is a definition of repentance you can teach your children: “changing my mind and turning around to do the right thing.” Here is a prayer for repentance that will be a blessing to you and your children: God, thank you for making repentance possible by sending Jesus to live and die in my place. Thank you that my sin doesn’t separate me from your love. But still, sometimes it is hard to repent, especially when I am stubborn and angry and I just want my own way. Please give me a repentant heart and help me to love you more. In Jesus name, Amen. Don’t listen to your inner defense attorney! Embrace repentance.

Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.

Current Issue, Magazine

Jan/Feb 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: The great moon hoax of 1935 / "Seven Wondrous Words" book excerpt / Why we should be life-long learners / Complementarianism is not misogynistic / This isn't your parents' Katy Keene...or Archie Andrews / "The Gospel comes with a house key" review / The case for biblically-responsible investing / Canada has no "right to abortion" / When the Word of God is not preached / Christian fantasy fiction for teens and adults / What you should know to survive and thrive in your secular science class / Four films to see for free online / I started my business for the wrong reasons / and much more...

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF

Church history, Theology

Original Sin: Luther’s other life-changing doctrine

Every Reformation Day we remember how God used Luther to teach the Church that we are justified by faith alone, not by what we do. But often overlooked is how God used Luther to revive another forgotten, life-changing, doctrine. 

****

Martin Luther is more than another dusty historical figure – he has become a symbol of the Reformation itself. His legend is vivid enough to obscure the details of the actual man and the world in which he lived. The legend tells us the story of the tight way his life mirrored his theology, in his journey from the bondage of doubt to freedom in Christ. Yet this is not the only legend told – a man as famous as Luther collects negative portrayals as well as positive ones. Not all Roman Catholics would see Luther as a man to celebrate.1 In fact, Martin Luther has been characterized as a coarse man, a divisive man – worse than that, a man who allowed his own personal struggles with his faith to split the church. He was offered every comfort in the church he was raised in. His priest confessor grew tired of listening to the litany of sins he had committed, sins so minor they were hardly worth the breath it took to confess them.2 Why couldn’t Luther find comfort in his faith? It is said of him, that surely he must have been of a depressive temperament, or mentally unstable.3 Surely he was a peculiar man, an unusual man, and not a man others should've followed. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a great shock to anyone that a Roman Catholic might disparage Martin Luther as being unhealthily obsessed with sin, even as a Protestant might respect him as a great mind. Yet what we are after in this article is an honest evaluation of the life and thinking of this pivotal figure who has had such an enormous impact on Christianity. So this is the necessary question:was Luther unhealthily obsessed with his defects, or was this an important piece in the formulation of his theology? Awareness of the full horror of our sinful inclinations Luther’s theology is well-known: justification by faith alone. But to focus on justification by faith alone is to miss the rest of the story. It misses Luther's awful awareness of sin, and his dawning realization that sin was not limited to his conscious actions but was linked to the very nature of who he was. In fact, Luther suffered because he was aware not only of his actualsin, but also his sinful nature. And the comfort his church offered him all the years he struggled as a monk was rooted in a very different view of humanity's original sin, a view that did not provide him with the strategies to address his own sinful nature as the fountain of his sinful impulses. This is not a mere scholastic discussion. Not only does one’s opinion of Martin Luther as a human being affect the way one views the Reformation, but it also affects the way one approaches anyone who experiences distress, as Luther did, over their sinful inclinations. Luther’s understanding of his sinful nature, can give comfort to those who are also rightly realizing the full horror of the sinful inclinations running through their every action. This is an important point. Understanding the sinfulness of our nature is necessary if we’re going to give true comfort to believers who produce sin continually. To neglect to define human nature as actively inclined to sin, even after conversion, leads to spiritual distress. Luther’s life illustrates this, and Reformed theology further confirms this. Consequently, it is necessary to first look at the doctrine of original sin as the Roman Catholic Church understood it, and then how Luther differed and how it affected his life. A sinful nature or an ungoverned one? Did Roman Catholics in Luther’s time, then, not think humans had a sinful nature? It is perhaps better to say they did not talk in terms of a sinful nature at all. Theologians defined original sin as a lackof a special gift God had granted at creation. This special gift, which is often called “original justice” in their writings, enabled man to conform his will to God. And as a result of original justice, man’s will could be rightly directed towards God. Then, when man fell, this special gift was removed, and therefore man in his nature was wounded and no longer directed to God.4 Man’spassions became unleashed as a result of losing original justice in the Fall, and these passions were no longer rightly directed by man’s will and reason. This ungoverned desire or passion was not in itself regarded as sinful unless it resulted in an actual sinful action. Therefore there did remain in man the “tinder of sin” or “concupiscence,” from which actual sins sprung, but which was not sin itself.5 Concupiscenceis not a replacement for the Reformed understanding of man’s sinful nature, but rather a separate concept, separated from man’s will and reason, and not something active in every part of a man. This illustrates that medieval theology had quite a different formulation of the nature of man, and used these divisions to explain original sin in a very different way than later Protestant theology. This doctrine had developed throughout the Middle Ages, with theologians such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas increasingly defining original sin as a lack of something, rather than an active inclination against God, as Augustine had.6 In one sense their move in this direction makes sense, because to define original sin as a lack and a removal of a special gift appears to preserve the justice of God. If God only took back what had never been essential to man’s nature, God is not unjust because he may grant or not grant gifts as he wishes. A division of the nature of man was one way to address this, and medieval theology was further influenced by philosophical traditions of the time.7 This conception of original sin was carried over by the Nominalist theologians that Luther reacted most strongly against. In this school of thought, God adapted his righteous requirements to mercifully accept the very best acts man could do, and that God would, in return, give grace to man if man did his very best.8 This has obvious implications for justification, but it affects original sin as well, as it teaches that man, after the fall, is still able to detest sin and seek God.9 It was asserted that man in his natural powers could achieve selfless love out of his own will, and God would graciously respond to this.10 This theology can only result from a conception of original sin as a lackof something, rather than an activeinclination to rebel against God. Luther’s struggle When expressed this way, the division between the usual Protestant and Roman Catholic view of Luther becomes clearer. Our opinion of Luther might hinge on the nature of the sinful inclinations Luther detected in himself. If God did nothold Luther guilty for his concupiscence, all of Luther’s fellow priests were right to be exasperated by his continual struggle with his worry over it, and Roman Catholics today are right to dismiss Luther’s obsession as anxious mental instability. But if he truly stood condemned before the face of God, as he felt he was, then he was justified in his terror and his struggle to find a source of comfort. As a result, the Reformation that resulted from his shift in theology was justified, and more than justified– it was necessary! Luther suffered deeply as he grew more and more aware of the sea of sinful inclinations inside him. He would confess his sins daily – for as long as six hours – searching his memory and analyzing his every motive to be sure he had not missed a single one. While his priest grew exasperated with listening, Luther grew more and more frightened that he could go on thinking of new sins even after six hours. Roland H. Bainton underscores this in his biography of Luther, Here I Stand:

“There is, according to Luther, something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt. The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses. Luther had come to perceive that the entire man is in need of forgiveness.”11

This realization plunged Luther into terror. Philip Watson describes Luther’s state like this:

“The scholastic theologians, it is true, taught that concupiscentiawas not in itself to be regarded as sin… But this again occasioned questionings and apprehension in Luther’s mind. Had his will not consented? … Was he really in a state of grace – for he could perceive no evidence of its effective working in him?”12

The comfort offered by his priests – that God was a merciful God – did little to alleviate this burden. To Luther, this kind of mercy diminished God’s righteousness, and he refused to conceive of God’s justice in such human terms.13 But was Luther’s problem his own sinful inability to accept mercy, or was there a flaw in his theology that needed to be rectified? Luther came to believe there was a flaw in his theology, namely, that every action a person takes, even those which outwardly appear to be good ones, are shot through with sin. One could easily conclude Luther’s conscience was overly sensitive, and that he suffered for nothing.14 It might even be comforting to conclude Luther could not have been in his right mind to have been so bothered by how he fell short of God’s standards. Everyone falls short, after all, and it is comforting to assume God will overlook small shortcomings. And Luther was a monk – he’d devoted everything to being a good one. But it is better to conclude that Luther had the valuable ability not to take his sins lightly. Perhaps his sensitive conscience was necessary to correctly depict a God who doesn’t make compromises with sin. Luther himself mused in this way later in his life.15 Luther experienced intense distress, and part of his distress was a direct result of the way theology was framed at the time. Defining original sin as a loss rather than an active inclination did not give him a conception that equipped him to understand the sinful inclinations he could see in himself. When he felt the desire to curse God, the only way he could fit it into the theology he knew at the time was in a way that damned him. If he truly was a believer he should be moving towards a deeper understanding of God, but despite all his spiritual acts he never felt his sinful impulses lessen. He knew what was inside him was an active inclination. The sins he confessed constantly were active rebellion, an active rebellion against God. And he needed a theology that could incorporate this rebellious inclination that he could not deny was in himself, and yet still grant him the comfort of being saved. Luther’s freedom began when he, finally, not only faced the reality of his depravity, but also grasped that Christ’s sacrifice had the power to atone for not only his actual sins but also his sinful nature. “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise.”16 It was only after this realization that he was freed from his constant inner reflection to be able to go out into the world and actually, by the grace of God, to change it. Luther’s concept of original sin When it comes to original sin it is clear that Luther objected to the church’s doctrine of original sin on two points: first, that natural man can take even a step towards loving God, or make any motion that God could condescend to respond to with grace; second, that even after conversion man still possesses sinful desires that are present even in outwardly good works. Luther never systematically pulls all of his theological ideas together in one work, but he discusses original sin throughout his writings. In particular, his early lectures on Romans are crucial in the development of his ideas on original sin because in connection with Romans he spends a lengthy amount of time considering this doctrine.17 Luther argues on the basis of Romans that original sin was not just a lack of a quality in the will or a lack of light in the mind, but a total lack of uprightness and power of everything in body and soul – a complete inclination to evil.18 The scholastic trend Luther discerned was an attempt to replace divine grace with light of human reason.19 Luther argues, in response, that using human reason to discern what is good will only define the best things according to humans, not God. “[W]e should call ‘natural’ the fact that we are in sin and death and that we desire, understand, and long for things that are corrupt and evil,” Luther states in another one of his works.  He then insists, “Who does not see the contradiction between the statement that the natural powers are perfect, and the statement that nature is corrupted by sin?”20 Human nature will result in doing “good things in an evilway.” Good things performed by natural capacity are good in an evil way, performed not for service of God but in service of the creature.21 In this work on Romans, Luther also works out the sinfulness of believers. One of the reasons Luther was so radical is related to his second assertion, that an active sinful nature still operates in a believer, and that therefore a person can be simultaneously saved and a sinner. Yet his lectures on Romans should utterly destroy any notion that Luther preached righteousness through faith alone in order to dispense with good works: Luther argues that a sinner has the beginning of righteousness and continues to seek more and more of it. In other words, while a man knows he is a sinner and knows every moment that he is entirely incapable of doing anything good, he continues to follow the will of God in his life. He continues to walk the path God has set out, because God’s grace has shown him the first step. Every intentional step a sinner takes is an intentional movement from sin to righteousness.22 Luther was convinced that defining original sin in terms of privation (or lack) alone was a reductionist approach and did not express the real severity of the Adam’s sin. He argued sin is not a localized part but in the whole person, as well as a positive reality and not privation.23 This doctrine needs to be intimately connected with salvation – Christ is the second Adam, and just as the penalty in Adam leads to condemnation, believers receive the gift of grace through Christ to avoid condemnation.24  Roman Catholic response It is clear Luther’s view of original sin was one of part of his theology that Rome objected to. In 1545 the Roman Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent specifically to deal with the theology of Luther and other Reformers. The Council’s decrees state:

“This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin. But if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him be anathema.”25

Here the Council declares that even when Paul laments that he is inclined to actively commit sin, he is not talking about something that is sin in and of itself. Due to conflicting streams of Roman Catholic thought on original sin at the time, the definition of original sin by this council is perhaps more vague than it could have been, and yet it still rejects any formulation of original sin that could fall in line with Luther.26 It is defined as a loss (of justice and holiness), and underscores that the origin and possible effect of concupiscence is sin, while concupiscence itself does not incur guilt – under this definition it is then possible for believers to do good works free of sinful inclinations. More clarity on the decrees of the Council of Trent is provided in TheCouncil of Trent: Catechism for Parish Priests, written soon after the Council of Trent ended. This catechism continues to define concupiscence as the “fuel of sin” and not sin itself.27 It confirms that when concupiscence is used to refer to the remains of sin after baptism, it is not conceiving of concupiscence as identical to the Reformed conception of the sinful nature. It is interesting to note is how concupiscence is defined as the remains of sin after baptism (the “fuel of sin” or the “tinder of sin”), and yet in this Catechism it is also defined as merely a desire for something one doesn’t have. Certainly a desire for warmth when one is cold should not be considered a sin, but can this desire be thought of as a remainder after original sin is removed? It seems more likely that the term concupiscence can be used in two ways, first as a more benign term which refers to desire, and then as a more negative term referring to the unbridled desires that man loses control over as a result of his wounded nature. The Reformed definition of sinful nature would not be a loss of control over human desires, but rather the active sinful bend in every human desire. And this parish priest catechism goes on to highlight the issues with understanding concupiscence in this way, when it goes on to define sinful concupiscence as concupiscence that conflicts with spirit and reason. The Reformed interpretation would emphasize that spirit and reason are bent away from God as well, and so a conflict between desire, spirit and reason would be meaningless as a barometer of sinfulness before God. The medieval Roman Catholic interpretations of original sin flow out of understandable concerns – concerns to preserve the voluntary nature of original sin, and to prevent an overly deterministic understanding of sin. There is an impulse to encourage believers to do good works, and fight against their actual sin. However, the solution runs up against obvious problems. If the radical nature of sin is diminished, and man’s nature is affected by the fall only by the loss of something, any active rebellious tendencies are left without an explanation. Our Comfort How, then, should original sin be defined? As with any doctrine, there are many different ideas about it. But a definition of original sin needs to be practical, and speak directly to the individual believer who sees in themselves a sin-streaked nature. This is why the Reformers formulated confessions to be used in the church, and these define sin clearly. First, the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes man is unable to do good because he is by nature inclined to hate God and his neighbour. This active turning away from God is at the heart of both our sinful nature and every actual sin.28 The Belgic Confession also devotes an article to the doctrine of original sin, and emphasizes in the same way that man is a slave to sin.29 Original sin, according to the Belgic Confession, corrupts the entire nature of man:

“As a root it produces in man all sorts of sin. It is, therefore, so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn the human race. It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”30

This formulation does a few things. It insists original sin corrupts the entire nature of man, not just one part of it. And it does not diminish the radical nature of human nature’s corruption. The Belgic Confession uses as scriptural evidence not just Paul’s well-known passage about doing the sin he does not want to do, but also Romans 5:12, which declares through Adam all were made sinners. Adam’s sin resulted in more than just a potential from which true sin could spring, rather it produced real sinners. This is necessary to grasp, and the various explanations of original sin must hold onto this central concept. Therefore in the Belgic Confession humans did not just merely lose something because of original sin, just as Luther insisted man did not just merely lose some quality in the will or light in the mind. “For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness,” the Belgic Confession agrees. Scripture supports this by showing the corruption of the will and of every part of man: the heart of man is polluted, the mind of man is set on sin, and the desire of man is contrary to God.31 Humans of themselves are by nature rebellious and always turned away from God – “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The Belgic Confession insists the effects of sin are so radical and so widespread, especially in man prior to conversion, that it is impossible to imagine how man can take even a step towards a right relationship with God again. And it underscores Luther’s understanding that even in a believer this sinful nature will continue to produce sin, as it states:

“the awareness of this corruption may make [believers] groan as they eagerly wait to be delivered from this body of death.”

Therefore our confessions present to us a necessary formulation of the biblical passages on original sin – and, in addition, it provide unspeakable comfort. See, for example, the declaration in the Belgic Confession:

“We believe that, when He saw that man had thus plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, our gracious God in His marvellous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him.”32

This is utterly realistic about humanity. It does not shy away from the worst of our nature. Yet it magnifies God. God does not meet us halfway – God goes farther and actually saves those who are actively running away. In conclusion, this confession – and this entire doctrine of original sin – directly reassures those who are distressed because they are real sinners with active rebellious inclinations against God. Just as Luther looked at himself and despaired at his progress toward loving God, unable to leave behind sin and unable to make progress in ridding himself of his sinful nature, so too many believers may look at themselves in discouragement. In order to move on from despair, Luther needed to both acknowledge the bend of his own nature away from God – radically affecting every ounce of him – and to accept this inclination as true sin. Then he could fully grasp the even greater length God reaches, and find the assurance of astonishing forgiveness in Christ. Christ’s blood covers the guilt of our sinful nature just as much as it covers actual sins. Just as in Adam man fell so fully, so man was so united with Christ as to be absolutely saved. And believers today can follow in this comfort. They no longer need to be paralyzed by an inward focus on the depth of their sin, but they can move on from the depth of their sin to look outward to Christ. And this truly frees a believer to live and act. End notes 1 This is not to deny many Roman Catholics do, in fact, view Luther positively despite his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church. 2 “Look here,” said [Luther’s confessor, Johann von Staupitz], “if you expected Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—parricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes.” Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, (New York, Abingdon Press, 1950), 54. 3 For examples of modern speculations on Luther’s mental state, including diagnoses of scrupulosity, see http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1, and http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/, for two examples. Accessed November 6, 2017. This Roman Catholic view of Luther stems from writings such as the above, as well as personal interaction with individual Roman Catholics. It is important to note no one view of Luther is unanimous. 4 George Vandervelde,Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1975), 30. 5 In medieval theology, the Fall did result in original sin; however, the guilt and condemnation of original sin is removed by God in his grace in baptism. The doctrine of original sin is intimately connected with the doctrine of baptism, however to explore the meaning of the sacrament of baptism in depth is beyond the scope of this paper. According to Roman Catholic theology, baptism remits original sin. 6 There were various theological strains on the doctrine of original sin within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, with different scholars following Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic formulations of the doctrine. There was not one defined, dominant view. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 27, 28. 7 Jairzinho Lopes Pereira attributes Augustine’s lack of influence among the Scholastics (those Luther opposed) to Aristotelian philosophical influence. Jairzinho Lopes Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner(Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 267. 8 Ibid., 269-270. Gabriel Biel, who spoke of a ‘pactum’ between God and humans, where God promises to reward with grace those who do their best, not because humans deserve grace, but because God is merciful. Luther wrote against this, and others in the Nominalist school of thought. 9 Ibid., 275. 10 Another theologian Luther was likely reacting against was Duns Scotus: see Philip Watson’s description of Luther’s interaction with Scotus’ theology. Philip Watson, Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 50. 11 Bainton, Here I stand, 55. In Luther’s work on Psalm 51 he also describes his struggle to understand the doctrine of original sin, and his conviction that natural man could not will the good. He lectured on the Psalms early in his career, prior to lecturing on Romans. From this passage, it is not clear whether he finds much comfort in this conception of man’s sinful inclinations. He does not move on to justification in his explanation, but rather asserts an explanation of original sin is a mystery. A correct understanding of original sin needs to be tied to salvation in Christ to bring comfort. See “Psalm 51,” in Selected Psalms 1(ed. Jaroslav Pelikan; trans. Jaroslav Pelikan; vol. 12 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 351. 12 Watson, Let God be God, 16. 13 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 322n.3. 14 Bainton goes on to address the question of Luther’s mental state, admitting many aspects of Luther’s state at the time do compare with mental disturbances. However, he maintains, Luther’s mental struggle never affected his tremendous work output. In addition, the issues Luther struggled with were real issues that existed in the religion he lived and worked with, and more than that, he did make progress through his struggles to clarify what religious solutions actually addressed his struggles and which were unhelpful. Later, Bainton shows Luther’s mentor, Staupitz, must have considered Luther fundamentally sound despite his exasperation with Luther’s inability to find comfort, because Staupitz told Luther he should assume the chair of the Bible at the university. Despite all Luther’s struggles, he was entrusted with teaching others, and Staupitz appeared to have confidence that by teaching the source of their religion, Luther would learn about what help the Bible offered him in his struggles. Bainton, Here I Stand, 56, 60. 15 Ibid., 361. Throughout his life Luther eventually worked out a technique for dealing with his spiritual depression. One important part was that he came to believe that sensitive believers could, by going through such struggles, understand their beliefs in a deeper way. Sensitive believers could then share these beliefs with less sensitive believers in a way that leads them to agree with the truth of it. 16 Bainton, Here I Stand,65. 17 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 28, 31. 18 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia(ed. Hilton C. Oswald; trans. Jacob A. O. Preus; vol. 25 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 299. 19 In Luther’s work on Psalm 51, he also describes being taught that man had only lost grace and that if man followed the light of his nature he would be given grace. Luther rejects this formulation. See Luther, “Psalm 51,” 351. 20 Ibid., 351. 21 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 338-339. 22 Luther, Lectures on Romans,260. 23 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 331-332. 24 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 335. 25 Council of Trent, Session 5, June 17, 1546, Decree concerning original sin, in The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. Rev. H. J. Schroeder (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), 27-28. 26 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: 1949), 258, http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf Vandervelde argues that the reason the Council of Trent was somewhat vague in its definition was that there were participants from Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic traditions. They agreed on which errors to combat, but less so on what ideas to defend (p 33).  It is interesting to note one of the participants at the Council of Trent, Seripando (who was an Augustinian), opposed defining concupiscence as “a morally neutral human drive” instead of a “morally qualified inclination to evil.” However, he was not successful. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 40. 27 Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982) 183-184, 469-470. 28 “The Heidelberg Catechism,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 309. 29 “Belgic Confession,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 3:398-400. Hereafter I will cite the Belgic Confession in the form BC Article 14 with the volume and page number of Schaff following in brackets, e.g., BC Article 14 (3:398-400). 30 BC Article 15 (3:400-401). 31 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 258, as well as Jer 17: 9, Rom 8: 7, Gal 5: 24. 32 BC Article 17 (3:402). Bibliography Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York, Abingdon Press, 1950. Beattie, Trent. http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1. Accessed November 6, 2017. “Belgic Confession.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:383-436. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: 1949. PDF. http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf. Catechism of the Council of Trent. Translated by John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982. “Heidelberg Catechism.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:307-355. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia. Edited by Hilton C. Oswald. Translated by Jacob A. O. Preus. Vol. 25 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972. Luther, Martin. “Psalm 51.” Pages 301-410 in Selected Psalms 1. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Translated by Jaroslav Pelikan. Vol. 12 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955. Miller, Leila. http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/. Accessed November 6, 2017. Pereira, Jairzinho Lopes.  Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner. Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013. Trent, Council of. Decree concerning original sin. Session 4, June 15, 1546. In The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, 21-28. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978. Vandervelde, George.  Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1975. Watson, Philip.  Let God be God:  An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia : Muhlenberg Press, 1948.

The painting is Ferdinand Pauwels' (1830–1904) "Luther discovers the bible."

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Ed Welch’s “Blame it on the Brain?”

Blame it on the Brain?: Distinguishing chemical imbalances, brain disorders, and disobedience
by Edward T. Welch
1998, 208 pages

A boy won’t sit still so the doctor wants to put him on Ritalin. An aging grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, is starting to make inappropriate comments to his grandchildren. A mother is depressed and asks her minister what he thinks about anti-depressants. These days we’re regular confronted with “brain issues” but few of us feel equipped as to what God thinks on these matters.

Author Ed Welch notes that while going to the Bible would be the natural thing for us to do with most other matters, it might strike Christians as an odd approach in this case. After all, what does the Bible have to say about our brains? Welch answers that question by noting that God made us, so He knows what we are really like. And what God reveals about us – about how our body and spirit are both distinct and yet impact each other – is foundational to a good understanding of our brain.

Blame it on the Brain is divided in two parts.

In Part One Welch offers up the theological resources Christians will need to be able to “dialogue with the brain sciences.” These are the biblically-derived principles by which we can interpret and understand the (mostly secular) brain research being done. Once we are outfitted with the proper theology and taught how to apply it, Part Two then explores some “modern diagnoses and experiences, all attributed to the brain, and considers them from a biblical perspective.

Then, in Part Two, Welch applies these principles to specific problems including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, head injuries, depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, homosexuality, alcoholism and more. He groups them under three headings:

  1. The Brain Did It
  2. Maybe The Brain Did It
  3. The Brain Didn’t Do It

Where Welch places different conditions will strike some readers as controversial. Doesn’t the world say all of these conditions should fall under the “The Brain Did It” umbrella? It does indeed, because the world think if the brain did it, then our sinful hearts can be excused. “Born this way” is supposed to clear us from any responsibility for our conduct.

But Welch’s three-fold division is less controversial when we understand that even conditions with clear physical causes, like dementia, will have a spiritual dimension as well – responsibility persists, even if it is to a far different degree.

For example, if a dementia patient’s confusion leads him to believe he has been waiting for his daughter all day long (even though she arrived right on time) she should try not to be bothered if he expresses some frustration. However, if the same patient starts making crude comments to the nurses, then that should not be dismissed as simply the disease talking. As Welch writes,

Does the disease create the sinful behavior? Definitely not…. Sexual thoughts, jealousy, private profanity, and anger can be neatly covered when our minds are intact. But when we are intellectually less competent, some of the private events begin to slip out.

Dementia isn’t the cause of this sin; it simply reveals what was always in the heart. In a situation such as this repentance should still be be sought. Even when our brain is damaged, we remain both physical and spiritual beings, and as in need of accountability, correction, and forgiveness as the rest of humanity.

Cautions

The only caution I have is not with what Ed Welch wrote, but with how a couple of passages might be misunderstood.

In the first, Welch states that with psychiatric problems there “are always spiritual problems and sometimes physical problems.” I’m afraid that some will understand him as saying psychiatric problems are always the result of sin. That is not what Welch is saying. Sin will sometimes be the cause of spiritual problem, but other times the spiritual problems will be better understood as spiritual needs. Welch notes counselors have to be aware that psychiatric problems almost always involve suffering so the diagnosed person and their family will need to hear from the Scriptures about the hope and compassion that God offers in the midst of suffering.

A second matter that might be misunderstood is how Welch designates homosexuality as something “the brain didn’t do.” If he denies the brain dictates someone’s sexual preferences, is Welch saying everyone chooses to be homosexual? No. Welch is only arguing that while the brain may have an influence it cannot be credited as the sole determiner of their sexual orientation – other factors have to be involved.

Conclusion

This isn’t a large book, but there sure is a lot to love! I must have highlighted half of the pages and I really can’t say enough good things about. Educational, thoroughly biblical, helpful, applicable, and it still manages to be enjoyably readable. This would be a valuable resource for minsters and elders, and a highly recommended read for everyone. We all need to learn how to think biblically about mental illness and matters of the brain and I can’t imagine a better introductory book for this topic.

Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com, where this first appeared.


We Think You May Like