Monday, July 16, 2007

The Passing of Joe Brown

As an RTS alum, I am saddened at the news of Dr Harold O.J. Brown's passing. Joe Brown was a pivotal figure in the resurrection of the respectability of evangelical thought and influence in our culture and even in the Academy. His multiple degrees from Harvard gave him a unique platform to speak as an evangelical to non-evangelical circles and be taken seriously.

Joe Brown taught for many many years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His passion for the dignity of all human life led not only to him founding the Christian Action Council (currently Care Net), which advocated on behalf of the unborn and eventually was critical in the mainstreaming of the crisis pregnancy care movement. Brown's interest in bioethics went beyond the abortion question, and touched on a wide array of issues where human dignity, science, and ethics intersected. It was largely through Brown's prominent influence that Trinity today offers a Masters in Bioethics as part of their suite of graduate-level degrees.

In his later years, Brown also taught at RTS, mainly at the Charlotte campus. Every summer, Joe Brown would take a group of interested students to Wittenberg to study church history for academic credit, another passion of his.

Joe Brown's compassionate advocacy for the cause of the unborn was very heavy lifting that was rarely easy. Yet, when I knew him in his late years stricken with cancer, he was a man who always had a smile on his face and was proactive in talking with people like me. Another seminary professor of mine once said that the Academy, even the evangelical Academy, was full of cynics. He told me that I would be wise to seek out those increasingly few professors who have truly seen it all in the church - the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly - and yet, still walk around with smiles on their faces and authentic joy in their hearts. Harold Joe Brown was one of those people. When told that his cancer was terminal and that he only had weeks to live, it is reported that Joe said, "My short-term prognosis is unknown, but my long-term prognosis is good!"

Here's hoping my generation will learn from Joe Brown's advocacy for justice and compassion, combined with an abiding love for Christ and the certainty of the eternal life he promises for those who are his. May we be like Joe Brown in not merely shaking our heads at injustice and whining about how we don't have a voice in the culture, but proactively stepping out in tangible faith, seeking to change the culture even when things seem dark, trusting that God will multiply our meager loaves and fishes.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Perfect Timing

On the very day I post my recent discussion on original sin (see previous post), Gene Bridges of Triablogue posted a link to an article discussing evidence of an infant's ability to lie. Folks who take the time to read my previous entry will notice that my exchange on original sin touched on the specific subject matter of Gene's post and the article he links to. Tip 'o the hat to Gene for the link!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Recent Discussion On Original Sin

The following is taken from a recent exchange I had on this blog with an Eastern Orthodox adherent which touched on several different topics. For the full unedited discussion, see here.

----------'s foundational problem is not guilt, but death.

I disagree. Death is the result of sin and guilt. This means that sin and guilt are more foundational than death itself.

You, however, inherited not guilt, but death, and because of that you sin (precisely opposite of Adam).

Again, I disagree. If we were all counted as sinners from Adam onward as Romans 5:19 explicitly states, then the problem for us is the same as Adam and not the opposite. If we were counted as sinners, then we were indeed counted guilty.

Your view of the atonement only addresses the symptoms (sin and guilt) and not the problem (death).

But since we do in fact inherit sin and guilt then these are indeed the problems and death is the symptom.

Go up 7 verses to 5:12. I sin because I have death in me, separation from God, which makes me fill the emptiness in my imago Dei with the emptiness of sin and can then be labelled a sinner.

I did. I find no support for your contentions there because of how Romans 5:12 reads. The latter half of the verse explicitly states that "death spread to all men, because all sinned". Death due to sin. Thus, as I have stated previously, death is the result of sin and guilt and not vice-versa.

Human nature is good, because God created it so,...

It was "good" only when God first created it. But as far as all men go, I have seen no scriptural warrant to suppose that human nature is good especially when explicit statements within holy writ state otherwise (Romans 3:10-12).

What sin has a dead baby committed?

Don, your question does not address the actual wording of Romans 5:12. Thus, a better question would be, "how is eastern orthodoxy's view of man's nature compatible with the actual wording of Romans 5:12?" Indeed, how is your contention that sin and guilt are not passed to all men thru Adam compatible with Psalm 51:5 where David says that he was a sinner from birth? How about Psalm 58:3 where it states that the wicked go astray from birth and that they speak lies from the womb?

Human nature is GOOD because Christ assumed it in the incarnation.

Again, there is no reason to accept this line of reasoning especially when verses that have been brought forward here testify against your notion of human nature being basically good.

...otherwise He could not destroy death for us, which is the root of sin.

Again, there is no reason to believe that death is the root of sin when you have not dealt with the actual wording of certain texts of scripture that contradict your assertions.

You start with the conception that we have something, some substance called sin and guilt that we are born with.

No Don, I am merely taking Romans 5:12 for what it explicitly states. The only presupposition I am bringing to the text is that the scriptures are the highest authority for determining tradition and doctrine.

I contend that in Romans 5:12 it is expressed that we lack something, an emptiness of something that should be there (death), and that is what causes us to sin and thereby become guilty.

But again Don, your contention is just a restatement of what you think the text means. But there is an obvious disconnect between the wording of the text and what you keep insisting it means. And until you overcome this disconnect, you will not be successful in your stated goal of showing me the fallacy of sola scriptura.

I'll repeat: Is a dead baby guilty? A dead fetus?

You already know the answer to this question Don. Yes, infants are guilty by way of Adam's sin. There is nothing in the texts that we have looked at thus far that suggests otherwise.

Hyperbole. Even you'll admit that a fetus doesn't speak lies in the womb. Do you think David committed sin as a newborn infant?

Let's grant for the sake of argument that you are right. Psalm 51:5 and 58:3 are hyperbole. Now, a hyperbole is a "A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton" (per the American Heritage Dictionary). Given the examples in the provided definition the statements made by David still support my position. David's point in saying that he is a sinner from birth is communicating the fact that he is counted guilty as a sinner because of Adam. This is more clearly expressed in David's statement about telling lies in the womb. A baby isn't literally speaking lies inside the womb but is in fact a liar because of his sin nature. It is it's nature to speak lies. Indeed, I had always heard it said that children are not taught to lie. They simply do it as soon as they learn to speak. Since becoming a parent myself I have personally found this to be true. Hyperbole only exagerates a point being made and that point being, namely, we are counted as sinners from Adam onward and are thus guilty as Adam was guilty. Nowhere do these verses even hint at your stated views here. So in light of all this, I conclude that positing hyperbole for these verses is no help to you.

The problem comes from variant translations of Romans 5:12...and so death passed upon all men, because of which all have sinned. The West has always translated "eph'ho pantes hemarton" as "in whom all sinned". The East has always seen the preceeding word thanatos (death) as modifying "eph 'ho, so the East translates the phrase as "because of which (death) all have sinned." The West and the East both have legitimate translations, but with drastically different outcomes soteriologically. So when the East reads this verse they read:

"...and so death passed upon all men, because of which all have sinned."

Which varient translations are you referring to? I personally own about six different translations and they all read the same. I also checked several other translations online and found more of the same. Also, your statement about the east and west having legitimate tranlations is a bit odd. That is, both cannot be right since they lend to two opposing viewpoints. Either one translation is right or, neither is right. And it seems to me that the only reason that you would raise a translational issue here is so that you can ease the tension between your view and the actual wording of the text. Also, the "western translation" of Romans 5:12 agrees in wording with Romans 5:19. I find this to be highly significant in determining which interpretation to apply to v.12

"and so death passed upon all men,"

Notice, death passed to all men.

Yes, death passed to all men. It was never my argument that it didn't. Death is a necessary consequence of sin per God's decree. So I do not see how this particuliar clause in 5:12 can be a problem for my view.

"for that all have sinned:"

Which comes after you have recieved death from Adam. You recieved death, THEN you sinned as a consequence of death, just like the passage says.

Well, since you didn't state which translation you are referencing here, I'll go ahead and assume that this is the KJV since the wording is identical. Now, this clause is the focal point of our dispute in regards to Romans 5:12 and I can see why you would reference the KJV here. The wording can lend itself to your view. The problem I see with the KJV's rendering however is that the clause could go both ways. That is, the KJV is ambiguous. Indeed, you seem to have alluded to this when you stated that the east and west have legitimate translations. At any rate, I have in front of me several other translations that are not ambiguous in how they read at v.12 For instance:

"...because all sinned..." -NASB

"...because all sinned..." -NIV

"...because all sinned..." -ESV

"...because all sinned..." -NKJV

"...because all have sinned... -NRSV

These examples provide clear, unambiguous attestation to my viewpoint, namely, that death spread to all men *because* all sinned in Adam. This is further strengthened by 5:19 that states the many were made sinners by the one man's disobedience. And at this point, I would also submit Romans 6:23 where it is stated that "...the wages of sin is death...". A clear causal relationship is presented by Paul in 6:23 just as he did in the previous verses we just looked at. Thus, when all these scriptures are considered (including those from the Psalms), I am forced to conclude that my viewpoint is, by far, the strongest viewpoint scripturally speaking.

Where is the mention of guilt in the entire chapter of Romans 5?

Guilt does not need to be specifically referenced in Romans 5. It is implicit in Paul's statements about sin. That is, if I am a sinner, then I am guilty. Likewise, if I am guilty, then I am a sinner. There is no such thing as a guiltless sinner.

Materializing sin into sperm is nowhere to be found in scripture.

And it isn't necessarily my argument that sin is materialized in this way. You seem to be asking me to substantiate a naturalistic mechanism for the transference of sin but I don't even see this as a reasonable request. What if I asked you to substantiate the infusion of the soul to the human body by way of naturalistic mechanism? Would you consider that a reasonable request? Can you explain the incarnation itself by way of a naturalistic mechanism? How about the resurrection? As it is, I have no problem with appealing to mystery here. I simply do not know how sin and guilt is transfered.

You assume there is a thing, a substance, an "object" that is sin that makes it into humans and makes them bad.

What sin is or isn't, is a secondary issue to the primary point of dispute, namely, the correct interpretation of Romans 5:12. In other words, if Romans 5 is in fact teaching that all men are counted as sinners through Adam, then this is what we should believe. Only then do we try to discern just what sin is and how it is transferred.

You should embrace the idea of God fully venting His unquenchable wrath on a deceased infant if you are to be consistent.

Why should I? There is no consensus in Reformed theology that I'm aware of on the question of what happens to those who die in infancy nor do I personally take a dogmatic stance on this issue. I simply trust in my God that He will work all things for the benefit of His people.