Adam, Eve, and original sin (Augustine’s heresy)

Most western Christians don’t realize that our understanding of man’s state of sinfulness — sometimes using terms like “total depravity” and “original sin” — is largely the invention of Augustine of Hippo, and that the majority of the Church at that time rejected his ideas.  The Eastern churches still do.

The doctrine of Original Sin, by the way, is more than just believing that man is born with a tendency toward sin. It is also that man inherited the guilt of Adam — something the Bible doesn’t teach. This is why some believe that babies are born guilty, so if they die before they are baptized, they won’t make it into Heaven.

Personally, I think it’s enough to be guilty of my own sin.

Those of you who have followed this blog for any period of time might recall that I have in the past discussed various issues with what is known as the Penal Theory of the Atonement, which also arises from Augustine’s thinking. I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the subject, and I haven’t come to any final conclusions, except that the concept of the Father taking his anger out on Jesus because he needed someone to punish seems quite out of character. Also, I’ve raised issues with the Augustinian / Calvinist notion of Total Depravity, which also seems contrary to Jesus’ attitudes toward people.

Other Issues

Augustinian theology causes other problems, too, as discussed in the following video by an Orthodox Priest out of Canada. He brings out a number of very interesting points that I think Protestants should at least consider, such as the impact on the Church’s response to science and how Augustinian theology relates to violence.   In fact, the Orthodox view seems to resolve a number of the issues often raised by atheists.

I think the video is worth 15 minutes of your time.

If you do watch it, I’d really be interested in your responses.

Orthodox hell and the Scarlet Rob Bell

The Eastern (Orthodox) church has been thinking about hell a lot longer than anyone else, simply because they’ve been around the longest. Yes, there were Christians before Augustine. However, very few western evangelicals (of the post-liturgical variety) care about what the early church (post-Canon) thinks. After all, they didn’t have the benefit of the Enlightenment, and they didn’t all jump into line behind Augustine (who falls into the category of “Nice guy, but possibly a heretic”).

Yes, I’m being facetious.

What the Orthodox believe about hell

Apparently one or two people in the west are becoming interested in what the Orthodox believe about hell, possibly looking for more votes. Scot McKnight actually references a book of Orthodox theology in his post today, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev. I confess I’m not familiar with the Archbishop, but it sounds quite interesting. I like reading Orthodox theology; it certainly provides a fresh perspective.

McKnight provides some notes taken from the book (bullet-points are mine, for the sake of readability):

  • Irenaeus is typical in seeing both the descent and a release of the patriarchs, prophets and saints from the Old Testament period.
  • Hippolytus: John the Baptist also descended to preach to those in hades.
  • Clement of Alexandria: Christ descended and preached to the saints and to the Gentiles who lived outside the true faith. Hell for him was a place of reformation. Origen is like Clement, but emphasizes human choice.
  • Issue: how to define the various terms, but many saw places. That is, there’s Abraham’s bosom, and hell, and hades, and a prison.
  • Athanasius: leans, at times, toward the universal redemption or release from death. The famous text “Christus patiens,” attributed by some to Gregory Nazianzen, poetically sketches a universal release of the dead through the descent. Cyril of Alexandria follows this line of thinking; so does Maximus the Confessor.
  • Many are somewhat ambivalent or clearly believe Jesus’ release was only for the saints, and an example is St John Chrysostom. John Damascene emphasizes human choice by those in the realm of the dead and so not all are liberated. St Jerome is in this camp of saying at times that all are liberated but other times not all are liberated.
  • A decisive voice in this issue, especially in the West, was Augustine who believed in both a descent but not all in a “second chance”. For Augustine, death was final and the only ones in hades who were released were those who were predestined in God’s elective grace. What is interesting, though, is that Augustine was clearly battling many who did think Christ emptied hades and death and hell of all its inhabitants. Gregory the Great completed the Augustinian perspective.
  • Alfayev emphasizes that the Eastern fathers did not spell things out the way the Western fathers did.

It’s an interesting post. As I think I have mentioned here in the last couple of weeks, the Orthodox generally believe that everyone will end up in God’s presence; however, those opposed to God will have a negative experience (not unlike that painted by CS Lewis in The Great Divorce).

The Scarlett Rob Bell

Rob Bell, meanwhile, continues to get roasted from nearly all sides. Even Lutherans are condemning him. So, this morning I wrote him a little poem:

Everybody’s picking on poor Rob Bell.
However, his book will surely sell.
But is he in heaven, or is he in hell?
That [darned] illusive Mr. Bell.

To more accurately parody The Scarlett Pimpernel, you could change it to:

They judge him here, they judge him there,
But his book is selling everywhere.
Is he in heaven, or is he in hell?
That [darned] illusive Mr. Bell.

Or not.

More thoughts on Sola Scriptura

I ran across a great little post on the Wittenberg Trail webring on the issue of sola scriptura. Unfortunately, you’ve got to join before you can read any of the article, so a link will do little good for most folks.  So, I’ll reprint a portion here along with credit and a link.

The author is John L. Moseman, who from comments in the post, was Eastern Orthodox prior to becoming a confessional Lutheran.  The Orthodox, of course, do not hold to sola scriptura, due to their stand on Tradition.  John shares that it was the book of Galatians that challenged his belief in Tradition, and converted him to sola scriptura.

Here’s the body of his post, a shot commentary on Galatians:

“PAUL, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),” 1:1

This here in the first verse of this epistle is something that gets repeated, why? It is fundamentaly important that our faith is not handed down by men but God. What does this mean? That God can come into us and by his Word lead us in faith and direction. For the longest time I was hung up on Apostolic succession but it is not the men but the Word of God that propels the Church. RCC and EO would stress that their bishops were given the Holy Spirit but as Paul goes on to say that this is not the litmus test for teachers of the true faith.

” I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” 1:6,7

It is so evident here that false doctrine was coming from within the Church and that when these teachers turned from Christ on the cross they started making new doctrines. To me this stresses the importance of maintaing true doctrine found in the Gospel.

‘But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. ”

Right here it is expresses that even if it is an Apostle, an angel, priest, pastor, bishop or any other in the church that with they are not preaching THE WORD that they are not from God. To me this is where Sola Scriptura comes in with a bang, that it is not the pastors but the Holy Spirit, which comes from the Word. Without the Word of God we are hopeless as he goes on to explain that even the Apostles where confused. When they went on their own, when they relied on their authority and not on the Word. Here it is evident that in the Word we do have the authority of God. It makes it clear that if one is not in the Word or preaches the Word in truth that they are not of God. It becomes false doctrine. Also is it me or does he in a off shot way give creedance to Sola Scriptura when looking in the Scriputures to make his point?

“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Here it is simple though we have to hold true to the traditions and they have their place. Without the Word of God behind it, breathed in it, it is not of God. This was evident to Luther. So here we see that Sola Sciptura is not isolating the traditions only the ones not adminstered by God breathed in by his Word. So how can Mr. Hahn seriously hold that the Bible does not teach Sola Scriptura when it is clear right here that the Apostles authority directly comes from the Word and the Word alone.

I suggest everyone to read the entire epistle. Later on in it you start to see St. Paul correct and say that the Apostles had been in error suggesting that they where confused when the failed to keep the Gospel in perspective. The basic truth is that RCC and EO are right about some things. They error when they put the infalliable authority of God in man’s hands and not in the Word. This why even some of our Lutheran pastors error they are corrected by the Word.

Some interesting things to think about.  However, there are a few other things to consider:

  1. The New Testament that we have today is a product of Tradition.
  2. The Gospel Paul talks about is the Apostolic message that the EO believe has been passed down through Tradition.
  3. The question is, is Tradition the Apostolic message, or merely the traditions of men?  Perhaps a combination?

Any other thoughts?

Lutheranism’s Attitude About the Ancient Church Fathers

A nice quote courtesy of Paul T. McCain at

The Lutheran Church has never despised or even disregarded the traditions that have come down from the ancient fathers of the Church. What has been preserved by the teachings and doings of Christian men from the apostles’ time down to the present day is precious. The light which it gives in regard to the faith and the labors of love which the Holy Spirit wrought in other days, the lives which were rendered luminous by rays from heaven – as others were rendered dark by obscuring blackness from hell, in its rage against the Anointed of the Lord – the Church is not willing to forget. She desires to learn the lessons of history and rejoices in her fellowship with men of God who lived and suffered in the same glorious cause in which she is still engaged with the same assurance of faith which made believers strong in other days. But she knows that some professed to be Christians who were not such, and that Christians could err in the past as in the present, and therefore she applies to the Christians of other times the same unerring rule that she applies now, and holds fast as God’s truth only what is declared in God’s Word.

Matthias Loy, The Augsburg Confession, p. 179.

I would tend to agree with this assessment, judging the teachings of the Church Fathers to the Scriptures, not other Fathers, nor the Lutheran Confessional documents.  While all is helpful, not everything is necessarily correct.