Issues, Etc. Journal - December, 1995 - Vol. 1 No. 2
The Subject of Total Depravity
What is meant by the doctrine of "original sin?"
What is the extent of human inability?
Interview - Dr. John Warwick Montgomery
by Don Matzat
Christian apologist and Professor of Law and Humanities at the University of Luton in England
shares his views on the important subject of the reality of human sin.
"If the doctrine of sin is
not understood property, this will influence every other area of theology."
How important is the Doctrine of Sin?
If the doctrine of sin is not understood properly, this will influence every other area of theology. You can see this in other religions, the sects, and so on. Where the understanding of sin is off base, the understanding of salvation and redemption is also off base. The reason the two things connect, of course, is that salvation and redemption deal with sin. It is the answer to sin. If you don't have the question right, you won't have the answer right either. For example, Christian Science denies the reality of human sin. Therefore, within Christian Science, or other cults, or religions that deny the reality of human sin, there is no concept of salvation or forgiveness.
What is meant by "Original Sin?"
Original sin has to do with our state, that is, our condition. That derives from the sinful acts of our first parents.- from Adam. From the moment that a person comes into existence, from the time of his conception, he is, as a matter of fact, a sinner. His status is that of a sinner. Now, that is true even before he commits any sinful acts himself.
If one doesn't see this, one will treat very young children as if they are perfectly all right. You know, the dear, sweet, little things. You don't have to teach a child to sin at all. If you put dear, sweet, little "cutie" with some other children who are unpleasant in some way, you won't find that the unpleasant children become nicer in contact with little cutie." Little "cutie" will automatically pick up the stuff that they have to offer on the sinful side because the condition is already there.
One of the great strengths of Lutheran theology is that it recognizes that the child is in as much need of God's grace as any adult. You don't wait until the age of accountability before you need Christ. The water of Baptism is the means God uses to touch the child even before the child is aware of the child's problem.
How bad am I?
You are in such a bad condition that you can not correct the problem yourself. You can't pull yourself up to heaven by your own bootstrap. If a person repeats the phrase, "everyday, in every way I am getting better and better," it will not make them better and better, but they will eventually get hoarse. The issue of the doctrine of original sin is that it severs the relationship between you and God.
But there are still some very nice people who are not Christians who do some very nice things.
Even though an atheist may discover a medicine vital to the human race, or an unbeliever may write beautiful poetry, or compose a great piece of music, those things, even though they are objectively good, will not alter the condition of that person before God. They do not become stepping stones by which they earn salvation. Salvation is not by works. All our good works are contaminated as far as our salvation is concerned, and we need God to save us.
Of course, there are many nice people in this world, but being nice is not being perfect. In Scripture, Jesus tells us, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." One who isn't perfect doesn't get into heaven. All night, now how do you become perfect. You only become perfect if God gives you his righteousness as a gift.
It seems to me that psychology can never solve the human problem because it doesn't diagnose it properly.
Well this is quite right. The psychologist can only adjust human relationships, and that's on a horizontal level. The problem of sin isn't on a horizontal level. At least, it isn't fundamentally on that level. Fundamentally, it is the breaking of the relationship vertically between God and man. That, of course, spills over and has hideous effects horizontally in the human sphere, but you don't solve that problem by tinkering with human relationships. The psychologist is utterly naive if he thinks he can do this. Neither can the social planner, for example, solve the sin problem by adjusting city conditions.
Because we have the condition of sin, does this mean that anyone is capable of anything?
Absolutely! If one is honest with oneself that is the conclusion that one must come to. The essence of sin is radical self-centeredness. Therefore, given the proper conditions, a person will put himself ahead of everything else on earth.