Podcasts the Church USA

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill and the Lessons still being Learned – CT

A slightly edited version of this article was first published on Christian Today   

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill and the lessons still being learned


Former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll

There is a surprising new podcast which is storming the podcast charts throughout the English-speaking Christian world. Like all new ‘you have to listen to this’ podcasts I was sceptical. But for once the hype is accurate.

Christianity Today in the US has produced a high-quality podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill that is well-researched, well-made, informative, challenging and disturbing. We are only four episodes in, but I would regard it as almost compulsory listening for any contemporary Western pastor – and indeed any Christian interested in the Church.

Many others are already writing about this, but given that I wrote seven years ago on Christian Today about Mark Driscoll and his ‘fall’ in 2014, I thought it might be worthwhile reflecting a little more.

From the four episodes so far, the following is clear. Mark Driscoll had a remarkable ministry in some areas. His preaching and to some degree his pastoral care and generosity, are well portrayed in ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’. Here was a church which challenged men especially to live ‘heroically’ for Jesus. As the podcast intro states Mars Hill “had a promising start. But the perils of power, conflict, and Christian celebrity eroded and eventually shipwrecked both the preacher and his multimillion-dollar platform.”

If Mark had been a fraud from the start, it would be a horrific story – but it is evident that this was not the case, and that he and Mars Hill were for real. Which makes the fall of Mars Hill an even sadder story – so many good people have been hurt. Let he who thinks he stands beware in case he falls! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Celebrity culture, the lure of money and fame, and the love of power are all difficult enough challenges to hurdle on their own. But put them all together in a successful church where the pastor is really like a pope and the crash becomes almost inevitable. Perhaps if, as the Bible states, there had been collective leadership within the church, some of these factors might have been defeated? Mark was an excellent communicator, who had studied stand-up comedians and knew how to connect with an audience. But his character was not developed enough.

Episode three of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill tells the story of a woman who recognised this. Mark’s executive assistant suggested to him that he needed to have some older and more spiritually mature men in the leadership, who would be prepared to stand up to him. She was then called into a meeting with Mark and another leader, accused of heresy and fired. The account of the bullying, temper and dictatorial meeting is disturbing and typical of what was to happen.

Driscoll spoke a lot about the need for godly men, but the emphasis in his love seemed more on the ‘man’ aspect than the godly bit – the fruit of the Spirit were distinctly lacking.

His tweets as ‘William Wallace’ were crude, crass and ungodly. He boasted and lied about his intellectual abilities, often ending with ‘true story’. For example, stating that he read a book every day. Or the plagiarism scandal discovered by Janet Mefferd.

He succeeded in getting on the NYT bestsellers list but only by getting his church to buy thousands of his books at a cost of over $211,000. He espoused ‘Reformed theology’ but was far from the devotional heart of the great Puritan writers. Mars Hill was built around Driscoll, not Christ. The hubris and the hypocrisy guaranteed the fall.

Yet it would be a mistake just to blame this on one person. The fact is that there was a culture, to be honest several cultures, which contributed to this situation. The podcast is an opportunity for many of us to reflect upon where we went wrong – as much as observing where Mark went wrong.

Sadly, those mistakes seem to be being repeated in Driscoll’s new venture in Phoenix, Arizona. The church is doing well, numerically, with reports of up to a thousand people attending. But the same fault lines are evident. Mark has no elders – just a director’s board that has no spiritual authority. There are no financial records available to the members of the church. When I interviewed Mark in 2008, he asked me repeatedly about what I thought about Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church charging for recorded sermons (note: this money goes to support the mercy ministries and church planting). It was clear he wanted to do so as well, and in his new ministry he is now selling his sermon notes online – as I found out when I was offered them. I politely declined.

There is, however, a significant difference with his past ministry – he has abandoned his former Reformed theology and apologised for criticising Joel Osteen. He scornfully declared, “I don’t hold with the five points of Calvinism – I think it’s garbage. Reformed theology is ‘I have a dad who is powerful, in charge, not relational, he lives far away, and don’t get him mad because he can hurt you.’ Then they pick dead mentors, Spurgeon, Calvin and Luther – these are little boys with father wounds who are looking for spiritual fathers, so they pick dead guys who are not going to get to know them or correct them.”

It’s deeply saddening to read such language from any Christian pastor, let alone one who considers himself to be a teacher of others and a father figure.

Driscoll’s crass disavowal of his previous theology and his bitter language cause a great deal of personal distress and even doubt. How can someone who sounds at times so humble and is such a good communicator, and seems to have such a love for Jesus, be so wrong?

He reminds me of an abusive husband, who says sorry to his wife (and probably means it) but the next time (and there always is a next time), he beats and abuses her again – before saying sorry again and repeating the pattern.   Driscoll is not an abusive husband, but he is an abusive spiritual teacher – one who seems to keep repeating the same mistakes.

John the Baptist said, “I must decrease, He must increase.” Leaving aside Pastor Mark, I find that for myself, the biggest problem in Christianity is precisely that – myself. I am naturally inclined to be ‘me’ centred. For it to be ‘all about Jesus’, I have to get out of the way – but I keep getting in the way.

The Lord does not need us to fulfil his ministry. We need Him. It is a privilege and joy to serve Him, not his joy and privilege to serve us. Let us never forget that it is really all about Jesus. Otherwise it is just ‘garbage’ (Philippians 3:8).

‘Daddy’ Driscoll

Deconstructing Driscoll – Lessons for American, Australian and UK Church Cultures.

The Pride of England – Sport, Christianity and Nationalism – CT


  1. “Let he who thinks he stands beware in case he falls! (1 Corinthians 10:12).”

    Indeed and the same is true for all of us. This story is not unique to Mark Driscoll but is true for every leader to a greater or lesser degree for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    Here is a problem. If we take on board the Augustinian doctrine of original sin form the 4th century and neglect theologians before that who leaned instead towards God creating humanity and seeing it was good then we are biased towards looking at the sin of others and then our own sin wiht us all ending up miserable and alienating ourselves from the truth in “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.

    Yes Driscoll is all the things you say. What did Jesus to when approached by disciples who had concerns about people not of their group teaching of Jesus, and making money from that? He said in effect, let them keep doing what they are doing because word about him was getting out.

    Truth and justice will prevail. Mark Driscoll will reap what he has sown – as will we all.

    1. I’m afraid what you call the ‘Augustinian’ doctrine is not from the 4th Century – its from the Bible – Ps 51 – Genesis 3 – Paul, the Apostles, the Prophets and Jesus all teach it.

      1. I prefer the Bible to the BBC. It quite clearly teaches that all human beings are sinful – because of Adams sin. You can choose to believe the BBC over the Bible – not me!

      2. I don’t disagree with you that the bible teaches that people are sinful. Obviously this is self -evident. But the doctrine of original sin came form Augustine. So the truth is that it is Augustinian and you have provided no evidence to support your claim that it is not from the 4th century. Claims without evidence require no evidence to dismiss them and biblically “Love… rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor 13:6). The doctrine of original sin claims that innocence is lost and everyone is born into sin. Consider, if you will, the case of a an infant that dies a day or two after being born. This doctrine would condemn the child to hell through no fault of it’s own but through having inherited the sin of Adam. The bible says “parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (2 Kings 14:6). So any idea that a baby be judged because of the sin of someone that has gone before them is not from the bible.

        I prefer to consider balancing between goodness in the Genesis account of God creating human beings and seeing it was good and sinfulness as a result of the fall. Everyone is part righteous, part sinful. Any preference towards identifying sinfulness in humans is without biblical precedent but has come from Augustine with a bias towards humanities separateness from God rather than being created in his image.

        In our truest selves we are good because that is how God created humanity. However no-one is without sin and all have fallen short of the glory of God and therefore in need of Jesus. The beautiful thing about his sacrifice of himself for all sins is that him loving deeply covers a multitude of sins and clothes us in the righteousness of Christ.

        There is no condemnation in Christ!

      3. Original sin (the view that all humans are born sinful) is taught in the Bible. It did not originate in Augustine – any more than the doctrine of the Trinity originated in Tertullian. Keeping repeating a fallacy does not make it true! The doctrine of original sin does not condemn a dead child to Hell. Your last paragraph doesn’t make any sense – you are claiming that God made people sinful!

        There is indeed no condemnation in Christ. But that of course is only true for those who are in Christ.

      4. There is undeniably a particular Augustinian view of Genesis 3 that may or may not be identical to the teaching of Genesis 3, especially if we consider some of Augustine’s earlier formulations, like the one found in his De libero Arbitrio (those poor ethereal substances cursed with flesh because of their disobedience!).

        Good on Augustine for being challenged by Paul, though, in revising his view. It’s just a little less Plato for us to contend with.

        But are all humans sinful because of Adam’s sin, or do all humans sin in the same way that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden? Is Augustine’s view of the transmission of sin as generational/ontic there in Genesis 3? If so, where? Adam and Eve were not in need of such a nature to sin — but I guess this depends on what ‘because’ means.

        Undoubtedly, all humans are sinful and in need of salvation through Christ, but it doesn’t seem obvious that Augustine’s view of Genesis 3 is identical to what Genesis 3 teaches, particularly where ontological claims are concerned.

        Of course, it seems daft to deny original sin entirely. Clearly, there was an original sin in Genesis 3, and clearly, humanity since has followed suit (Psalm 51 may rest easy!). It seems we were created this way – and that’s not a slight against God in my view – rather than are the inheritors of some corrupted nature.

        A slow afternoon tangent. Feel free to forgo comment approval.

      5. Dear David – I already said I don’t disagree with you that the bible teaches that people are sinful. So I don’t understand why you are repeating this. There is however clearly a disagreement between us about where the doctrine of original sin originates from. You discredit the source I have quoted but you haven’t quoted from scripture directly with a support for your claim. Again claims without evidence require no evidence to dismiss them. Your “any more than the doctrine of the Trinity originated in Tertullian” is rhetoric.

        You claim “the doctrine of original sin does not condemn a dead child to Hell.” Again an unsupported claim. And then you say “your last paragraph doesn’t make any sense – you are claiming that God made people sinful!” – more rhetoric. Where is your evidence for both of these claims you make?

        I prefer to discuss and establish truth as brother sharpens brother rather than engage with rhetoric and claims made without evidence.

        I will however engage with your claim that there is no condemnation in Christ only for those who are in Christ which you have made without supportive evidence form scripture as an act of grace. In the example I gave of the baby who sadly dies a day or two after being born, I don’t believe God would condemn the infant to hell, obviously. But to support the claim I make that God would not do this, I would refer to the genesis account of God creating humanity and seeing it is good. I’m not a parent myself, but I can’t imagine any parents in their right mind being other than delighted as the birth of a child! So it it because in our truest self that God created humanity as being good that he would not condemn a child to hell. So I would offer your claim “only for those in Christ” does not give such assurance for the infant.

        How could parents be consoled who have lost a child in infancy?

        So we don’t disagree that the bible teaches that people are sinful. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and if anyone says they are without sin they are a liar and the truth is not on them.

        However that is a limit to the usefulness of discussion and debate a times and what can start out as a “brother sharpens brother” conversation can end up wiht polemical adversity – an argument that only ends up wiht a quarrel and there is warning I trust you are aware of in scripture about not engaging in such a way. I fear that we are at this point in this conversation. Therefore thank you David for having engaged with my comments , I hope you have a pleasant day and I will leave you to have the final word if this is what you wish.

        Kind Regards.

      6. Ps 51 – Ps 14 (cited by Jesus and Paul), Genesis 3. INdeed the whole of Scripture teaches that human beings are born with sin (that is the doctrine of original sin)…in the first Adam we all sinned. You cite the Genesis account – but you mention only ch.1 – before the Fall. After the Fall everything has changed. When the Bible says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8) it means precisely that. Jesus stated that those who don’t believe in him are condemned already (John 3). Parents who have lost a child in infancy can see that child as being in Christ – because the dead are judged according to what they had done – and because of David’s testimony at the loss of his baby. None of which negate original sin.

      7. On the other hand, I tend to ramble. 🙂

        Genesis 3 teaches that humanity fell – and that afterwards all ‘in Adam’ (ie.human) are sinful – and are born sinful.

        I’d understand humanity as being born into a sinful world, and then we all sin at or close to the first opportunity to do so, much like Adam. The question is whether the Augustinian view of Paul et al is accurate to what Scripture teaches. And yes, I’m aware the doctrine isn’t original to Augustine (we have Irenaeus, some form of it in Origin, Cyprian, or Tertullian as Adam mentioned above, and so on), but that doesn’t mean that the doctrine as we have it today isn’t substantially Augustinian.

        Still, I don’t see where the ontology is supported. Genesis 3 seems to condemn humanity to an existence in the wilderness, a world of sin separated from God. If this is what the text teaches, alongside a decision to sin happening before there was a generated sin nature, then why is ontology being added on top?

        Those who wish to avoid and deny it tend to say that – it means they can avoid what the Bible says and just blame Augustine…

        I can’t speak for Adam but I’m not avoiding the Bible and blaming Augustine. I’m quite clearly concerned with how the doctrine squares with what we read in Genesis 3, and I’m not convinced that it does. At least, if the claim is ontic.

        I’m quite enjoying the podcast though.

      8. I’m not sure where you get the idea that the world is sinful? What world are you referring to? Something non human? The doctrine of original sin – that all human beings are born sinful is taken from the Scriptures (ie. Ps 51). It is taught by Jesus, Paul and the Prophets.

      9. “I know that you think you understand Genesis 3, and the rest of Scripture, better than Augustine.”

        Haha – thanks David. You made me smile with that one.

        I’m sorry but I can’t take anything you write after that and in the light of what I have said about not being interested polemical adversity before, I shan’t respond in kind with a personal comment but leave readers of your blog to determine if there is a need for humility and with whom if they decide there is a need.

        Thanks for taking the time to engage with my comments, for the amusement you have given me and I wish you a pleasant day.

    2. Ambrosiaster,

      “Is Augustine’s view of the transmission of sin as generational/ontic there in Genesis 3? ” Yes, exactly. So in the light of that should this view be assumed or is there merit in weighing this view up in the light of the full canon of scripture and dare I say it, coming to a different view that could be more in line with scripture if Augustine has missed the mark on this?

      1. No – Augustine (nor Paul, nor Calvin, nor Jesus, nor the Catholic church, nor the Protestant) missed the mark. All teach that human beings are born in sin….are you saying they are all wrong?

      2. Haha – no of course I am not saying Jesus, Paul, Calvin, Augustine the Protestant and Catholic church are all wrong. And it would be silly to make that claim.

        I’ll change my mind and engage with this in the light of Ambrosiaster’s wise, informed and humble contribution. Perhaps there is a chance of rescuing this conversation from what could be polemical adversity.

        OK – you got personal, so shall I. What you are doing is digging around a bit to establish what is true. I’m a little uncomfortable with the way you have gone about that but it’s not different from internet argy bargy elsewhere which I am well used to. And so with what you are doing in being disagreeable in an attempt to establish truth I say all power to you.

        The core issue I wish to get to (which I admit I do imperfectly in my attempts to achieve this) is as Ambrosiaster appropriately questioned about Augustine’s view about the transmission of sin being there in Genesis 3. And he rightly says that original sin existed in Genesis 3. Clearly we disagree on this becoming doctrine after Augustine but that’s OK. Disagreement isn’t always bad but never disagreeing is. More importantly there is no disagreement we have about the bible teaching about sin from the Gen 3 account.

        So moving on from that, I would asset that Augustine, with the support of Ambrosiaster’s question may have read something into Gen 3 that Gen 3 doesn’t teach and therefore could have missed the mark. The logical fallacy of the argument from authority is the belief that someone who is an authority on something can’t be in error about it. And so it is wise to weigh things up on this.

        So – to echo the valid question Ambrosiaster posed, “are all humans sinful because of Adam’s sin, or do all humans sin in the same way that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden?” Scripturally there does seem to be a narrative initially of God punishing generations that followed for the sins of the fathers and mothers. But then later God not doing so, rather any judgement and disciplining he makes being on the basis of the sin of the individual. I would be inclined towards positing that all humans sin in the same way that Adam and Eve did rather than the alternative.

        So what does Jesus have to say? Consider if you will, what he said about a doctor attending to those who are sick and him not coming for the righteous but for sinners. Well, he was turning things the right way up in context when he did this. The so-called righteous Pharisees that looked down on him for associating wiht so-called “sinners” were motivated by celebrity status – being greeted in the marketplace and seated in high places. It was easy for them to point the finger. And in doing so the irony being of their pride in looking down on others, including Jesus. Whereas the so-called sinners that welcomed and listened to Jesus were doing what was right in accepting him into their lives.

        So therefore Jesus was through their own free will able to attend to healing. On the other hand the Pharisees would not let him do so. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

        So in the genesis account, things started off well with God creating humanity and seeing it was good. Then Genesis 3 came along wiht Adam and Eve sinning by disobeying God and eating form the tree of knowledge with the consequences of death entering the world. And the good news of the gospel of Jesus being that he came so all may have life in the fullest and by dying and being resurrected he overcame death – putting things right again.

        And so of course no-on is without sin – this much is obvious. But the good news is that this is not where it ends. So getting back to the gist of your original post David. Yes there ought to be concerns about leaders and a weighing up of their speech and actions. And where they are inconsistent with being in Christ, then to follow what Jesus directed about Pharisees with doing what they say and not what they do. I would offer also similar be appropriate for figures that carry authority in our church history and great though many of these are and un-Pharisee like in lots of ways they are like all of us not without flaws and therefore there being a need to carefully weigh what they say.

        All humans carry the image of God – or original goodness, a foundational doctrine in Christian tradition in balance wiht the doctrine of original sin. Solzhenitsyn affirms this with “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

      3. Adam – I know that you think you understand Genesis 3, and the rest of Scripture, better than Augustine. I would suggest a little more humility. Augustine may have been wrong – but he did not originate the view that human beings are born sinful because they are human – Jesus and Paul also taught that. Were they wrong? Augustine did not deny that all human beings are made in the image of God – and original sin is not the opposite of human beings being made in the image of God….but God made no human sinful – that is as a result of the Fall (hence original sin)…. I’m not sure why you cite Solzhenitsyn who believed in original sin (which does not teach that there is no good within humans) and whose point is precisely what original sin teaches!

      4. theweeflea,

        I realise you’ve directed your question to Adam, but I’ll take the opportunity to follow up on my own comment in light of your latest question.

        Does Genesis 3 state that there was a corruption of human nature as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden? When we read the curses of Genesis 3 we see no indication of such, and if that is the text that fundamentally informs our view (on original sin), then why isn’t that consequence stated? Pain in childbearing, cursed is the ground, to dust they will return, but where’s the ontology? And again, how is it that Adam and Eve made the decision to sin without this corrupted nature, and how is it that this decision can corrupt nature, or essence? How does that work, exactly? Is there some sin gene out there, or must we appeal to Plato for an explanation (I have no quarrel with Plato.)?

        Did Augustine (and let’s be clear: the particular formulation under review does belong properly to Augustine) react too intensely against Pelagius? (I am not Pelagian.) Was he concerned with correcting the Platonic tendencies in his view? As mentioned, it’s interesting to see how Augustine’s view developed, especially his earliest formulations.

        If the ontology isn’t there, then is it possible that Paul, Calvin, Jesus, the Catholic and Protestant church, et al., are saying something different than what the Augustinian lens suggests? I myself do think that all humanity is born into a sinful world, and that everyone faces their own ‘garden dilemma’, which everyone fails and will continue to fail – aside from Jesus. Is that because of a corrupted nature that guarantees the result, or is this a consequence and/or noetic effect of separation (from God, creation, each other) and our effectively being in the wilderness?

        If Genesis 3 doesn’t support the ontology then that ontology should be dispensed with. That doesn’t mean we suddenly follow Pelagius or that the reality is any different (just the explanation for the reality). Alongside that, are Paul’s ontological utterances to be understood as descriptions, or as helpful images or technical distinctions, much like his talk of spirit and soul, when clearly, humans are bipartite and not tripartite?

        So no one/nothing mentioned are wrong, just possibly the explanation that comes to us through Augustine.

      5. Thanks…forgive the briefness of my answers.

        Genesis 3 teaches that humanity fell – and that afterwards all ‘in Adam’ (ie.human) are sinful – and are born sinful.

        Augustine did not develop the doctrine of original sin in response to Pelagius – although Pelagius did respond to Augustine’s biblical teaching and argued that human beings are born tabula rasa – with a blank slate. Essentially pure. The world is not sinful – human beings are. And original sin is not original to Augustine. Those who wish to avoid and deny it tend to say that – it means they can avoid what the Bible says and just blame Augustine…

      6. Hey Ambrosiaster,

        “I think [David is] clearly committed to Augustine’s contributions insofar as they inform the broader Reformed understanding of original sin, and on such matters of doctrinal integrity, it’s not unexpected that David is as committed as he is. There’s something to be said for context, too.”

        Yes – I would agree with you on this.

        “I’m not convinced that there isn’t some untangling to do be done between the doctrine of original sin and Augustine’s contribution”

        I agree also.

        “Ultimately it seems to me that a commitment to the doctrine of original sin is shared, even if the exact formulation of that doctrine isn’t. So, another time, perhaps.” The exact formulation, yes. Clearly sin entered into the world originally with Adam and Eve, in Genesis 3. No-one is disputing that. What may be interesting to discuss another time (or perhaps another place) is “the exact formulation” and how we might balance this say with God originally seeing it was good when he created human beings.

        I’m happy to continue discussing this with you in private if it appeals to you on Facebook?

      7. I’m happy to continue discussing this with you in private if it appeals to you on Facebook?

        I don’t use Facebook but if you’re content (to start) with email, then I can be reached at hegelkierkegaardheidegger at gmail.com.

    3. I’m not sure where you get the idea that the world is sinful? What world are you referring to? Something non human? The doctrine of original sin – that all human beings are born sinful is taken from the Scriptures (ie. Ps 51). It is taught by Jesus, Paul and the Prophets.

      I have in mind Romans 5, but as a point of clarification, I didn’t say the world was sinful (I’m mindful of the gnostic or Platonic temptation to view the physical world as lesser-than the spiritual, or outright evil), but that we’re born into a sinful world — or, sin-filled/sin-affected world, if that makes my point clearer.

      This ties back to both the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2 and the fall narrative in Genesis 3. Particularly (1) where God called the creation of humanity ‘good’ even while we were capable of being tempted into disobedience, i.e., morally imperfect, and (2) that temptation happening in Eden prior to some supposed generated sin nature, i.e., the capacity for Adam and Eve to be disobedient was built into them, and us.

      If Adam and Eve were capable of disobedience in Eden, then how much more are we in the wilderness in separation from God? It’s within the context of this wilderness that disobedient/sinful humanity was cast, that we find the ‘encouragement’ to continue to sin, reject God, etc. This is the working together of our moral imperfection (which is itself nowhere described as bad) and the world. The noetic effects of sin are likewise very real. But there does not need to be a corruption of human nature. In other words, any talk of a ‘sin nature’ refers to an aspect of our nature that we’ve always had, and not to the corruption of that nature. That nature is still in need of redeeming (in light of its moral imperfection), and I’m not suggesting that because “God created us that way” that we’re somehow excused. I’m of a similar mind to Plantinga in thinking that the incarnation, for example, was always the plan.

      So we can respect the Psalms, and be in agreement with Jesus, Paul and the Prophets, etc., while disagreeing with the particular suggestion that the sin of Genesis 3 corrupted human nature. But if Genesis 3 does teach a corruption of human nature, then where?

      1. So you are agreeing that the sinful world refers to human beings who are sinful – not the creation? You also accept the teaching of Romans 5 that sin entered the world through one man, and because of that all men sin. You also accept the teaching of Romans 3 that ‘there is no one righteous’ – at least in terms of their natural human state – out of Christ. This is all that the doctrine of original sin teaches. The corruption of human nature is about as clear in the Bible as the teaching that there is a God!

      2. So you are agreeing that…

        (For the sake of space.)

        Yes. My disagreement is specifically with the Augustinian suggestion that the sin of Genesis 3 resulted in the emergence of some new ‘sin nature’ (a corruption of human nature, that is) that was passed from Adam to his descendants by some unknown means.

        When I mention the Augustinian suggestion I do mean him specifically (there are others with similar views, e.g. Hilary, this I don’t intend on a historical-theological survey). For example, On Nature and Grace (importantly, a reply to Pelagius) opens with (chapter 2) “Therefore the nature of the human race, generated from the flesh of the one transgressor…” That’s fine for Augustine to argue but again, where is the reference to Genesis 3? The only direct mention is chapter 33, “Genesis 3:5 Truly then is it said, Pride is the commencement of all sin;”. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that if Paul is arguing what Augustine thinks Paul is arguing in Romans, then we could look back to Paul’s source texts to find support for the proposed interpretation. I noticed that you didn’t point out yourself where, in Genesis 3, a corrupted human nature is taught.

        Of course, important to Augustine’s argument is his understanding of Romans 5:12, and he lays that out in chapter 46. My disagreement, accordingly, is over Augustine’s reading of this section of scripture as meaning that all have sinned in Adam, i.e., Adam’s sin is passed to all humanity (but in his defence, Augustine wasn’t a Greek exegete). I would instead take Romans 5:12 as indicating that all are sinners because all have sinned, and not because all have inherited and are guilty of Adam’s sin by extension. Certainly, we all suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin and separation from God certainly isn’t good for us, or our nature.

        But it is yet still the case that all humans possess the morally imperfect nature we’ve always possessed, and we choose to sin, just as Adam and Eve chose to sin. The nature they begat to their children is exactly the same nature they were created with – unless someone can point out in Genesis 3 where we’re taught otherwise. Unless the claim is that Genesis 3 is simply silent on the matter?

        I’m not disputing human corruption, either. I’m disputing that this corruption is the result of a corruption of our original nature, and not because of, for example, our expulsion into the wilderness in a state of separation from God. So, my disagreement is very particular. Uhm, !!!!. 😉

      3. Genesis 3 is a key text – but Augustine, like all good theologians, does not do ‘proof texting’ – that is left for the fundamentalists and the progressives who want to deny the bible. Genesis 3 teaches the Fall. The Fall does not mean that the world is sinful and human beings are born sinless into this world. Rather it teaches that human beings are now born with a sinful nature (and are ‘dead’ in sins and trespasses) and that impacts the world. When a child comes into the world, they are not another pre-Fall Adam or Eve. They are ‘in Adam’ which means they share in Adam’s sin. Augustine taught this. But he was not the first. He taught it because he was teaching the Bible. If you deny this – can you give one example of any human being who has chosen not to sin and remains sinless?!

      4. Genesis 3 is a key text – but Augustine, like all good theologians…

        I think at this point I’ll thank you for the exchange, as I don’t think it’s worth either of our time to attempt to clarify, again, exactly what’s being argued. Given the lack of engagement and re-assertion of points not quite relevant to what I’m saying, I’m not convinced you’ve grasped the thrust of my disagreement with Augustine.

        Thank you also for your time, and to be clear, I am neither a fundamentalist, progressive, nor have I accused Augustine of proof-texting.

    4. Ambrosiaster,

      You suggest what may be wrong – “possibly the explanation that comes to us through Augustine.” And that you are “quite clearly concerned with how the doctrine squares with what we read in Genesis 3” with your dispute wiht Augustine with regard to human corruption is of it being “the result of a corruption of our original nature, and not because of, for example, our expulsion into the wilderness in a state of separation from God.”

      So if that is the case (and I think we are on the same page or a similar page with this) then we ought to be considering our “original nature” if we are to be on the right tack. Those who disagree with this position cannot easily dismiss it for reasons already given.

      And as in all discussions as soon as an approach becomes defensive it ceases to have validity.

      It’s easier to judge than think and that’s why many prefer to judge. To that there is a warning from Jesus about being judged by the same measure.

      1. Hi Adam,

        I can’t speak on the many, but I don’t think that David’s been unduly judgemental. I think he’s clearly committed to Augustine’s contributions insofar as they inform the broader Reformed understanding of original sin, and on such matters of doctrinal integrity, it’s not unexpected that David is as committed as he is. There’s something to be said for context, too.

        I’m not convinced that there isn’t some untangling to do be done between the doctrine of original sin and Augustine’s contribution, but this doesn’t seem to be the right place to continue with that, and David has been gracious in allowing the discussion at all.

        Ultimately it seems to me that a commitment to the doctrine of original sin is shared, even if the exact formulation of that doctrine isn’t. So, another time, perhaps.

      2. I am not the one being judgemental. Disagreeing with you is not judgemental – although the charge of being judgemental is easily made and impossible to answer – without being judgemental. I have little interest in whether Augustine believed in original sin or not. He did. But the issue is whether it is taught in the Bible. It is. The Bible clearly teaches that all human beings are born in sin, that none is righteous and that all need salvation. There is not much that I can say to people who just deny the clear biblical teaching! At least not without being accused of being judgemental!

      3. Theweeflea,

        I’m not sure if your reply is addressed to me or Adam, but if it’s addressed to me (feel free to nix this if not) then I didn’t suggest your disagreement with me is tantamount to being judgmental. ‘Unduly judgemental’ is the key phrase, as I think you’ve been fine thus far in the use of your judgment — at least in your replies to me insofar as those being what I’ve read.

        With that said, given the place of Augustine in Reformed theology (and other theological traditions for that matter), I would suspect your ‘little interest’ is an understatement, even if you aren’t an Augustine scholar. But if you truly do have little interest in Augustine then that may help explain the conflation of the doctrine of original sin with Augustine’s contributions to the doctrine of original sin. Unless you hold the two to be identical, in which case, little interest in Augustine seems irresponsible.

        The issues I’ve outlined with Augustine’s contributions are well known and don’t constitute a ‘[denial] of clear biblical teaching!’ I don’t know who you might find unobjectionable on the matter, but I could easily cite someone like William Lane Craig, who in his classes has pointed out what I’ve stated above — there is no mention of a transmitted sin nature or corruption of human nature in Genesis 3. Of course, Peter Enns has also said similar!

        So no, I haven’t denied ‘the clear biblical teaching’ in my taking issue with Augustine, and saying as much is to make an incorrect assessment. I have clearly (repeatedly) affirmed the relevant fundamentals.

        I’m quite happy to leave this at that (or for you to have the final word) unless you would like to keep going. But given the obstinate refusal to distinguish between Augustine and the doctrine he’s most famous for, I don’t think there’s much point in continuing given the lack of engagement already.

      4. When someone says I did not accuse you of being judgemental, just of being unduly judgemental’ – I lose the will to live in the face of such sophistry!

        My little interest is not in Augustine – who I have studied and read regularly – but I have little interest in what he teaches about original sin, compared with what the Scriptures say.

        Once again you seem to be resorting to only one passage of Scripture. Genesis 3 teaches the fall of human nature. The rest of Scripture tells us what that means. No one who reads Scripture honestly can argue that it teaches that each human being is born pure and sinless.

        Incidentally for someone who is not judgemental you make a lot of judgements!

      5. When someone says I did not accuse you of being judgemental, just of being unduly judgemental’ – I lose the will to live in the face of such sophistry!

        You’ve misread. I wrote that I do not think you’ve been unduly judgmental. So no, no my dear Thrasymachus, I have not engaged in sophistry. See, that’s a slight with style. 😉

        I see no value in replying further given your expectation of antagonism. Thanks again.

  2. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom… —1 Corinthians 2:4

    Paul was a scholar and an orator of the highest degree; he was not speaking here out of a deep sense of humility, but was saying that when he preached the gospel, he would veil the power of God if he impressed people with the excellency of his speech.
    Belief in Jesus is a miracle produced only by the effectiveness of redemption, not by impressive speech, nor by wooing and persuading, but only by the sheer unaided power of God.
    The creative power of redemption comes through the preaching of the gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher.

    Real and effective fasting by a preacher is not fasting from food, but fasting from eloquence, from impressive diction, and from everything else that might hinder the gospel of God being presented. The preacher is there as the representative of God— “…as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He is there to present the gospel of God.

    If it is only because of my preaching that people desire to be better, they will never get close to Jesus Christ. Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus, and I prevent the creative power of His redemption from doing its work.

    “And I, if I am lifted up…, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).

    The above is from:
    Oswald Chambers – My Utmost for His highest today 17-7-22

    That’s why Chambers is read 100 years later, whilst many contemporary pastors won’t be.

  3. “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”! ‘One man band ministries’ are NOT Biblical, even ‘Itinerant Ministries’ as we see Jesus sent His disciples out in twos, and Paul accompanied by Barnabas etc. The Biblical model is always a ‘Plurality of Elders’ overseeing ministry from the Body of Christ as God calls equips & allows, assisted by Deacons so the Biblical Ministries can be exercised to build up the Body of Christ for edification. This will facilitate ‘Discipleship’ which otherwise will suffer or be ignored, particularly if one man is being relied upon.
    No one man is infallible, which is why we need each other; hence a Body ministry with the Lord Jesus as our only Head!

  4. At the time he was popular, he only ever seemed to be in the media attacking other pastors. It says it all really.

    Reading your article made me realize he should have been a red flag warning of widespread support for Trump from the same constituency that was impressed by Driscoll’s bullying.

  5. Your mention of Tertullian reminded me that he is the author of the famous dictum that he believes the impossible because it is absurd ( credo quia absurdum ) so he is naturally dear to the heart of the holy.

  6. “Augustine may have been wrong – but he did not originate the view that human beings are born sinful because they are human”
    Heck, I think this is all a bit above my level so I enter the discussion with great trepidation. All I want to point out is that, as I understand it, there is a difference between what the Catholic Church teaches and what the Protestant Reformers taught. In Catholic theology there is such a thing as concupiscence, a tendency towards being sinful. I understand that the Protestant Reformers taught that, as David puts it, “human beings are born sinful”. So the Catholic Church teaches that baptism washes away original sin, and any actual sins previously committed, but that it does not remove concupiscence.

    In 1999 the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation created and agreed “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”. Anyone who wants to examine further the differences between Catholics and Lutherans on the topics of original sin, baptism and concupiscence can refer to this document”, especially 4.4 ‘The Justified as Sinner’, and the subsequent official response of the Catholic Church, which states, “The major difficulties preventing an affirmation of total consensus between the parties on the theme of Justification arise in paragraph 4.4 The Justified as Sinner (nn. 28-1,0 )”

    1. Not just the Protestant Reformers – but also the great Catholic theologians – Augustine, Aquinas and GK Chesterton who once said that original sin was the most provable doctrine in the whole bible! The difference you refer to is about justification – not original sin.

  7. Small point: Catholics may have a great admiration for G K Chesterton as a writer on religion but I’m not sure that many would consider him a great theologian.
    I may be wrong but I don’t think that it’s just a matter of original sin versus justification. I think that it’s also a question of differences over the nature of original sin. There is, for example, the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity, a doctrine which the Catholic Church rejects.
    Casey Chalk examines TULIP from a Catholic perspective over at ‘Called to Communion’.
    It is, perhaps, a question of what one means by ‘born sinful’. We know that people can use the same terminology to mean different things. (Interestingly, the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Declaration attempts to claim that Catholics and Lutherans are using different terms to mean the same thing!)

    1. Born sinful is not difficult = born with sin and to sin. We have a sinful nature. We are not born pure and then each of us becomes sinful. The Catholic Church teaches that we are born sinful – in fact the Catholic church is so ‘extreme’ on this that it invented limbo to deal with the problem of what happens to babies.

      Total depravity (which virtually no one who opposes it understands) is simply the teaching that sin affects every part of our lives. Would you deny that?

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