Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Brief Review of a Brief Book

Born Guilty? A Southern Baptist View of Original Sin, Adam Harwood. Carrollton, GA: Free Church Press, 2013. ISBN 9781939283023. 38 pages, paperback.

Hot off the presses and in the heat of controversy, Born Guilty tackles the difficult question of whether an individual is guilty in God's sight before he or she is "morally capable" of understanding what sin is. The author is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia and quite capable of addressing his subject. Harwood moves in the "Traditional" soteriological camp of Southern Baptists that asserts a middle ground position between Calvinism & Arminianism and seeks to stem the rising tide of Calvinism within the Convention.

The booklet is small, but should not be dismissed for its brevity. The author is able clearly, concisely and amicably to propose his view and make valuable this work. Born Guilty is one in a series by Free Church Press "focusing on biblical, theological and moral issues facing today's Christians. Though not stated in the book itself, the idea is to provide a quick overview and a compact study for lay members. Speaking of this series on his blog, Peter Lumpkins writes that the intent is to give "a brief summary of the subjects the series addressed" and that the audience intended is "people in the pew, neither pastors nor others with theological backgrounds." 

The book resides contextually as part of a controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention. It is nevertheless not limited to that utility, but will be beneficial to others not in the SBC and will add to the overall information in the broader soteriological/original sin debate. Calvinists will not likely applaud this new arrival, whether they find it a challenge to be answered or more evidence of what some of them have termed semi-Pelagianism. Some "Traditionalists" will prefer their position of "born guilty yet safe until they reach the age of accountability," a position well established among most non-Calvinist missionary Baptists. Others will welcome this as a clearer refutation of the original sin of Calvinism than their complicated series of leaps to hold all Adam's descendants guilty while assuring an eternal home in heaven for all infants who die.

Are infants born sinners? Are they born guilty? Harwood answers the last question with an unqualified "no" and the first with a "yes". The bulk of the book is about 2 dozen pages of Harwood's view positively presented while negating the "original sin" theory. The heart of the author's presentation is an exposition of Romans 5:12-21, which he calls "the most important text when considering the guilt of Adam's sin (p. 5)." Harwood also chronicles some theology and history favoring his position on Adamic guilt. Two appendices follow: A. Article 3 (the Fall of Man) from three editions of the Baptist Faith and Message,* 1925, 1963, and 2000; B. A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation. This booklet contains endnotes, but neither "Contents" nor "Index" -- both of which would have been helpful. I also found the use of italics for the main contents of the book an aesthetic negative.

The design of Born Guilty is to set forth the effects of sin on Adam's descendants while answering the problem of hereditary guilt from Adam. Harwood's conclusion is clear and resounding: "we become transgressors who are guilty and under condemnation for our sin only when we attain moral capability and first commit--knowingly commit--a sinful thought, attitude or action" (p. 4) and "If we are not guilty of Adam's sin, then a primary commitment of Calvinism is rendered unnecessary for sound biblical theology (p. 25)."

A few places in the booklet left me confused and wishing for more explanation. For example:

First, it seems that Harwood limits the views of original sin to only two -- "Do we receive from Adam a sinful nature or Adam's guilt? (p. 3)" But these are not mutually exclusive, and both are held systematically by Calvinists and not a few "Traditional" non-Calvinistic Baptists.

Second, in a list of Scriptures proving that individuals are accountable for their own sins, the author includes the judgment of the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12) and the death of David's and Bathsheba's baby because of David's sin (2 Samuel 12). These accounts may not speak directly to Adamic guilt. But I wanted Harwood to resolve the inclusion of those passages (pp. 12-13), which appear to be punishment of one for the actions of another (which seems to contradict the point of that list).

Next, the author discusses the views of the three SBC Presidents during the development of the 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements. He inserts a curious reference to a statement by Paige Patterson. Though I do not doubt that Patterson's view likely accords with Harwood's, the supplied quote falls short of saying so (p. 22) and left me wondering why the author didn't include a direct statement of Patterson's theology.

Finally, Harwood includes and refers to the statements on the fall of man from the 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Messages. What he leaves unexplained, though, is how the 1925 article -- "his [Adam's] posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation" (p. 30) -- coincides with his view and whether the 1963 revision represents some discontinuity in the SBC view of inherited guilt and original sin. The 1925 statement does not say the same thing as the 1963 and 2000 statements, and does not support the view which the author is advancing.

Some self-absorbed theologians may disdainfully discount this brief volume. Certainly if one is looking for a weighty theological tome, this is not the one. If you want to delve more deeply the subject of the condition of infants, consider Harwood's The Spiritual Condition of Infants: a Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal for a statement of the "Traditional" Southern Baptist view.** But if you want to get an overview of one non-Calvinistic understanding on the issue of original sin and inherited guilt -- and one that is up-to-date with current controversy -- you can be informed by Born Guilty. Though I don't agree with the author's conclusion, I recommend his book as an insightful argument contra the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of original sin.

When I purchased this book I found it available in several venues, but ordering directly from Free Church Press was the most economical option (IOW, the best price!).

* The doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention
** This is representative of some other non-Calvinistic Baptists as well.

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