Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bob Dylan on the Imputation of Adam’s Sin


Temptation's not an easy thing,
 Adam given the devil reign
 Because he sinned I got no choice,
 It run in my vein

Pressing On        Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

The Christian Doctrine of the Imputation of Adam’s Sin is not an easy one for Americans to swallow.  Now you’re telling me that simply because Adam sinned, I am guilty of it and I am in some kind of bondage to sin?  That doesn’t sound fair.  God wouldn’t do that to me.   He wouldn’t punish me for the sins of another…. would He?

But this doctrine, which seems to have fallen on hard times, it was once the popular and only one for the early British Americans known as the Puritans.  The New-England Primer, one of the first books printed in America in 1687 was the first reading primer designed for the American Colonies.  They used this little book to teach children the Alphabet by creating catchy rhymes to help children to remember each letter.  The first letter in the alphabet is A, so they thought they should begin with a foundational truth about Adam.  These early American Puritan children were taught to define the "self" by relating their life to the authority of God and His Word.

In Adam's fall
We Sinned all.
When you think about it, this idea of Federalism, i.e. that your Federal Head commits a sin and you bear the consequences, happens all the time.   When the leader of Iran, for example, makes a poor choice about developing an atomic weapon and the world responds with sanctions, suddenly all the people of Iran begin to suffer for the choice of the one.   Or if your parent is an alcoholic or addicted to gambling, the children will bear the consequences of no longer having a parent around or of not having any money left after the incessant gambling squanders away all that the family has to live on.

Now this word “imputation” is a bit hard to understand.  The dictionary tells us to impute, is to “ascribe or attribute to a source or cause” usually in a legal context.   We might use the word "transmission" instead of "imputation" if it is easier for us to understand this legal terminology common used by Reformed theologians.
But the theologians chose this legal word to connect it to the strong analogy made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-21 between the work of Adam and of Christ and the Christian's relationship to each.

All of humanity stands with Adam as their representation to the extent that both his guilt and his corruption are imputed to them.   And similarly those who stand with Christ as their representative receive both His forgiveness and His righteousness by imputation.
The biblical position is that in Adam's sin, humanity was constituted sinners in the same manner that the elect are constituted as righteous – so we see this parallelism between Adam and Christ again.

As Paul puts it in another place (1 Corinthians 15:22) “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 
Now there is another main theory on these matters and that is called Pelagianism.  It is named after the British Monk Pelagius (354-440 AD).  It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid.   While few know the name of this belief,  Pelagianism is very popular in the world today, but it is a very hard doctrine to square with what the Bible says.   See for example Jeremiah 17:9   

"The heart is deceitful above all things, 
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?"

Or Gen 6:5

"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."

Only.... evil.... continually?, This is a pretty bad situation.  The human heart is clearly tainted

It is also very hard to square Pelagianism with a casual observation of the daily news, or the world around us.  In fact the doctrine of Original Sin is pretty easy to believe when you look reality squaely in the eye.   This biblical teaching is probably one of the best attested doctrines.   Look around for a minute or two and you will see human depravity almost every where you turn.   It is pretty clear to any honest observer; that there is something desperately wrong with human nature.  It is clear that sin has tainted human nature, so that it is no longer what it once was, and now one of the deepest longings of our hearts is to get back to that original place.

It was for this reason that James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, and student in his college days of the Presbyterian Minister John Witherspoon, wrote in Federalist 51, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."   So the American system of representative government is built upon this fundamental premise, the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin.

To get clarity on this difficult subject, we need more easy rhymes like the Puritans used:
“In Adam’s Fall, We sinned All.”

Or like we find in some of Bob Dylan’s songs:
Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s His
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is

Blind Willie McTell       Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

For a really great version of Pressing On, Click the Link below to hear Dylan's poetic description of Original Sin and the difficult, but fundamentally important doctrine of the Imputation of Adam's Sin.

Pressing On by Liam and Glen Dublin 2011