I was initially looking forward to reading this book more because of the author, less because of the subject. In seminary I was required to read Blocher’s, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis and found it really, really helpful as an overview survey of the different ways to interpret Genesis, respectively. I have ever since appreciated Blocher’s ability to express all vantage points of a topic, concisely, fairly and appropriately, with an analytical eye. Generally, I would describe Blocher’s writing style as intentionally focused. He doesn’t waste much words. He always seems to get right to the point, but he often has a really nice way of getting there. Some of his lines end up as virtuoso poetry. Reading Blocher reminds me of what it’s like to read works of a similar genius – the world renowned theologian, John Webster.
To no surprise, Blocher’s survey of views on how Paul is supposedly making sense of Adam in his Chapter three is masterful. But somehow I liked Chapter Four even more where Blocher surveys the history of mankind (pages 83-93) to show how the doctrine of original sin resonates with our own human experiences. Perhaps this is why the doctrine of original sin has always been the least interesting doctrine for me. Or maybe more honestly, why it’s always seemed least essential. Even though I subscribe to the doctrine myself, and I at the same time appreciate that different scholars have to articulate it in their own ways… I’ve not really been too interested in delving into the details. For me, to do so has always seemed a little bit too late.
Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, I have yet to meet a person able or even typically willing to argue with the idea that all men are somehow united in their disordered desires. However we may parse it in the end, I’ve found the doctrine of original sin to be particularly resonant with universal human experience. As Pascal has once put it, “man is more inconceivable without the mystery than the mystery is to the man.” (84) So why spend time defending the doctrine or focusing for too long on the details? In the end no matter how someone may choose to express the doctrine (or claim to deny it), we all very quickly get to the same starting blocks: As humans, we aren’t always what we want to be. We keep messing up, and we keep needing help… And there you have it. Already we find the springboard has been sprung. We’re now off and running. And typically, in the same direction from the very start. So why pay sustained attention to this doctrine as such? Here we get to my favorite parts of the book. Something I wasn’t expecting.
Throughout the book, Blocher weaves in some apologetics, showing time and time again the values of the doctrine of original sin. That is, how does the doctrine of original sin help us to understand life, and also to live it properly? I counted at least 10 of them throughout the book. 10 different ways the doctrine of original sin properly articulated and understood helps us. Blocher would say the doctrine of original sin at the least helps us to:
- Answer important questions such as:
- Why is the perception of human evil, in the main, accompanied by feelings of indignation, guilt or shame? If human evil were merely “natural”, like the ferocity of tigers (or ants!), there would be no room for such feelings.
- If humans are capable of so much evil, how is it that they also reach heights of heroism, performing admirable deeds of selfless service and devotion to the truth? How can they bear fruits of beauty and wisdom? How can we explain this complex human phenomenon? (Pages 11-12)
- Unlock the tangles and knots of our human experience: that of both our misery and our nobility (Page 84)
- Locate the operation of evil. Through understanding this doctrine we come to an understanding of sin’s location. (Page 89)
- Make sense of our duality of experience of both personal responsibility and social solidarity… both our seeming determinism and our individual freedom. The tension is not burdensome for the Christian who believes in the doctrine of original sin. (94-95)
- Show us how sin can be both a necessity of will as well as a voluntary choice, all at the same time (99)
- “One should notice that the doctrine of original sin not only protects guilt or responsibility from its denial under the crushing impression of necessity; it also mitigates what could become inordinate harshness” (102)
- “This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others, than of ourselves: it teaches us that we are all, as we are by nature, companions in a miserable helpless condition: which under a revelation of the divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion.” (131-132)
- Shows us how through Christ we cannot be condemned for our sin, yet we still must avoid the things that are condemnable, both those things from without and within. (134)
- Experiencing the doctrine builds faith and gives us solid ground for a sober, patient hope (134)
- See Christ more clearly. “In its teaching on original sin, Scripture seems to impose a bitter diet, which causes pain at the level of our emotions: but how sweet it is, in the sense of goodness, for those who can taste it – the life-giving truth of Christ!” (135, the last words of the book)
To see how exactly this doctrine does all-a-that, you’d have to read the book for yourself! Speaking for myself, I learned at least one new thing: The doctrine of original sin isn’t simply true, or just particularly resonant, it’s also really helpful.