*** DEBUG END ***

Just put the blame on Adam

26 April 2011

David Atkinson on responsibility for sin


In Adam’s Fall: A meditation on the Christian doctrine of Original Sin
Ian A. McFarland
Wiley-Blackwell £70
Church Times Bookshop £63

THIS is a heady mix: four parts quite complex academic theology, and one part devotional meditation on the meaning of the gospel. Ian McFarland is an associate professor at Candler School of Theology, a Methodist seminary attached to Emory University in Atlanta. An­noyed by the way in which con­temporary secular thought and much contem­porary theology dismisses as either incredible or morally unacceptable the traditional doctrine of Original Sin — namely that “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” — McFarland argues not only that the doctrine of ori­ginal sin is theologically defensible, but that it is inseparable from the confession that Jesus is Saviour and Lord.

McFarland acknowledges the difficulties of the doctrine: the idea that all people are sinners because of one person’s sin; the problems of un­derstanding all humanity as repre­sented by one federal head; what these ideas do to our understanding of individual freedom and respons­ibil­ity; whether the idea of “inevit­able” sin vitiates the pursuit of justice; perhaps especially the in­com­patibility of belief in a historic fall with neo-Darwinian evolution.

And there is much in Christian tradition of which McFarland is critical. He claims, however, that a careful interpretation of St August­ine and a judicious use of Maximus the Confessor provide resources for articulating the doctrine for con­tem­porary Christians.

The heart of the book includes a discussion, at times highly technical, at times highly tortuous, of August­ine’s theology of freedom and the human will, and of Maxiumus’s engagement in the seventh-century “monothelite” controversy. This leads McFarland to an exploration of whether Christ’s human will was “fallen or unfallen”; and provides a basis for his own reconstruction of the doctrine of Original Sin.

You do not need belief in Adam and Eve, he says, to recognise that all human desires are distorted, and can be turned towards God only through grace. It is possible, he argues, to recognise a complicity in sin among all human beings without assigning individual blame, or losing indi­vidual responsibility. Acknowledging the depths of sin, through a proper appreciation of the extent of God’s grace in Christ, can lead to a healthy concern for change, repentance, and justice.

This book is heavy going for the average preacher, or the average student. It will be most at home in an academic theological library — and a £70 price-tag suggests that is where it is most likely to be used.

The Rt Revd Dr Atkinson is Honorary Assistant Bishop in Southwark diocese.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)