Edwin Charles Dargan was born on November 17, 1852. A native of South Carolina, he converted to Christ at age sixteen and went on to earn two degrees from Furman University (B.A., M.A.) and later enrolled in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary studying theology under the famed founder of Southern, James. P. Boyce >>>
After serving the pastorate for several years in Virginia and California, Dargan was invited to join the faculty of his beloved alma mater in 1892. Hence, he became the professor of homiletics and ecclesiological history and remained so until 1907 when, leaving academia behind, he became the pastor of First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia. There the former Southern professor stayed until his retirement. From 1911 until 1913, he served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.1
Dargan is mostly known for his literary works in preaching including the two volume set entitled The History of Preaching and his editorial expansion of the classic textbook on preaching by Southern seminary professor, John Broadus, entitled On Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.2 Lessor known works by Dargan include The Bible Our Heritage and The Doctrines of our Faith: A Convenient Handbook for Use in Normal Classes, Sacred Literature Courses and Individual Study, the latter of which was printed by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1899, and the volume from which we will examine Dargan's understanding of Original Sin and Total Depravity.
We remain convinced that Dargan's view of human depravity resembles very closely some of the affirmations and denials in the recently released Traditional Statement (TS) penned by Dr. Eric Hankins. In fact, it is not too much to conclude that if critics are correct in their summation of the TS as being Semi-Pelagianism, then we are obligated to also dub E.C. Dargan to have been Semi-Pelagian in his understanding of the post-fallen human will.
If we are correct, Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, may have the proverbial tiger by the tail since on the one hand, he criticized the TS document as appearing Semi-Pelagian, and on the other, insists his mandate is to take Southern seminary back to its "confessional roots," a confessional rootedness which embarrassingly harbored a famed professor who, if critics are correct, held tenaciously to Semi-Pelagianism himself. I suppose some wit could ask the good president, "How's that workin for ya?"
But first things first. Let's note several of Professor Dargan's statements on original sin and the post-fallen human will (all quotes are from the volume cited above; all embolden added for emphasis; italics original):
"The real origin of sin, therefore, lies back of human existence and quite beyond our reach, but the human origin of sin is set before us in the Scripture narrative. Another difficulty arises as to how perfectly innocent beings, such as Adam and Eve, could be tempted; but the answer is that innocence does not include the impossibility of sinning, but only the possibility of not sinning" (p.93)
"The direct penalties [for Adam and Eve's disobedience] were banishment and mortality. They were driven from their beautiful home and denied access to the tree of life" (ibid)
"As a consequence of the sin of our first parents all their descendants have been born mortal and with a tendency to evil. The Scriptures are very explicit in their teaching. We refer here to Ps. 51:5; 53: 1-3; Rom. 5:12, 21; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22; Eph. 2:3. Theologians and philosophers have differed as to some details in regard to this matter, but we need not follow their arguments, but simply accept the general statement of Scripture that the first sinner, being the father of the race, passed on to his descendants a tendency to evil, which invariably manifests itself as human beings come to consciousness and activity" (p.94)
"2. The doctrine has also a practical value. It covers the case as far as we now need to know it. We can easily see how by the law of heredity all men might have a sinful nature; yet with that our consciousness of moral freedom and of responsibility is so strong that this doctrine affords us both warning and guidance. If our first parents in their innocency were not proof against temptation, how much more imperiled is their sinful posterity" (p.95)
"In consequence of the disobedience and fall of the first human pair all their posterity have come into the world with a taint and tendency to sin" (p.97)
"It is not necessary to maintain that there is a dead level of absolute and total wickedness in the world. Noble deeds emerge here and there to teach us that the divine image, though sadly marred, is not totally effaced; and that humanity, though sinful, is not hopeless. We can see a virtue here and there even amidst the wickedest" (p.98)
"We may know some exceptions as to good deeds. We need not say that we are conscious of only evil. We are also conscious of some good feelings, and we have recollection of some good things that we have done" (p.99)
"(b) The doctrine of depravity. Much has been written and said amiss on this subject. The expression "total depravity" has been misinterpreted to mean that there was absolutely no good in anybody at all; but this is not what the Scripture means. Human depravity is not "total" in the sense that all men are wholly and equally wicked, that there is no good in any human being. It means that the total man, the whole sum of human life and being, is perverted; that all the faculties of man are more or less twisted out of shape by sin; that each man, upon the whole, is turned from God rather than toward God; so that the whole nature of man, as it now exists, is warped and twisted by sin" (p.101)3
"As was said above about our own consciousness and observation, there are differences in men; all men are not sinners in exactly the same way, nor to exactly the same extent, but, nevertheless, all are sinners" (p.102)
"Sin is also represented as a state, that is, it is a condition in which man is placed by his evil doing. This is a state of guiltiness before God. Man stands in the sight of the holy God as one condemned. He is a culprit. He deserves punishment" (p.108)
"We find in Ephesians 2:Iff a very striking statement of the real situation. Here man in his natural state is considered to be dead through his trespasses and sins. He is looked upon as one who is living according to the lower desires of his earthly nature, and thus as being the child of wrath, separated from God" (p.114)
"As we saw before, in considering the matter of total depravity, this alienation from God affects the whole man. In mind and heart, in purpose and in deed, man is apart from God, lost and straying" (pp. 115-116)
"Men are so far estranged from God, and so frozen in their polar night of absence that they have ceased to care, and as before remarked, this state of mind may further settle down into positive atheism. There is a practical atheism which refuses to recognize God...There is a speculative atheism which denies God and tries to cheat the intellect into believing there is none. But these are extremes. All men do not reach this low and dreadful depth of darkness and despair" (p.117)
"Yet there is a realization in man of his absence from God... The religions and superstitions of men, their sacrifices and forms of worship, indicate a more or less well-defined consciousness of a guilty distance from God. Among the people where there is any correct teaching concerning God, this dim consciousness becomes more definite and pronounced, and often leads to genuine and sincere repentance of sin and a yearning unspeakable for the forgiveness and love of the Great Ruler of the universe" (ibid)
"It does not put the matter too strongly to say that man's part is necessary. If man is saved he must have a hand in the work" (p.147)
"What we should thus infer from the moral constitution of man is clearly shown in the Scriptures. Man must be active in his own salvation" (p.148)
From the foregoing quotes available for examination in Dargan's Doctrines of our Faith, it seems conclusive beyond doubt that whatever view Dargan held on the post-Edenic human will we inherited from our sinful parents, it was not the spiritual cadaver new Calvinists insist must be raised from the dead in regenerative resurrection before it can repent and believe. I know of no way a Calvinistic regeneration-precedes-faith kind of model could even fit into Dargan's view of human depravity.
Nor does Dargan ever hint that we inherited from Adam more than a sinful nature, a nature "twisted" and "torn" and "marred" and consequently, possessing a "tendency to evil" but nonetheless with some sort of moral abilities which sounds curiously like what critics of TS are calling Semi-Pelagianism. Furthermore, the imputation of Adamic guilt seems clearly out of the question. Again, Dargan wrote that upon "any correct teaching concerning God, this dim consciousness becomes more definite and pronounced, and often leads to genuine and sincere repentance of sin and a yearning unspeakable for the forgiveness and love of the Great Ruler of the universe."
Hence, from what Calvinistic critics have written about TS supporters, they either owe them an apology or need to condemn the 19th century Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor for embracing what they view to be Semi-Pelagianism. To remain silent is to remain guilty.
And, in light of not only Al Mohler's condemnation of the Traditional Statement as appearing Semi-Pelagian, but also in view of his self-perceived mandate to take Southern seminary back to its 19th century "confessional" moorings, moorings which unfortunately and willingly harbored an apparent Semi-Pelagian professor, we are obliged to mention yet one time more, "How's that workin for ya, Dr. Mohler?"
1much of the biographical information came from a web resource at SBTS
2as a personal byline, my first textbook on preaching in 1979 was Broadus' classic text
3at this point, Dargan cites and briefly comments upon several biblical texts which Calvinists often cite to "prove" the human will and inner spiritual life is utterly non-existent in its naturally sinful and allegedly unresponsive state including Psalm 14 that Paul quotes in Romans 3:10ff; Psalm 51; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 12:33-37; Ephesians 2:1ff