Recently, a Kentucky Southern Baptist pastor challenged Dr. Adam Harwood’s raising questions toward a particular seminary professor’s exclusive allegiance to imputed sinful guilt and whether the exclusiveness of the professor's view may be inconsistent with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.1
In his post entitled “Adam Brought Sin into the Human Race: A Response to Adam Harwood,” Jared Moore begins:
Adam Harwood, Professor of Christian Studies at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, GA, recently argued that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, because they believe in original guilt, may not be able to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M2K). You can find part 1 of his argument here and part 2 here. I’m amazed at the accusation from Dr. Harwood for many reasons” (links original)
While Moore makes some helpful remarks later in his critique, I only desire to focus on a blight right at the start of his piece and move to several comments in the thread.
Moore indicates there exist several reasons why he’s “amazed at the accusation” coming from Dr. Harwood. Why Moore begins this critique this way is anyone's guess. Indeed I challenge the reader to peruse Harwood’s two-part series and note the times the professor writes in an accusatory fashion. Truth is, Harwood is the quintessential literary gentleman. It’s hard to imagine raising a question about another’s position in a more congenial, scholar-to-scholar tone and content than Harwood does in his respectful query to Southern seminary's Tom Schreiner. “Accusation” is hardly an appropriate summation of Harwood’s careful, respectful reasoning and comes across more as the inflammatory rhetoric of an over-jealous apologist than it does of a sober response to a respectable young scholar. Perhaps, this may be, at least in part, one reason Dr. Harwood has not visited Moore’s post to dialog.
While there are surely other non sequiturs in Moore’s piece we might explore,2 I’m more interested presently in several of the comments in the thread. Of Dr. Harwood’s view that we inherit from Adam a sinful nature but not sinful guilt, consider the conclusions many entertained:3
- “Harwood’s understanding is flawed and …dangerous to the church”
- “Harwood’s position against imputed guilt is indeed flawed and flies in the face of the plain reading of scripture… . This denial of imputed guilt allows the onus to be, once again, on man. Man decides when he is guilty. God cannot impute guilt without man’s decision. Not in the non-Calvinist, at least the new non-Calvinist world” (//link)
- “Harwood’s, and those who agree with him, need to be very careful. One simply has to look at the Unitarian movement… and the WOF movement… Both…reject the doctrine of original sin… . When one no longer believes that we are guilty as a result of inherited guilt from Adam, it opens the door to true heresies such as universalism” (//link)
- “Denying that Adam’s sin brought guilt to all persons who ever lived…is virtually ‘another gospel’… we must never-the-less state clearly what this denial is – - heresy if not worse” (//link)
- “That is an unorthodox view, not to mention self-contradictory”
So, Harwood’s flawed rejection of imputed sinful guilt constitutes a danger to the Christian church because it allegedly flies in the face of Scripture, makes humans self-autonomous, maintains a self-contradictory position, opens the door to unorthodox heresies such as universalism and, in essence, constitutes another gospel.4
The raw amount of historical-theological unawareness oozing from many comments on this thread cannot be missed.5 One wonders precisely who many Southern Baptists have been reading through the years. What resources have they consulted? Are all their resources Reformed theologians and exegetes? Are they not aware of any Baptist exegetes and theologians a half-generation from James Petigru Boyce?
Suffer me a single example.
Dr. J. W. “Jack” MacGorman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was born in Nova Scotia on Dec. 26, 1920.6 Still living and as active as possible on campus, Dr. MacGorman maintains one of the longest tenures of academic service in the history of the seminary. MacGorman began classes as a student at Southwestern Seminary on Sept. 11, 1945 completing his Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees at Southwestern by 1956. Three years into his seminary education, Dr. MacGorman was added to the seminary’s faculty, and for 56 years he was active at the seminary both as student and professor. Having taught and lectured throughout the world,, Southwestern honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986 and the L.R. Scarborough Award in 2008.
Of Dr. MacGorman, Paige Patterson reportedly said:
"Few names in the 100-year history of Southwestern Seminary have been any more prominently or effectively associated with Southwestern than Dr. and Mrs. J.W. MacGorman… For this reason, and many more, Southwestern is delighted to announce that the new chapel will carry their name…Baptists have always been about the task of honoring, reading and expounding the New Testament. As a professor of New Testament and Greek for more than 50 years, Dr. MacGorman became the epitome of what this seminary is about…” (//link)
Hence, to question the magnitude of academic ministry and effective scholarship of this Southern Baptist giant seems entirely out of the question.
Of the many writings and lectures MacGorman produced, I cite two sources he penned in 1976 and 1980, respectively—Romans: Everyman’s Gospel and Layman’s Bible Book Commentary: Romans, 1 Corinthians Vol 20.7 The citations concern Paul’s words in Romans 5:12-21 (particularly his comments concerning inherited sinful guilt vs. inherited sinful nature):
Romans: Everyman’s Gospel
(1976, pp 77-84, all emphasis added):
“No passage in this letter is more difficult to understand than Romans 5:12-21. No passage has suffered a greater distortion at the hands of its interpreters.”
“To these difficulties in the passage itself, translators and interpreters have added their own misunderstandings of Paul's meaning. The following items will provide examples of what is intended by this statement:
1. The Vulgate, a fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible, wrongly translated the last clause of Romans 5:12. Where the Greek text has, "Because all men sinned," the Vulgate rendered, "In whom all sinned." Adam was regarded as the unnamed antecedent of "in whom."
2. Upon the basis of this translation error in the Vulgate, Augustine (a.d. 354-430) developed his doctrine of original sin. He taught that all men were seminally present in the loins of Adam when he sinned. Thus he held that the whole human race sinned in Adam's sin. By virtue of our physical descent from Adam, we inherit his guilt. We are born guilty of original sin, according to Augustine. …
3. In the seventeenth century Johann Cocceius proposed a different theory of original sin. He taught that God entered into a covenant with Adam as the federal head of the human race. If Adam obeyed God, all mankind would receive eternal life; but if he disobeyed, all would be condemned to corruption and death. Since Adam sinned, God imputed his sin to all his descendants. This has been called the Federal Theory of Original Sin or the Theory of Condemnation by Covenant. It has influenced greatly the churches of the Reformed tradition. However, there is not one shred of evidence in the Bible that God ever entered into such a covenant with Adam. The theory was born in Europe, not Eden.
4. Many interpreters of Romans 5:12-21 have tended to ignore both its general and immediate context in the letter. In Romans 1:18 to 3:20 Paul set forth his doctrine of sin. Here he showed how all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, have become guilty, because all men have sinned (3:9, 19, 23). Human guilt derives from human sin; it is not inherited. Men are guilty because they have sinned, not because they were born.”
“No interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 that obscures or refutes the plain teaching of Romans 1:18 to 3:20 can be correct. Is it not interesting that Paul managed to demonstrate the guiltiness of all men in this earlier passage without any reference to Adam?”
Layman’s Bible Book Commentary:
Romans, 1 Corinthians Vol 20
“We want to know how men were made sinners by Adam's disobedience. Was it because all men were seminally present in the loins of Adam when he sinned, and thus inherited his guilt (Augustine)? Was it because Adam as the federal head of the race cast the wrong vote in Eden, and so rendered all men guilty before God (Cocceius)? We must affirm that there is no evidence for either of these theories of original sin in this passage. Indeed a study of both Genesis 3:1-24 and Romans 5:12-21 reveals that neither passage explains how the effects of Adam’s sin were transmitted to his descendants.”
“We know that the death of Christ on the cross does not automatically grant all men a right standing with God. In Romans 3:24-25 Paul made plain that Christ's accomplishment on the cross avails for us only upon the basis of our faith in him. We do not inherit salvation because of what Christ has done. Rather by God's grace we receive salvation through faith in Christ.
We do not inherit salvation through Christ's obedience apart from our personal involvement in faith. Nor do we inherit condemnation through Adam’s disobedience apart from our personal involvement in sin. Neither salvation nor guilt can be inherited.”
Given the quotes above from one of Southern Baptists’ most eminent New Testament scholars, we may safely make three simple inferences.
First, the embolden pronouncements8 coming from many Reformed Baptists concerning an alleged “danger” existing in denying the “clear” words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12 which supposedly reveals “inherited guilt,” pronouncements making outrageous insinuations about leading to “true heresies” is so fundamentally skewed and wrong-headed it almost takes my breath away. Young men slobbering all over themselves about “clarity” in a passage when New Testament scholars who’ve taught in our seminaries over a half-century describe the same text as a text about which no passage either remains “more difficult to understand” or suffered “greater distortion” at the hands of its interpreters can be found, should concern every church in the Southern Baptist Convention. Pastor! What under the blue heavens have you been teaching your people?! We’ve got a serious, serious crisis here.
Second, Dr. Harwood’s view concerning inherited sinful nature but not imputed sinful guilt stands squarely in the mainstream of Southern Baptist theology as Dr. MacGorman clearly reveals. Rather than embracing a dangerous, innovative, unorthodox position, young Harwood's exegetical conclusions match perfectly those of a seasoned New Testament scholarly veteran. Consequently, those who judge Harwood of embracing an “unorthodox” position creating “danger” for the church need look no further than what has precisely been taught in New Testament exegesis at Southwestern seminary for the last half century. Carefully read MacGorman’s lips:
Human guilt derives from human sin; it is not inherited. Men are guilty because they have sinned, not because they were born.
If there is a problem with Harwood’s position, somebody needs to tell Dr. MacGorman since, for the last 50+ years, he’s apparently also constituted a danger to the Christian church by teaching views which fly in the face of Scripture, make humans self-autonomous, maintain a self-contradictory position, open the door to unorthodox heresies such as universalism, and views which, in essence, constitute another gospel.
The absurdity of such circumstances as we find ourselves in presently can hardly be imagined. It really becomes personally discouraging to me to see men (many of whom are pastors) who have no more depth of who we are and have been as Southern Baptists than what can only be described as burgeoning ignorance. Far too many reveal an unforgivable chasm of knowledge about our rich heritage, and I fear it may just be too late for us to recover. And frankly, were it not for some young scholars like Harwood, all hope would be lost for Southern Baptists to retain our rich, historic theological identity.
Third, Dr. MacGorman avers:
“This [imputed sinful guilt] has been called the Federal Theory of Original Sin or the Theory of Condemnation by Covenant. It has influenced greatly the churches of the Reformed tradition. However, there is not one shred of evidence in the Bible that God ever entered into such a covenant with Adam. The theory was born in Europe, not Eden.”
Too often we’re told the theories of the Reformed position come strictly from biblical exegesis rather than traditionally Reformed assumptions. Scholars like Dr. MacGorman help us see through this thin veneer and stay close to exegetical theology rather than theological exegesis. Contrary to popular opinion, we're people of the book, not people of confessions.
And, as MacGorman demonstrates, Adam Harwood’s position, similar if not identical to his scholarly conclusions during a 50+ year academic career, builds on a firm allegiance to Scripture alone.
2for example, Moore confuses what the BF&M says about sin: “The BF&M2K defines sin as, 'a nature and an environment inclined toward sin,'…” But the BF&M does not define sin in this phrase; rather it describes what we inherit as a result of the Fall: “…man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin” (//link). In addition, Moore lists as his very first reason for being “amazed” at Dr. Harwood’s alleged “accusation” the following: “Al Mohler… served on the committee that crafted the BF&M2K. I don’t think he would have helped craft the BF&M2K and unashamedly affirm the BF&M2K today if he disagreed with it.” How curious for Moore to first sling an axe which cuts both ways--Al Mohler’s presence on the confession editorial committee which gave us the BF&M2K. Moore appears to forget Jerry Vines, Steve Gaines, and Adrian Rogers were also on the committee. Would they knowingly “craft” a document if they disagreed with it? The truth is, there is very little change in the article containing the words under discussion. What is more what did change in the BF&M2K works against not for Moore’s point! Or, again, Moore strangely asserts that while his interpretation of the BF&M constitutes what he thinks is the “plain reading” of the document, he nonetheless believes it to be “ambiguous enough” to allow both him and Harwood to affirm it. The paradox is stunning—a proposition bears both a “plain reading”—presumably a clear, straight-forward reading—but is nonetheless “ambiguous enough”—to also bear what he considers an unorthodox reading? Even more importantly, it happens to be Harwood who actually has a clear, straight-forward reading of the BF&M2K, insisting the BF&M2K says absolutely nothing about Adam’s posterity inheriting guilt--which is the heart of Harwood’s contention--while explicitly stating Adam’s posterity “inherit a nature…inclined toward sin.” How Moore can remotely believe he has the upper hand bearing the “plain reading” remains a tricky rabbit he’s just pulled out of a hat.
3I remain confident there exist others perhaps even more strongly worded than the one’s I’ve chosen since there are well over 300 comments in the stream. Hence, these commenters represent adequately the response of many Reformed Baptists to Harwood’s theo-exegetical conclusions concerning our fallen human nature. Nor should it be concluded that the comments necessarily reflect the author of the original post. It would be inappropriate if we were to, shall we say, impute to him literary offenses he did not actually commit!
4For the record, some commenters in the thread rightly called for the term “heresy” to be dropped pertaining to Harwood’s view (see here and here). We unquestionably agree with this sentiment and show why as this post reveals—namely, inheriting an Adamic sinful nature without imputed Adamic guilt constitutes an historic scholarly position within mainstream Southern Baptist theology (see above). Indeed Augustinianism as such has historically played neither a popular nor principled role in our theological heritage. On the other hand, Augustinianism appears to be the official Weltanschauung of the strongly Reformed since at least Calvin.
6most of the biographical information was gleaned from a SWBTS page
7Everyman’s Gospel was the January Bible Study book, Winter 1976 while The Layman’s Bible Book Commentary on Romans was one of a 24 volume series published by Broadman Press covering every book of the Bible. Interestingly, the latter commentary is less thorough than the earlier JBS book.
8perhaps for some, even arrogant pronouncements is not too strong