Original goodness, rather than original sin, should inform a more human approach to Christian faith and life.
In a new series of online study resources developed for the Open Church Network, Steve Chalke argues that the popular doctrine of Original Sin, that has informed much of Western Christian thought for over 15 centuries, misappropriates the biblical view of God’s relationship with humanity and has resulted in untold misery for generations of church goers.
In the first of four videos on Being Human, a study series developed for individuals and small groups and based on his book of the same title, Steve Chalke re-examines Genesis chapter 3, the story of Adam and Eve, in the light of Hebrew scholarship over many centuries. Steve suggests that Western Christian perceptions of humanity – as opposed to those held by the Eastern Orthodox Church – have been overly coloured by the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin and the Neoplatonic thought that underpins it. The video is accompanied by a set of leader's notes to facilitate group discussion or individual study.
Steve argues that the Augustinian interpretation of Genesis chapter 3 is flawed and that, as a result of its continuing influence, Christians have been taught to focus far too much on their own supposed inherent evil, rather than on humanity’s overwhelming goodness and worth, as expressed in Genesis 1. As he goes on to say, ‘We make some assumptions that aren’t there. The story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit that’s been forbidden from them doesn’t mention Original Sin. It doesn’t even tell us that the serpent is really Satan’.
Steve also articulates the dominant Jewish interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve across the centuries: ‘Jewish scholars say that the story is about the growth of humanity from innocence to knowledge. The growth of humanity to the place where we’re tempted and we have to learn to make moral choices; good or bad decisions. They say that it’s the story of the growth of the whole of humanity to maturity but also of each individual’s moral growth, as we leave behind childhood, become aware of temptation and of the battle to choose the right road rather than the wrong road’.
He continues: ‘The Bible doesn’t begin with Genesis chapter 3, it begins with Genesis chapter 1. In other words, it begins with the story that tells us we’re all made in God’s image. And God looks at humanity and says. “This is very good”. Genesis chapter 3, the story that we’ve been told is about Original Sin, turns out to be, in the view of Hebrew scholars down through the ages, not about that at all but about our journey to discover how to live well – to make good moral choices – to learn to resist the temptation and consequences of living badly. We are made originally good’. Although Genesis 3 explains humanity’s pull towards the misuse of our God given gift of free-will, Jewish scholarship has never read the story as some kind of curse descending on the whole human race, and says Chalke, nor should the Church.
In this first video in the Being Human series, Steve also argues that Jesus was not a Christian, that he never intended to begin a new religion, but rather that he was born as a Jew, grew as a Jew and was taught and taught others as a Jew. ‘What Jesus comes to do’, says Steve, ‘is not to start a different religion. He comes to give people a bigger vision, a greater understanding of what it means to be God’s people’. In this light, and in the light of the ancient Jewish understanding of Judaism as ‘the Way’, He suggests that Jesus’ famous words in John 14:6 (I am the way and the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me) should be interpreted, not as a threat, but rather as a plea, for his followers to adopt his revolutionary way of living: ‘Choose this way of living, this way of being human because it’s the only way, it’s the ultimate way to bring you fulfilment. It’s the ultimate way of becoming the best version of yourself’.
Steve concludes: ‘Following Jesus isn’t about religion and all its paraphernalia; it’s simply about walking a way of life with Christ. It’s about being fully human, it’s about becoming the best version of yourself and living intentionally. Love yourself – you’re made by God’.
Love Yourself is the first of four free online, video-based study sessions published by the Open Church Network. The remaining three sessions will be released during August and September.
You can also buy a specially discounted copy of Being Human by following the link below or by visiting the Open Church Network shop.
'Your life is precious - a precious gift. It is sacred; every moment of it. The opportunity to live rather than sleepwalk through our days belongs to us. This book is a call to wake up. It is a call to each one of us; to wake up, to live before we die'.
Click here to order a copy of Steve Chalke's book 'Being Human' at a discounted price of £9, including postage and packing.