Back in 2008, Doug Pagitt wrote a book titled, “A Christianity Worth Believing“. In the book he undermines the biblical notion of depravity by contrasting it with the biblical mention of being “wonderfully made”, as if the two concepts are somehow contradictory. Normally it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie, however Pagitt’s work has been reprinted in a recent article from Faith and Fitness, which can be read here. Understanding the concept of man’s sinful condition is paramount to understanding and receiving God’s salvation by grace through faith. Furthermore without such a condition, words such as “grace” and “mercy” are redefined and concepts such as “redemption”, “atonement”, and “salvation” take on different subjective meanings. So there’s a lot riding on what the bible has to say about man’s sinful state and the idea of depravity.
In true emergent fashion, the article kicks off with an emotional story about bullying. Pagitt recalls a time back in junior high when a young girl was bullied and ridiculed while riding the bus to school. Of course we’re all appalled at the bully’s behavior and we all feel for the girl. This story seems like an odd way to intro until you continue reading and realize the story is the backdrop for Pagitt’s comparison of man being wonderfully made vs. man’s sinful depravity. Guess who gets to be the bully in Pagitt’s comparison…the church of course.
As ridiculous as this false dichotomy Pagitt attempts to draw is, it’s a good question and it deserves a discussion. I should say it deserves a look at the biblical text, free from nonsensical stories which attempt to pull the reader into emotion and out of what the verses actually say. Does the fact that man is “fearfully and wonderfully made” as Psalm 139:14 puts it, contradict or undermine the biblical assertion of total depravity? Not only does it not, but contextually it’s not possible. Let’s take a look.
Psalm 139:14 is about man’s physical form, not his nature.
Pagitt makes a mistake a lot of people tend to make which is importing their own definition of what they think a word or phrase means rather than looking at all the verses in context. “Hey look everyone this verse says we are wonderfully made, this must mean we’re all genuinely good people, we aren’t depraved.” A simple look at Psalm 139:14 and the verses after it confirm that the psalmist is speaking about God’s craftsmanship in relation to creating man’s physical being, not man’s inward nature. How do we know this?
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Psalm 139:14-16
So contextually speaking it’s not possible for Pagitt to compare and contrast “wonderfully made” vs. “man’s depravity” and pit them against each other because they’re two different subjects dealing with two different aspects of man, namely man’s physical form and his inward nature. Pagitt spends much of the article speaking about a “bully” kind of Christianity where we are taught that we live with a sin nature and comparing it with the notion of being wonderfully made, which presents a false dichotomy that isn’t possible if the reader simply keeps reading past verse 14. This should be enough to establish the idea that man can be crippled with a nature to sin and yet his physical form be wonderfully made by God’s purposeful hand, however since Pagitt wants to speak about the church as if we have depravity all wrong, lets simply take a look at what the bible has to say about depravity and man’s sinful nature,
Is man’s inward nature bent towards good or evil?
“among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3
“for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Genesis 8:21
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23
“just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world.” Romans 5:12-13
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19
Are all men sinful in nature or just a few?
“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Romans 11:32
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
What about man’s heart and mind? Is that depraved too?
“Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9:3
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Colossians 1:21
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Romans 7:18
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
“to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Titus 1:15
Apart from Christ, can man change his sinful inward nature?
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:34
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Titus 3:3
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” Galatians 4:8
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Romans 6:6
These verses are just a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to the biblical description of man’s depravity towards himself, others, and to God. Furthermore if Pagitt wants to compare and contrast wonderfully made, he can’t even make it out of the same book he misinterprets from without it contradicting his premise.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Psalms 58:3
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:5
Man’s depravity, God’s power.
Man’s depravity is the backdrop by which God displays his power unto salvation and is the precursor by which we begin to understand his grace, mercy, and love towards us. Isaiah 53:10 says the Lord was pleased “to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt…“. It was the Lord’s will to offer Christ as a what? A guilt offering. How do we know God loves us? As Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Guilt, sin, love, offering…these are inescapable terms.
Pagitt claims man’s true destiny, “has been papered over by a version of the creation story I like to call “From Very Good to Really, Really Bad.” Other people call it “The Fall.” However he never presents anything other than a piece of one verse to make his point. And even then his interpretation of that verse contradicts the following verses making it impossible for it to mean what he claims it means. So who is doing the “papering over” here? On one hand we have verse after verse describing man’s sinful and depraved state and 2000 years of orthodox interpretation and on the other hand we have a piece of one verse taken out of context and a lot of pictures and stories of irrelevant issues such as bullying and children. Pagitt then ends by saying, “But the deeper I go in my Christianity, the more I feel compelled to be the bus driver. I can’t sit by as someone tells me, my children, my friends, that they suck, that they are evil to the core. And I certainly can’t stand to have that perverted message be the imposter of the gospel of Jesus. I need to be someone who steps between the abusive accusations and the victim. I need to be someone who whispers the truth.“
What Pagitt seems to miss is all throughout the scriptures God himself is the one telling us we are evil to the core. Verse after verse of God describing man as fallen, wicked, alienated and in need of a new nature. Can anyone turn on the news or take a simple honest look at themselves without acknowledging that something is terribly wrong within man’s own heart? Pagitt calls the notion of Christ’s redemption of man’s depraved nature “a perverted message of the gospel of Jesus“. However, Paul says in the intro to Galatians the true message of Jesus is that he, “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father“. So not only is the gospel of Jesus salvation from our sin, but it was God the Father who ordained it. Paul has strong words for whoever seeks to pervert this message. “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Pagitt claims that the notion of depravity perverts Christ message, but Paul condemns and curses those who try to undermine it because they distort God’s plan of redemption through salvation. Pagitt goes on to play the victim/hero card by saying, “I need to be someone who steps between the abusive accusations and the victim.” I wonder if Pagitt has thought through the blasphemous implications of his statement and worldview considering the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives is to, “prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.“
So who’s the real victim here? You? Me? Pagitt? According to Psalm 51:4 the real victim in all of our depravity is God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” The whole premise of this article is Pagitt’s insinuation, “hey we’re not so bad after all”. Ironically the article only underscores man’s depravity by highlighting the depths that man plunge in order to get out from under God’s truth. Those who can’t bring themselves to reject God outright, seek to redefine him.