This article first appeared in the From the President column of theChristian Research Journal, volume 45, number 2/3 (2022). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Blaise Pascal speaking in the seventeenth century might just as well have been talking about the twenty-first. “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”1
Western Woke Wisdom. The trampling of truth in the secular sphere has been nothing short of mind-numbing. The unalterable verity that God created humanity “male and female” is routinely regaled as transphobic.2 Sex-specific designations such as “woman,” “female,” and “mother” have been neutered by such linguistic absurdities as “pregnant, lactating, and postpartum individuals.”3 Even our newest female addition to the United States Supreme Court seems at a loss to define the word “woman.”4
Adding to the confused cultural conundrum, the “B” in LGBTQ+ is quite evidently at odds with the “T.” Bisexual (B) implies two options, while transgender (T) entails a dizzying array of gender identities devoid of common sense or biological reality. And even that but scratches the sated surface of Western woke wisdom. Adding insult to injury, multitudes of young people have been effectively reduced to generational lab rats subject to an unholy triad of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and irreversible surgical savageries.5
Rampant Innovation. But it is not only secular incongruities that boggle the mind. Spiritual abnormalities have become increasingly bizarre, as well. In the previous issue of this Journal, I noted that iconic apologist William Lane Craig believes Adam and Eve to be members of an animal species — a species of apes on which God effected physical and spiritual renovations 750,000 to a million years ago.6 And in doing so lends currency to the untenable notion of broken pseudogenes — junk DNA — as evidence for human-ape common ancestry. In other words, what the Creator designed as essential genomic regulatory and control elements, Craig devalues as dispensable evolutionary junk.7 In place of such incessant innovation, he would have been better served to recognize that biology’s big bang (Cambrian Explosion) shatters his assumed version of the evolutionary paradigm just as big bang cosmology buttresses the opening words of Genesis.
In concert with the maxim “error begets error,” Craig recently disclosed a second seminal shocker. In reading Genesis 3, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15, he “discovered” that the consensus of the church councils and church fathers was wrong respecting the mortality of Adam. They affirmed that Adam “was created neither mortal nor immortal,” that he “was capable of both mortality and immortality,” and that “had he chosen the way of immortality in following the divine commandment, he would have received the gift of immortality as a recompense.”8 Craig, however, deems that dead wrong. In his opinion, Adam and Eve “would have naturally died even if they had not fallen.”9 And this despite the well-documented reality that this deadly aberration has been thoroughly considered and comprehensively debunked.10
And now as capstone to the trifecta, Craig has added an age-old heresy rebutted by the holy church throughout her storied history. The odd predilection that the progeny of Adam and Eve are not sinful from birth, sinful from the time their mother’s conceived them (cf. Ps. 51:5). Instead, Craig maintains that humans are conceived apart from the stain of original sin. Says Craig, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that “we inherit a corrupted human nature from Adam.”11 While he rightly rejects the notion of inherited guilt, he is, in effect, persuaded (based principally on an odd interpretation of Romans 5) that Pelagius was right in denying that humans inherit a corrupted nature from Adam (i.e., a significant aspect of the heresy of Pelagianism). Instead, humans repeat the sin of Adam.12
The Pelagian controversy, of course, is nothing new. It has been comprehensively considered and rightly refuted. St. Augustine, for example, cited the testimony of the canon, the teachings of the church fathers, and the contagion of inherited corruption to convincingly counter this unorthodox heresy.13 Moreover, the rule of faith articulated in canon 110 of the African Code (later ratified by the Seventh Ecumenical Council14) clearly spells out the inviolate reality that infants who could have committed no sin themselves are nonetheless baptized for the remission of sins “in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.”15 Moreover, Pelagianism was roundly condemned by the Third Ecumenical Council in tandem with the sister sin of Nestorianism.16
Turning Scripture into a Wax Nose. So, why make such a big deal about an ancient heresy resurfacing in the present? It is because the culture is progressively redefining what it means to be human. Moreover, when the biblical boundaries of humanity are blurred, the inconceivable becomes common fare. Who could have imagined Apple releasing an emoji of a pregnant man17 or conceive of a prestigious university nominating a biological male as “Woman of the Year”?18 Moreover, who could have envisioned a popular Protestant philosopher pontificating that our primordial parents would have died even if they had not sinned or repudiating the biblical foundation for the essential Christian doctrine of original (ancestral) sin?
While what is happening in the culture has been aptly described as the “madness of crowds,”19 what is happening within Christianity might best be attributed to the imprudence of “solo Scriptura,” rampant innovation, and disregard of Holy Tradition — Holy Tradition that is neither “an independent instance, nor a complementary source of faith. Ecclesiastical understanding could not add anything to Scripture. But it was the only means to ascertain and to disclose the true meaning of Scripture. Tradition was, in fact, the authentic interpretation of Scripture. And in this sense, it was coextensive with Scripture. Tradition was actually Scripture rightly understood.”20
The heterodox have no key to the mind of Scripture. Thus, they turn it into a wax nose. Never more egregiously than with the denial of original sin. To say that Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam and that our primordial parent’s transgression caused no change in the constituent nature of humanity, or to say that the entirety of humanity is conceived and born in a state of righteousness, is not only to recapitulate ingredients baked into the age-old Pelagian error but to lay at the feet of “the only wise God”21 the suffering and death of innocent preborn and infant children. While neither adults nor children bear the guilt of their ancestors,22 all indubitably suffer the contagion.23 In the oft recited words of Israel’s quintessential king, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Or as St. Gregory Palamas so eloquently explained, “It was indeed Adam’s soul that died by becoming through his transgression separated from God; for bodily he continued to live after that time, even for 930 years. The death, however, that befell the soul because of the transgression not only crippled the soul and made man accursed; it also rendered the body itself subject to fatigue, suffering, and corruptibility, and finally handed it over to death.”24 As such, even a conceptus is subject to death.25
Breaking through the Triple Barrier. To deny that we inherit a corrupted human nature from the first Adam is effectively to diminish the salvific significance of the Second Adam — the Christ — who came to set “human nature free” and change “the common curse into a shared blessing.”26 To break through the triple barrier of which St. Nicholas Cabasilas wrote in a remarkable work titled Life in Christ. “The Lord allowed men, separated from God by the triple barrier of nature, sin, and death, to be fully possessed of Him and to be directly united to Him by the fact He has set aside each barrier in turn: that of nature by His incarnation, of sin by His death, and of death by His resurrection” (emphasis added).27
Perhaps amidst the noise of modern-day innovations, we can as yet hear the faint echo of Isaiah’s earth-shattering pronouncement. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). And “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Isaiah’s prophetic words foreshadow the breaking of the first barrier. The barrier of nature forever shattered by incarnation. The first barrier, then — that of a “flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24) — is removed by Christ’s virgin birth.
Furthermore, as Christ set aside the first of the triple barriers by His incarnation, so, too, He set aside the second by His death. As with the first barrier, it is Isaiah who commands our attention — this time in riveting our gaze on the canvas of Christ’s death. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). As Theanthropos (“God-Man”), the spotless “Lamb of God” lived a perfectly sinless human life and died a sinner’s death to sufficiently atone once for all for the sins of humanity. Without both natures, Christ’s payment would have been insufficient. As God, His sacrifice was sufficient to provide redemption for the sins of humankind. As man, He did what the first Adam failed to do. For, “as in Adam all die [think original sin], so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Thus, through His death the second barrier — the barrier of sin — is forever set aside.
Finally, the sting of death itself, the third and final barrier, was forever voided through resurrection. Through the resurrection, “the sting of death” has been “swallowed up in victory” (see 1 Cor. 15:54–57). Here, as with the first two barriers, Isaiah prophetically looks forward toward the resurrection of “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isa. 53:3), as the earnest of our resurrection on the last day. “After the suffering of his soul,” exudes Isaiah, “he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (53:11). In like fashion, our bodies will be resurrected from the dust of the ground. The mortal will be clothed with immortality (1 Cor. 15:54).
If Christ had not Himself been resurrected, the promise that He will resurrect dry bones in scattered graves would be as empty as the tomb guaranteeing its fulfillment. Vladimir Lossky, one of the most brilliant theologians of the twentieth century, summed up our salvation with typical eloquence and erudition. “What man ought to have attained by raising himself up to God, God achieved by descending to man. That is why the triple barrier which separates us from God — death, sin, nature — impassable for men, is broken through by God in the inverse order, beginning with the union of the separated natures, and ending with victory over death.”28
When the origins of death, sin, and nature are contradicted and confused, the salvific significance of our Savior is compromised. Thus, the need to weigh in. For surely, apart from the transcendent import of this matter I would have opted out of the process — particularly in that it involved critiquing someone I hold in high regard. Yet, as Abraham Kuyper, former prime minister of the Netherlands, has memorably said, “When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”29 And this I do, knowing full well that I have made egregious errors of my own. Errors for which I have had to privately and publicly repent.
In the end, it is my sincere hope that in place of “solo Scriptura,” incessant innovation, and disregard for the Holy Traditions of the Church, the body of Christ may again return to “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”30 —Hank Hanegraaff
- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), Pensées, XIV, 864, trans. F. Trotter, Harvard Classics, vol. XLVIII, part 1 (New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1909–14), Bartleby.com, 2001, https://www.bartleby.com/48/1/14.html.
- See, e.g., Bea Castañeda, “Wyoming Senator Apologizes for Transphobic Graduation Speech,” The College Post, May 17, 2022, https://thecollegepost.com/wyoming-senatortransphobic-speech/.
- Alexandra Kashirina, “Text of $3.5 Tn Bill Replaces the Word ‘Mothers’ With ‘Pregnant, Lactating, Postpartum Individuals,’” Sputnik International, January 10, 2021, https://sputniknews.com/20211001/text-of-35-tn-bill-replaces-the-word-mothers-with-pregnantlactating-postpartum-individuals-1089566437.html; see “H.R. __” 117th Congress, 1st Session, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/BU/BU00/20210925/114090/BILLS-117pih-BuildBackBetterAct.pdf.
- Caroline Downey, “Judge Jackson Refuses to Define ‘Woman’ during Confirmation Hearing: ‘I’m Not a Biologist,’” National Review, March 23, 2022, https://www.nationalreview.com/news/judge-jackson-refuses-to-define-woman-during-confirmationhearing-im-not-a-biologist/.
- See Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2021).
- Hank Hanegraaff, “Adamic Denial and Distortion,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 45, no. 01 (2022): 4. See William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021), 359, 378. See also Fazale Rana’s Summary Critique of Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam, “Who Was Adam?” Christian Research Journal, vol. 44, no. 04 (2021): 32–38.
- Casey Luskin, “Lessons Learned (and Not Learned) from the Evangelical Debate over Adam and Eve,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 45, no. 01 (2022): 13. See Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam, 376, 378.
- Theophilus of Antioch (d. c. 183), To Autolycus II.27; cf. I.24, “Man was created in an intermediate situation, neither completely mortal nor absolutely immortal, but capable of both.” Quoted in Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness, trans. John Breck and Michael Breck (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 25.
- William Lane Craig, “The Headwaters of the Human Race,” interview by Melissa CainTravis, Christianity Today, October 2021, 71.
- See, e.g., canon 109 of the Councils of Carthage (A.D. 419). See also Larchet, Theology of Illness, 17–33.
- William Lane Craig in “Atonement and the Death of Jesus,” Lanier Theological Library, March 4, 2022, YouTube, https://youtu.be/Cw6YvNatgE4?t=1855 (time mark 30:55ff).
- See Craig in “Atonement and the Death of Jesus.” Cf. William Lane Craig, “Doctrine of Man (Part 25): A Continued Evaluation of Original Sin,” Reasonable Faith, July 9, 2020, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-ofman/doctrine-of-man-part-25.
- See Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition, 3rd, trans. Seraphim Rose and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2015), 164. See also B.B. Warfield, “Introductory Essay on Augustin and the Pelagian Controversy,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 5, St. Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105/npnf105.v.ii.html.
- Introductory Note, The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers Who Assembled at Carthage, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser., vol. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, ed. Henry R. Percival, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.xv.iv.ii.html.
- Canon 110, The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers Who Assembled at Carthage, https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214/npnf214.xv.iv.iv.cxi.html.
- See “Excursus on Pelagianism,” The Canons of the 200 Holy and Blessed Fathers Who Met at Ephesus, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser., vol. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, ed. Henry R. Percival, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214/npnf214.x.xvi.vii.html.
- Audrey Conklin, “Pregnant Man, Pregnant Person Emoji Coming to Apple iPhones,” Fox Business, January 28, 2022, https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/pregnantman-emoji-apple.
- “Trans Swimmer Lia Thomas Nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year Award,” Reuters, July 16, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/trans-woman-thomasnominated-ncaa-woman-year-award-2022-07-16/.
- See Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).
- George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 9, no. 2 (1963), reprinted in Daniel B. Clendenin ed., Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 99.
- Jude 1:25 KJV. All Scripture quotations henceforth are from NIV 1984.
- See, for example, Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20.
- See, for example, Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10–18, 23, 5:12, 19; Ephesians 2:1–3.
- Gregory Palamas (1296–c. 1359), “To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia,” The Philokalia, vol. 4, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 296, quoted in Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 159.
- For clear and concise Eastern Orthodox discussion and defense of original (ancestral) sin, see Larchet, Theology of Illness, chap. 1; Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 155–69; and Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, trans. Andrew Smith (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,2012), 244–58.
- Gregory Palamas, The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, vol. 1, ed. Christopher Veniamin (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), 52, quoted in Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 201.
- Nicholas Cabasilas (1322–c. 1391), Life in Christ III, quoted in Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (1976; repr., Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 136.
- Lossky, Mystical Theology, 136. Previous five paragraphs largely adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2019), 116–20.
- Attributed to Abraham Kuyper.
- Vincent of Lérins (d. 456), Commonitorium 6, quoted in Oxford Reference, https://www. oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803115902789; slightly different translation in The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins, trans. C.A. Heurtley, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser., vol. 11, ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf211/npnf211.iii.iii.html.