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A few weeks ago a fundamentalist pastor I deeply respect told his congregation that the King James Version is an “impediment to many if not most of the Lord’s people in really understanding many passages of Scripture.” (I leave his name out only so as not to create trouble for him.) He said this despite the line I most often hear: “Oh, well, I grew up on the KJV so I can understand it.” I used to think that way myself.
So let’s get specific. Take my three-question open-book quiz! The book you may open is the KJV, no others. What do the following two phrases and a sentence mean? (And no looking at others comments until you’ve formulated your own!)
I love the English language. I read and write it for a living. But I have no idea what the second and third items mean in English (even though I helped multiple Wilds campers memorize the latter!).
And here’s an anecdote I can’t resist passing along: my brother-in-law, when he was a little Awana clubber in Tennessee, asked his leader after memorizing Psalm 23, “If Jesus is our shepherd, why shall we not want Him?”
Alan Jacobs, in his new book Original Sin, lists “five distinct beliefs” which make up an Augustinian anthropology (or a belief in original sin):
You must believe that everyone behaves in ways that we usually describe as selfish, cruel, arrogant, and so on. You must believe that we are hard-wired to behave in those ways and do not do so simply because of the bad examples of others. You must believe that such behavior is properly called wrong or sinful, whether it’s evolutionarily adaptive or not. You must believe that it was not originally in our nature to behave in such a way, but that we have fallen from a primal innocence. And you must believe that only supernatural intervention, in the form of what Christians call grace, is sufficient to drag us up out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.
I just finished Original Sin, an excellent book by Wheaton English professor Alan Jacobs (heretofore of Books and Culture and First Things fame).
It’s obviously appropriate to argue for the doctrine of original sin via direct scriptural exegesis. But Jacobs’ book, though it does a (helpful!) bit of that, builds up a supplementary, inductive case. He tells many stories that demonstrate the truth of the doctrine. Many of those stories involve thinkers or activists who directly denied original sin—and then suffered the sad but fascinating consequences.
I was particularly taken by the story of Robert Owen (1771-1858), a poor Welshman with a genius for organization who by sheer force of will transformed a mill in New Lanark, Scotland, into a model community. He thought that he was merely providing man an environment in which his natural goodness would shine forth, but when he tried to expand the scale of his work by starting a utopian community in Indiana (the city he founded still exists), his faith in human goodness led to drastic failure.
Another gripping story was that of Rebecca West, a left-wing intellectual whose infatuation with Yugoslavia in the 1930s led her to research and write voluminously on that country and the Europe it typified. She had just written a biography of Augustine, of all people, and came to see with utter clarity that only that saint’s doctrine of original sin could explain Yugoslavia and Europe as a whole. But she could not accept, as Jacobs puts it, “the faith within which that doctrine is articulated and makes sense.” (227). Original sin, but no grace. West’s was a despairing position indeed.
Jacobs finds multiple obscure—and for that all the more interesting—stories to tell in this book. I highly recommend it.