The Doctrine of Original Sin in Postrevolutionary America -- By: John D. Hannah

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:535 (Jul 1977)
Article: The Doctrine of Original Sin in Postrevolutionary America
Author: John D. Hannah


The Doctrine of Original Sin in Postrevolutionary America

John D. Hannah

[John D. Hannah, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The doctrines of sin and redemption are vitally and inseparably linked. The history of the Christian church has demonstrated repeatedly that misconception and error in the doctrine of sin results in damage to the doctrine of redemption. Hutchinson captured this vital linkage when he said, “The character of salvation which is in Christ can never be properly comprehended apart from sin which is in the sons of Adam.”1 Fisher notes: “The one word which expresses both the nature and end or aim of Christianity, is Redemption. The correlate of Redemption is Sin. Parallel, therefore, in importance with the doctrine of Redemption in the Christian system is the doctrine of Sin. The two doctrines, like the facts which they represent, are mutually inseparable.”2 Alteration in the biblical teaching on the nature and capacity of man will inevitably bring changes in the content and appeal of gospel preaching.

A study of the history of the church is valuable in this regard in that it clearly reveals the relationship of hamartiology to soteriology.3 Studying that relationship can sharpen one’s focus on the

gospel and hopefully will alert Christians to the demands for clarity in preaching the “good news.” To emphasize the necessity of this vital relationship this article purposes to focus on the changing conception of the doctrine of sin at the beginning of the nineteenth century in America. It will be seen that when the biblical declarations of man’s need are denied, the gospel is perverted and inestimable damage is done to the cause of Christ.

The Causes for the Changing Conception of the Doctrine of Original Sin

The shifting conception of original sin can clearly be seen as a movement within New England Congregationalism beginning in the early eighteenth century, flowering in the early nineteenth century, and declining in the post-Civil War era. The particular modifications in traditional Congregational theology have been designated as New England theology.4 Foster writes:

New England theology, in the technical sense of these words, designates a special school of theology which grew up among Congregationalists of New England, originating in the year 1743, when Jonathan Edwards began his constructive theological work, culminating a little before the Civil War, declining afterward...

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