Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A New Way to be Human?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches up on my sermon for Sunday morning. Let me start by saying that I absolutely love preaching, it is, by far, my favorite part of being a pastor. I usually don’t let people know when I’m preaching, but since Bret announced it on Sunday morning, I’m letting people know that I’m preaching at HSN this week. As usual, I’m pretty excited!

Anyway, I was working on my sermon a bit today. I was reading a commentary on the story of the Prodigal Son. To be precise, I was reading William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke. I like Barclay’s commentaries; they’re usually full of nice tid-bits that preach well. He has a solid theological head on his shoulders, and he’s not so intellectual that he’s unapproachable.

So, in my studies this morning I came across a small passage in his commentary that absolutely floored me.

“Jesus paid sinning mankind the greatest compliment it has ever been paid. ‘When he came to himself,’ he said. Jesus believed that so long as a man was away from God he was not truly himself; he was only truly himself when he was on the way home. Beyond a doubt Jesus did not believe in total depravity. He never believed that you could glorify God by blackguarding man; he believed that man was never essentially himself until he came home to God” (204).

Jesus didn’t believe in total depravity? Now, let’s be clear about something. As Nazarenes, we are not Calvinists. We don’t believe in the TULIP the way the Calvinists, however, in my theology classes, I was taught that we do believe in total depravity, in some form. We were taught that prevenient grace was the only thing that kept us from making the sinful choice every single time we had a choice to make. That is, in essence, absolute and total depravity.

However, what if Barclay is right? Aren’t there some serious theological implications in noting that humans aren’t totally depraved? Does it leave a cop-out excuse? Does it change the way we preach salvation?

If we aren’t truly human until we are on our way to God, then what are the implications?

Did I sin, or did a lesser version, the non-human version of me sin?

Does my past include life as a sinner, or am I something else entirely?

Maybe there’s some good in this concept, the idea that we become new creations when we’re completely cleansed by God. Behold the old has gone the new has come. However, does it close the door to a theological perspective which allows for the possibility of backsliding into sin? If someone is truly experiencing my human-ness for the first time as a Christian, then what does it say when that Christian backslides?

What do you think?