"He's acting like a brat because he's tired."
"I responded to you disrespectfully because of how I perceived you speaking to me."
"I wouldn't have done that had you not done what you did."
"I yelled at you because I'm just having a bad day."
I hear these statements from Christians all of the time. These are statements of the practical outworking of heresy. Read this description below and tell me which of these statements belong with what theology.
Augustinian anthropology and Pelagian anthropology have different views on human nature and its relationship to sin, which can have implications for how individuals view sin as a response to their environment.
Augustinian anthropology views human nature as fundamentally flawed and fallen due to the original sin of Adam and Eve. As a result, all humans are born with a sin nature and are inherently prone to evil. From this perspective, sin is not solely a response to the environment but is rooted in human nature itself. The environment may serve as a trigger or a temptation, but ultimately it is the inherent sinfulness of human nature that leads to sinful behavior.
On the other hand, Pelagian anthropology views human nature as essentially good and capable of making moral choices. Sin, from this perspective, is seen as a response to the environment, rather than an inherent flaw in human nature. According to this view, individuals have the power to choose good or evil based on their environment and upbringing. Therefore, the environment plays a significant role in shaping an individual's behavior and choices.
In summary, Augustinian anthropology sees sin as a natural response of the flawed human nature to the environment, while Pelagian anthropology sees sin as a learned response to the environment by an individual with an otherwise good nature.
If man were good, his response to adversity in the environment would be good. If he is evil, his response will be evil. If I press on a tube of toothpaste, toothpaste will come out. I don't create the toothpaste. I'm just the external force that presses upon the tube that causes what is inside to come out of it. Environmental circumstances are not the cause of good or evil. They are the catalyst that presses upon us to reveal what is inside. Evil exists in the world because adversity in a fallen creation presses upon fallen mankind to show what he is. It does not make him do evil but rather creates the circumstances that allow him to display what he is inside. Hence, if man were good, the world would be good, even with the greatest of adversities. Instead, however, the world is filled with wickedness because man is evil. His remedy, therefore, must be a transformation of his nature from evil to good. Christianity teaches what no other religion does. That man must be and can be transformed through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that gives the believer a new nature and unification with Jesus Christ that enables and motivates him to live in accordance with His Lord's good nature.
If the problem were sleep, then the kid just needs a nap. In other words, we just need to change the situation. If the problem were being disrespected then we just all need to be respected and change their words. In other words, we need to change other people's speech. If the problem were other people's actions then we need to change their actions. In other words, we just need to change other people's behavior.
In every instance of the Pelagian assumption, it is not a change of the nature of the person that is needed but a change of something outside of himself. In the orthodox view, the Augustinian view, what needs to be changed is the person himself. God works toward utopia from the inside-out rather than by changing the outside world. The Christian doesn't need for the world to change in order to do what is right. He has what he needs for that already. The apostate needs to change everyone else and the world around him. He just needs a vacation, a new environment to move to, a new wife, a new church, to get some rest, to lobby government against the group that's triggering him, etc.
What needs to be corrected instead is the individual who must take responsibility for his actions and not blame them on the world around him or his circumstances. Only then can the correct solution to the problem be applied. Your kid is acting bratty because he is a brat. All kids are brats. We're all brats. What a bratty child or a disrespectful wife or a rebellious person needs is a rebuke which consists of a call to repentance and the gospel. If we persist in telling them and others that it is their environment or situation that is the problem, we will not only misidentify the solution but continue to advocate and perpetuate a false religion that undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. This article was originally published at https://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/2023/04/from-whence-does-our-bad-behavior-come.html on April 30, 2023.
Bryan Hodge (BA, Moody Bible Institute; MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas, NV. He is husband to Allison and father of nine.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.