I admit fully that man has many grand and noble faculties left about him, and that in arts and sciences and literature he shows immense capacity. But the fact still remains that in spiritual things he is utterly ‘dead,’ and has no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God. His best things are so interwoven and intermingled with corruption, that the contrast only brings out into sharper relief the truth and extent of the fall. That one and the same creature should be in some things so high and in others so low—so great and yet so little—so noble and yet so mean—so grand in his conception and execution of material things, and yet so groveling and debased in his affections—that he should be able to plan and erect buildings like those to Carnac and Luxor in Egypt, and the Parthenon at Athens, and yet worship vile gods and goddesses, and birds, and beasts, and creeping things—that he should be able to produce tragedies like those of Æschlylus and Sophocles, and histories like that of Thycydides, and yet be a slave to abominable vices like those described in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans—all this is a sore puzzle to those who sneer at ‘God’s Word written,’ and scoff at us as Bibliolaters. But it is a knot that we can untie with the Bible in our hands. We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him—a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins—a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth-sin and the crushing effects of the fall.
J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, n.d.), 4.
Alan Jacobs wrote an excellent critique of Philip Jenkins’ work, The Lost History of Christianity. (Jacobs actually critiques a Boston Globe essay by Jenkins, but the Globe essay was “a kind of preview” to Jenkins’ new book.)
Here’s an excerpt:
And if I do give up on the uniqueness of Jesus, what do I retain? I think we get a clue in this passage from Jenkins:
By the twelfth century, flourishing churches in China and southern India were using the lotus-cross. The lotus is a superbly beautiful flower that grows out of muck and slime. No symbol could better represent the rise of the soul from the material, the victory of enlightenment over ignorance, desire, and attachment. For two thousand years, Buddhist artists have used the lotus to convey these messages in countless paintings and sculptures. The Christian Cross, meanwhile, teaches a comparable lesson, of divine victory over sin and injustice, of the defeat of the world.
But these lessons are not comparable at all; they are quite dramatically at odds with each other, which may help to explain why attempts to reconcile them—if indeed that was really what was going on—have not succeeded. Christianity, being anything but Gnostic, does not believe that the material world is evil, but rather good: the glorious creation of a personal God. Christianity does not teach the innocence or purity of the soul, but rather the corruption of the will and the resulting involvement of the body in sin: As the Body says in a poem by Andrew Marvell, What but a Soul could have the wit / To build me up for Sin so fit? Christianity does not believe in nonattachment, but rather teaches precisely the opposite, that we should weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The Buddha says, “He who has no love has no woe”; St. John says, “He who does not love abides in death.”
The whole article is well worth reading.
How immense the difference between the two propositions—that our iniquities were laid upon Christ, that in his own person he might expiate them, and that they are expiated by our works; that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and that God is to be propitiated by works. . . . Those who rest satisfied with petty satisfactions form too contemptible an estimate of the justice of God, and little consider the grievous heinousness of sin, as shall afterwards be shown. Even were we to grant that they can buy off some sins by due satisfaction, still what will they do while they are overwhelmed with so many sins that not even a hundred lives, though wholly devoted to the purpose, could suffice to satisfy for them?