The view of man is vital for a proper view of everything. Conservative talk show host Dennis Prager stated, “No issue has a greater influence on determining your social and political views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not” (Dennis Prager, “If You Believe that People are Basically Good” Townhall.com (December 2002).
That assertion may seem to be a little melodramatic to some, but it is not. Whether we are looking at economics, politics, the arts, criminology, ecology, cosmology, etc, our view of man will have some bearing upon our worldview and interpretation of facts. Anthropology is significant because of the philosophical assumptions, activities, and influences of other intellectual disciplines in modern times. Calvin very discerning underscores this in his famous beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.i.2).
Throughout modern time, there has been an observable shift in how man was seen. Is man good, or is he evil? Locke believed that man was basically a blank slate that nurture would impact (tabula rosa), but others of the age of enlightenment believed in the idea noble savage. Such was the view of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, whose work In his Inquiry Concerning Virtue (1699), put forth the view that a moral sense in humans is natural and innate and based on feelings, rather than resulting from the indoctrination of a particular religion. As Paul Hazard described it: “For science and the arts are but the parents of corruption. The Savage obeys the will of Nature, his kindly mother, therefore he is happy. It is civilized folk who are the real barbarians.”
This view was largely the view of the humanists or the French philosphe prior to the revolution. Prior to the two world wars, man seemed to be on the ascent; progression on every corner made it seem that man was not evil, but that if he could break away from his chains (whatever they might be), he would achieve an utopia. But with the war to end all wars, the view of man came upon hard times.
The key philosophy that emerged in the post world war era is existentialism. There is a decided gloomy outlook in this view of man. Yet, in order to give hope, the existentialism looked upon freedom as the key, man’s free will. Most of the forms of existentialism were and are atheistic, seeing that “freedom is seen as both the supreme good and supreme evil. If God did not exist everything would be allowed. God appeared to pose a threat to human freedom, but true saving freedom may be found in conditionless religious faith and commitment.”( Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p.396).
But now there is another shift in thinking. Men are increasingly seeing themselves as basically good. In his book What Americans Believe, George Barna of Barna Research Group found that 87% of non-Christians agreed with the statement “People are basically good.” Sadly,in that same study, Barna also found that 77% of self-described born-again Christians agreed with the statement. Perhaps most shocking, of those self-described born-again Christians who identify themselves as mainline Protestant, 90% agreed with the statement “People are basically good.” These born-again Christians have failed to understand the Christian faith.
Some are promoting this notion of man’s goodness. The promotion of Mitzvah Day is one example of this. As one article noted, “The pure, universal message for Jews and indeed people of other faiths is that through ‘mitzvah’ we reach beyond ourselves, the ‘me’ whilst simultaneously engaging to make the world around us a better place. No matter what religion, this belief resonates with most people because ultimately as human beings we’re all internally wired with a yen to do good.” This is nothing short of the primitivism of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, which view of man cannot be substantiated by the history of man. Undoubtedly, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick is absolutely accurate when he noted,
Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved — that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.
A study of man gives access to us to see the necessity, significance and nature of the doctrines of salvation. What is man’s real problem? Christianity has set forth the most reasonable explanation. Man is a sinner. G.K. Chesterton once said it is surprising that people have rejected the doctrine of original sin because it is the only doctrine that can be empirically verified. What is original sin, John MacArthur defines it in this way:
Original sin…means that people by nature are hostile to God, utterly unable to obey God out of pure motives or from a pure heart, and therefore unable to do anything that truly pleases God (Rom. 8:7-8). All Adam’s offspring are born naturally depraved and with a bent toward sin and rebellion.
Man is constituted a sinner by his relationship with Adam (Psa 51:5; Psa 58:3; Rom 5:18-19). As a result, man is unable to do anything good (Gen. 6:5; Job 15:14-16; Psa 130:3; Psa 143:2; Pro 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 64:6; Jer 13:23; John 3:19; Rom 3:9-12; Jam 3:8; 1 John 1:8), to believe in God (John 6:44, 65; 8:43-45;10:26; 12:37-41), to understand the truth (John 14:17; 1Cor 2:14), and to seek God (Rom 3:10-11). The Bible describes man’s plight in teh following way: man is dead in sins (Gen. 2:16-17; John 3:5-7; Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13), blinded and corrupt in his heart (Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Ecc 9:3; Jer 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 3:19-21; Rom 8:7-8; Eph 4:17-19; Eph 5:8), and captive to sin and Satan (John 8:34; John 8:44; Rom 6:20; 2Tim 2:25-26; Tit 3:3; 1 John 5:19). While man performs actions freely according to his nature, his nature is wholly evil (Job 14:4; Mat 7:16-18; Mat 12:33; Mark 7:21-23; Jam 1:13-14).
But herein lies the hope. As Jonathan Edwards noted long ago: “If the case be such indeed, that all mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin,…then, doubtless, the great salvation by Christ stands in direct relation to this ruin, as the remedy to the disease.” Unless we see the fact that we are sinners, we will never seek the physician. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).When this takes root, there will be great implications:
While rational inquiry has left us in the dark and led us into grave errors about man’s true identity, we have a true source to which we may turn. Man’s nature “has been answered by God’s Word-revelation, which uncovers the religious root and center of human nature in its creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ… It is the Word alone, which by its radical grip can bring about a real reformation of our view of man and of our view of the temporal world” (Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought, 179, 195).
And it is only through the preaching of the cross that this hope and real transformation will take place. As A. B. Bruce said, “If such be its character, then to be true to itself Christianity cannot afford to be nice, dainty, disdainful, but must lay its healing hand on the most repulsive. Rabbinism may be exclusive, but not the religion of redemption. It is bound to be a religion for the masses. Christ is not merely an ethical Teacher, or Revealer of Divine mysteries; He is, in the first place, a Redeemer, only in the second the Revealer.” We must preach Him as such, for that is what all men need because they are sinners.
So, when I ask, “Where have all the sinners gone?” I am asking such a vital question. Unless we as men see as we are, we will have no hope. The only hope is found in regeneration, not a supposed progress of civilization or a return to primitive conditions. We have a moral problem, and only a moral solution is a viable solution.