Q & R: original sin and responsibility

Here’s the Q:

Apparently, Jeremy Bouma has taken up issue on several of the things you write on, specifically human sin. As he himself embraces original sin and total depravity, he claims that your view does not set responsibility on human beings, but instead upon systems and “frameworks.” From what I have read of your work, I’ve always assumed that you give humans responsibility for sin, and I, personally, reject the traditional view of original sin and total depravity because I believe that actually THAT view is the one which removes human responsibility. How would you respond to Jeremy’s accusations?

Here’s the R:

Since I haven’t read the accusations you’re referring to, let me simply respond to the question as you’ve raised it.
As I read the Bible, as I engage in the spiritual practices of self-examination and confession (important themes in my upcoming book, by the way), and as I reflect on history and current events in our world, it’s obvious to me that sin, like many things, has at least two dimensions, a personal dimension and a social/systemic dimension. To acknowledge the existence of one without the other would be, in my mind, foolish. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that personal sin and corresponding personal responsibility are unimportant, while only social sin and social responsibility matter – or the reverse.
So, if someone accuses me of this, it’s simply misguided and inaccurate.
On “original sin,” I’d simply refer anyone to A New Kind of Christianity, and especially the Narrative Question. I’m not denying sin in any way – but rather I’m seeking to avoid some of the harmful and in my mind unbiblical philosophical and doctrinal baggage that often comes packed inside the term “original sin.”
The word “responsibility” deserves one additional comment. I think, based on your use of the term “total depravity,” the accusation probably comes from the perspective of traditional hard-core Calvinism, which I was persuaded to accept at one point in my life but later came to see as sincere but misguided and inaccurate. It’s based, I think, on a terribly faulty misreading of Scripture, one that (as missiologist Lesslie Newbigin pointed out so brilliantly) produced a grossly misleading view of “election” or “chosenness.” This view assumes that God rejects all humanity and plans to punish everyone forever in hell due to Adam’s (original) sin, and then selects (elects, chooses, predestines) a remnant to eternal bliss in heaven. My understanding (again, thanks first to Lesslie Newbigin) is that election is not to bliss but to service, and it is not exclusive but instrumental. In whatever ways God chooses some, they are chosen to bring blessing to all. In my view, being chosen is a call not elite status and privilege, but to to responsibility.
So, if someone accuses me of avoiding human responsibility, I actually think they’ve missed our real difference. We probably have two very different understandings of human responsibility, flowing from two very different understandings of the biblical narrative. Jeremy Bouma or anyone else has every right to disagree with and even criticize me for my beliefs. I would only hope that they actually understand what I’m saying and have given it due reflection and prayerful consideration before rejecting it. That’s all anyone can ask, especially when one is challenging popular conventional understandings as I am.