Drivers and Shapers of Sin

Development in Crabb’s Thought

Drivers and Shapers Illustrated

Random Sin Generator?


Development in Crabb’s Thought

In the preface to Understanding People, Crabb refers to development that has occurred in his thought since he wrote his earlier books. One of those areas of development, I believe, is in giving greater place to fallen mankind’s commitment to autonomy as the essence of sin: the commitment that each descendant of Adam has to be his own god, making his own decisions about good and evil. Thus, in Understanding People and Inside Out we find statements such as the following:

We must attack the core problem in the human personality… a steadfast determination to remain independent of God and still make life work.1

Fallen man has taken command of his own life, determined above all else to prove that he’s adequate for the job.2

To admit I cannot deal with all that is within me strikes a death blow to my claim to self-sufficiency.3

The other major tenet of his doctrine of human behaviour remains, as ever, the effect of the longings we have for those attributes that were part of Adam and Eve’s existence before the fall, but which they lost when they sinned. Crabb still speaks in Understanding People of us as being “driven” by these longings, just as he did in his first books:

But the Fall has happened, and the resultant hollowness of our core drives us to find fulfilment.4

However, it is clear that Crabb does not see those longings as the prime drivers of our sinful behaviour. The commitment to autonomy comes first. It is the prime driver; unfulfilled longings are the shapers, so to speak, which influence the particular ways that sin will manifest itself in one person’s life.

Drivers and Shapers Illustrated

Perhaps I can explain what I mean by “drivers” and “shapers” by means of an illustration. Most of us have seen an ornamental fountain of the kind where water emerges from a jet and strikes a small baffle that makes the water form into a flower-like pattern. The “driver” in that case is the water pressure, but the “shaper” is the baffle. Without the baffle, the water jet would still emerge, but its shape would be different.

That illustration is only an approximation. The baffle is static, whereas human longings are a dynamic part of the human soul. Perhaps if you imagined a fountain with baffles that could be altered to vary the shape of the fountain, the illustration would fit more closely. Nevertheless, I think it is near enough to get across the point I want to make.

Now, it is clear to me that a distinction of that kind exists in Crabb’s thinking. It is implicit in Understanding People and Inside Out, even though he has not made it explicit the way I have just attempted to do. With that distinction in mind we can see why statements like the following one from the Bobgans are beside the point – irrelevant to a critique of Crabb:

Many Christians have bought into the humanistic lie that when people’s needs are met, they will be good, loving people… Scripture, however, does not bear this out. Adam and Eve had it all. There was no need in their lives that was not being met to its fullest, yet they chose to sin.5

Eve, in believing the serpent’s lie, was somehow motivated by the fundamental temptation to autonomy. Her particular expression of sin was not shaped by any unfulfilled longings – as the Bobgans rightly observe, she and Adam “had it all.” In terms of my illustration we might say that in her case we see the stream of water emerge in a straight line from the jet, uncomplicated by any other factors.

Random Sin Generator?

Eve’s descendants, however, live in a world where unfulfilled longings are a reality. Some of her descendants become homosexuals, cross-dressers, wife-beaters, anorexics. Reading the Bobgans one would be left to suppose that this variety occurs because, somehow, the heart of each fallen person contains a “random sin generator” akin to a mathematician’s random number generator. Someone became a cross-dresser, but was just as likely, in the Bobgans view of things, to have become a kleptomaniac.

Crabb’s view instead is that particular expressions of sin are traceable to that individual’s unique experience of deprivation of the things a normal human soul longs for. The driver remains our commitment to autonomy, but the shape is given by the unfulfilled longings. This picture is, I believe, confirmed by the Scripture when all the biblical evidence is taken into account in the way that I discussed earlier, in the section of this paper that dealt with the sufficiency of Scripture.

Thus, exclamations like the following one from the Bobgans (there are numerous others) are true enough, but not as criticisms of Crabb:

Rather than being driven by… needs for security and significance, the Bible teaches that humans are driven by the sinful self. The problem is self at the centre as an insatiable, rebellious tyrant.6

In the paragraph that includes that quotation, the Bobgans go on to imply that Crabb teaches that people can be reconciled to God by being brought to recognize that God will satisfy their deep longings. They say:

The separation of man from God through sin is so vast that a person cannot repair the breach by engaging in Crabb’s techniques of realizing inner pain and discovering that God can make one secure and significant.7

That statement of the Bobgans is so amazingly astray as a criticism of Crabb, that it doesn’t deserve further comment.


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1 Crabb (1987) p. 106 2 Crabb (1988) p. 15 3 Crabb (1988) p. 16
4 Crabb (1987) p. 115 5 Bobgan (1989) p. 141 6 Bobgan (1989) p. 163
7 Bobgan (1989) p. 164

© 2009, Matt. All rights reserved.