Steve Chalke, the Baptist minister and founder of the Oasis Trust who sent shockwaves through the evangelical community when he declared his support for same-sex relationships, has criticised the traditional Christian understanding of 'Original Sin'.
In a new series of online study resources developed for the Open Church Network, Chalke argues that a historic misreading of Genesis 3 has led to centuries of guilt and needless religiously induced shame.
He says the doctrine mistakes the biblical view of God's relationship with humanity and has resulted in untold misery for generations of churchgoers.
Chalke says Western readings of the story of Adam and Eve have been coloured by St Augustine's interpretation, which is different from understandings present in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
'We make some assumptions that aren't there,' he says 'The story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit that's been forbidden from them doesn't mention Original Sin. It doesn't even tell us that the serpent is really Satan.'
He compares this with the Jewish interpretation of the story: 'Jewish scholars say that the story is about the growth of humanity from innocence to knowledge. The growth of humanity to the place where we're tempted and we have to learn to make moral choices; good or bad decisions. They say that it's the story of the growth of the whole of humanity to maturity but also of each individual's moral growth, as we leave behind childhood, become aware of temptation and of the battle to choose the right road rather than the wrong road.'
Chalke says: 'The Bible doesn't begin with Genesis chapter 3, it begins with Genesis chapter 1. In other words, it begins with the story that tells us we're all made in God's image. And God looks at humanity and says. "This is very good." Genesis chapter 3, the story that we've been told is about Original Sin, turns out to be, in the view of Hebrew scholars down through the ages, not about that at all but about our journey to discover how to live well – to make good moral choices – to learn to resist the temptation and consequences of living badly. We are made originally good.'
Although Genesis 3 explains humanity's pull towards the misuse of our God given gift of free will, Jewish scholarship has never read the story as some kind of curse descending on the whole human race, says Chalke, and neither should the Church.
In the video he also argues that Jesus never intended to begin a new religion. 'He comes to give people a bigger vision, a greater understanding of what it means to be God's people,' he says.
Chalke concludes: 'Following Jesus isn't about religion and all its paraphernalia; it's simply about walking a way of life with Christ. It's about being fully human, it's about becoming the best version of yourself and living intentionally. Love yourself – you're made by God'.
Love Yourself is the first of four online video resources for individuals and small groups being published by the Open Church Network.