What If “Nature vs. Nurture” Aren’t the Only Relevant Categories?

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Christians often use the binary categories of “nature vs. nurture,” though most of us suspect there is some sort of spectrum at play in child development, the role of genetics, the importance of environmental influences, etc.

If we want to be more biblical, we should recognize that more distinctions can be added, based on creation, sin, and grace.

David Powlison made this observation several years ago, buried in an article footnote, by offering four categories:

  1. creation nature (our nature as the result of being created in God’s image)
  2. sin nature (our nature as a result of falling into sin)
  3. sin nurture (ways in which rebellion is modeled and encouraged)
  4. grace nurture (ways in which godly behavior is modeled and encouraged).

We could schematize this as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 12.41.45 PM

Here is why this matters when analyzing our own behavior and in counseling others:

When it comes to explaining anger, biblical Christians don’t cast their vote with either “nature” or “nurture,” or even with “nature and nurture.”

The divide between good and evil runs through everything, so we discern four factors.

In sizing up the effects of “nature,” you can’t understand people without noting both creation-nature and sin-nature. . . .

Similarly, in sizing up the effects of “nurture,” we must pay attention both to sin-nurture and grace-nurture. Patterns of both sin and wisdom may be nurtured (Proverbs 13:20). Neither nature nor nurture are neutral.

This certainly doesn’t solve all of the debates. Perhaps there are other categories as well—is there such a thing, e.g., as creation-nurture or grace-nature?

But I think these are at least helpful categories to get us started and keep in mind as we think about why we do what we do.

Source: David Powlison, “Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 14/1 (Fall 1995): 47 n. 23.

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