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Christians often times buy into the simplistic categories of “nature vs. nurture.” But if we want to be more biblical, we should recognize that there are more distinctions than this, based on creation, sin, and grace. David Powlison has a helpful footnote where he suggests 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).

Here’s what Powlison writes:

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.

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

On a related note, here’s a helpful article by Michael Emlet categorizing different influences on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior: intra-personal influences (the interaction of body with heart-soul), inter-personal influences (the role of relationships), and extra-personal influences (the role of society and culture).

Dr. Emlet provides diagrams to distinguish between and illustrate the somatic, relational, and societal-cultural influences we face, stressing that each of these are significant but none of them are determinative. “This differentiation,” he writes, “allows the breadth, length, height, and depth of the gospel to be riveted to their lives in loving, truthful, wise, and effective ways.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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