Paul F. M Zahl’s book, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life – Part 4: On original sin and imputation

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Original sin is the idea that every woman and every man who has ever been born is infected in their DNA with a tendency to think the wrong and do the wrong. Original sin is the universal tendency in people to look out solely for themselves to such an extent that when they are on the defensive they become violent and libidinal. 

Grace is listening to another person without bringing the conversation back to you. Original sin is listening to the other and compulsively, unconsciously bringing it back to you. You can’t help yourself. Perhaps you have never even thought about it this way. This taking turns talking is an automatic-pilot response. The fact that it is unconscious makes it a prime example of original sin.


Imputation is the dealing with people by which grace makes its impact. Imputation, which is a new kind of naming, is the format of grace that is the word as heard. It is the agency of grace that disarms.

Grace imputes. Grace sees the image of God in men and women when the reality is the twisted image of fallen people implicated in original sin, people who have unsavory associations in the form of total depravity and are prevented by their un-free will from helping themselves.

To impute means to ascribe qualities to someone that are not there intrinsically, to regard somebody as a person that he or she is not. Imputation calls bad things by a good name, and this is what grace does.

Imputation is one-way love made concrete.

Imputation is the mechanism of grace in everyday life.

Imputation is an either-or action. It is the substitution of a name, “good,” for a reality, “bad.” When the imputation is done, nothing more of the bad covered-over reality can be seen.

The imputation justifies; it makes right what is twisted by naming it right. The imputation is creative, for it creates what it evokes. Imputation brings into being what it evokes.

That’s what grace looks like