Genesis One 16 (RJS)

Scot has handled most of the discussion on John Walton’s (professor at Wheaton) new book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, but I am going to jump in with a post on his next two propositions (16 and 17).

The first ten or eleven propositions in this book lay out a powerful approach to the understanding of Genesis One in the context of the original cultures.  The literal approach – assuming a material science and history behind the authorial intent of the text – may in fact distort our understanding of the message of the text.  The remaining propositions deal with the implications or consequences of this approach to Genesis One.

The two propositions we will discuss today build on this background and assert that Scientific explanations of origins can be unobjectionable (Proposition 16) and that the Theology of Genesis One in this view is stronger not weaker (Proposition 17).  I will start with the second – which I find to be one of the key points in Walton’s book.

The creeds state “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” This belief is common to all Christians – but does this rely on Genesis 1? Is the theology of God as creator strengthened or weakened when we look at Genesis 1 in terms of function?

Emphasis on Function leads to a stronger theology, a better understanding of God. The view that the focused intent of the author of Genesis One dealt with function and purpose, not material creation, provides a strong view of God – and an important corrective for our world today. The reductionist materialism of much of our world makes function and purpose either secondary or meaningless. But the view of Genesis one presented by Walton emphasizes the ongoing role of God in everything.  God did not create and stop. Functions are not consequences of material structures – but manifestations of God ordained purpose.  Among other things this view of the creation narrative in Genesis one establishes the natural world as sacred space, the temple of God.

Emphasis on Function leads to a better understanding of the role of humans. This view also helps as we consider the unique position and role of humans within God’s creation.

Through Genesis 1 we come to understand that God has given us a privileged role in the functioning of his cosmic temple. He has tailored the world to our needs, not his (for he has no needs). It is his place, but it is designed for us and we are in relationship with him. (p. 149)

This contrasts with the ANE view that people were created as slaves to the Gods.  In our world it contrasts with the material view that “people are nothing but physical forms having no function other than to survive.” (p. 149).

Genesis One establishes the foundation for our understanding of who we are and our place and function within the world.

But how did God create and how did we come to be? This question leads us back to proposition 16 in Walton’s book. Walton points out that:

…if the bible does not offer an account of material origins we are free to consider contemporary explanations of origins on their own merits, as long as God is seen as ultimately responsible. (p. 132)

As a Christian active in the sciences this is how I see the role of science: Science is engaged in the task of understanding the what and how of the world, of God’s creation. We go where the evidence leads and evaluate on the basis of our best understanding.  Science is also engaged in the task of stewardship over creation -  we are not to merely observe and understand, but also to use the knowledge gained from a study of God’s creation.

So what about Evolution? Walton deals with several different issues here.

First – some will suggest that the process of evolution, with natural selection and survival of the fittest is inconsistent with the nature of God. Survival of the fittest is “cruel” and psuedogenes are “wasteful” and chromosomal aberrations – well why didn’t God simply fix it?  In response to such questions Walton points to the book of Job. We cannot stand in judgment of God’s wisdom and we cannot expect to understand it all.  We can look at God’s creation and ask what and how – but the final why may well exceed our understanding.

Second – to separate natural and supernatural is to impose a false dichotomy on creation.

What we identify as natural laws only take on their law-like quality because God acts so consistently in the operation of the cosmos. He has made the cosmos intelligible and has given us minds that can penetrate some of its mysteries. (p. 134).

Here Walton considers Psalm 139:13 as an example: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. An understanding of genetics and embryology does not undermine this view – God is responsible. He is responsible for the whole; not just for the parts of the process that remain a mystery.

Third - The age of the earth and the time required for evolution is not a problem once we realize that Genesis 1 deals with function rather than material origins and that God can create by process. “One need not conclude that divine fiat implies instantaneous fulfillment.” (p. 138)

Fourth – What about Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5? Here Walton and I part company somewhat, although we agree on some key points.

These considerations are secondary in the interpretation of Genesis One – which must be taken on its own terms. (At least I think we agree on this.)

God is the creator of human beings and this must be taken seriously.

The image of God and the act of sinful disobedience are important biblical and theological realities that must be taken seriously.

All humans are one people, one species, one family, with one history as created in the image of God.

All discussions of the issues are problematic on some level. There is no simple neat solution.  Of course there are many theological questions for which we have no simple neat solutions (problem of evil anyone?).

However Walton takes the genealogies of Genesis, repeated in Chronicles and Luke, far more literally than I am inclined to – and thus takes the existence of Adam and Eve as historical individuals as taught by the text. On theological grounds he also holds to a substantive discontinuity between the processes of biological evolution that led to early primates and hominids and the creation of the historical Adam and Eve.

I also believe that there is a discontinuity – but not in biological evolution, rather in some fashion difficult to identify and connected with the concept of “image of God.” Science tells us something of when and how and what. Science does not describe why, and image of God is front and center in our understanding of why; why humans exist – for what purpose. Identification of an historical Adam and Eve is problematic and the genealogies are irrelevant. At the very least we must go back about 200,000 years to place Adam and Eve in history.  The science is fairly conclusive (within an error range) on when modern humans appeared. This precludes any possibility that the genealogies are historically meaningful.  But the theological issues in Romans 5 are also in need of consideration.

To put it bluntly, I don’t think that a historical Adam is the point of Romans 5 – rather the point of Romans 5 is the interpretation of the atoning work of the one and only Christ in the face of our sinful disobedience as God’s people.  Scripture tells us that this sinful disobedience is inescapable, and extends back to the very beginning. Inescapable that is, except through the work of God in Christ.  Adam is the periphery of the story, not the center, and his importance is as a type not so much as an individual.

Conclusions – Where do we go now? Walton’s contribution to the question of ancient cosmology and the origins debate is a significant.  This is a powerful book written for the church and providing profoundly important insight into the meaning of Genesis 1.

Now we need a similar fresh look at Genesis 2-3 to understand the intent of the original author within the context of the ANE culture.

What do you think? Does Walton’s analysis of Genesis One enhance your understanding of God as Creator and the relative roles of science and faith in our understanding of the world?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    ON the subject of function, what was “adams’s” first task? Naming the animals.
    Linguistic studies seem to indicate that the names/word we use to decribe things determine in our minds the roles we mentally assign for them. e.g. Anteater – it’s pretty hard to ignore what the name means to us in terms of functionality, even though an Anteater does alot more than simply eat ants.
    Is this following story God passsing on the function responsibilities of certain parts of creation over to “man”?

  • Danny

    Hello,
    btw, who is RJS?
    Cheers,
    Danny

  • Phil

    I haven’t read Walton’s book yet, but within this whole study I too find Paul and Christ’s references to Adam, (as well as genealogies) most difficult to wrestle with. The concept of death in not nearly the hurdle that Adam is for me.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Phil, I’m with you on that one. It really does seem to me that the biblical writers thought death only came along after sin, ergo there was a period of time before sin, when humans were . . . immortal. The Romans sections of text point strongest in this direction. It seem St. Paul understood Genesis as literal history.

  • RJS

    phil_style,
    It does seem that Paul may have thought that there was a time before sin when humans were immortal – although this isn’t clear. It isn’t clear what immortal would mean in this context.
    But Adam, the Fall, and a time before sin were not big topics (beyond this reference in Paul) in the Biblical texts, old or new testament. Peter Bouteneff did a good job of discussing this in his book “Beginnings.”
    Danny,
    I hadn’t put my contact information on this post originally – but I have now added it. If you really want to know, email me.

  • dopderbeck

    Excellent post. I agree with Walton’s overall assessment. I also agree, RJS, that something similar needs to be done with our understanding of Gen. 2-4 and its connection to the NT in Paul’s theology.
    However, I tend to agree with Walton’s inclination that special revelation here is giving us some information that in some way is a bit more precise and that inevitably pushes back against any anthropology that isn’t informed by special revelation. I agree with Walton that the Biblical witness seems to require a “real” Adam. But I’d also note that Walton is vague, probably purposefully, on what exactly that must entail.
    In a recent ASA talk, there was a panel on this issue. Defending a more traditional approach, OT scholar Jack Collins argued for a “mere Adam-and-Eveism” — some minimal set of affirmations about “Adam” that are substantial enough to do justice to the Biblical witness yet flexible enough not to be “concordist.” (I’d give a link, but my posts have been filtered lately whenever I do that, so go to the ASA website and you can find it). Collins hasn’t quite fleshed out what that might mean, and I’m not sure I’d agree with everything he might say is required. But I think the concept of a “mere” notion of Adam can be helpful to us.
    In my view, a “mere” Adam would have to entail at least the following:
    – a single individual who was the first true human possessing all the moral, spiritual, and relational gifts and responsibilities entailed in being “human.” (Perhaps here a term other than “human” can be found, since in scientific anthropology “human” is a much more generic term that would include a wide variety of hominids not intended necessarily to be captured by this criterion).
    – a state of grace whereby this first true human had the capacity to enjoy all the blessings of perfect fellowship with God and with others, including freedom from the sting of death
    – a state of potentiality whereby this first true human had the capacity of will to obey or not obey God’s law, and thereby to remain or not remain in the original state of grace
    – a state of potentiality whereby this first true human had the capacity to pass along to subsequent generations those aspects of “human nature” that are entailed in true humanity, including the corruption of “human nature” resulting from sin
    Personally, I would bracket whether another criterion would be any “discontinuity” in terms of causality, i.e., whether the unique entailments of true humanity had to be passed to Adam miraculously or whether they could emerge through secondary causation.
    I think these criteria could be compatible with a wide range of scenarios for human evolution (as well as with a wide variety of direct creationist scenarios). For example, the criterion of “imputation” — the ability to pass along human nature / corruption to later generations — doesn’t necessarily require literal biological monogenism, even if imputation involved some biological process, as Augustine imagined. This is easy to demonstrate scientifically: every human being alive today has some common set of characteristics that distinguish us from our immediate biological ancestors. Scientists speculate that this might involve brain size, a language gene, or some combination of things. The point is that these traits propogated through the human population over time, just like any other set of genetic mutations, until the entire population possessed those traits.
    In any event, I’m not willing to draw the sharp dichotomy that many of my scientist friends want to draw between “literal / concordist” and “allegorical / accomodationist.” As usual, the text here seems to defy any such simple categorizations.

  • AHH

    I also part ways with some of Walton’s Adam/Eve thoughts here (which we should remember are outside the main thrust of his work).
    The specific phrase he uses to describe his stance is “material and spiritual discontinuity.” Leaving aside the issue of Adam being a unique individual, I can absolutely understand advocating “spiritual” discontinuity on Biblical grounds. But “material” discontinuity strikes me as a non sequiter, especially since Walton has spent previous chapters saying that material origins are NOT the concern of early Genesis. And I can’t think of any other Biblical material that would necessitate “material” discontinuity.
    And of course material discontinuity between humans and other created life is extremely difficult to reconcile with the scientific evidence (one would basically have to say that God put false evidence of relatedness in our genomes, for one thing). But even without scientific considerations, I think once you say that early Genesis is not about material origins, there is no Biblical reason for a position of material discontinuity.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I am not convinced that we need to identify Adam as an individual, although there are scenarios where this will work both scientifically and theologically. I just don’t think that they are demanded by the text, either by Gen 2-3 or by Romans 5.
    But I do think we have a state of grace whereby the first true human(s) had the capacity to enjoy all the blessings of perfect fellowship with God and with others, including freedom from the “sting of death.” But freedom from the sting of death need not entail immortality on earth – even such as John Calvin did not envision life on earth as “eternal”.
    Our current state on earth and the need for Jesus as redeemer was brought about by human rebellion against God – from the beginning.
    I struggle with the idea of the capacity of will to obey. Capacity of will perhaps – but a capacity which God knew would not be realized even in the very first small communities or individual(s).

  • http://brandonmilan.wordpress.com brandontmilan

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, and I’m anxious to get my hands on this book. I’ve been reading through the NIV Application Commentary on Genesis and Walton goes into similar things there, but I’m excited to see it in much more depth.
    In all honesty, I’ve taken a couple of YEC classes and seminars and read their magazines and such, and, honestly, they’ve only served to convince me that most of them don’t really know what they are talking about. But at the same time, there is an ever present idea in evangelicalism that good Christians accept young earth creationism. Period.
    If you discuss this with a YEC, they will usually try to trump any reasonable argument you’ve made with something like, “Well, Adam has to be a historical character, Paul talks about him as such.” And that is the dilemma I’ve been in for a long time. What about Adam?

  • http://therewindblog.wordpress.com/ BPRjam

    I agree with those who wonder about the role of Adam and Eve in light of what modern science has to say about human origins.
    However, I find it a bit strange how we protestants love to talk about the “flesh and blood of Christ” metaphorically, but get concerned over talking about the story of Adam and Eve metaphorically.
    My understanding is that Rome believed that divorcing the sacrament of eucharist from the actual blood and actual flesh of Christ was to eliminate the regenerating work of Christ in the life of a Christian. Jesus speaks of his real body and real blood. I think he even calls them “real” food. Paul even seems to speak of communion in a way commiserate with the idea of “real” flesh and blood. And yet we usually have no problem with the idea of a metaphorical flesh and blood of Christ. In fact, many I work with find the theology surrounding transubstantiation laughable. Rome thought to divorce the elements from the body of Christ was to cease to be Christian. I believe protestants have proved them wrong.
    Why can’t we do the same with Adam and Eve? Genesis seems to speak of them literally, so does Paul. So what? Why can’t we take the same stance protestants did with communion and divorce the actuality (i.e., humans appear to have evolved) from the metaphor (i.e., humans are made in the image of God, but are mired in sin). People like those in the YEC will state that we cease to be really Christian when we do such a thing, but this is nothing new.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#8) — I think Adam as a “literal” individual isn’t demanded by the text only with a very strongly accomodationist hermeneutic. Maybe a very accommodationist hermeneutic is the right way to go at the end of the day, but it entails its own problems. But beyond hermeneutics, I think there are other theological problems without a “real” Adam. Biblically and in the Tradition, ideas of human nature, sin, and atonement are bound up with the person of Adam.
    I suppose I’m “conservative” in this sense: if there are competing theories for understanding the Biblical narratives in light of scientific knowledge, IMHO the theories that cause the least amount of hermeneutical and theological revision are preferable. I get really nervous, for example, when I listen to some of the other talks from that ASA panel, when the speakers suggest that the science of human evolution requires wholesale revision of our theologies of sin and atonement. Adjustment, deeper understanding, incremental reform: yes. Wholesale revision: no. So if I can go with a notion of federal headship and Calvin’s ideas on “death,” I’ll take that route first.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    Are you looking primarily at Romans 5 for Adam, or at other texts at well?
    I haven’t listened to the ASA talks yet. Perhaps I will have to.
    I don’t think we need any revision in our theology of Atonement at all – at least not outside of the bounds of Scot’s book “A community called atonement.” Of course this may be a revision for some.
    I don’t think we need to revise sin – but perhaps “Original Sin” needs some serious thought. Although even here I think that science only directs our selection among various view of historical orthodox Christianity, it doesn’t require a move outside of these bounds.

  • BPRjam

    The problem I have with that, dopderbeck (#11) is that theology arguably ossified around the time of Calvin, and instead of having minor incremental changes in the ~500 years since Calvin, we’ve had nothing. I know LeRon Shults, for one, argues that Christian theology really started to petrify with Augustine. (He says this as a negative.)
    In any case, I like incremental change, too, but when we’ve been stuck for a few hundred years, getting back into proper dialog with science may take some wider strides than would have been needed if science were intelligently dealt with since Darwin, Einstein, and Bohr.

  • http://virtuphill.blogspot.com/ phil_style

    BPRjam,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m a big fan of Shults. I suspect that Sola Scriptura did alot to convince people that any development in theology would invariably mean variance AWAY from “proper christian doctrine”.

  • pds

    peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
    I think many scientists need a more chastened epistemology regarding human origins. This is especially the case when many scientists seem so philosophically illiterate that one cannot be sure they even understand that they have an epistemology. Many scientists also don’t seem to realize that the historical sciences require a different epistemology than the operational sciences.

  • Matt

    I’m glad the book of Job has been brought up in this discussion. In light of simplistic understandings of Gen 1-3, I have found it helpful to consider what God did NOT say to Job: “If you want to know why things are the way they are, just remember I created the world in 7 days, but Adam and Eve chowed down on some forbidden produce, messing everything up.” However, God did ask Job, “Were you there when I ….?” Of course, Job’s and our response has to be “no.” i.e., it ain’t so simple.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    Does the Eastern Christian view of atonement and original sin makes a difference here?
    My understanding is that the eastern Churches take a very different view of original sin so that it is considered more of a human condition than a a result of the actions of a first couple passed on to their descendants. I also understand their view of the purpose of Christ’s death is different than atonement for human sin.
    If the eastern Churches have something here, the necessity of the hisroical Adam and Eve seems to be greatly reduced.

  • RJS

    Matt,
    I agree – The way Walton brought Job into the discussion here made me stop and think.
    Unapologetic Catholic,
    The Eastern Church and pre-Augustine church have a lot to offer us here I think. While Adam was accepted as a unique individual in most cases, the emphasis on his unique status as “original sinner” or on “Original Sin” is not there. The view of Adam or Adam as type – it simply doesn’t open the same theological can of worms.

  • RJS

    For those who may be interested, this is the link dopderbeck referred to in #6.
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/meetings/baylor2009/Baylor_paperlinks.html

  • Rob

    I was a Christian for 20+ years. One of the major reasons that I left the community was the debates over the historical context of the bible. Scholars have researched and written volumes regarding the inconsistencies and fallacies of the bible. The bible and Christianity like all modern religions are based on primitive mythologies. Instead of studying the bible as history – study the history of the bible. Discover the roots (founding myths) to the stories…study the history of how the stories were written down and documented. Joseph Campbell, not a scientist, was a premier intellectual on comparative mythologies and religions. Study intellectuals like Campbell and I think that the bible will be understood in its proper context…

  • RJS

    Rob,
    By all means read Campbell – who obviously convinced you. But read widely, not just skeptics; and evaluate widely.
    I don’t see that an understanding of the development of human culture and thinking (including mythology) undercuts religion in particular Christianity – it informs how we think about religion, and it does inform how we read books such as the Bible; especially the early chapters of Genesis and much of the rest of the OT.
    It also undercuts the “magic Bible” approach. The “magic Bible” approach is rather unfortunate and far too common in the church. And if anyone wishes to know what I mean by “magic Bible” I will elaborate.

  • Rob

    To be clear, I have spent almost 20 years studying this topic (both formal and informal). My young adult life and early adult life was spent study the both Protestant and Catholic writings (I attended a Catholic College for my undergraduate degree in Chemistry). Unfortunately, I was struck with many of the same concerns as the skeptics, but at that time I was not familiar with what the skeptics were saying…and to be clear, much of what the skeptics said – especially the scientists – was to evaluate the data and information then draw a conclusion.

  • RJS

    Rob,
    They evaluate data and draw conclusions — absolutely. The problem in much of the church is a tendency to ignore data and defend conclusions.
    Problem is – while I agree with many of the conclusions that skeptics draw, I do not agree with the underlying metaphysical assumption. Some of my conclusions are a bit different because of a different underlying metaphysical assumption.
    For example – I don’t see the Bible as a basis for our faith, I see it as a document that illuminates our faith. As such the conclusions that you are emphasizing inform but do not undercut.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#12) — my theological concerns flow from Paul’s theology in general — summarized in Romans 5 and Corinthians 15 in particular, but I think sustained throughout Paul’s understanding of sin.
    Those who argue that “no Adam” requires a significant change in how we understand sin and the atonement are also trying to account for the full socio-biological account of human evolution. If “selfishness” and violence are inherent in human nature before the “Fall,” does that make God the author of sin? For this reason, many in the faith-science community speak of a “fall upwards” — what we call “sin” was always inherent in human nature, but as our awareness of that these characteristics violated God’s law increased, it became “sin.”
    But if that is so, what does “atonement” mean? Is Christ’s death on the cross primarily a “moral example” that helps us learn how to make self-sacrificial choices? And if that is so, hasn’t our theology become Pelagian — where salvation is mostly a matter of us making better moral choices rather than God graciously providing what we cannot do ourselves? Notice that without a view of “sin” as something alien, you can lose the Christus Victor aspect of the atonement present in Athanasius as well as the penal aspect of the atonement present in Anselm and Augustine.
    Lots of people go in this direction and in similar directions that move away from the radical, invasive character of sin and human depravity that scripture presents (again, most evidently in Paul’s theology in Romans).
    So, I guess I’m not very satisfied at this point with any of the efforts I’ve seen to contextualize Biblical theology in light of the science of human evolution. This doesn’t mean I don’t think it can be done — it just means IMHO there is work to be done in this area.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    To be honest, I’ve never seen how Adam, Eve and the Fall remove the “God as author of sin” problem. There is no nice neat proof.
    Perhaps the intent of the text Gen 2-3 is to teach that we have intentionally rebelled against God and that we are responsible for our sin. The text isn’t a factual presentation of how (the logical loopholes and traps of this approach are many) but a story conveying a theological truth.

  • Your Name

    Although we do not agree on the underlying metaphysical assumptions, I am still open to debate (especially in the area of Asian philosophies). I appreciate the candid discussion and look forward to future exchanges.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#25) — it has to do with causation and free will. Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles provides a classical explanation.
    God is the primary cause of everything because He is God, but this does not rule out secondary causes. So God’s providential causation of all things, including the creation of human beings with free will who would sin, does not exclude genuine causality at the secondary level through the free will of human beings. (We make similar arguments to suggest that there is no conflict between God’s “creating” and the “random chance” that drives evolution).
    Here is a very rough analogy: you conceive a child and bring her into the world. You know with certainty that this child, being a human being, inevitably will do things that intentionally hurt others. Nevertheless, when your child does do something hurtful, you are not the “author” of that hurtful act merely in virtue of bringing that child into the world, notwithstanding your foreknowledge that she will hurt others.
    The analogy of course breaks down because your foreknowledge is only general and your ability to providentially arrange the circumstances of your child’s life as she grows is highly limited, but I still find it helpful. And you are right that the free will theodicy only goes so far. It needs to be supplemented with the “greater good” theodicy of Augustine, and ultimately with the appeal to Job: God is God and human beings simply cannot understand all His purposes.
    Re: the hermeutics — maybe Gen. 2-3 is just an “everyman” story. This is a theological disagreement between “neo-Orthodox” and “evangelical” (and to some extent Roman Catholic) theology. The traditional, Western, Augustinian view is “realist” — there was a real and fundamental corruption of human nature at its root, “in Adam.” Augustinian realism seems to me to resonate deeply with the Biblical narrative, and since it’s so central to the Tradition, it has some authority of its own. If an Augustinian realist position can be accommodated to the contemporary science — and IMHO it can — then it seems to me the strong burden of proof is on those who do otherwise.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I think here is where we really disagree – Augustine’s realist view doesn’t resonates with me. Rather I find it troubling and rooted in some unbiblical and even dangerous notions.

  • BPRjam

    dopderbeck (#27) -
    You’ve said something that got me to thinking. Wasn’t Augustine’s formulation of Original Sin driven fairly directly by the accusation of gnosticism leveled by Pelagius?
    My understanding is that Augustine believed humans to be “created good” as outlined in Genesis, but also believed that the baptism of infants was efficacious. But if humans were created good, yet baptism of infants accomplishes something, how does this square? Augustine proposed that some “substance” changed when Adam and Eve sinned, and that this substance was passed on to their progeny similar to a spotted dog having spotted offspring. This substance is what Augustine called “original sin”. In this way, Augustine was able to counter Pelagius’ argument that original sin was gnostic, since God created matter “good” (contra the gnostics), but yet the baptism of infants accomplished something salvific (i.e, the washing away of the stain of Adam’s sin and contra Pelagius).
    In any case, I see Augustine’s realist position relying on not only infant baptism, but also the need to counter the charge of gnosticism. If those two items are no longer a concern (and I would argue they are not), then Augustine’s proposal begins to sound a little silly (to me at least).
    Bottom line – how sure are we that Augustine’s theology was not highly contextually driven and that context no longer applies to our theological needs? How useful is Augustine apart from his context?

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#28) — why? What’s troubling about it in general? To me, it is troubling that Augustine emphasized concupiscence and thereby developed a distorted view of human sexuality. But the core insight — that human beings are corrupt at the root of our humanness — I think is correct and Biblical. It’s also prominent in Athanasius.
    BJR (#29) — good points. I’m honestly not enough of an Augustine scholar to know all the ins and outs of how and why he developed his precise views. I think you’re correct that Augustine’s views on infant Baptism as well as on the authority and role of the institutional Church in the order of salvation ties in to his views on original sin.
    So, I agree that it is fair to point out, not only to “low church” evangelicals but also to anyone in the Reformed camp, that all of us today who aren’t very strict Roman Catholics engage in selective appropriation of Augustine. If Augustine were alive today, he’d lump all of us non-Catholics together with the Donatists and urge that we be persecuted. So, I’m not by any means suggesting Augustine is infallible.
    Nevertheless, there is an important thread stretching from the Apostle Paul to Athanasius to Augustine to Anselm to Calvin and Luther that seems to me very, very hard to ignore. Of course, this is one of the key points at which evangelicals tend to part company with Barth and neo-Orthodoxy.
    The neo-Orthodox view makes evangelicals uncomfortable, and I think rightly so. Unfortunately, evangelicals have tended to think about this in a very wooden and literalistic way that cannot be sustained in light of scientific knowledge. But I personally have come to reject the dichotomy in which one’s view of the historicity of the fall must be either neo-Orthdox or fundamentalistic. Even the term “historicity” seems to me to carry too much baggage. An event can be “historical” without being narrated in “literal” terms. In my view, we evangelicals need to start thinking about the fall as a “historical” event that is narrated in scripture in mytho-poetic terms.
    Given all this, I have no problem affirming that there was a “real person,” “Adam,” who “fell” and in whose fall we all participate, and I no longer feel overly compelled to explain exactly how this mystery integrates with the scientific story of human evolution, nor do I feel compelled to argue against the scientific story. Both narratives are true according to their own narrative criteria, and I’m confident that if we had God’s-eye knowledge of how these different levels of explanation interact we’d be completely satisfied that nothing God has revealed to us through special or general revelation is misleading or deceptive.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    It isn’t troubling that we are corrupt at the root of our humanness.
    What is troubling is the idea of a physical change in nature attached to an original corruption. This, I think, is unbiblical.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS — I’m not so sure that Augustinian realism requires a “physical” change. True, Augustine and the other Fathers and the Reformers probably thought the fall wrought some physical changes in the human person. But Augustine’s (and Athanasius’ and Calvin’s) thought is much more nuanced and subtle than the contemporary YEC or OEC line on this. So long as we suggest that there is some ontological participation of subsequent humanity “in Adam,” I think we retain the core of Augustinian realism. I’m not sure it matters what that ontological participation involves — whether it’s the immaterial “soul,” some other “spiritual” aspect of our being, or something else outside the realm of the physical sciences. After all, becoming a “new creation in Christ” doesn’t involve any evident biological changes (prior to the resurrection of course). (I’m also not averse to the idea that perhaps there is a subtle associated change in brain chemistry that is then propogated through the “human” species…?)
    The key concept, I think, is that human ontology, human “being,” is corrupted “in Adam” and restored / redeemed / completed “in Christ.” It’s more than just that the Adam story tells the same story that everyone ends up living. It’s also that there is an ontological corruption in human nature that is resolvable only through participation “in Christ.” To me, Biblical theology and the Tradition strongly support an approach that is ontological as well as exemplary.

  • http://brandonmilan.wordpress.com brandontmilan

    dopderbeck said: “In my view, we evangelicals need to start thinking about the fall as a “historical” event that is narrated in scripture in mytho-poetic terms.”
    I think that this is a great way of putting it. The problem with presenting it this way to your average YEC, however, is that he or she refuses to consider that something can be both “mytho-poetic” and “true.” In other words, true equals literal. Mytho-poetic equals false. Those are the terms that your average Christian thinks in. Those are the terms that your average person thinks in.
    And even if you accept that the creation account and the fall describe historical truths in a mytho-poetic fashion, when does it end? When, in Genesis, does mytho-poetic history end and, for lack of a better term, actual history begin? It would seem to me that at least up through chapter 11 would follow suit with mytho-poetic history. But what about the Patriarchs? Is the rest of Genesis mytho-poetic as well? What about the rest of the Pentateuch? Judges? Kings, Chronicles, the Prophets? How far does it go?
    Those are the questions that this whole discussion brings to mind, and they can be somewhat troubling to someone who has always simply trusted that the Creation account was literally true.


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