Adam, Adam, Adam … Wright (RJS)

All together now … Duck, Duck, Duck, Gray Duck. I prefer this to pin the tail on the donkey.  In this game someone is in the middle, someone is it, and we get to chase each other around in circles, having fun together.

Last Thursday Scot put up a clip, Strong Words, Certainly Fair, from Peter Enns that explored the question of Adam and Eve and ended with a plea for conversation: “It is time for evangelicalism to sit down and think this one through–without feeling that lines have to be drawn immediately, theological turf has to be protected, or that “the gospel is at stake” every five minutes.

I agree with Pete that we need to be able to have a conversation without believing that the gospel is at stake every five minutes. That includes exploring the way Pete approaches Adam, Eve, and Paul as he outlines in The Evolution of Adam. I learned a great deal from this book and recommend it highly as a conversation starter. Pete is serious about scripture. But it is only a beginning, it is not the end of the conversation. The argument that some views of Adam are an ad hoc variation of pin the (evolutionary) tail on the (evangelical) donkey is a bit harsh, but it is a point we have to consider in the conversation.

In The Language of Science and Faith by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins outline possible views one can take of Genesis 1-3 in light of modern science without dismissing Genesis as mere fiction. These must be both theologically and scientifically sound. Genesis 1-3 must be read for the text it is, looking for the intended theological message.

1. Non literalist readings with Adam and the fall as an “everyman” story. The story reflects the dark side present within all of us. We all rebel against God and we need God’s grace. This approach certainly avoids the problem of grafting evolution onto evangelical doctrine.  I wonder, however, if it does justice to the theological content of scripture.

2. Adam is Israel. Rather than an “everyman” story, some suggest that the story of Adam is the beginning of Israel not the beginning of humanity.  Pete Enns has suggested this “Adam is Israel” approach as an angle on the text and put it out for discussion. (See the post Adam is Israel and his book The Evolution of Adam). From Enns:

There are two ways of looking at this parallel. You could say that the Adam story came first and then the Israelites just followed that pattern. But there is another way. Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins.

This is an approach that takes scripture seriously as the word of God. It is an approach that must be on the table as we discuss the issues surrounding Adam. It avoids the problem of grafting evolution onto evangelical doctrine. It really sidesteps the issue of Adam. It may or may not be right, but it is not heretical and it does not undermine the gospel.

3. Historical Views. Finally, there are historical views that work with the evidence.

A common synthetic view integrating the biblical and scientific accounts sees human-like creatures evolving as the scientific evidence indicates, steadily becoming more capable of relating to God. At a certain point in history, God entered into a special relationship with those who had developed the necessary characteristics, endowing them with the gift of his image. With this spiritual gift came the ability to know and experience evil – an opportunity grasped with tragic consequences that have carried through the history of our species. (p.212)

The third approach is the one that raises some issues. There are many different ways a historical scenario can be placed on the table. Some of these are more strained or ad hoc than others. It is wise to consider how much they resemble pin the (evolutionary) tail on the (evangelical) donkey – but only as part of a more complete discussion. Pete mentioned two historical scenarios in his post: (1) to see Adam and Eve as the first hominids in the evolutionary line that God chose as the first representative humans, and (2) “Adam and Eve” represent the gene pool from which the current world population is has descended.” Sometimes these scenarios are presented in a way where they do seem to represent grafts of evolution onto evangelical doctrine. They strain credulity. This is particularly true when the overriding concern is to protect the inerrancy of scripture rather than to wrestle with the theological content of Romans 5 or Genesis 3 or the rest of scripture.

But do all historical scenarios necessarily fall into this same trap?

One of the commenter on last week’s post pointed to an interview with N.T. Wright by Andrew Wilson that has been posted (Andrew Wilson Interview with Tom Wright). The interview covered a number of interesting questions and I recommend it highly. You can download and listen to the whole interview through the link to Wilson’s site. (I was particularly interested in Wright’s answers to questions concerning the Holy Spirit.)  One of the questions Wilson raised in the interview was the question of Adam and Eve. Wright takes a historical view that works with the evidence but is a position that Enns likely considers ad hoc. Nonetheless it is a position clearly worth putting on the table. I transcribe just the relevant bits below (the section on Adam contains just a little more discussion).

AW Paraphrased question: What do you do with Adam as historical or not in the light of Paul? How do you read Adam in the Old Testament bearing in mind Paul?

NTW: It is very interesting. I’ve been privileged to be part of some conversations in America recently with the BioLogos Foundation …

There are basically four positions … But position one would be to say Genesis is just straightforward factual reporting. This is how it was ex nihilo. There is suddenly – ping – there’s human beings on the sixth day.

At the other end of the scale you have the option which says this is all simply picture language and in fact hominids evolved over millenia and there was no special moment etcetra. So this is all creating a sort of a fictitious golden age of the past.

But then in between those two polar opposites … there are two other positions and the one which I think … I … hold would go something like this, and I’m not, this is not something I’ve spent a lot of time on, but the first thing to say is that it is very interesting that in the Old Testament itself hardly anything is made of Adam, which is kind of curious to a Christian looking at it. So when I started to work on Romans I assumed that an Adamic doctrine of Original Sin was deep in Judaism and Paul was just picking it up, and the answer is actually it isn’t. Talk to conservative Jews, liberal Jews, second Temple Jews, there isn’t a doctrine of Original Sin until 4th Ezra and 2 Baruch, which were written after the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  Where the destruction of the temple has forced them to say ‘we were aware of problems, but now we realize that it must be much worse than we’d ever imagined and maybe it all goes back to Adam after all.

And I think what you see in Paul is something very similar, that the death of Jesus has forced him to say ‘the problem of the world must be much worse than we ever imagined. It has been solved by one man. Goodness, maybe that’s actually what that story was about. It wasn’t just a picture to get us going as it were.

So I then want to say that, in so far as I understand contemporary evolutionary biology, which is not my field at all, I am not a scientist, I think I want to say that yes, over millenia God created creatures we call hominids, but that at a specific time, just like God called Abraham and Sarah from among the other potentially nomadic peoples of the middle east and said ‘you’re going to be the bearers of my purpose‘, so God called an original primal pair and said ‘Now this thing is fairly chaotic at the moment. You are going to be the ones through whom I am going to plant a garden and we’re going to bring my wisdom, my stewardship, and my love into the world in a whole new way.‘ And it seems to me that is a story one can tell with integrity, both as a serious reader of scripture and as somebody prepared to do business with contemporary science.

This is just a brief foray into the topic. I doubt that it is the final word, even from Wright should he continue to engage in the conversation. But it brings another set of issues to the table. Wright sees importance in a original primal pair called by God. We don’t have in this short interview enough detail to see where he would take it and how the details would work out (he may not have gone that far yet himself). But the idea that God called his people (or an original primal pair) is not necessarily a graft of evolution onto evangelical doctrine. It is an attempt to wrestle seriously with the theological point that Paul is making in Romans.

Is this simply an attempt to salvage some favored doctrine from the evolutionary trash can?

But I won’t simply put the views of others up for discussion and criticism. I’ll put mine forward as well.  Feel free to pick at it. Personally I lean toward a view similar to the view suggested by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain, Ch. 5 The Fall of Man:

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  … Then in fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that is could perceive time flowing past. … We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state.  But sooner or later they fell.

I am not convinced of a historical “Adam” as a unique individual, but more convinced of a historical fall of some sort. Genesis 3 describes some kind of universal fall and this is an important theological truth that sets the stage. One could take this to suggest that “Adam and Eve” represent the gene pool from which the current world population is has descended.”  That kind of explicit connection would be reading 21st century science into the text. However, I am not convinced that it is ad hoc to read some kind of concrete fall into Genesis 3 and to suggest that this concrete fall was in some sense universal, even as the writer uses a context well understood to the ancient audience to convey this idea (see for example, The Garden in Ancient Context).

Pete suggests that “Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history.” I wonder if, perhaps, the strength of Israel’s experience caused those who compiled the Old Testament as we now have it to realize (and don’t discount the power of the Spirit here) that the problem went deeper than Israel alone. The pattern of rebellion and failure went all the way back to the beginning of mankind. The Adam story was written to reflect this truth, not to recapitulate Israel’s story. Paul reads this in the light of what he knows about Christ and his death and resurrection. He may or may not have thought of Adam as a unique individual – this doesn’t make much difference.

Is this simply an attempt to salvage some favored doctrine from the evolutionary trash can?

Christ is the point. I’d like to end with a final point, one I’ve returned to on many occasions. The central point of Christianity is Christ – God’s relationship with his people and the incarnation of God becoming human, entering time and creation. Christ is certainly the center of Paul’s theology and the focus of his argument in Romans. If salvation through Christ requires only that humans are sinful and accountable before God any of the scenarios above are theologically acceptable. The gospel isn’t at stake in the discussion.

Much more conversation and prayer is required to think through all of the details. But we have to have the discussion at a serious level.

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

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Norman

    RJS,

    I wish I had more time to interact with this discussion but let me preface my remarks by saying I believe you are on the right track in your systematic approach here. Bringing to bear Enns, Wright, Lewis and your own observations IMO brings some cohesiveness to this issue.

    I tend to see merit in all of these approaches. I like Enns am comfortable with the idea that Genesis is a retelling from Israel’s own historic perspective as 2nd T literature tends to bear this idea out. I also think this story is more nuanced and inclusionary of the Nations surrounding Israel than often seems apparent. Israel came out of the Nations and so did Adam, this is born out in the Jewish interpretation we see in the 2nd century BC Jewish piece called Jubilees. Israel and the Nations all shared the same human characteristics of sin and so I believe that is a given in the OT theology of their times. But Israel and the Nations were on
    different trajectories and Israel as Paul says in Rom 9 had the special faith calling
    that set them apart, much like we evangelicals believe people of faith are a
    people set apart today but no less or more human than anyone else. (think image
    of God through Christ)

    I also believe that Genesis 2-3 is simply a picture of Israel’s faith origins and the fall is examined by Paul in Rom 5-8 that provides better clues than we often at first grasp. Paul declares that in the pristine Garden that originally a faith walk with God by Adam imputed his sins and did not count them. The fall came about when as Paul says the acts of self-righteousness came into play regarding law keeping and its implication by Adam/Israel. Paul doesn’t really address original human sin but simply acknowledges its reality of all humans Jew and Gentiles. The problem he sees IMO is our means of dealing with it and he is deeply invested that the seeking of law (knowledge of good and evil) can’t be overcome by our own human efforts. By the way the Devil in Genesis 3 IMO simply represents the deceiver and I expect that player is just a symbol representing those people who led Israel’s faith people into self-righteousness. I also follow Paul in his conclusion
    that the woman (Eve) represents the faith church and reflects a corporate idea
    of the Woman in need of a new husband (Christ the last Adam as the old Adam
    dies) We know that many Jews understood Eve as the corporate church by how the Revelation author uses that imagery in Rev 12 to describe the church under
    persecution by the deceivers who wanted to destroy the new child of that old
    woman(faith Israel). That story is extensively fleshed out in the narrative of Acts and trials of the early church. The story in Genesis and Revelation is told in symbols and imagery but those all reflect people.

    Lots of issues here to discuss in more depth for sure.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Thanks so much for the link, RJS – and thanks for putting your own views down so clearly as well. I will return the compliment!

  • http://prodigalthought.net/ Scott Lencke

    RJS -

    Yes, I so desire, as Pete Enns suggests, that we need to sit down and think/talk this through ‘without feeling that lines have to be drawn immediately, theological turf has to be protected, or that “the gospel is at stake” every five minutes.’ I am tiring of such rhetorical ploys about the gospel being constantly at stake.

    I appreciated your summary here: I wonder if, perhaps, the strength of Israel’s experience caused those who compiled the Old Testament as we now have it to realize (and don’t discount the power of the Spirit here) that the problem went deeper than Israel alone. The pattern of rebellion and failure went all the way back to the beginning of mankind. The Adam story was written to reflect this truth, not to recapitulate Israel’s story. Paul reads this in the light of what he knows about Christ and his death and resurrection. He may or may not have thought of Adam as a unique individual – this doesn’t make much difference.

    I believe with the Old Testament being finally formed in the exilic and post-exilic times, there is a sense in which the early chapters of Genesis could be very appropriately pointed towards Israel, then moving on to the great father, Abraham. But this thought is very plausible as well, I believe.

    And thanks for the link to my post about Wright’s interview with Wilson.

  • copyrightman

    Good post. A couple of points. First, “ad hoc” isn’t a fair characterization of any of these positions. Technically, in the scientific method, “ad hoc” means adding hypotheses to a theory to keep it from being falsified. A classic example is the Ptolemaic epicycles invented to keep the Sun at the center of the universe.

    What we are trying to do here, however, is not natural science, but Biblical interpretation and theology. The “scientific method” isn’t even directly applicable. Moreover, the use of the notion of “ad hoc-ness” even with respect to “science” is tendentious because it refers to only one very narrow view of what “science” does and what “scientific” truth is (the idea of falsifiability).

    Ok, that’s the methodological point. Let me do another comment with a substantive point.

  • http://mooremichael.com/ Michael Moore

    I would like to add Prof. Rikk E. Watts paper on Genesis 1 to the discussion and hear what others would have to say. http://nagasawafamily.org/article-Rikk-Watts-Genesis-1.pdf

  • copyrightman

    (BTW, I don’t know why Disqus keeps calling me “copyrightman,” this is “dopderbeck.”)

    Substantive point: this is an important part of my doctoral work in philosophical theology. I like the “Adam is Israel” line of thought, but it has to be extended as follows: “Adam is Christ.” Or, rather, “Christ is Adam.” The first true human, who perfectly fulfills the Law and remains in perfect fellowship with the Father, is Christ. And the risen Christ is what humanity truly is. THIS is the fundamental point of Paul’s Adam-Christ parallels. It is a doctrine of “original sin,” but not in a time-linear Western sense. The sin of “Adam” that represents the failure of all humanity to keep the Law is only seen through the lens of the true adam, Christ. The same is true for Paul’s discussion of the Law more broadly: we only come to realize that Torah cannot save us, but rather instructs us in our in-humanity, when we understand Torah through Christ. The Catholic Catechism does a good job of expressing this: “With the progress of Revelation, the reality of sin is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story’s ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin.” (para. 388)

    So, I want to suggest that the “historical” Adam and Eve were the first biological humans to whom God gave the Law. The Law was in the Garden, and it also was good: do not eat of this Tree. This includes both the imprint of the natural law on the conscience of humanity and the positive command of the Law given to humanity by God. And fundamentally it is the Law of Love. The first humans blessed with the Law broke it, and effected a metaphysical break in universal human nature and the particular nature of each living human being. We were separated from the immediate presence of the living Law of Love. This is also reflected in the “Adam is Israel” and “Eden is the Temple” themes that have become so important in Biblical scholarship, because for Israel, the presence of the living Law of Love was the Torah and the Holy of Holies — indeed, the tablets of the Law stored in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. And what we see in Revelation when the “Tree of Life” is again in our midst is the re-internalization within humanity raised with Christ of the Law of Love.

    The form of the Genesis narratives is mytho-poetic or “saga,” not “literal,” and the “historical” event of the first reception of the Law by Adam and Eve, representing all humanity, is irretrievable. The Catholic Catechism also does a good job of capturing this: “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” (para. 390).

  • copyrightman

    Sorry I wanted to add one more thing to this methodological point: trying to integrate the doctrines of original righteousness, original sin, and the Fall into our understanding of all that it means to be “human,” including what it means to have evolved biologically as we did, isn’t “ad hoc” even by the definitions of scientific methodology. Our meta-theory must be that “all Truth is God’s Truth” — that the truths of revelation and the truths of reason co-inhere. We have to take the empirical facts of the natural sciences at face value, and the basic outline of human biological evolution is among those facts. But our epistemic starting point is not some kind of positivistic “scientific” method that, in the end, excludes all non-natural and non-empirical truths as “ad hoc.” Our epistemic starting point is that “Truth” inheres in the Triune God who revealed Himself to us in and whom we have encountered in Christ.

  • Allan Bevere

    RJS, I truly enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for your continuing contribution to Jesus Creed.

    dopderbeck– I rather like copyrightman.

  • wolfeevolution

    Thanks for this, dopderbeckcopyrightman. I appreciate the perspective your comments bring to these discussions.

    You write,

    “The Law was in the Garden, and it also was good: do not eat of this Tree. This includes both the imprint of the natural law on the conscience of humanity and the positive command of the Law given to humanity by God.”

    Does your view allow for the possibility that this “imprint of natural law on [our] conscience” developed through gradual evolutionary mechanisms?

  • copyrightman

    Wolfe — yes and no. Yes — clearly we have capabilities, emotional triggers, ways of responding to circumstances, and so-on, that are part of our evolutionary history. No — I don’t think the human mind, human consciousness, human moral capacity, etc., can be merely reduced to “gradual evolutionary mechanisms.” This gets into lots of stuff about philosophy of mind, theology of the “soul,” emergentism, determinism and free will — and even Christology!

  • wolfeevolution

    Well, I hope that once your dissertation is published, you will send a copy to RJS for discussion here….

  • mark

    Is this supposed to be some sort of joke?

    when I started to work on Romans I assumed that an Adamic doctrine of Original Sin was deep in Judaism and Paul was just picking it up, and the answer is actually it isn’t. Talk to conservative Jews, liberal Jews, second Temple Jews, there isn’t a doctrine of Original Sin until 4th Ezra and 2 Baruch, which were written after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Where the destruction of the temple has forced them to say ‘we were aware of problems, but now we realize that it must be much worse than we’d ever imagined and maybe it all goes back to Adam after all.‘

    And I think what you see in Paul is something very similar, that the death of Jesus has forced him to say ‘the problem of the world must be much worse than we ever imagined. It has been solved by one man. Goodness, maybe that’s actually what that story was about. It wasn’t just a picture to get us going as it were.‘

    What the death and resurrection of Jesus has forced Paul to say is, not that the problem of the world was worse, but that God’s good news is different and greater than we as Israel imagined it to be. What was foolishness to the Gentiles and seemed to me–trained at the feet of Gamaliel–to be a scandal is TRUE.

    None of this should have come as a surprise to Wright, and his half baked “Goodness, maybe that’s actually what that story was about,” simply doesn’t get past the laugh test.

  • copyrightman

    Haha. I’m sure I will. Hopefully it will become a book someday. Or as it’s going now, maybe 5 books…

  • wolfeevolution

    …and laughing at sincere attempts to make sense of all this doesn’t pass the love test…

  • mark

    you didn’t hear me laughing–i’m scandalized by what i read.

  • mark

    Actually, natural law is not something “imprint[ed]” on the “conscience of humanity.” If it were, there would be no disagreements about morality. Natural law is the expression of reasoned insight into the nature of reality, and especially of human being. When Paul speaks of God’s law being written on our hearts, he’s using a metaphor of his time–the heart was understood to be the seat of reason. He means, as he also states, that by the use of reason we as humans can come to know the laws of the nature that God has created.

  • Phil Miller

    The view that Adam and Eve were some sort of primal pair who were called out by God to bring his blessing to the earth doesn’t really sound all that different to me than saying Adam was proto-Israel. Essentially, Israel was given the same mission as this primal pair. The main difference I see is that keeping the idea of historic primal pair does sort of universalize the sin problem for the entire human race, but I am not convinced that it’s really necessary to find the patient zero for our sin problem. In a sense, we’re all patient zero because we all choose to sin on our own.

    Of course, the issue with saying that is that there are then people who say such a statement leads to Pelagianism, or the idea that we can save ourselves by simply choosing not to sin. But, really, that just seems like a red herring. Is there one example of someone being able to do such a thing? No, there isn’t. Frailty is the human condition that we all partake of.

  • wolfeevolution

    I tend to agree with you, Mark; I was using Copyrightman’s terminology and actually exploring these matters along similar lines of thought as yours, I think.

    Of course, Copyrightman’s view that such things are “imprinted” and your view that we come to know these God-given laws by reason are not necessarily entirely incompatible.

  • mark

    This (below) is the most important paragraph, because it gets to the heart of what a theory of revelation should be about–not about a book (the “Bible”) per se but about Israel’s role in God’s plan for all mankind: Israel’s intellectual development from a religion essentially like that of its West Semitic neighbors to a form of monotheism with the beginnings of a notion of a true creator God (not a demiurgic former/reformer) set the stage for God’s self revelation in Jesus and the revelation of God’s true identity as Trinity. Just as Israel’s reflections on its existence in history are often after the fact, so too our own reflections–and Paul’s–on the meaning of Jesus are after the fact: after the fact of the Resurrection. It is in this light that we come to see the true scope of revelation and the inclusion of all mankind in God’s plan from the beginning: the scandalous good news.

    Pete suggests that “Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history.” I wonder if, perhaps, the strength of Israel’s experience caused those who compiled the Old Testament as we now have it to realize (and don’t discount the power of the Spirit here) that the problem went deeper than Israel alone. The pattern of rebellion and failure went all the way back to the beginning of mankind. The Adam story was written to reflect this truth, not to recapitulate Israel’s story. Paul reads this in the light of what he knows about Christ and his death and resurrection. He may or may not have thought of Adam as a unique individual – this doesn’t make much difference.

    Wright’s inability or unwillingness to come to grips with this is baffling to me.

  • mark

    Let me express it this way, and see what you think:

    The reason that mankind throughout history has largely agreed on moral matters–broad brush-wise, like the Ten Commandments–is that the human mind as part of human nature is proportioned to recognize and know natural reality, the structures of reality. In that sense, we are hard wired by our human nature to know these things and will naturally come to an approximation of what have been commonly held views throughout history. It takes some effort to go against these “natural” insights into the structure of human nature.

    The same is true in other matters of “natural theology.” It takes a spirit of revolt to deny these truths, even though correct formulations of these truths may be difficult to form. Here’s how Aquinas expresses it at the very beginning of his Summa Theologiae:

    It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.

  • Rory Tyer

    Are you unaware of the debates within Pauline scholarship that Wright is referencing (albeit somewhat obliquely here) that were ignited / reinforced by Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism? Basically, Sanders said that most understood Paul to have moved from “plight to solution” – he had an idea in mind about what was wrong and worked out the solution to that plight – but Sanders suggested that Paul actually, having found the solution in Christ, then worked backwards to understand the plight. This has implications for the way you go about reading Paul, one of which is in how you think Paul thought about the Jews and “legalism.”

    I am fairly certain that’s what Wright is referencing here and I am also fairly certain that your comment has missed his point in an attempt to defend something that seems unclear.

  • mark

    Sanders first began publishing (in book form) in 1977. It’s now 2013, so for Wright to be making such incoherent remarks is frankly scandalous. And, btw, serious–yes, I said “serious,” as opposed to “half-baked”–scholarly inquiry into these matters predates Sanders’ work.

    So, in answer to your question: no, I’m not unaware of these debates.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t even understand what you’re saying is scandalous or laughable, to be honest…

  • mark

    I wish you bliss.

  • Phil Miller

    Thanks for the reply… I don’t understand why you feel the need to be a jerk about it. Explain what you’re trying to say in clear terms.

  • copyrightman

    Mark said: If it were, there would be no disagreements about morality.

    I respond: The same could be said of your argument regarding “reason.” In any event, though my language is sloppy, I don’t disagree with your definition of natural law as “reasoned insight into the nature of reality.” But “reason” is something that, as it were, is “imprinted” in our nature, or better, is inherent to our nature. See Jean Porter, Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law.

  • copyrightman

    Mark I agree with you here. “Grace perfects nature.”

  • mark

    I’ve reread my original post and find it perfectly clear, so I’m not about to rewrite it to clear up the unspecified lack of clarity. Nevertheless, just as an example of what I find scandalous in Wright’s thought …

    The fact that there isn’t a doctrine of Original Sin in Judaism has never been news. Some may find Wright’s confession of naivete engaging, and may have been excusable when he was a young man, but the fact that in 2013–decades after he began his scholarly career–he still has nothing coherent to offer on the subject beyond “Goodness, maybe …” is scandalous to me. That’s for starters.

  • mark

    Yes. Doesn’t destroy it or make it something that it’s not. That principle (grace perfects nature) should be at the core of this discussion. Tx

  • copyrightman

    Exactly!

  • mark

    copyrightman (or whoever you are :-) ), I think we’re on the same page. I do wish to be clear, however, that what I’m saying about “reason” cannot be countered with the same sort of reductio ad absurdam that I used re morality. However, I’m perfectly happy to attribute that to “sloppy language.” To say–as you do–that reason is something inherent in our nature is much better than saying that it’s imprinted. Don’t mean to be nit picky. Tx

  • Phil Miller

    Well, he also qualified that statement with “So when I started to work on Romans…”. I don’t think that was this year… I also think that Wright tends to be very, well, British in interviews like this. He goes out of his way to be self-deprecating and errs on the side of understatement.

    I’m sure that Wright wasn’t unaware of the nuances surrounding original sin. I also know that in these types of interviews, he is speaking to people who are not familiar with Biblical scholarship. He’s trying to reach people who are vaguely aware of all the issues surrounding the larger debates within scholarship. You act as if Wright is a naive schoolboy.

  • mark

    Well, he also qualified that statement with “So when I started to work on Romans…”. I don’t think that was this year…

    I understand that, Phil, which is why I wrote that his confession of naivete in that regard “may have been excusable when he was a young man,” but it isn’t now.

    Years ago I found Wright refreshing interesting, especially because of his frank avowal of what he calls “critical reason” as the basis for his hermeneutic. However, I have since concluded that there are ambiguities in his thought that result from his sidestepping important and basic issues such as these. I fault him for that because, rather than writing short studies that focus on issues that he is willing to come to grips with in a systematic way, he continues to write books that purport to present a broad perspective while still sidestepping those issues.

    I use the term “book” somewhat loosely, of course, since his recent writings are largely transcriptions of popular lectures, slightly expanded and without even indices.

  • copyrightman

    Fair enough. We could also spend lots of virtual ink, though, discussing just what we mean by “reason.” I read Aquinas, ala McIntyre, Porter, Milbank, De Lubac, HuVB, etc., against the modern definition of “reason” as limited to some sort of Kantian “pure” space of disinterested logic. If grace perfects nature, “nature” anticipates grace, and there is no such thing as “pure” nature. Thus, “reason” entails the whole phenomenon of understanding, including moral “sentiment.” When our reason is disordered, our sentiments are disordered, our inclinations are disordered, our being is disordered — that is all part of the inheritance of sin, the want of immediate access to the “Tree of Life.”

  • Phil Miller

    I use the term “book” somewhat loosely, of course, since his recent writings are largely transcriptions of popular lectures, slightly expanded and without even indices.

    That’s simply not true… His most books – How God Became King, Surprised by Hope, Justification, to name a few – are not based on transcriptions of lectures. They are written for a more mainstream readership, but they are indexed and noted.

    I fault him for that because, rather than writing short studies that focus on issues that he is willing to come to grips with in a systematic way, he continues to write books that purport to present a broad perspective while still sidestepping those issues.

    Again, I question what books you’re actually referring to. Have you actually read any of his recent works? Justification or Surprised by Hope are essentially what you’re describing unless you’re using the term “systematic” in a more technical sense. Wright isn’t a systematic theologian.

  • NateW

    If something is true of EVERY man, doesn’t it logically follow that it must be historically true, for any specific individual or group of individuals, though each may be living a different part of the story at any moment? If the story of Adam is about every man, it is also the story of Israel, of america, of Mother Teresa, of Ghengis Kahn, and of every other person and people group, right?

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t think that spiritual truth, Biblical truth, can be spoken of as either “straightforward factual reporting” or “simple picture language” but neither can it be said to lay at some (ad hoc?) point between these two. Rather, I would say, it is equally both of these and so transcends them. As light is at once wave and particle, as Schrodinger’s Cat is both alive and dead, so the truth that the bible is meant to transfer is entirely non-literal picture story wrapped up in and understood by its relation to and presence within real historical context. Spiritual truth is, at its very root, eternal, timeless, and ineffable, but is nonetheless able to be known directly by being seen, acknowledged, and participated in (tasted?) by means of moment-by-moment real, physical, and temporal objects, people, and ideas. The truth of the Spirit is not such that can be told or defined with precise technical accuracy, but it can be communicated with certainty by relationship with one who has seen it and experienced it in his own context and manifested it into another’s.

    So, in the case of Adam, it still seems to me that to talk about whether he existed or not is to miss the point. I think that it is entirely possible to, in good faith, talk about him as if he is real when to do otherwise would hinder Spirit of God’s love from reaching a person’s heart, but also that it is equally justifiable to talk about him as if his is a mythical Hebrew origin story when that will help to manifest Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in the present moment. As far as I’m concerned there is no need to demand that any approach to Adam be taken except that he is True.

  • mark

    I certainly agree with you re “reason” and the Kantian version of it. Re the people you read, I’m with you re MacIntyre but I would suggest that the “neo-Augustinianism” of such as De Lubac and HuVB is mediated by Kantian strains–as is also true of Wright’s Longerganian “critical realism.” In fairness, I’m not sure just how deep Wright’s understanding of Lonergan’s thought is.

    Re MacIntyre, as you undoubtedly are aware, he wrote a short book on First Principles (First Principles, Final Ends and Contemporary Philosophical Issues) which addresses exactly the issues you refer to. In that regard MacIntyre quotes a book by Etienne Gilson (Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge) that I translated. Gilson, along with another interesting book (Out of a Kantian Chrysalis?: A Maritainian Critique of Fr. Maréchal gets at the origins of Kantian influence in modern Catholic thought (which includes people like JP2 and B16). Of course, Gilson’s classic The Unity of Philosophical Experience remains indispensable (still!) for understanding the intellectual history of the West. MacIntyre, of course, is very well aware of all of this.

  • Guest

    The problems with the third view as presented (a variation of which I would hold) is that it conflates scientific terms and textual terms. Adam cannot mean the first “hominid” according to the text. Was he an early hominid? Maybe, but the text doesn’t say anything about hominids, because it speaks of “humans.” The biblical meaning of “human” is complex, but it cannot mean “gene pool” or “hominid,” as these terms are simply outside of both the historical and hermeneutical context of the text.

    Whenever I discuss this topic with students, I frequently go back to a helpful distinction made by Malaysian theologian Ron Choong (who did his Ph.D. at Princeton under van Huysteen). He wrote a brief book called “The Question of Origins” that distinguishes between the Biological, Historical and Literary “Adam”s. I might add a fourth, the Theological Adam. The distinction breaks up in this way:

    1. Biological Adam – This is the first hominid, family of hominids, proto-hominid, gene pool or whatever scientific grouping that you want to serve as the head. Questions such as “when did homo sapiens first reach the ANE?” would fall under this category.

    2. Historical Adam – This is the historical individual (if there was one), behind the OT text. Our only access to this individual is through the text. Questions such as “Did Adam and Eve exist?” fall under this category.

    3. Literary Adam – This is the literary character Adam found in Genesis 2-4, the NT (and possibly a couple other OT texts looking back to Gen 2-4). This is the character developed by the text. We are told little, but this creates a textual character to whom we as readers respond. Questions such as “What did the author use these words to shape the character?” fall under this category.

    4. Theological Adam – This is the federal head of all those who are in relationship with God. This is the “first” historical individual(s) with whom God came into relationship. Questions such as “What is the relationship between Adam and the entrance of sin into the world?” fall under this category.

    Now, these four categories may overlap, but they also may not. The first hominid may not have been the historical Adam. The theological character of Adam may be a theological growth from the historical, or literary, character. According to those in the YEC camp, they are all one person. According to those in Giberson’s 1 and 2, there is no historical person. I fall into a camp that separates out the biological Adam from the following. The literary, theological and historical Adam (in my understanding) are the first individual to whom God comes into relationship with and gives His law. It is at this point that the hominid becomes a biblical “human,” whom has been endowed with God’s image and can be in relationship with Him. Despite Enns snarky comments, I have yet to see why such a position is ad hoc.

  • mark

    Phil, as it so happens, How God Became King is exactly the book I had most in mind. And I listened to the lecture that is expanded in that book.

    As for Wright not being a systematic theologian, I think you’re selling him short. He may not be in a technical sense, but his background in philosophy and history is far stronger than you may be giving him credit for–more so than he normally lets on (self deprecating?). You would be very wrong, IMO, to fail to recognize the ambition of his “project.” Certainly How God Became King does try to present what he may some day attempt to publish as a systematic work–although not, perhaps, in the sense that you take that word.

    If you’re interested in my views on Wright in more detail you can always check out meaning in history. In January, 2013, I began a series of blog posts critiquing How God Became King, which I hope to resume in a month or two.

  • mark

    While that’s understandable, the problem is that people ask questions, and you can’t be all things to all men–and some point you have to have definite answers.

  • Guest

    This is an excellent comment David. Thanks for it.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that perhaps that some of the apparent miscommunication we’re having is that you’re reading Wright as a Catholic, and it seems that he’s writing assuming that those reading him are coming from a more Protestant, specifically Reformed, background. Not only that but it seems to me that Wright is writing in response not only to Sanders but to the liberal Protestant quests for the historical Jesus as well. In other words, he’s covering a lot of ground.

    Have you read his more academic works? It seems to that, yes, the project he’s undertaking is massive, but I just don’t know how interested he is in talking about these more basic level philosophical questions. He does spend a good deal of time at the beginning of The New Testament and The People of God discussing critical realism and its relationship to Biblical studies. But it’s more to establish his historical method. He does seem interested in spending a lot of time discussing form criticism.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS,

    Great post. First two important quotes provide perspective:

    “The gospel isn’t at stake in the discussion.” RJS
    “…..this is not something I’ve spent a lot of time on, but the first thing to say is that it is very interesting that in the Old Testament itself hardly anything is made of Adam.” NTW

    I agree with you that Lewis’ position makes good sense. However (contra Lewis and yourself) could it be that our utter inability to deal properly with good and evil was built into the cake, so to speak? I’ll try to explain it like this.

    Biologically speaking, the emergence of humans was in no way different from the emergence of any other species. There was even a time when real Homo sapiens sapiens may have interacted intimately with very close relatives (perhaps populations that were not yet completely differentiated from the point of view of reproduction). No matter, our species did reach a point where (in Christian terminology) the Holy Spirit could interact with us in a way different from other creatures. Like all of creation, we were “not God” yet we had developed mentally to the point where we could imagine god, imagine ourselves to be gods and, more to the point, could be consciously-spiritually reached by God. This new ability and the presence of choice of whether or not to recognize the uncrossable gulf between creature and creator (between flesh and spirit) set the stage. How to do good and avoid evil was the first big problem. We did not invent good and evil (the reality) – they were already part of spiritual reality – nor were/are we equipped to properly deal with this reality (obviously). Scripture (especially the New Testament) can even be interpreted to include a deceiving spiritual being, whom we cannot withstand on our own, and who coerces us to do evil.

    The links between mental and spiritual life are vague to us, but must exist. We may never know how it works. Regardless, we are not equipped by our creator to operate unassisted in spiritual reality. Yet from Scripture we can learn that we need help from God (who is spirit) to navigate well in spiritual reality. We can reject all of this, it’s a free world, but when we do, we always make a great mess.

    The bottom line is our need to recognize spiritual reality and our utter need for help from our creator in this domain, especially with respect to good, evil and the knowledge thereof.

  • copyrightman

    I don’t think Wright gets his critical realism from Lonergan. He gets it from Thomas Torrance’s reading of Barth, and from Alister McGrath’s appropriation thereof. McGrath, in turn, appropriates Roy Bhaskar as well as Torrance. It’s a different strain than Lonergan. There is also a fascinating neo-Aristotelian / critical realist move in “mainstream” philosophy of science that has attracted Bhaskar-ians, neo-Thomists, and analytic philosophers of science.

    Personally, I have yet to make it all the way through “Insight,” but the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at my home institution was a doctoral student under Lonergan and I hope soon to join a reading group he’s forming to read through “Insight.”

    I study at Nottingham and am supervised in part by Milbank. We are likely to disagree on the nouvelle theologie, JP2 and B16, I suspect. But I also am not Roman Catholic so I might not have as much of a dog in that fight as you.

    That aside, I think we do agree that questions like “was there a ‘historical’ Adam” are metaphysical questions that can’t be circumscribed by modern science or the modern scientific method. We ought neither to deny the empirical realities of the historical sciences nor the metaphysical truth of human unity in our “first parents.”

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    For my part, Sailhamer (some years ago now), supplemented by Walton, satisfied my curiosity on this score and I no longer lose sleep over it. I think there’s a simple response to the criticism that Sailhamer’s (which is similar to Enns’) view undermines the notion that the “pattern of rebellion and failure went all the way back to the beginning of mankind. The Adam story was written to reflect this truth, not to recapitulate Israel’s story.”

    It’s that, as Wright himself has written somewhere, Israel finds that they are just like everybody else, only more so. From this I gather that telling their story is to tell the story of humanity. What’s more, unlike Lewis’ interpretation (which I do like!), it actually engages in sound textual criticism/analysis!

  • wolfeevolution

    I appreciate this approach, Bev. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.

    In creating us humans by evolutionary means, do you think that God made us with the inclination toward certain sinful behaviors (which may have bestowed selective advantages on our forebears)? If so, what was His purpose in this? If not, how do we explain the mechanics of this? Is it a problem of theodicy that we have to deal with?

    I would love to hear your thoughts on such questions if / as you have time.

  • NateW

    “You can’t be all things to all men…” But isn’t that what Paul explicitly sets as an ideal to be imitated in 1 Cor. 9:22-23? “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

    I don’t mean to argue, I’m sure you may have meant something subtly different than what Paul is talking about, perhaps emphasizing the impossibility of achieving the ideal and the need to speak without constantly worrying about who might be listening and how they might interpret your words (which I agree with if that’s what you’re saying). That said, I do think that what he says here highlights the fact that the gospel is not anchored by, well… facts, but by spiritual truths that are communicated by resolving to “know nothing [while with others] except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

    I’m aware of the irony that I’m kind of expounding on the idea that knowledge gives no advantage in godliness, but I hope you’ll bear with me anyway. : )

    I’m a big fan of asking questions and would hope that, as Christians, we can become more and more free to do so without fear of upsetting the foundation of our faith, but as for definite answers, when it comes to spiritual matters, I’m not sure that there are many. It seems to me that most spiritual questions are better answered with parables, poems, or simply another more fundamental question than with definite answers.

    I dont mean at all to say that there is no rock solid foundational truth, but that what is definite, and True, as I see it, is the relational (as opposed to purely historical) person of Christ Himself. He is/was/always-will-be the Way of being that is in harmony with God’s eternal Spirit—as manifested in His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection—within each present moment.

    To know whether Adam existed or not will not in itself bring us one step closer to living out the spiritual truth told in his story. If our faith hinges on his factual reality, then it is a faith centered in the mind, and not the heart. To be able to admit that I don’t know whether he actually existed or not, or even to say that he probably didn’t, and yet to trust that the truth that the story bears witness to–that which these ancient hebrew thinkers, poets, and prophets experienced in the world around them and which inspired them to continually hone the story of Adam over centuries of oral tradition–to believe that this fundamental truth is still alive and active today, and to set about living my life in accordance with it even in the absence of factual certainty, that, I think, is faith.

    Very easily, the dogged pursuit of information, knowledge, and facts (esteemed as the highest good in our age, among Christians and non-Christians alike) springs from the desire to be in control (“knowledge is power”) and to be free from the anxiety of not knowing for certain what is good and what is evil (and the fear of the consequences for getting it wrong) rather than with what is necessary to live in the present for Christ. I can have all knowledge, and all faith, but without love—active love, right now—I have nothing of any worth to give or to say.

    Factual knowledge and definite answers aren’t evil, of course, nor is it evil to want to know more or to seek answers (ask… seek… knock…), but where we get into trouble though is when we equate the possession of facts about something with knowlege of spiritual Truth. To do so is to mistake the thing itself for the deeper spiritual reality that towards which it points.

    Pursued in union with the Holy Spirit (the living and active revelational–often confused with “informational”–shape/form/word/energy/action of Christ continuing to create within/through us in the present moment) the pursuit of knowledge takes the form of curiosity and joyful discovery, but when knowledge is desired to ease the anxiety of the flesh, the same pursuit becomes an exercise in idolatry, trusting in one’s own ability to know the past and perceive into the future to secure one’s own salvation.

    In the end, I think that it is a joyful and praiseworthy thing to pursue knowledge about creation, about the bible, and about God when we can do so with a pure sense of childlike wonder and for the sheer joy of exploration and discovery. It is good to be curiously persistent in seeking answers, so long as we do so knowing and relishing the idea that every answer, when received humbly, erupt into boundlessly more questions. This, I think, when shared mutually between two souls, is the joy of Love, the joy of Heaven–endless exploration, endless discovery, endless questions, and endless time and capacity to know more, along with a giddy freedom from the need to know anything at all.

    “What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity [Hebrew "olam" meaning something like, "all that lies shrouded from the mind's eye beyond each horizon, before, and behind"] into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
    14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

    In case you can’t tell, the reason I’ve thought about this so much is because this sin of needing, even demanding, answers and knowledge has been and continues to be a particularly hard one for me to shake. I hope this is all heard in love and humility!

    !! Edited for clarity and charity ; ) !!

  • Norman

    Kyle,
    I believe you are on the right path. I would insert my reservation concerning Adam as the first “human” though. IMO Adam was supposed to be the first Human but I believe Human is defined in the Hebrew context of relationship with God. The intent of God was to create those whom followed the higher faith plane to have also the higher attributes of a Spirit filled life. Adam fell short due to overzealousness for Law and never attained that Image fully.

    There are two Hebrew words that come into play and in Gen 5 Adam is created in what I believe is the lesser image of “Likeness of God”. The exact Image of God does not occur until Christ became the Last Adam and brought the full Image of God to humans who seek that calling. The world has been full of humans but in the Jewish mindset there appeared to be a difference because of a faith walk. I don’t believe it is racially intended but is relationally intended. In fact Genesis and the OT uses two different Hebrew words to describe humans and one is aw-dawm (adams) and the other is the generic human term ish often translated man as well. The Hebrew was designating the covenant difference all through their literature concerning humans and their covenant relationship or non-relationship. I believe we simply have over literalized what they were doing in their literature.

  • Patrick

    I think Adam is historic, but, he is probably not what traditional interpretation thinks. I have yet to see a better textual possibility than this:

    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2012/07/genesis-13-face-compatible-genome-research/

  • Bev Mitchell

    wolfe,

    Thanks. I’ll take a stab at it remembering that some of this is provisional and there is no such thing as a short (or complete) answer.

    We, and everything else are made possible (created) by and through the love of God. The mechanism(s) are not covered in Scripture, for it serves other purposes. That we are able to make some progress at understanding the mechanisms is a gift from God and we do well to remember this lest we try to make ourselves into gods. This gift is widely distributed through believers and unbelievers alike. Spiritual reality is, well, real. Some spiritual activity is for God, some against. Without in any way doubting the victory already won at Calvary and made evident through the Resurrection, God’s will faces, and has faced spiritual opposition. There is coming a day when this opposition will cease, but we live now in the already-not-yet time and are called, by God, through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to help build the Kingdom.

    Creation is God’s wonderful (good and very good) response to a spiritual opposition that prefers chaos, nothingness, purposelessness. As such, it has lots that needs fixing though, through faith, his glory is already clearly visible in it, including God’s purpose for creation. These parts that need fixing (us included), and spiritual opposition, yield multitudes of problems (to understate the case) for which we need to lean on God (his Spirit) to get through and even overcome. The world is not all that easy to figure out. Many bad things that happen are inexplicable. Often we can only know “they are not from a loving Father God as revealed in Christ, and he will help us in their midst”. To properly orientate ourselves in this we must take our most basic understanding of God from his self-revelation in Christ – and this by the instruction of the Holy Spirit. (see the current discussion over at Roger Olson’s site entitled “Jesus Always First”)

    I don’t think God made or makes us sin (how could anyone think this?) but in his creation sin is possible because love and freedom are inextricably connected, and we are not naturally spiritually equipped to handle good and evil properly. This is what the admonition to avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil is getting at. We are all spiritually naive and inadequately equipped to deal with evil or to know God. To take our thinking in this direction requires a robust acceptance of the reality of a spiritual world. Fortunately, Scripture gives us plenty of support in this, should we choose to interpret it that way.

    As for a well developed theodicy that fully incorporates such a spiritual world view, Greg Boyd’s “Is God to Blame? is the best recommendation I can give.

    Hope this is helpful.

  • wolfeevolution

    Thanks, Bev, very helpful, well said. All roads lead to Boyd; I suppose I should read him at some point, even if I don’t end up agreeing with him. :)

  • Susan_G1

    As Bev Mitchell mentioned below, the problem of good and evil needs to be discussed here. I would take it a step (or many) further and ask about theodicy in any of these pictures. What is evil? Is suffering evil (it seems to be a direct result of the fall)? If we accept an adam and eve as selected from a gene pool, that means perhaps hundreds of thousands of hominids suffered and died before the fall, and that maybe a million or more species became extinct before the fall. What do we make of verses linking the pain of childbirth, the sweat or the brow, etc. coming from sin? The existence of carnivores predates man.

    Perhaps because of my own personal struggles, the issue of theodicy is very important, and it seems to get little discussion in the historicity of Adam discussions.

  • mark

    It seems to me that perhaps that some of the apparent miscommunication we’re having is that you’re reading Wright as a Catholic, and it seems that he’s writing assuming that those reading him are coming from a more Protestant, specifically Reformed, background. Not only that but it seems to me that Wright is writing in response not only to Sanders but to the liberal Protestant quests for the historical Jesus as well. In other words, he’s covering a lot of ground.

    All this is true, of course, and I’m well aware that–especially when Wright was doing the bishop thing–he had to keep an eye out for his “Reformed” critics: they type of people who think they can say nothing worse about Wright than to call him a crypto-Catholic.

    Still, as you say, he’s covering a lot of ground. Don’t kid yourself about the number of Catholics who read Wright–you’ll find his books in any Catholic bookstore. Many Catholics seem to think he’s as much “one of us” as Evangelicals do–and with some reason.

    For example, if you look through the opening pages of What Saint Paul Really Said you’ll find him writing about what a great time he had in Rome and that the best lecture on justification he ever heard was by a Jesuit there. As you may know, he also offered an intervention at the 2008 Synod of Bishops in Rome, The Fourfold Amor Dei and the Word of God, which was devoted to Scripture and was attended (of course) by the then pope, Benedict. I know he has addressed the Conference of Italian bishops at least once and he also wrote a fairly insightful review of Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth: The Pope’s Life of Jesus. It sometimes seems that he spends more time in Rome than anywhere else, and there are definitely passages in his books that read like responses to Benedict.

    So don’t kid yourself. There are still a helluva lot of Catholics in the world (so to speak), including English speaking Catholics who read his books–and he knows it. His undergrad studies were in philosophy, he keeps on it. When I tell you that he’s very familiar with Catholic thinkers in that field, you can take it to the bank. He may not advertise that side of himself to people like you, but it’s very apparent to people like me.

    BTW, I’m also aware of his criticisms of the Catholic Faith and sympathize with some of them, although I will maintain that he’s missing the big picture–straining the gnat, etc.

  • Phil Miller

    Not to beat the Boyd drum too loudly, but like Bev, I too would recommend God at War and it’s sequel Satan and the Problem of Evil. Boyd talks about pretty much all the issues you bring up here. Though he takes the open theism position, that position really isn’t entirely essential to his premise in the books.

    I always think that dealing with biological systems and responses and the issue of evil is fascinating. When we start thinking about things like pain or death, it kind of becomes blurry as to what things we can label good and what we can label bad. Without a pain response, of course, we would be very bad off. Without the death of some organism, our bodies couldn’t function, and life on the planet couldn’t exist. Yet on the other hand, you see so much suffering on the planet caused by things like disease and parasites, it’s hard to see how we couldn’t call those evil.

    The way I see it, the problem goes well beyond the historicity of Adam. It gets into much larger discussions about the nature of the cosmos itself.

  • mark

    I don’t think Wright gets his critical realism from Lonergan. He gets it from Thomas Torrance’s reading of Barth, and from Alister McGrath’s appropriation thereof. McGrath, in turn, appropriates Roy Bhaskar as well as Torrance. It’s a different strain than Lonergan.

    I can only go by what Wright himself says. Wright’s reading of the Jesuit Ben Meyer’s The Aims of Jesus (and his friendship with Meyer) was transformative for Wright’s career–as Wright himself is only too eager to tell anyone who will listen. Meyer himself was a disciple (so to speak) of his fellow Jesuit Lonergan. Perhaps I’ll be forgiven if I append a page from an article about Wright’s methodology when I’m done with my own remarks.

    I of course wish you all success with your dissertation and further studies. However, I would urge you to carefully consider what MacIntyre (esp. Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry) and Gilson have to say re the Augustinian tradition. An understanding of this is essential to an understanding of the West–both Protestant and Catholic. If you haven’t already, Leszek Kolakowski’s God Owes Us Nothing is also useful.

    I neglected to mention this earlier. I think we disagree re Original Sin. II regard it as unbiblical and, indeed, a pernicious doctrine. Please don’t rebuke me as other Protestants have done with disagreeing with the Church–I have any number of references lined up and ready to cite. :-( If you want more detail, you can find it at meaning in history, March and April of 2011.

    OK, re Wright and critical realism, what follows (from ) should give a clear idea of just how highly Wright regards Lonergan’s disciple, the Jesuit Ben Meyer. Pay attention to the italicized portions (in original)–high praise, indeed! Just so you know I’m not blowing smoke and because many here may wish to know more about Wright’s background

    In adopting a critical realist position Wright is building upon the work of New Testament scholar Ben Meyer, who advocated an understanding of critical realism which, in turn, was based upon the work of Jesuit philosopher-theologian, Bernard Lonergan.74 Wright makes frequent reference to Ben Meyers Aims of Jesus in his footnotes and read Critical Realism and the New Testament whilst preparing the draft of NTPOG.75 For Wright, Meyer is the ‘unsung hero of biblical studies.’76 who gave what is ‘probably the finest statement on historical method by a practising NewTestament Scholar.’77

    74 Lonergan, B. J. F. (1957). Insight : A study of human understanding. New York: Philosophical Library, Meyer, B. F.(1979). The aims of Jesus. London: SCM, Meyer, B. F. (1989). Vol. 17: Critical realism and the New Testament. Princeton theological monograph series. Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications. For the most thorough study of Lonergan’s influence on Meyer see Denton, D. L. (2004). Vol. 262: Historiography and hermeneutics in Jesus studies: An examination of the work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer. Journal for the study of the NewTestament.; Journal for the study of the historical Jesus. London; New York: T & T Clark

    75 See NTPOG page 32 fn 3&4, 7 fn 6,

    76 Wright, N.T. (1997) The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing ompany. Got this from wikipedia so check

    77 NTPOG 98 Wright in private conversation with myself mentioned that Meyer, and Walsh who we will discuss later, have been particularly crucial in shaping his methodological position. Although Wright does not interact with Lonergan directly it will be helpful to outline his epistemology which heavily influence Ben Meyer.

    An Exploration and Critique of the methodology of N.T. Wrightwith particular reference to Historical Jesus Research

  • copyrightman

    Thanks Mark — I stand corrected on Wright — I was apparently wrong on Wright’s sources for critical realism! I have clearly been too steeped in the Bhaskarian and Torrance-ian frame.

    I’m interested to read your thoughts on “original sin.” I’ve studied lots of Patristic and Eastern Orthodox theology, and my primary advisor, Conor Cunningham, leans East in his “Darwin’s Pious Idea” (that’s an ambiguity in his book we talk about, anyway…). Peter Bouteneff is a good Orthodox source on the Fathers here, and he too sees the Augustinian doctrine of original sin as an aberration as do most theologians from the East. Indeed these differences and others between East and West are one thing that still keeps me “protestant”.

    I sent you an email. Would love to talk more offline.

  • Jeff Martin

    He says the same thing as Dr. Walton in his book on Genesis. The earth is part of God’s temple and we are its caretakers. It is right on target

  • mark

    No, Wright isn’t at all bashful about his influences–he’s a big booster of Meyer. Every chance he gets.

    I thought I recognized your name–you got me in a battle royal re contraception and homosexuality a few days ago. LOL

    I have to run for now, but I’ll get back to you.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Nate,

    Well said. You are wordier than me, but some things just don’t tweet! I won’t say more (practicing restraint here, must hold on…) but thought these quotes from Jonathan Sacks fit nicely with what you have said. Source: “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning”

    “Faith is not certainty. It is the courage to live with uncertainty.” pg. 97

    “Faith is not a form of ‘knowing’ in the sense in which that word is used in science and philosophy. It is, in the Bible, a mode of listening.” pg. 74

    “God is calling each of us to a task – asking each of us as he asked the first humans, ‘Where are you?’ – but to hear the call we have to learn to listen.” pg. 97

  • Jon G

    This is exactly where I find Enns’ approach (inspired by the EO) of reading Genesis as Wisdom literature (as opposed to historical) to be so helpful. Instead of thinking of God making us with sinful inclinations, we can think of God as making us ‘young’…from scratch, as it were – as children (Enns points out that “naked and unashamed” is an ANE way of describing immature children).
    So the purpose of God’s relationship in the Garden was one of “cultivator” (all of Creation is described in terms of development) and Adam and Eve were subject to that cultivation. But who would be thier cultivator? The tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents a good goal but the question of how that knowledge was to be obtained was at the heart of the issue – were A & E going to grow up following God’s ways or the Serpent’s (the serpent was akin tothe fool or evil perpetrator in Proverbs)?
    By remaining under God’s tutiledge, proper cultivation into God’s image could occur and more cultivation would follow. But by listening to the serpent’s ‘wisdom’, improper cultivation would occur and image bearing became warped and spread like a weed.
    So I see our sin as a result of our immaturity in our walk with God rather than as a inclination to sin. As immature creatures, we make mistakes. And as immature creatures, afraid of living with the consequences of our mistakes, we try to hide those mistakes with lies. And when we are totally busted, we scapegoat somebody else and lay the blame on them, thier predecessor and eventually God Himself! But God is always begging us to wake up saying that “sin is crouching at your door” and reminding us that either it will master us or He will. So choose Him.

  • NateW

    Wordy is one way to say it. Obsessive-compulsive about my choice of words to the point that sentences become 6 headed snake monsters is another. : ) but thanks for your quotes. Those are great!

  • Paul

    “there isn’t a doctrine of Original Sin until 4th Ezra and 2 Baruch, which were written after the destruction of the temple in AD 70″ – NT Wright

    Dating an idea by its reference in 2 documents that survived the sands of time is sloppy scholarship and Wright knows that. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch are 2 Jewish voices that do reflect theological ideas circulating among Jews in the 1st Century. We don’t know exactly where and to what extent and when those ideas gained traction, but we can observe matching ideas in almost word-for-word similarity between 4 Ezra and Romans 5 & 7. Paul’s theology of Adam was part of contemporary Jewish debate where people were trying to determine who was part of the righteous remnant of Israel, the inheritor of all God’s promises to his people. It’s the same theological discussion you see introduced in the latter parts of Isaiah and Daniel that date around the 2nd century BCE.

    so yes we don’t find Paul’s theology of Adam in the OT, but we do find it in contemporary Jewish conversations in the first century. Jews being oppressed and annihilated by the Romans were exploring the depths of their sinfulness that could excuse such punishment. In Paul’s case (and that of jewish writings like 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch), Hellenized Jews were wrestling with the Greek notion of hell and the torturous underworld, which had become more popular in Jewish circles. Universal punishment in some fiery torturous pit as 4 Ezra foresees demands a universal sinfulness. Paul and 4 Ezra come to the same conclusion on that matter but differ about who constitutes the remnant that will escape the judgment.

    None of it has to do with evolution and what happened back then. It is all a discussion about how explain the present and the fearful future to come (that Greco-Roman mythology had injected into the Jewish conversation).

  • Susan_G1

    Agreed. I think it might be the hardest question we can ask.

  • Norman

    RJS,

    I believe this post of yours has elicited some of the best biblically knowledgeable responses that I have seen in a while here on JC. And it wasn’t limited to just one or two like David who almost never disappoints, but it was several who brought clarity of thought that reflected their considerate examination of the subjects at hand. This was a good day for learning and I thank you for spearheading the conversation.

    Norm

  • wolfeevolution

    This is very helpful, Jon. Thank you. I’ve heard about the EO approach many times, but perhaps because I’m not immersed in broader EO thought, it felt a bit like, if you’ll forgive the co-opting of Enns’ phrase (originally from Lamoureux), “pinning the Eastern Orthodox tail on the Evangelical donkey.” I have actually already read _Evolution of Adam_ but I’d forgotten about the “naked and unashamed” bit you cited, which helps me (a Protestant at heart) to tie that reading to the Biblical text itself.

    The most helpful component I see in your response is the integration of a more robust hamartiology. In order to understand how this passage fits into the bigger picture, we really must grapple with the question of “What exactly is sin?” You did that (well, you sketched out a certain direction of thought for it, anyway), and I found it very helpful. This will all be percolating in my mind now as I read Boyd (and perhaps reread Enns)…. thanks again!

  • wolfeevolution

    I normally don’t read links without at least the sketch of a summary, but I’m so desperate to understand this particular issue that I actually clicked. I’m glad I did. Interesting proposal, anyway, and worth throwing into the mix with all these other options. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Jon G

    I’m in much the same boat as you, Wolfe. I was raised Protestant and, as a Greek who’s family abhorred the Greek Orthodox Church, was never really exposed to the EO approach. It wasn’t until hearing from Enns and Brad Jersak (Check out the two podcasts here called “Stricken By God”: http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/?s=Jersak) that I began to see two ways to look at Sin. Either the traditional Western Reformed way (Sin as Crime) or the EO way (Sin as Disease). Although there is certainly overlap and Sin shouldn’t be portrayed so simply, the way that one primarily views Sin makes a huge difference for the way one “handles” Sin and Sinners. If it’s a crime then the answer is punishment. But if it’s a disease, then the answer is medicine. If it’s a crime, then the sinner is “guilty”. But if it’s a diease, then the sinner is “afflicted”. It leads to vast differences in doctrines like Hell, Atonement, Original Sin, Theodicy, God’s purpose in the World, etc.

    For more on this topic, I would highly recommend Derek Flood’s book “Healing the Gospel” which details how the Church moved from Sin as Disease to Sin as Crime. Or you can listen to this podcast for an overview: http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/?s=Flood)

  • wolfeevolution

    Awesome. Can’t wait to dig into all this! Bless you, brother!


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