Part 4 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 4: Creation

Part 4: Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 4: Creation by Andrew M. Davis

Chapter 4, simply titled “Creation” is written by Andrew M. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Durham, N.C. Nothing at the church’s web site indicated that it is Calvinist except the fact that it has elders. Among Baptists, usually only churches that consider themselves “Reformed” have elders. I’m sure there are some exceptions to that, but it is a general indicator.

Sidebar: Just as a point of interest: My Reformed friend Mike Horton tells me that Baptists can’t really be Reformed in the confessional sense. Supporting that is that the World Communion of Reformed Churches does not include any Baptist bodies. It includes over 200 denominations none of which are Baptist. Mike says only infant baptizers can be truly Reformed and that strictly Reformed requires confession of the “three symbols of unity” (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort). However, Baptists can be and often are Calvinists. So “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are not strictly synonyms.

Chapter 4, “Creation” contains nothing startling. With a few exceptions, any self-respecting Arminian could accept what it says about creation. In fact, in my opinion, ONLY an Arminian (or at least non-Calvinist) should be able to accept parts of it. For example, on page 67 Davis writes that “We live in a universe that was intelligently and lovingly crafted by a God who is good and who loves what he has made.” The chapter’s last two sentences seem inconsistent with Calvinism: “Live your life in fervent hope for the coming new creation. Yearn for it, pray for it, and speed its coming by evangelizing the lost.” (p. 75) “Speed its coming?” Only an open theist can really mean that! (I’m not accusing Davis of being an open theist. Obviously he’s not. I’m pointing out what I think is an inconsistency in his chapter insofar as he is a Calvinist.)

What convinces me Davis is a Calvinist? ON the second to last page of the chapter (p. 74) he writes about regeneration and the “absolute sovereignty of God in our conversion.” He says “Just as God spoke into the dark nothingness at creation saying, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light, so God spoke into the dark nothingness of our hearts to create a new spiritual light—the light of Christ. That is what regeneration is, and only the sovereign God can do it.” That is, of course, an expression of monergism. A Lutheran can also say that, but a Baptist isn’t a Lutheran, so I assume this means Davis is a Calvinist.

Overall, this chapter is a worthy summary of basic, conservative Christian doctrine of creation. God created out of nothing and for his glory. (Arminians can say that, too! Only we believe God’s glory and God’s love are inseparable so that when we say God created for his glory we mean out of love. So I can say that I, as an Arminian, believe everything a Calvinist believes about creation and more! True, Davis does say God loves his creation, but he doesn’t say God created out of love as if love were, as I believe, the other side of the coin of God’s glory.) God’s creation, including physicality, is good. But the fall brought about a curse on creation, including on human existence.

On interesting point in the chapter is that Davis does not reject theistic evolution as a possible Christian interpretation of the emergence of life forms. However, if one holds theistic evolution, he indicates, he or she must hold the form of it that includes “punctuated equilibrium.” I would call that “progressive creationism,” but he treats it as one version of theistic evolution. (pp. 60-61) He allows real diversity in interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 with regard to the “how” and “how long” of creation. He does not affirm young earth creationism as necessary.

Here’s an interesting statement on page 60: “The stakeholders of The Gospel Coalition are not on the same page with respect to all the details, but all of us insist that God alone is self-existing, that he is the creator of all, that he made everything good, that Adam and Eve were historical figures from whom the rest of the human race has sprung, and that the fundamental problem we face was introduced by human idolatry and rebellion and the curse they attracted.” These are the “nonnegotiables” of the doctrine of creation according to Davis, speaking on behalf of the whole Gospel Coalition.

One thing I find interesting about this is the obvious point that traditional fundamentalists will find this completely inadequate. It seems a rule of thumb among them is that young earth creationism and denial of any form of evolution to explain the emergence of species is ruled out as antithetical to biblical faith. This chapter seems to signal a desire on the part of The Gospel Coalition to put some distance between themselves and hard core fundamentalism.

I always find it ironic that no matter how conservative a person or group may be, there’s always someone more conservative than he or they.

I wonder what is meant by “Adam and Eve were historical figures?” What does “historical” mean in that statement? I assume Davis means they were two real people who lived in our time and space. However, “historical” can also mean “factually verifiable” as if archeology could, in principle, at least, find their skeletons buried somewhere. That begins to raise interesting questions such as their ages when created. How old was Adam’s DNA when God created it? Did Adam have a navel? Etc. Go ahead, laugh, but insisting on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 3 raises these and a host of other questions. Inquiring minds will want to know. Sure, it’s possible to simply say “We don’t inquire that far.” But people like Barth, who called Genesis 1 through 3 “saga” would say that too and mean “Let’s not inquire into whether Adam and Eve were a literal first couple in a literal garden, etc.” In other words, it’s not myth, but neither is it (i.e., Genesis 1 through 3) history in any ordinary sense. To insist that Christians must believe in a literal human couple named Adam and Eve from which the whole human race is descended raises a host of problems and issues that are best avoided by taking Barth’s route.

My main qualm about this chapter has to do with Davis’ statements about conversion and regeneration. He equates them with creation ex nihilo and leaves no room for belief in human freed will (notice the purposeful use of the term “freed”) to cooperate with God’s grace. In other words, he seems to equate monergism with belief in God’s sovereignty and goodness. Sure, that’s good Calvinism. Again, however, my question is whether The Gospel Coalition is saying that monergism is part of the gospel. It seems so. Where does that leave non-Calvinist evangelicals? As not truly gospel-centered? As not really evangelical?

My plea to The Gospel Coalition is to come clean and be clear: What about non-Calvinist evangelicals? Unless and until they say otherwise, given strong hints in this book, I have to assume they are saying non-monergists are not gospel-centered and therefore not authentically, theologically evangelicals. That supports my contention, then, that THEY are post-evangelicals in the sense of leaving behind the generous orthodoxy on which the National Association of Evangelicals was founded and opting to narrow the evangelical tent down to themselves to the exclusion of Wesleyans and Arminians.

  • Joe Canner

    I’m glad to hear that the author of this chapter allows some wiggle room on the age of the universe/earth and even theistic evolution. It’s discouraging, although not surprising, that a historical Adam and Eve is still considered a non-negotiable part of the gospel. Between the genetic data, the different possible ways to interpret Genesis 2-3, and the fairly limited appeal to Adam and Eve in the NT, it seems like there ought to be some wiggle room here too. For a book on “The Gospel” it ought to be sufficient to determine what timeless truths the story of Adam and Eve contains that are crucial to making the case that the world needs a Savior and determining who that Savior needs to be.

    • rogereolson

      I agree with that. Some evangelical colleges and universities have belief in a literal Adam and Eve written into their statements of faith that faculty have to sign. I know that’s been a real struggle for scientists who teach at those schools. And, I’m sure, it keeps some very qualified scientists who are evangelical Christians away from them.

      • Dan

        How does one read Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 apart from a historical Adam? Moreover there are other OT and NT texts apart from Genesis that reference Adam. OT includes both historical and prophecy; NT includes Gospel of Luke and several epistles. But I see the above two as examples of the importance of a historical Adam due to Paul’s mention of him as “a type of the one who was to come”. Not sure how one can get around that.

        • rogereolson

          By taking the Bible seriously but not all of it literally?

          • Dan

            If possible, Dr. Olson, can you direct me to what you believe is a sound exposition of Romans 5:12-21, one with which you yourself agree, that does not take a literal historical view of Adam?

          • rogereolson

            What is in contention here is what “literal, historical view of Adam” means. I endorsed Barth’s concept of Genesis 1-3 as “saga.” That neither affirms the “historicity” of Adam nor denies the reality of a progenitor of the human race. Barth meant to deny two things: 1) that these chapters should be read as history in the same sense in which we read a modern history textbook (e.g., about Abraham Lincoln), and 2) that these chapters shouldl be read as myth in the sense of symbolic story with universal meaning.

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric

    Does a christian doctrine of creation require creation ex nihilo? Most, if not all, my fellow church goers look at me cross-eyed, or roll their eyes, when I read Gn 1.1-2 “When God began to create the heavens and earth, they were formless and empty.” I have asked profs of the Hebrew Bible (since I do not know Hebrew language) if that is an acceptable translation (hinging, as I understood it, on bereshit). Their answer was yes, but. The “but” was that in translating the sense of Gn 1.1-2 one had to take in the entirety of what scripture teaches, and in their estimation it seemed to teach creation ex nihilo, so that a translation of the sense of Gn 1.1-2 had to imply ex nihilo, whereas my translation seemed to imply taking already existing chaos and putting it to order. I thought, even on their principle of the entirety of scripture teaching, that the activity of converting chaos to order seemed to be a paradigmatic work of God, and the work that humans are to follow in reflecting the nature of God in their lives (redemption, restoration, reconciliation–those notions seem to imply making order and good out of what is disordered). Maybe this view is unorthodox, but not exactly heresy?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think creatio ex nihilo can be proved from Genesis. However, the church fathers posited it as necessary Christian doctrine on the basis of God’s infinity. To posit eternally existing matter is to limit God’s transcendence; to posit creation out of God is to divinize the universe. The church fathers so no way out of that dilemma. Lately there has been some back-and-forth about creatio ex nihilo among evangelical thinkers. Until recently, I would say, all evangelicals simply assumed it. Some on the basis of an interpretation of the Hebrew in Genesis and some on the basis of the infinity of God and many on the basis of both. Recently evangelical theologian Thomas Jay Oord has been calling creatio ex nihilo into question whereas Paul Copan has been defending it. It doesn’t seem to excite a lot of interest, but I predict it will once word gets out that some evangelicals are questioning it. It does seem to be the only bulwark against process theology or some similar panentheistic view of the God-world relation. I don’t think creatio ex nihilo is part of the gospel, but denial of it raises some serious questions about the status of God’s transcendence and sovereignty. There are, of course, other passages of Scripture (than Genesis) on which belief in creatio ex nihilo can be based and I’m certainly not ignoring them, but I suspect, as usual, they are open to different interpretations. For me, creatio ex nihilo’s main support is theological (i.e., in the doctrine of God).

  • http://soulfirecologne.wordpress.com Tobias Sänger

    “Speed its coming?” Only an open theist can really mean that!”
    isn’t that expression a quote from 2 peter 3,12?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger,
    You lament (I think) “…. I have to assume they are saying non-monergists are not gospel-centered and therefore not authentically, theologically evangelicals…………..opting to narrow the evangelical tent down to themselves to the exclusion of Wesleyans and Arminians.” I know you have answered this many times, so it is truly a retorical question, but part of me always wants to say “who cares?” There are real power, influence and economic consequences of ignoring this spurious claim of monergists, but no real theological ones. Unless you think some grand synthesis betweem monergism and some form of synergism is possible. But isin’t such a synthesis logically impossible? Once a monergist moves an Ångstrom he is no longer a monergist, right?

    I haven’t read the chapter under discussion, but from what you report, the author probable has very little idea of what Eldredge and Gould meant by ‘punctuated equilibrium’. It is not a more Genesis (as interpreted by conservatives) friendly version of evolutionary theory. It’s simply a statement about, shall we say, the rhythm of evolution – the tune to which evolution is dancing.

    On sovereignty, why is it so difficult for some to understand that the first thing one should want to ask about a truly Sovereign God is, “what kind of sovereign will this God be?” Such a being will decide, in every detail, how such all consuming power will be exercised. The creatures he has made don’t get a vote! They are utterly dependent on being informed by God through his works, behaviour and his revelation. Fortunately, if one approaches scripture with no pre-conceived idea (ideology) of how sovereignty must be exercised, and we thoroughly absorb the ultimate, unlikely, unimaginable revelation of the Incarnation, we are properly grounded for any future exploration of the nature of God’s sovereignty. Why is this approach so hard for so many who claim to be so protective of God’s sovereignty?

    • rogereolson

      As someone who’s life has been intimately tied up with the evangelical culture of America, I am concerned about division within it. I think the existence of trans-denominational evangelical organizations has been a real strength of American Christianity. When I was starting out in this evangelical life most evangelicals celebrated both our unity and our diversity. Gradually, but noticeably, over the past 20 years or so strident voices have been raised, almost exclusively from Reformed quarters, arguing that anyone who is not a monergist cannot be consistently evangelical. (The same has happened with regard to inerrancy which was not a requirement of the original NAE organization.) I have noticed many administrators of non-denominational evangelical organizations, especially colleges, universities and seminaries, being influenced by these voices so that non-Calvinists have found it increasingly difficult to function in them. I’ll cite just one example. I once taught in an evangelical liberal arts college and seminary that was historically non-committal with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism. Folks in that denomination and its college and seminary had forever been free to decide for themselves how to believe about predestination and related doctrines. While I was there, however, I noticed the president, who grew up in a strongly Arminian denomination, being influenced by a vocal advocate of TULIP. I heard him call himself a “recovering Arminian.” Also, I have noticed that many, if not most, of the arguments evangelical Calvinists have used against open theism would, if valid, work against Arminianism as well. (E.g., If God does not meticulously control events he could not have guaranteed the cross or the inerrancy of the Bible and cannot guarantee the eschatological victory over evil, etc.) I think this has been quite purposeful. So, evangelicals have strong trans-denominational organizations that are gradually being dominated by Calvinists so that Arminians are excluded or at least marginalized. I’m not giving into that trend without speaking up.

      • Bev Mitchell

        I understand completely, and I was careful to say than only part of me wants to say “who cares”. I applaud your work and pray for it’s success.  But, I am wondering about how one can, theologically or logically make progress against a strictly monergist position. It is the same problem that all absolutist positions have. You come entirely to their side, or you walk away. Clearly, the battle is spiritual as well as political, but it is not theological. Am I off track here?

        • rogereolson

          My hope is to make some people who are inclined toward monergism re-think it. I have little hope of convincing “true believers” in monergism. But I also hope to remind evangelicals that this is a matter about which evangelical Christians have always disagreed and at least raise a question mark over the efforts of those who are trying to convince evangelical administrators that monergism is necessary for authentic evangelical faith.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Roger,
            Thanks so much for this. Your goals do seem reachable, with the Spirit’s help. I sometimes read you in the sense of having much larger goals, which, though we would likely agree on them in principle, may well be unattaiable – but this is obviously a mis-reading. 

            It’s interesting how this digital means of communication takes too long to clear up simple things like this. In many ways, it probably is very much like the pre-telephone days when frequent correspondents, separated by distance, had to rely on their abilities to say, on paper, what they meant, and then wait for the mails to do their thing. The speed of our medium fools us into thinking that the human part of the communication process can be speeded up massively as well. However we have to be as careful, and as wordy, as they were in order to communicate effectively.

            Blessings,
            Bev

    • Steve

      Bev
      This has been my beef for a while with the Calvinists around here. That is, does sovereignty really mean despotic unilaterilism? I don’t believe so.

      • Bev Mitchell

        Steve,
        Do you mean that you don’t think the Calvinists ‘around here’  hold to “sovereignty as despotic unilaterilism” or that you yourself do not hold to this? Or, perhaps, both?  I’m reading the penultimate, but am not completely sure. I also currently have a mean French teacher who won’t let me away with anything in my writing, so that may be close to the surface this AM. ; )

        • Steve Dal

          Bev
          My local Calvinist brigade believe in a God who exercises complete conrol of everything that occurs, has occurred and will occur. Thus, they believe in a despot who acts unilaterally in the universe to outwork His will. I definitely do not agree with their position based on scripture.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Wow! I’m so glad that you are following Dr. Olson’s blog. Whenever a Christian uses exclusively human arguments for some difficult to understand concepts, be very suspicious of the answer! Liberally apply the thinking of 1 Cor 1:19-25

  • Joshua

    When you said, “In other words, it’s not myth, but neither is it. . . history in any ordinary sense,” it made me wonder, how do you personally define myth? I say that, because folks like John Walton and Pete Enns (and though I’m not positive I suspect men like Tremper Longman and Bruce Waltke) have made a point of countering peoples’ assumption that myth = untrue, false, or fanciful fiction. For instance, in his book “Inspiration and Incarnation,” Enns defines myth as “an ancient, premodern, pre-scientific way of addressing question of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” (p. 51; I’m assuming those last two questions are what he means by the word “ultimate” – the ontological sense). I think Walton would agree with that, based on what he says in pp. 14-15 of his “The Lost World of Genesis One.”

    • rogereolson

      I think “saga” is a better term for that as “myth” always implies to the untutored “untrue, false, fanciful fiction.” I have found it nearly impossible during almost 30 years of teaching theology to get people to understand or accept that “myth” can mean anything else.

      • http://christianchildrensbooks.net Fred Karlson

        Did mythos mean anything else for Paul?

        • rogereolson

          My point is that the English word “myth” means untrue, fictional to all but scholars.

      • Joshua

        That’s very useful to know. I’ll keep that in mind for myself, then. Thanks.

  • J.E. Edwards

    I’ve read this three times, but I’m not sure I know where you stand on Adam and Eve. Do you believe that they were 2 literal people who existed in a specific place (the garden of Eden) and time or is do you see it as Barth as not helpful to think this way? Knowing your thoughts on that will help me understand better what you are trying to say. Thanks

    • rogereolson

      I think Barth’s approach is helpful. It leaves many questions unanswered that don’t need to have answers.

  • Dean

    I think Adam and Eve were most certainly not historical figures and it makes me almost just as uncomfortable when some people take the attitude of “here and no further” when it comes to reconciling the creation account with science as those who are full on YEC. Coming from a conservative evangelical background myself, I can understand why theologically many people think it is critical that they do exist as real historical people (i.e., Romans 5:12), but that’s only if you think the doctrine of “original sin” is biblical. Clearly the world is under the curse of sin, but I think the story of the Fall makes much more sense allegorically than it does as some sort of bizarre historical account. We are all Adam and Eve, and we are all faced with the choice of choosing to obtain knowledge through a relationship with God or through our own devices, and we all eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that’s the story of the human condition. It’s only recently become clear to me that the doctrine of original sin creates many more problems than it seeks to solve, such as aborted babies and children going to hell when they die, or the concept that we are somehow morally responsible as a race for something that Adam and Eve did 6000 years ago, or that “sin” is a physical genetic defect that can transmitted by sperm from generation to generation. It never ceases to amaze me how far down the rabbit hole you can go with these things.

    • rogereolson

      Ah, well, “original sin” does not have one simple definition. It doesn’t have to mean “inherited guilt” and did not mean that to the pre-Augustinian church fathers. It meant inherited mortality. Nor does original sin hinge on there having been a literal Adam and Eve. Reinhold Niebuhr was as strong a defender of original sin as anyone, but he did not believe in a literal, historical fall. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin was based largely on a wrong translation of Romans 5:12 which, in the Greek, does not say that all people fell into sin in Adam’s fall (as his Latin translation implied).

      • J.E. Edwards

        This is the difference in your view of depravity and a Calvinistic view. If you can say that Adam and Eve weren’t literal, historical people I don’t see how that’s helpful at all in interpreting much of Scripture. This obviously affects your understanding of the depravity of humans. You see, we do have differing views of depravity. To say Adam’s sin doesn’t necessarily mean that we all have inherited Adam’s guilt changes what you and I are talking about when we speak of our depravity. We are not saying the same thing. Once this is understood, this can really open up the conversation.

        • rogereolson

          I disagree completely. “Depravity” does not mean “guilt.” It means inability. Where does Scripture say we all inherit Adam’s guilt? And, if you think it does, please explain what you think about children who die in infancy.

          • J.E. Edwards

            To inherit a sinful nature is highly different from being born a sinner. We are born with a sinful nature that will, in time, sin. I mention this only because it is appropriate here, but I saw my dear wife carry a child for 9 months only to lose him 2 days before he was due. I have no reason to think he is in hell. Yes, you are correct in that we did inherit Adam’s mortality, but that’s not all we got. Surely, the daily newspaper could reveal that to you. What you believe on this issue NECESSARILY affects how you see human depravity and the extent of its effects. To use the excuse “well how can God hold me accountable then?” is no different than a guilty child molester standing before the judge and saying “I can’t help myself”. Therefore, implying you can’t judge him. That won’t hold any water. You discard Rom.5:12-21 as evidence, but you have to bring your presupposition to the the text to say that.

          • rogereolson

            True, that’s not all we got, but that’s what the Greek church fathers emphasized. Obviously, based on Romans 5 and other biblical passages and experience, we all inherited a fallen human nature that makes culpable sinning inevitable as we mature. But I do not believe we inherited guilt. That’s Augustine’s contribution (if you can call it that) and is not supported scripturally or rationally.

          • Dan

            If I understand the Reformed view adequately, it seems that we inherit by imputation both the guilt of sin and the consequent depravity (= inability, or spiritual death per Eph 2), as well as physical death from Adam as our “representative head”. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this view is of course an altogether different matter.

            But infants do die, although they have done or thought or premeditated nothing wrong. Is there another way that we explain biblically, physical and spiritual death in any fashion other than sin? I understand there are differing views about the eternal destiny of infants who die, even among Calvinists of various stripes. But physical death itself is something that begs an explanation for those of us who may be new to the blog.

          • rogereolson

            Physical death is the result of the curse resulting from the fall, not evidence of personal guilt.

        • Bev Mitchell

          Doesn’t the idea of innocence help here? The innocence of early humans left them open to deceit, open to being drawn away from God their creator, defenseless. Since evil existed (why, we know only vaguely) they were easy prey, as we are still. It also helps, I think, to view creation, in all it’s manifestations, as ongoing. It is not all done yet. God, the Creator, has a very long-term view. It’s over 13 billion years, and counting. Creation eagerly awaits what is to come. A 13 billion-year-old universe should cause no problem for people who believe they are the eternal children of an eternal, loving God!

  • http://www.radreformfan.blogspot.com Gary Snowden

    The 9 Marks Journal of Nov-Dec 2011 recounts Davis’ leadership in reforming the FBC of Durham, NC, especially focusing on repenting of the sin of electing a woman deacon. Here’s the URL for the article: http://www.9marks.org/journal/reform-first-baptist-church-durham

  • AHH

    I expect it is interesting to produce a chapter on this topic for TGC. It is probably impossible to simultaneously satisfy Al Mohler (who says that the Gospel is only compatible with Young-Earth Creationsim) and Tim Keller (who has cautiously endorsed theistic evolution and cooperates with the Biologos folks). I am glad to see that this volume, which seems to position itself as movement-defining, is closer to Keller on this front.

    • rogereolson

      We’ll see how long that lasts! :)

  • randy mclendon

    Dr. Olson,

    Thanks for the article. I was wondering how you interpreted 2 Cor. 4:6, to which Dr. Davis seems to allude. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (ESV, of course.) Earlier, Paul attributes the blindness of unbelievers to the god of this world. Also, in regard to Gen. 1-3 I feel that we must accept this as history due to its accounting of the sin nature in man. For those who don’t hold to the historicity of this part of Scripture, how is sin in the human race accounted for? Thanks again, I’m a frequent reader.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think it has to be accounted for genetically. It’s enough to affirm it. By the way, I think the phrase “sin nature” is wrong. God is the creator of every “nature.” Sin is not a nature but a brokenness.

      • Joshua

        But professor, Paul uses the phrase “sinful nature” often. In the book of Roman alone he uses it about ten times (mostly in chapters 7-8; cf. 7.5, 7.18, 7.25); but he also uses it in 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Colossians. Peter also uses it in 1 Peter 2.10. How do you figure your logic into this scheme? I’m not trying to be antagonistic; I’m just not sure it’s accurate to say that it’s only “brokenness.” To believe in total depravity (total inability) means to believe that the brokenness is so complete that it is part of our nature, no?

        • rogereolson

          Unfortunately, some English translations translate the Greek sark “sinful nature.” It literally means “flesh,” but for Paul it clearly means fallen nature. If by “sinful nature” a person means “fallen nature,” fine. But “sinful nature” implies to most people that there is some substance that is sin. Sin, a form of evil, is the absence of the good, not a substance.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Roger,

            Could you sometime write something on “we wrestle not against flesh and blood”? Perhaps you would include your views on Greg Boyd’s theodicy. While evil  is, at least in part, the absence if good, this absence leads directly to sinful behaviour. We Christians are also at war, spiritually speaking. Are we  doing battle against the “absence of good”, the sinful consequences of the “absence of good”, or, the “prince of the powers of the air”? Is this “prince” real or simply a longer name for “absence of good”? My question is retorical for the purposes of thinking this through.

            Just before posting this, I decided to use the wonderful search engine on your site (highly recommended) and with the simple search term ‘boyd’ uncovered your great essay of March 22, 2011 “Walter Wink and Greg Boyd on the Problem of Evil”, which answers everything I ask above, and then some. I read both books last year too, and heartily agree it would be a great thing to hear a discussion between them. I took Wink as somewhat less liberal than you did, but then you looked into his other work more thoroughly. I also know where you are comming from with the ‘demon busters’ and share your concerns. However, the more I read about people struggling to build a Biblical understanding of creation, God’s work and plans, our place in it all – in short, a systematic theology, the more it won’t work without this set of puzzle pieces that fall on the ‘dark side’.

          • Timothy

            Of course Paul does not always mean fallen nature by sarx. In Gal 2:20 Paul speaks of the life now lived in the flesh but is not implying that he lives it in his fallen nature but his flesh.

          • rogereolson

            True. And therein lies the problematic of Paul’s use of sarx.

        • Bev Mitchell

          Joshua,
          Please refer to your good professor’s essay “Walter Wink and Greg Boyd on the Problem of Evil” on March 22, 2011.
          All the best in your studies,
          Bev

  • Steve

    Roger
    Once again a great set of posts. Enjoy your stuff heaps. Thanks

  • Bob Brown

    I personally believe in the creation of a ‘first human couple’ made in the image of God. God implanted within them His very moral character. DNA and genetics being what they are, it shouldn’t be a problem to believe that the disobedience of ‘Adam and Eve’ passed a predisposition to sin on to their descendents rendering our human nature ‘defective’. Being born with a defective human nature disables a person to reflect the image of God as God designed that he/she should. That is why predestination is revealed as a “conforming to the image of God’s Son”. Romans 8:29.

    We who believe become partakers of the divine nature and are all now in ‘recovery’ as we allow Christ to dwell within us, and are changed into His likeness from one degree to the next by beholding ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

  • J.E. Edwards

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to Calvinistic theology to take Adam’s guilt as imputed. Definitely his sinful nature, as evidenced in history. To say that if you don’t accept (imputed guilt) that it makes salvation by works isn’t necessary. All who have been born will sin in actual time, and all who accept Christ by faith will also do this in actual time. This doesn’t make monergism void as I see it. To say that synergism must be is, in the least, a misunderstanding of the effects of sin on humanity and possibly (at worst) a refusal to see ourselves in the condition we are. What you would call a trampling of the human will, I call grace. Why? Because if God didn’t move in a monergistic way, no human would ever come. That is our condition. To get it wrong on this point intentionally, changes your Christianity/Christian living.

    • rogereolson

      Well, you are still not getting prevenient grace.

      • J.E. Edwards

        I’m not sure I understand what you are wanting to say. From where I’m coming from, it’s all of grace–before and after. When I speak of the effects of the fall on us, that means it affects our wills, too. God necessarily and effectually woos and wins us (through the gospel). This doesn’t negate the human will at all. Our fallen wills are absolutely the means God persuades. For those who believe God’s sovereignty can do and take what he wants and feel the human will is nothing, I definitely would have a beef with them.

        • rogereolson

          As a classical Arminian I agree with that paragraph, depending on what you mean by “effectually.” If by “effectually” you mean “irresistibly,” then, no. If by “effectually” you mean “it couldn’t happen otherwise,” then, yes.

          • J.E. Edwards

            This may be where the disconnect is happening. I believe this could reveal we don’t understand the effects of the fall on humanity in the same way. Here’s what effectual means to me. (per Daniel Webster)

            EFFECT’UAL, a. Producing an effect, or the effect desired or intended; or having adequate power or force to produce the effect. The means employed were effectual.

            God necessarily overcomes our resistance with power that produces the effect He desires, otherwise effectual means something else.
            Why anyone ever used the word irresistible makes no sense to me. Resisting is all we do until God, by the Holy Spirit through his Word, overcomes our resisting by His grace. To clamor for the place of the will of man here loses sight of our fallen human condition. We are not disconnected from it for a second. It never goes away and we cannot overcome it. Plus, going out of the way to make a place for the human will isn’t necessary. Its implied in all the calls of Scripture that whoever believes will be saved. Just because the will is the means God employs doesn’t make it less important. The question is why and how did they come to believe? This is what I meant when I said what you call trampling of the human will, I call grace. That unless God, through the Word and Holy Spirit, moves monergistically no human being would ever come. That IS our condition. To say that synergism must be is, in the least, a misunderstanding of the effects of sin on humanity and possibly (at worst) a refusal to see ourselves in the condition we are.

          • rogereolson

            I disagree. There is nothing gracious about monergism. It constitutes a distortion of the very concept of a personal relationship. In monergism, salvation is not a relationship but a condition. Nor does believing that God preveniently graciously restores free will so that people can make a free decision to have a relationship with him (or not) is no denial of human depravity or grace.

  • J.E. Edwards

    That’s fine. I do not believe that either of these understandings distorts the Gospel itself. Both believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. What is affected are ramifications for Christian living. It’s not necessarily something that will be detected outwardly. As a matter of fact, they will look outwardly very much the same. What is affected is the inward aspect. When I truly came to see myself before God in the way I have laid out here….everything changed. It looks very much the same outwardly, but inwardly everything has been renovated.
    If we disagree here, (in regards to Calvinistic theology) then we will necessarily disagree on the rest. I do thank you for going this far in the discussion with me, Roger. I did enjoy your book (“Against Calvinism”) and will probably pick up another and I will check in here, too:) God Bless.

    • J.E. Edwards

      I did mean to add here that when you and I speak of the effects of the human condition as it affects monergism and synergism, in regards to human response to grace, we are saying/meaning different things. That the human condition is such that it necessitates a monergistic move of God. I do believe this is where the difference lies.

      • rogereolson

        How so? Do you understand the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace? I don’t think so. The work of prevenient grace in freeing the will of the sinner whose will is bound to sin without it is monergistic. What is not monergistic in Arminianism is the necessary free response of faith on the part of the person in whom prevenient grace has done its work. Go read Thomas Oden’s The Transforming Power of Grace and then come back better informed about Arminian theology.

  • http://www.patheos.com/rogerolson phil

    Dr. Olson,

    You mentioned a relationship between some Baptists being reformed and having elders. Why do you think that is? Are you against elder rule or having multiple pastors/elders ?

    • rogereolson

      In traditional Baptist polity (not necessarily the polity of all baptists), the pastor is the elder. If a church has more than one pastor, it has a plurality of elders. No, I have nothing against that, nor should any Baptist. What is happening is that some Baptist churches are adopting the Presbyterian polity of the pastor being the “teaching elder” and lay people serving as “ruling elders” (whether that terminology is used or not). I don’t think that is heretical or anything like that; it’s just not traditional Baptist polity.


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