"Why does Adam’s fruit fixation send me to hell?"

"Why does Adam’s fruit fixation send me to hell?" July 23, 2014
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Credit: Falco via pixabay

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There are a number of reasons people normally start with Adam with presenting the gospel.

  • Adam’s fall, following the creation account, stands at the beginning of the biblical story. Naturally, people simply follow the sequence of events.
  • People want to explain the origin of sin.
  • People use the Adam story to explain the meaning and significance of “sin.”

Other reasons could be added, but I think these capture the main ones.
 

What is the problem with Adam?

I am not claiming that someone is “wrong” to begin with Adam and Eve. Obviously, this is a significant story in Scripture.

I am suggesting that starting with a lengthy discussion about the first couple may not be the best approach to take. For one thing, whether it is a wise starting point or not would first of all depend on how and why one appeals to Adam. (I’ll try to elaborate more on this later).

We need to be aware of what problems may emerge even when using true biblical stories, like those in Genesis 2–3. What are some of these potential challenges? I’ll list five.

  1. Adam creates early and unnecessary apologetic problems

Like many others, Chinese people often object to the conclusion drawn from the Adam story. Think about what it sounds like from their perspective:

“Some couple, thousands of years ago, had a fruit fixation and so now I have to go to hell.”

Regardless whether that is what we mean by telling the story, that is roughly the impression people tend to get.

I’ve heard people raise the question more than a few times, “So what do they have to do with me?” In order to answer that question, we immediately have to get into a number of philosophical and theological issues that sidetrack the conversation early and unnecessarily.

  1. Distracts Others with Our Questions

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Credit: Chris Yarzab via pixabay

Westerners have long been fixated on issues related to “theodicy”, i.e. the philosophical problem of evil in the world. I have in mind now the origin of evil.

However, the truth is that everyone knows that something is wrong with the world, whether it be divorce, disease, demons, or simply death. Also, people intuitively know they are not perfect, even if we may disagree about the details of our imperfection.

Someone might say that Chinese (among others) believe in humanity’s basic goodness; therefore, we need to prove “original sin.” Is the doctrine of “original sin” needed in the first part of an evangelistic conversation? Not only that, we would be hard pressed to argue that point conclusively simply from Genesis 3.

To go too far outside Gen 3 in the early going only makes our presentation more complex and distracting.

Not only that, we have another question to consider. So what if we successfully argue for the origin of evil? Not every really cares about this question. One then still has to make clear the nature of sin and how to solve it.

  1. Individualistic misuse of Adam

Starting with Adam rather than elsewhere may unwittingly reinforce an individualistic view of sin and salvation. We need to distinguish “individualistic” from what is “personal.” Sin and salvation are personal in that they concern each person; yet, there are inherently social or collectivistic facets to sin and salvation as well.

By starting with the individual, one might overlook the group. However, when you have the group, you get the individual included as well.

  1. Adam’s sin can feel abstract and not concrete.

People naturally experience sin in the context of relationships. We grasp the force of sin when it’s discussed in a social context. The individual isolated from others and alone with a fruit tree could feel a bit abstract for some. I’ll touch on this more in a future post.

  1. Misunderstands Adam?

The most common presentation of Adam and Eve does not reflect clearly enough their theological significance, at least as seen in the New Testament. Notice the two main sections that Paul focuses on Adam (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15). Paul uses Adam primarily to make Christological points. The Adam-story is set within a royal context. The battle over kingship and its relation to Christ are too often missed in standard presentations.
 

So, what do you suggest?

Besides all that has been said above, we must keep in mind once again that we have no examples in the New Testament where someone gives a gospel presentation that begins with Adam in order to prove that someone is a sinner.

We should at least be humble enough to ask why this is the case.

In the next post, I’ll suggest another possibility, one that is particularly suitable for traditional cultures. It involves starting with the groups rather than the individual. I will also clarify how one could perhaps start with Adam.

Until then, what are your thoughts?

 

What responses do you typically see when you open a gospel presentation talking about the Adam story?

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  • Thanks again for a good blog. I really resonate with your thoughts from my experience of mission and the telling of God’s story cross culturally.

    I am helping a missionary amongst the Apache people in Arizona to hone his story telling and we have been using your 10 and 5 ideas of storying among UPGs. This is another important blog in our discussion.

    My experience of China is that the church is naturally collective, but is being informed and taught by western theology and worryingly is seeking to imitate western models of church.

    I value your ministry. Bless you.

    In answer to your question, I feel that in telling the story by starting with Adam I am proposing something that is already a long way from my listener. It may Simply appear to be another explanation from yet another myth of the origin of the human problem. I feel I’m Asking too much up front. I’m asking then to believe me… You are right, it opens with unnecessary apologetic problems.

    Thanks again.

  • Hello Jackson Wu,

    I was wondering how one might get a hold of your Chinese language materials – in particular your six-part summary of the Biblical story that was later translated into last years article.

    – WFO

    • I can email it to you soon

      • Great – looking forward to it.

      • Linda McKerrell

        Hi Jackson, I’m serving in Taiwan and learning how to share Bible stories. I’m wondering if you might be able to email this resource to me too?

  • Thomas Johnson

    I’ve always read and taught the Adam story not as individualist but as collective. Adam and Eve were the first humans, made in God’s image, living in a world pre-fall. If anyone had a chance to withstand sin, it would have been them. But if they failed, then that means we would have all failed. It’s like two armies choosing their best man to fight for them. Or maybe an Olympic athlete representing his country. Why does this one individual get to represent his country in ping pong, because he is the best one to represent his country. He beat out all the other competitors. Adam and Eve are the representatives (God has put forth the best of the best) for the human race (collective). This links nicely with the connection you made about Jesus. His wilderness experience was basically his “garden of Eden” moment. He was led by the spirit to be tempted (to proved to be true). And He passed the test.

    I also find the conversation great for explaining what sin really is. Most people think God’s not fair to kick them out of Eden just for eating an “apple”. Seems a bit harsh. But, that gives you the opportunity to talk about the heart and motive behind OUR actions. And how we think too little of sin, because we think too little of God.

    BTW, I’d also appreciate it if you could email me your Chinese language material as well.

    TJ

    • TJ, thanks for reminding people of the collective nature of the Adam story. You mentioned Chinese language materials. Did you have something specifically in mind? I’ve written various posts that provide language for theological subjects. I’m not sure if you are referring to something else.

  • Chris Richardson

    Important warning here. Thanks. I’d also appreciate your Chinese material and English translation please.

    After an initial Bible overview called The World We All Want by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, I’ve recently been using this material by Glen Scrivener- summary here http://vimeo.com/83662637 with international students, including mostly Chinese, even though it wasn’t produced with them in mind. I find the focus on Adam being our representative very helpful. Particularly in the second video of the course http://vimeo.com/62709127.

    The appeal at the end of video 3: “You are one with Adam; will you be one with Christ?” seems to take this seriously too.

    • Certainly, the role of Adam is comprehensible as it is biblical. However, I find that this approach causes too many problems for someone early on in the process. It may have a lot to do with the individuals involved and the thoroughness of the presentation of Adam.

      FYI––I do hope to have some of my posts translated into Chinese soon. How many and how often really depends on how many people volunteer to help. I have a few people working on some posts now. Thanks.