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Month: November 2015

Answers in Genesis Attacks Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 1)

Answers in Genesis Attacks Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 1)

aig

Back in August I wrote a four-part post series in which I critiqued the “book review” of Elizabeth Mitchell from Answers in Genesis on Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So. You can read my posts, beginning here. I ended up writing four posts on Mitchell’s “book review” because I felt it necessary to correct the host of mischaracterizations and misleading statements Mitchell made—and there were a lot of them.

Saving the Original Sinner

Well, Elizabeth Mitchell and AiG are at it again. This time, in a November 11th post entitled “Evaluating Giberson’s Book Saving the Original Sinner with Scripture and Science,” Mitchell has put another favorite whipping boy of AiG in her crosshairs: Karl Giberson and his new book, Saving the Original Sinner. Like her “review” of Peter Enns’ book, Mitchell’s analysis of Giberson’s book isn’t so much of a book review, as it is a hit piece. If you first read my review of Giberson’s book, and then read Mitchell’s assessment, you won’t believe they are both about the same book.

Mitchell has achieved something truly amazing: she has written a book review in which you do not actually learn anything about the book she is reviewing. What you do learn instead is that AiG has an amazing ability to engage in character assassination for one sole purpose: to scare its followers so much that they never actually pick up and  read a book like Giberson’s, and thus be challenged to think critically about both the Bible and science.

Allow me to illustrate a few examples from the first part of Mitchell’s “review” of Giberson’s book.

For Starters…
The first tactic Mitchell uses is made blindingly obvious in the first two paragraphs of her review. Without saying anything substantial about Giberson’s book, Mitchell launches into a litany of condemnation and inflammatory language in an attempt to convince her readers up front that Karl Giberson is an enemy of the faith. In addition to accusing Giberson of trying to “destroy belief in the biblical Adam,” and calling his book “a surgical strike on the Old Testament’s first couple,” Mitchell says things like:

  • he attacks belief in the historicity of Adam”
  • “he considers Adam irrelevant”
  • “belief in Adam is a stronghold that evolutionist Karl Giberson assaults with this book, hoping to precipitate a crisis of faith in biblical creationists.”

In contrast to Mitchell’s fear-mongering, if you read my review you’d find that the purpose of Giberson’s book is to provide an overview of how Christians throughout Church history have read, interpreted, and used the story of Adam and Eve. By doing so, the book is obviously a challenge to the young earth creationist claim that their claims have been the dominant view throughout Church history—the basic facts of history conclusively prove that such a claim is false. That is why Mitchell is obviously doing her best to scare her readers so much, that they never even dare to pick up Giberson’s book—history shows that one of the fundamental claims of the YEC movement simply is not true.

Troubled Evolutionary Byproducts
After her opening salvo, Mitchell then jumps on Giberson for is his belief that evolution is the means by which God creates everything in the world, including humans. Now, Giberson makes it clear that, although he is convinced that Adam and Eve were two historical people, the point of the story of Adam and Eve is obviously that human beings are sinful. Sin is a fundamental reality and that human beings are clearly a “trouble species in need of salvation.” Whether or not one agrees with Giberson’s view of Adam and Eve, one has to agree that Giberson’s point is clear: human beings are sinful and in need of salvation.

Well, Elizabeth Mitchell doesn’t interpret his comments that way. Instead, she characterized his comments in the following manner:

Don’t be fooled by this book’s title into thinking it teaches about salvation from the penalty and power of sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ has no place in this book. Dr. Giberson’s portrayal of the Bible as a collection of myths and human-derived philosophies rather than as the divinely inspired Word of God leaves him with no authoritative solution for sin.

I find such a comment astounding. Giberson had said something that every clear-thinking person will undoubtedly agree with: even if Adam was not a historical person, that wouldn’t negate the clear fact that there is obviously sin in the world—it would be foolish to think such a thing. And yet, somehow, Mitchell accuses Giberson of holding to the very position he just clearly refuted.

In addition, contrary to what Mitchell claims, Giberson never says that the entire Bible was a “collection of myths and human-derived philosophies.”? He said that he believes that Genesis 1-11 belongs in the genre of ancient myth. Even if you disagree with him on that point, you have to admit that to accuse him of saying the entire Bible is a “collection of myths” is, to put it kindly, rather misleading.

The Last Adam’s Answer
Mitchell goes on to mischaracterize Giberson’s treatment of Paul. Giberson stated that Paul used the figure of Adam to argue the theological point that Christ had come to save all humanity. That is abundantly true: Paul does use Adam to make that theological point. Amazingly, that’s not how Mitchell sees it. She says, “[Giberson] admits no divine inspiration in Paul’s writings or the rest of the New Testament. Since sin and death would be the natural result of evolution, he considers Adam neither real nor theologically important, a mythical figure we do not need.”

None of what Mitchell says here is true. Giberson never denied divine inspiration of Paul’s letters or the rest of the New Testament. How Mitchell can accuse him of that is simply baffling. In addition, the figure of Adam is tremendously important for theology. I have no doubt Giberson would agree. What Giberson’s book conclusively proves, though, the historicity of Adam has never been a fundamental tenant of any Christian creed.

Yet for some reason, Mitchell can’t grasp this.

Gone With Adam
After accusing Giberson of “dispensing with Adam’s importance in the New Testament and his theological connection to Christ,” Mitchell then criticizes Giberson of “spending a lot of ink describing how ancient Jews, classical pagan philosophers, medieval churchmen, and modern Christians have viewed man’s sin problem.” Such a criticism is astounding, given the fact that “describing how ancient Jews, classical pagan philosophers, medieval churchmen and modern Christians have viewed man’s sin problem,” is the very point and purpose of the book. Giberson’s purpose was to answer and refute the young creationist claim that everyone throughout Church history had viewed Adam as a historical person and the earth as 6,000 years old. All that “ink” about Jews, pagans, medieval churchmen, and modern Christians, proves Giberson’s point: the young earth creationist claim is false.

I want to emphasize this point: the entire aim of Giberson’s book is to provide an overview of how Christians throughout the past 2,000 years have read and understood the story of Adam and Eve. Yet the above quote is really the only thing in Mitchell’s entire “book review” that even hints at what the majority of Giberson’s book is about—and even that is disparaging and dismissive. She doesn’t engage and assess the book’s actual argument, but instead cherry-picks and distorts random statements ripped out of context.

Such is the modus operandi of AiG’s “apologetics ministry.”

Mitchell also accuses Giberson of “attacking the biblical writer” of Genesis by claiming that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are “contradictory.” Yet Giberson doesn’t say that. Rather, his point is that if you insist that the early chapters of Genesis are “God’s eyewitness account of creation” (as young earth creationists do), then you have a problem, because then you are faced with obvious contradictions. For example, you cannot reconcile the fact that Genesis 1 has plants made on day 3 and human beings made on day 6, whereas Genesis 2 says that human beings were made before plants.

Giberson’s point, though, is that there aren’t “contradictions” between Genesis 1-2 because (a) neither chapter is attempting to give a blow-by-blow historical/scientific account, and (b) they are in fact two separate stories addressing two separate theological points. The first century Jew Philo pointed this out 2000 years ago.

Again, Mitchell cannot see this. If Giberson is “attacking” anything, it is the YEC claims that do not make sense. But he’s not attacking the Bible.

***

In my next post I will conclude going through Mitchell’s high questionable assessment of Saving the Original Sinner.

Book Review: Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 3)

Book Review: Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 3)

Here is the rest of my book review of Karl Giberson’s book, Saving the Original Sinner.

Saving the Original Sinner

Chapter 6: The Origin of Mrs. Cain (and the Posse that Chased her Husband)
In chapter 6, Giberson takes us on a brief jaunt through the 16th and 17th centuries. The overall gist of the chapter is that with the emergence of the scientific revolution and the age of exploration, the assumption that Adam and Eve were historical figures became more entrenched. At the same time, though, that didn’t stop people from using the story of Adam and Eve in a variety of ways.

In this chapter, we are given a glimpse into the world in which men like Copernicus, Vesalius, Columbus, Erasmus, Luther, John Donne, and John Milton lived. We also learn that men like Jacob Palaeologus (1520-1585) were actually “beheaded for claiming that not everyone had inherited original sin” (94). We also learn about Isaac La Peyrere (1596-1676), who claim that Genesis had two creation stories—and that the second story was that of the origins of the Jewish people; Adam was the first Jewish man—1500 years after the Apostle Paul had taken the figure of Adam from his Jewish roots and universalized him to illustrate that Christ came to save all humanity, people were starting to realize that in its Jewish context, the story of Adam was originally about the Jewish people.

Chapter 7: The First Man and the First Minute: Adam and the Age of the Earth
In chapter 7, Giberson discusses how the people of the scientific revolution first addressed the issue of the age of the earth. Many people have heard about Bishop James Ussher, who added up the genealogies in Genesis and concluded that God created the universe in 4004 BC. Yet there were others at that time who were also speculating on the age of the universe. Bishop James Lightfoot (1601-1675) said it began in 3928 BC; Isaac Newton put it right at 4000 BC; and Johannes Kepler dated the beginning of the universe at 3977 BC.

The reason for this type of speculation should be obvious. As Giberson notes, these men “and others in their century believed that God had inspired a Bible without error, even in its references to history, geography, and the natural sciences” (101). Such assumptions at that time should not be surprising. In the middle of the scientific revolution, it would only be natural for people to bring their scientific assumptions into the Bible. Therefore, as Giberson notes, there became an increasing attempt to reconcile Genesis 1-11 with the new scientific learning that was sweeping the West. This is known as concordism—and it is from this that various attempts (i.e. Day-Age theory, Gap theory) to get Genesis 1 to “jive” with science came.

Yet such attempts were (and are) ultimately unnecessary. As Giberson states, “The Christian tradition had never emphasized the most natural reading of Genesis as important. Nothing really was at stake. No creed, for example, had ever enshrined twenty-four-hour days or a young earth, and some important figures like Augustine had even argued that the creation week was an anthropomorphism, pointing out the absurdity of God needing any time at all, and the even greater absurdity of God taking a rest after six days” (118).

Chapter 8: Too Many Adams? Or None At All?
I find chapter 8 to be one of the most fascinating chapters in the book. Giberson takes us to the 19th century, and the emergence of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Yet Darwin’s theory was not the only thing that revolutionized how we see creation (and subsequently Genesis 1-11). The other major discovery was that of certain documents of the ancient Near East, namely the creation myths of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Enuma Elish. Together, these two things sent tremors throughout the scientific and religious communities of Europe and America.

The discovery of the creation stories of the ancient Near East showed that Genesis 1-11 shared the same literary characteristics as these stories, and therefore challenged modern assumptions that Genesis 1-11 was “doing modern science.”

The other point of contention is with Darwin’s theory. It is fascinating to find that reaction to Darwinism was mixed, but not in the ways you  would expect. Some scientists like Louis Agassiz initially rejected Darwin’s theory, whereas some theologians like B.B. Warfield accepted it as a way that describe the means by which God creates the world. Warfield even argued that evolution fit into John Calvin’s theology fairly well. In addition, George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) “found Darwin’s theory not merely compatible with Christianity but also theologically helpful” (131), and Asa Gray was “America’s leading evolutionist and another conservative Christian” (133).

As a way of simplifying reactions to Darwinism, Giberson points out three basic reactions. Modernists argued that evolution proved the Bible was all “myth,” not true, and that Christianity must change to fit the times. Fundamentalists went in the other direction and rejected all scholarship that threatened what they felt were the fundamentals of the Christian faith. (Now, it should be noted that for even the original Fundamentalists, even though they insisted on inerrancy, the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the existence of miracles—they did not consider evolution to threaten the those fundamentals). Finally, there the Traditionalists, who tried to embrace science, but avoided the liberal slide.

Although these designations are helpful, I find them to still be slightly problematic, for the reason I just said in the above paragraph: many of the Fundamentalists had no problem with evolutionary theory.

Chapter 9: Mark of Cain, Curse of Ham: Is God a Racist?
In chapter 9, Giberson takes the reader on a tour through the dark side of racism. Contrary to the claims of Ken Ham, the racism of the 19th century was not an evolutionary phenomenon. Racism existed in all walks of life, and some of the most ardent racists were so-called Christians who used the Bible to support things like slavery. If ever there was a chapter that blew a hole through this claim by Ken Ham, chapter 9 is it.

In a moment of extreme irony, Giberson opens chapter 9 with a quote from Bob Jones Sr., the founder of Bob Jones University: “God never meant to have one race. It was not His purpose at all. God has a purpose for each race” (135). This is ironic because Ken Ham is one of Bob Jones University’s biggest promoters. Why? Because BJU press puts out young earth creationism curriculum. Why is that ironic? Simple: Ham routinely accuses evolutionists for promoting the idea of “polygenesis”—that there are different human races, and that the white race is superior. And yet the founder of Bob Jones University promoted that very idea, and used the Bible to justify it.

Bob Jones wasn’t alone in his “biblically-backed” racist views. In 1845, the Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists split over the issue of slavery, with the Southern Baptists supporting slavery, and using Cain’s curse to support it. Southern Baptist Buckner Payne wrote a book in 1867 entitled, The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status, in which he argued that negroes were on Noah’s ark, but they were nothing more than animals. He said, “The negro was in the ark; and God thus testifies that he has no soul” (141).

Even as recent as 1998, Bob Jones University refused admission of students who had intermarried with “another race.” Such an act, BJU claimed, “breaks down the barriers God has established,” and “mixes that which God separated and intends to keep separate” (143). Ironically, Ken Ham promotes them, and continues to blame evolution for the idea of separate races. Why is that? It should be obvious, BJU press published young earth creationism curriculum, and belief in a young earth covers over a multitude of sins…at least in Ken Ham’s eyes.

Chapter 10: The Creationist Uber-Adam: Why the First Son Could Marry His Sister
If chapter 9 is the most fascinating chapter in Giberson’s book, chapter 10 comes in a close second. Starting with George McCready-Price, and making his way through Henry Morris, and all the way up to Ken Ham, Giberson focuses on the modern 20th-21st century young creationist movement, and it exposes some of the truly bizarre claims it makes.

As Giberson points out, the basic argument(s) of the YEC movement revolve around variations of McCready-Price’s flood geology, a call for Christians to reject “compromise” (meaning, of course, the basic findings of modern science), and an insistence that the Bible was to be read “naturally,” or as Giberson puts it, “like it was just published in English and contained nothing requiring specialized training to understand” (149). By saying they are just reading the Bible “naturally,” young earth creationists do not believe that they are even “interpreting” the Bible.

As far as YEC’s understanding of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall, it is truly astounding: before the Fall, the serpent walked upright and had the ability to speak; humans had a perfect genome (that’s why Cain was able to marry his sister); and it was the Fall that initiated the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

Two young earth creationist proponents that deserve special mention are Dr. Ken Hovind and Carl Baugh. Hovind wrote a dissertation for Patriot Bible University (an unaccredited correspondence school) “claiming that the snake in the Garden of Eden taught Adam and Eve about evolution and that Augustine was a theistic evolutionist” (156). As for Baugh, his degrees are from unaccredited universities, and he claimed that before Noah’s flood “radio stars would have sung to man each morning” (156).

The topic of chapter 10 could have been a book in and of itself. But judging from just the little bit that Giberson shares about the claims and beliefs of YEC should make it quite obvious: “bizarre” does not even begin to describe YEC claims.

Chapter 11: Science, Antiscience, and the Extinction of Adam
In chapter 11, Giberson takes the reader full circle, to the dilemma he introduced back in the introduction: the danger the YEC movement poses for the Evangelical community.

After briefly describing a number of scientific discoveries that simply obliterate YEC supposed scientific claims, Giberson then points out that many of the theological arguments against evolution are the exact same arguments that were levied against Copernicus’ claims of a heliocentric universe: it upsets Christian theology, and it conflicts a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis. It is at this point that Giberson delivers quite a “zinger” at Ken Ham concerning Ham’s claims that if there is life on other planets, they would not be able to be saved—but I do not want to spoil it.

As one reads the last few pages of the book, one can feel the obvious hurt Giberson still feels from being so mistreated by the YEC movement. It is something to which I can certainly relate. Yet when Giberson says, “Anyone challenging the historicity of Adam should probably abandon evangelicalism, since they are likely to be ejected anyway” (170), and “The fundamentalists always win” (174), I don’t want to say that yet. That is quite ironic because I joined the Orthodox Church in 2006, and am no longer technically an “Evangelical.”

Still, I spent 16 years teaching in Evangelical high schools, and even though I’ve been burned twice by certain administrators, most of the Evangelical Christians I’ve worked with and known throughout my life do not see the issue of YEC as a fundamental, make or break issue. I’m still optimistic for the larger mass of Evangelical Christians. As for many of those in power—the “gate-keepers” as Giberson calls them—yes, I have to say I share Giberson’s sentiments. It is because of these current “gate-keepers” that Evangelicalism is, as Giberson states, in a state of crisis.

Conclusion
I found Saving the Original Sinner to be a wonderful book that provides a very insightful overview at how Christians throughout the past 2,000 years have read and interpreted the Adam and Eve story. If anyone want to get a mini-lesson in Church history on this topic, Giberson’s book is a good place to start. In addition to that, though, one will also have a firsthand account of the kind of pain and frustration many thoughtful, Christ-honoring, sincere Christians have suffered at the hands of—if I can sound very grade-schoolish—some people who are just mean.

If you have wrestled with the issues of the age of the earth and the historicity of Adam, Saving the Original Sinner is a great place to get your historical bearings.

 

Karl Giberson: Saving the Original Sinner (Book Review: Part 2)

Karl Giberson: Saving the Original Sinner (Book Review: Part 2)

KarlGiberson

Today I wish to briefly review the first half of Karl Giberson’s book, Saving the Original Sinner. It is “Black Friday,” and I’m sitting at Starbucks, drinking my morning coffee. So consider this not so much of a “formal” book review, as it is more of a chat over coffee about a very good book I’ve recently read. Enjoy…

Chapter 1: First Man or First Jew? The Mysterious Patriarch of the Tribe of Israel
In chapter 1 of his book, Giberson first provides a brief overview of the events in Genesis 1-11. He then points out that any decent reader will see that there are a host of unanswered questions in Genesis 1-11. Because of that fact, people have tended to speculate on what the answers to those unanswered questions may be. The 1st century Jew Philo of Alexandria speculated that the first man was far superior to those living in the present day. Papers were written in 17th century France, arguing that Adam was 140 feet tall. Modern day young earth creationists teach that Adam was 12-16 feet tall, possessing superintelligence and a perfect genome.

The thing we must realize, though, is none of that sort of speculation is actually in the text of Genesis 1-11. The fact is, after Genesis 1-11, the figure of Adam simply fades away—very rarely is he ever mentioned or alluded to again. Simply put, in the larger scope of the biblical story, Adam is not a main character—important, yes; but main character, no. Nevertheless, as Giberson states, “Every generation of Christians brings new questions to the text, looking for insights into their issues, like the role of women or the contours of marriage” (25).

This is quite a natural thing to do—for as he mentioned in the introduction, regardless of whether or not people admit it, the fact is we read the early chapters of Genesis mythologically. We look to those chapters to get our bearings on how we are to understand human beings and creation—what our purpose is, and how we should interpret the world around us. That is, after all, what myths attempt to do: provide some sort of over-arching structure and worldview for society.

Chapter 2: The Two Essential Adams of the Apostle Paul
In chapter 2, Giberson focuses on the Apostle Paul’s treatment of Adam. Perhaps the quote that best sums up Giberson’s point about Paul is the following: “Paul’s engagement with Adam, however, is far from straightforward. His tradition read their scriptures with the assumption that Adam and Eve were historical figures, as real as Moses and David. But precisely because they assumed this history uncritically, it is hard to tell how important it was to them. Our historical questions were not theirs” (30).

Giberson’s point is simple: Did Paul assume Adam was a historical figure? Probably. Was that a question Paul ever really gave much thought to, or considered crucial to the proclamation of the Gospel? Probably not. Although it might seem that Paul implies all humans inherited their sinful natures from Adam, the fact is that no early Church Father within the first three centuries viewed Adam that way. It wasn’t until Augustine that such a view became so influential in Western Christianity.

When seen in light of the fact that Jewish tradition tended to see Adam as the first Jew, Paul’s treatment of Adam makes sense. He was taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, therefore he used the story of Adam to illustrate, not just the Jews, but all humanity.

Chapter 3: The Devil Made Them Do It
Chapter three is an interesting chapter, in that it provides a glimpse of how the early church in the early centuries dealt with the theological understanding of sin. Giberson points out that when talking about the reason for the evil world, early Christians pointed to Satan and demons, and never really referred to Adam and his fall into sin. The main question in regards to Adam was simply this: “Did he pass something down to us that makes it impossible for us to avoid sin? Or do we have the same chance to avoid sin as Adam did?” (50).

Therefore, there was a strand of thought that Adam was simply Everyman, and that we, like Adam, have the capacity to resist sin—we face the same challenge as Adam did. Perhaps the most famous promoter of this idea was heretic Pelagius, whose views clashed with Augustine. (Giberson focuses on him in chapter 4). Personally, I’ve always found this idea somewhat humorous: the point of the story is that Adam doesn’t resist sin. So to say we have the same capacity to resist sin—well, we don’t. I would say, “Yes, the story of Adam is our story—but it’s not about how we have the capacity to resist sin; it’s about how we don’t.”

In any case, one of the related topics that got tied up with the issue of Adam and Eve was the topic of sex and virginity. (Indeed, Augustine’s sexual temptations as a young man no doubt affected his reading of Genesis 2-3). On one end of the spectrum were people like Jerome (the man who translated the Vulgate), who viewed sex, marriage, and family as inferior and less holy way of life. For him, virginity was the epitome of holiness. He “…transform[ed] Eden into a paradise of virginity, arguing that the curse on women is actually a curse on those who forsake virginity and accept the spiritually inferior life of the family” (55). On the other side there were men like Jovinian, who argued that marriage was just as holy as virginity, that God created sex, and it was a good thing within marriage.

Well, if there’s one thing that Church history reveals, it is that Jerome was pretty much an old curmudgeon. He savaged Jovinian’s views, and even characterized Jovinian’s views as the “hissing of the old serpent…” (56). Jerome’s exalted views of virginity had a tremendous impact on the Catholic Church.

Chapter 4: The Original Sinner: Augustine’s Attack on Adam as Everyman
Giberson points to Augustine, the one who established the “original” doctrine of original sin, as the one who probably is most responsible for American Christianity’s rejection of evolution. If that sounds like quite a stretch, be patient and read through Giberson’s book. Although I don’t think we should “blame” Augustine for this, it is quite clear that his views on Adam and Eve have impacted the current creation/evolution debate.

What makes Augustine so important is that, as Giberson states, “Augustine establishes Adam, once and for all, and in a most compelling way for the Western church, as both the original sinner and the source of original sin” (62). His arguments were a reaction to Pelagius, who taught that human beings were innocent, and had the ability to not sin. Adam was a “bad example,” nothing more.

As I mentioned in my comments on chapter 3, I think Pelagius’ view was ultimately wrong. His claim that we are innocent and have the ability to not sin isn’t true. Yet Augustine’s reactionary view isn’t right either. The problem with Augustine is that in his attempt to argue that we are all sinners (which we are), he placed the source of that sin in the two historical figures of Adam and Eve.

To simply things: (A) Irenaeus in the 2nd century said, “The story of Adam is the story of humanity—we sin.” (B) Pelagius in the 4th century said, “The story of Adam doesn’t have to be your story—you can choose not to sin.” (C) Augustine in the 4th century said, “The story of Adam is his story—he sinned, and because he had sin and then later had sex with Eve, he passed on his sin nature to humanity.”

And so, if you’re like me, if you want to know where your church’s negative attitude toward sex and insistence on a historical Adam came from, look no further than Jerome and Augustine. Because of Jerome’s and Augustine’s influence, the Church in the West came to both equate virginity with holiness, and Adam and Eve as historical people who passed down their sin natures to the rest of humanity through, you guessed, sex.

Incidentally, as Giberson points out, Eastern Orthodoxy, although they respect and honor Augustine as an early Church Father, “has not to this day accepted Augustine’s theology of original sin” (66).

Chapter 5: The Late Middle Ages: Adam Everywhere
In chapter 5, Giberson gives us a glimpse of the Late Middle Ages. As anyone familiar with history knows, it was the work of Catholic Medieval scholars that opened the door to what eventually became known as modern science. The most influential scholar was no doubt Thomas Aquinas. He taught that when Adam fell, it affected his will, but not his reason. Coupled with Aquinas’ revival of Aristotelian philosophy, and his subsequent “Christianization” of it, Aquinas argued that human beings could use their God-given reason (which was not affected by the fall) to study God’s creation, and learn more about God.

This movement eventually became known as “natural philosophy.” Medieval scientists (known as “natural philosophers”) studied the natural world, not simply to learn more about the natural world, but also (and ultimately) to learn more about God. This was the genesis of modern science. Even when Copernicus argued for a heliocentric universe, Giberson points out that in his scientific argument, Copernicus described the universe as God’s “temple.”

Medieval scholars like Dante assumed that there had been an original “perfect language,” and this sparked interest in the study of languages. Their studies into the realm of science and linguistics always had a theological component to them. As Giberson points out, even Dante’s detail description of hell in his famous work, The Inferno, was not focused on the topic of sin, not geology. Yes, Dante was incorporated the understanding of the physical universe that was assumed at the time, but it was incidental to his larger point: to wrestle with the topic of sin and punishment.

Conclusion
Thus endeth my “bird’s eye review” of the first half of Karl Giberson’s book, Saving the Original Sinner. Check back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion…

Book Review: Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 1)

Book Review: Karl Giberson’s “Saving the Original Sinner” (Part 1)

Saving the Original Sinner

Karl Giberson is a Christian scholar and scientist who is at the forefront of the current “creation/evolution” debate in the United States. Among his other accomplishments, he has taught at the college level for over 30 years, written numerous books, and served as vice-president at BioLogos from 2009-2011. And, as far as Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is concerned, he is a very dangerous man. Why? Because in their eyes, he is an apostate: someone who grew up believing Henry Morris’ The Genesis Flood was gospel truth, who eventually became convinced that young earth creationism was not convincing, and who now believes that evolution is the means by which God creates the world.

I first came across Dr. Giberson when I read his book Saving Darwin a few years back. At the time, I was just researching the different views on the creation/evolution debate for a course unit I was teaching at the local Christian high school where I worked. At the time, I cared very little about the whole supposed controversy, but I felt, given the nature of the course, I needed to address it. As I’ve said before in other posts, I wasn’t a young earth creationist, but neither did I believe evolution—honestly, I didn’t know anything about it. It just didn’t interest me—nothing in science interested me. It wasn’t my thing.

Ironically, the more I read up on the creation/evolution debate, the more I became convinced of two things: (a) there is nothing convincing at all about young earth creationism—it is neither scientific nor biblical; and (b) learning about evolution actually made me interested in science…a bit. If you have been following my posts, you know my recent story. That desire to understand the issue better, coupled with my audacity to question Ken Ham, led to me essentially being labeled an apostate as well.

In any case, Dr. Giberson most recent book, Saving the Original Sinner, takes the reader on a bit of a historical journey by providing an overview of how Christians for the past 2,000 years have treated the story of Adam and Eve. For anyone interested in learning about just how Christians throughout the centuries have interpreted and used Genesis 2-3, this is a great book to get your bearings. In the next few posts, I am going to review Dr. Giberson’s book. After that, I will then write another post in which I then discuss the “review” that Answers in Genesis gave of Dr. Giberson’s book.

Introduction

If someone were to ask Dr. Giberson, “What inspired you to write this book?” I’m sure he would point them to the introduction: it’s the same reason why I’m writing my book, The Heresy of Ham. Like me, he, as well as countless others, have been deeply hurt by a very militant and dangerous segment within the Evangelical world—the young earth creationist movement (YEC).

It is in his introduction that Dr. Giberson introduces the reader to not only the basic claims of YEC groups like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, but also to their determined efforts to destroy any Christian scholar or scientist who crosses their path. In their minds, to question the historicity of Adam is to destroy the Gospel itself. As Southern Baptist president Al Mohler has said, “The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first persons of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel” (2). Giberson points out that self-appointed “gatekeepers” like Mohler have made a concentrated effort to censure and even destroy the careers of  countless Christian scholars and scientists: Howard Van Til, Richard Colling, Peter Enns, Bruce Waltke, John Schneider…the list can go on—all because of the singular fact that these scholars do not hold to YEC.

Given this reality, the goal of the Giberson’s book is pretty straightforward: to answer the basic question, “Is YEC correct when it claims that its view of Adam and Eve has been the way Christians for the past 2,000 years have always viewed Adam and Eve?” The answer, as Giberson conclusively proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, is a resounding, “No.” When one looks back over the course of the past 2,000 years—from Philo, to Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Francis Bacon, Columbus and the early explorers, slave owners, abolitionists, modern day young earth creationists and theistic evolutionists—it is abundantly clear that the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 has been read and understood in a host of different ways.

The reason for that, Giberson argues, is that Christians throughout history have tried to interpret and apply the story of Adam and Eve to address concerns that were pressing upon their society at the time. In other words, they looked to the story of Adam and Eve in an attempt to make sense of their own world and to give a certain worldview and order to their society. The story of Adam and Eve, thus, is a formative story, and as Giberson states, has always been used mythologically.

My only bone of contention with the introduction has to do with this last point about the story of Adam and Eve being used mythologically. Now, I agree with Giberson on this point, but having taught in Evangelical schools for 16 years, I fear that someone who doesn’t understand what the proper understanding of the genre of myth is will be frightened by Giberson’s statement, and might not read any further. For that reason, I think it would have been better to take a paragraph or two to more fully explain what exactly “myth” entails. Most people think “myth,” “fairytale,” and “lie” are all synonyms. We need to reclaim a proper definition of these terms if we expect to use them in any meaningful way.

In any case, Giberson’s aim for the book is clearly spelled out in his introduction: (A) YEC has made certain claims about both science and the Bible, and has also claimed their view has been the view of the Church throughout history, (B) YEC “gate-keepers” have made an organized effort to silence and destroy the careers of any Christian scholar who questions them, and (C) history itself shows that such claims of YEC are not true.

With that, Giberson proceeds to take the reader on a tour of Christian history. In my next post, I will review the first five chapters of Saving the Original Sinner. I will do my best to be succinct! I think you will find it is an engaging and thought-provoking book.

 

Bob Bennett’s “Heart of the Matter”: If this doesn’t sum up life, I don’t know what does

Bob Bennett’s “Heart of the Matter”: If this doesn’t sum up life, I don’t know what does

In this post, I share yet another song from my childhood that was pivotal in the formation of my very worldview: Bob Bennett’s “Heart of the Matter.”

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On the same album with A Song About Baseball, Bob Bennett had a song entitled Heart of the Matter—it served as the closing song, and given the fact that the first song on the album (as well as the title for the album itself) was Matters of the Heart, it also served as an appropriate bookend to the album. As you’ll see, the end of Heart of the Matter actually takes the listener full circle with another verse to the tune of Matters of the Heart. Even as a 12 year old, I remember being thrilled with how Bennett so creatively structured the album, and how the title of the last song was a clever variation to the first. I suppose I just see a poetic structure to life as a whole, and I love it when I see that sort of thing in a song, poem, or story.

Since Matters of the Heart came out in 1982, that would have put me in my 8th grade year. As I have mentioned in a few earlier posts, junior high  was not fun for me. If you were one of those people who experienced bullying in either junior high or high school, you can attest to the fact that being picked on and bullied tends to force you to be a lot more serious about life—I know for little 12 year old Joel, those experiences made think a little more deeply about life, for sure.

When you’re not picked on, it’s easy to just go along and think that it is really that important to win that baseball game, get a perfect grade on that test, or have your parents buy you that new Luke Skywalker action figure. In reality, though, those things aren’t that important. To allude to Bennett’s song, none of those things—and indeed none of most of the things we are so easily conned into longing for—get to the heart of the matter of our lives. In fact, those trivial things tend to distract us from ever having the courage to get to the heart of the matter.

For whatever reason, it seems that most people never get to the point in realizing that. Especially in this day and age, it seems we are a society of individuals suffering from with existential ADHD. We’ll let ourselves become distracted by anything, so that we don’t have to gaze upon, contemplate, and truly grasp the reality regarding ourselves, God, the world, and the often painful riddle of living a life that means anything.

Nobody likes suffering—that’s why we’ll avoid it if we can. But, as I wrote about concerning Irenaeus, one of the truths found within Christianity is that as bad as suffering is, it is an inevitable prerequisite of salvation. Unfortunately, it seems too many people would rather try to build their own smoke-filled illusions than allow themselves to be broken on the stone of suffering. Yet that’s the irony of going through suffering—when you find yourself already broken, the solidity of stone and good earth is something you cling to. All you want to do is rest your broken bones on something that is sure. But until that happens, you mistakenly think that the one thing that gives you firm footing is the one thing to avoid.

In any case, 8th grade Joel found Bob Bennett’s Heart of the Matter to be perhaps one of the best appraisals of the human condition in this confusing world ever written—I still think that is the case.

Heart of the Matter: Bob Bennett
I’m just a man in a world full of men just like me
With a heart full of questions and answers
That seem to be somewhat connected
And a head full of preconceived notions
That manage to get in the way

And I find myself longing to return
Back to the place where I started
Back when I knew next to nothing
Back to the heart of the matter

Hand reaching out for another one
Love leading into the light

Hearts alterning between tears and rage
A short journey through the human zoo in this mortal cage
Words, like weapons, ask no questions as they kill
People, wounded, once dancing, now they’re standing still

And all these things I can’t explain
They keep on running round my brain
They drive me deep, deep to the heart of the matter

Lamb to the slaughter, well aware of the consequence
Saving fallen men, living and dying in this present tense

So many things I can’t explain
They lose and confuse me again and again
They drive me deep, deep to the heart of the matter

A light shining in this heart of darkness
A new beginning and a miracle
Day by day the integration of the concrete and the spiritual

You can show me your sales curves
Plot my life on a flow chart
You can count up your converts
And miss where it all starts

But there’s just some things that numbers can’t measure
These fragile pieces of priceless treasure
But there’s just some things that numbers can’t measure
Matters of the Heart

A spark of truth that catches on fire
These Matters of the Heart

COMMENTS
I’m telling you, that is theology right there–not systematic theology, but truly creative theology. Not only that, but man, I wish I could play the guitar like that. I’ve been listening to that song for over 30 years, and it still makes my hair stand on end.

The first two stanzas might very well be the lines I should put on my tombstone—the honesty and humility of those lines still leave me breathless. Admitting that the world is overwhelming and confusing is one thing; admitting that your inability to truly understand anything is primarily because of your own biases and limitations—that is quite another. In many respects, it’s the beginning of the possibility of repentance and new life. The thing I appreciate about these lines is that the singer isn’t saying, “I’m a filthy, disgusting, evil wretch,” but rather something, I think, a whole lot more honest: “I’m lost, confused, and longing for the simplicity (not simplistic answers) that lies within the heart of the matter.”

Short of men like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and child rapists, I think most people, if they are truly honest, would admit that they are more “lost and confused” than “evil”. Sometimes I think people who have grown up in Evangelical environments are led to believe that the only way to truly repent is to confess to God just what a maggot you are. But I don’t think God sees us that way…I think he sees us much like the way the first two stanzas depict us. That’s actually a comforting thought.

Another thing I think is revelatory is the idea that we need to go back to the heart of the matter—it is something we’ve wandered away from. In our attempts to “grow up” according to what we foolishly think is “grown up,” we actually simply pile on delusion after delusion and let ourselves be ruled by our passions and pre-conceived notions. Those things end up being blinders to the truth about ourselves and reality itself. In that sense, this common human dilemma is simply a replaying of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden: foolishly grabbing for what they think is wisdom, they end up wandering in their own exile. As I’ve said before, the story of Adam and Eve’s folly is the story of us all.

But there’s no reason to despair, for just like the over-arching story of the Bible itself, the next two lines sum up the story of salvation: “Hand reaching out for another one; love leading into the light.”

From this point onward in the song, the melody changes to the melody from Matters of the Heart, but the lyrics remain a double-edged sword. What better stanza can there be to describe the state of the world—not just in this age, but in any age throughout history?

Hearts alterning between tears and rage
A short journey through the human zoo in this mortal cage
Words, like weapons, ask no questions as they kill
People, wounded, once dancing, now they’re standing still

Throughout my life, particularly starting in junior high, I have been able to relate to that last line—how many times have I been wounded so deeply that I’ve found myself just standing still in shock. But the fact is, that reality is reality, and no one is immune from it. Any attempt to get to the “heart of the matter” of our lives will necessarily demand that we stop for a time, feel those wounds inflicted on us, and mourn through joyful tears we don’t understand that these are the steps we must take in order to eventually receive healing.

…and it’s not going to be a one-time thing. Throughout our lives we will experience many crucifixions in our lives. Whether or not we also experience the subsequent resurrections is a matter of what we do with the wounds. I think that’s what the following lines are ultimately getting at:

Lamb to the slaughter, well aware of the consequence
Saving fallen men, living and dying in this present tense

Another line I’ve always found mysteriously enticing is: Day by day the integration of the concrete and the spiritual. I’m actually very thankful that I came across this line while still a 12 year old boy. Why? Because all too often Christians are fed the line (by many in the church, nonetheless!) that salvation is some purely esoteric “airy” thing, completely detached from this material world. But the fact is, if you understand “spiritual” as “non-material,” then you’re not thinking Christianly—you have more in common with Buddha or Plato than you do with Christ.

The very purpose of the cross is the resurrection, not to some non-material reality, but of the very material creation that God has made—the resurrection of the flesh…and the resurrected transformation of the very creation itself. A good sign that your Christian walk is “going in the right direction” is that day by day you see more and more “the integration of the concrete and the spiritual”—that you can discern the Spiritual life of the Trinity in all aspects of life, be it movies, music, literature, or in the living of life itself…and you can rejoice it in, even in the midst of your suffering and confusion. And THAT is the mystery of the reality of the crucifixion-resurrection in our world today.

Finally, the last stanza should act as a challenge to anyone who equates spirituality with mere numbers—Sting, in another song, has a memorable line that somewhat fits with this stanza. It says, “Men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” Ultimately that is true. The Christian life isn’t about big numbers, or being able to notch “50 converts” on your witnessing belt. It’s about “these fragile pieces of priceless treasure” that must be allowed to be crucified in this world’s confusion and chaos, so that they can be raised to incorruptibility in the Resurrection that we can experience “in part” even today.

Ken Ham, the Grand Inquisitor of BioLogos and Tim Keller…

Ken Ham, the Grand Inquisitor of BioLogos and Tim Keller…

biologos2x

A little over a year ago, in a November 13, 2014 blog post entitled, “Brought Back to Christianity by Compromise?” Ken Ham attacked Brad Kramer, the content editor for BioLogos, who wrote on his own spiritual journey and how he came to accept theistic evolution.

You Thought This Through? You Clearly Weren’t Critically Thinking!
Now, Kramer said that it was when he was attending Tim Keller’s church that he came to realize that evolution did not contradict the Bible and that it was not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. He came to see that Genesis 1 was not, in fact, meant to be read as history, but rather more like a poem. He ended up going to seminary and now works at BioLogos. The way Ken Ham describes it, though, is somewhat different:

“Instead of critically examining the supposed evidence for evolution he was given in light of God’s Word, he chose instead to trust the fallible opinions of men over God’s Word. Now he spends his life telling people they can compromise the Bible with evolution.”

Evidently, Ken Ham doesn’t know what “critically examination” means. After all, Kramer was telling of how he critically examined and thought through the issue while at Tim Keller’s church, and how it was that critical examining that led him to his views. So what does Ken Ham mean by “critical examination”? I’d have to say he really means, “Believe what I tell you about Genesis 1—it’s history! End of story!”

In any case, Ham pondered what caused Kramer to abandon his faith in God’s Word. He noted that Kramer had read materials by Hugh Ross, a progressive creationist, and then bemoaned that Kramer would take Ross as an authority over God Word. Specifically, he said, “The fact that he was given Hugh Ross materials that compromise on the age of Earth and a global Flood suggests that the Bible was not seen as the ultimate authority in all areas for him.” No, Kramer should have read Ham’s materials—because, after all, the authority of God’s Word is contained in the writings of Ken Ham!

Here’s the thing that’s so ironic. Ham had just lamented that Kramer didn’t “critically examine the evidence,” and then he turned around and criticize Kramer for reading Ross’s material. I have to ask, even if Hugh Ross is wrong, and even if (for the sake of argument) evolutionary theory is wrong, how can one even come to the conclusion that they’re wrong unless one actually reads their material, and (you guessed it) critically examine what their arguments are?

This illustrates the stark deception of Ken Ham. When someone really does critically examine the evidence, and then comes to the conclusion that young earth creationism is not true, Ken Ham accuses them of not critically examining the evidence, and says that person should just “accept the authority of God’s Word,” no questions asked! Never mind the fact that Ham falsely equates his own assumptions and claims for God’s Word itself.

Let’s Send Some Condemnation Tim Keller’s Way, too!
Ham also laid into Tim Keller. Like with other Christian leaders who disagree with him, Ham began by feigning compliments on Keller, saying that Keller “is a well-known pastor whose church is known for setting a high standard of participation in the community. He’s a very evangelistic Bible teacher who’s eager to reach others with the gospel.” But nevertheless, Ken Ham must fulfill his role as the Grand Inquisitor and pronounce judgment: “Pastor Keller has chosen to accept man’s teaching over God’s clear words.”

That’s right, according to Ham, another great Christian leader is found to be working for the devil, leading people astray, and putting man’s fallible ideas above God’s Word…all because he doesn’t agree with Ken Ham’s claims.

As for Kramer, Ham actually said this: “[Although] Kramer’s becoming a professing Christian is certainly worthy of rejoicing, he is now spreading the lie of evolution and millions of years to others.” How in the world can any clear-thinking individual not see the complete incoherent (il)logic of such a statement? Ham does this all the time: “So and so may be a Christian, but he is (a) spreading Satan’s lies about evolution, (b) undermining God’s Word, and (c) speaking with the voice of the serpent. I’m sorry, if someone is spreading Satan’s lies, undermining God’s Word, and speaking with the voice of the serpent, then that person is not a follower of Christ.

Yet Ken Ham does this time and time again—why? The reason is obvious, he is passive-aggressive to the core. He doesn’t want to come across as judgmental, because that will make him look petty. But then he really feels it’s his right as someone who “takes God’s Word seriously” to judge others who disagree with him. And so, he engages is twisted double-speak: “He might be a Christian, and we should rejoice in that, but he’s leading others astray and is doing the devil’s work!”

Methinks Mr. Ham is the one speaking with a forked-tongue.

Who Does Ken Ham Really Think He Is?
The way Ken Ham sees it, the fundamental issue is one of compromise. According to Ham, theistic evolution and modern science are “man’s fallible ideas,” and his claim that Genesis 1-11 is a 21st century scientific treatise on the origin of the natural world is “God’s Word.” We therefore must ask, who does Ken Ham really see himself as? By his own rhetoric, he clearly equates his arguments with the very Word of God itself. After all, he said, “if biblical creation is wrong and we are lying to children…then it is not we who are lying, but God.” Once again, Ham cannot see the difference between his own interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and the inspired Word of God itself. For Ham, his interpretation is God’s Word.

Ham ended with a very short, but very bizarre statement: “We can trust the gospel, because we can trust Genesis.” Think about what he is actually saying here: he is saying that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is dependent on a literal/historical interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Ham has effectively made his YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 the cornerstone of the Christian faith, but the cornerstone of the Christian faith is Christ, not Ken Ham’s claims about Genesis 1-11. And the building of which Christ is the cornerstone is the Church…

…and that leads us to a final question: “What building is Ken Ham really constructing?” It certainly isn’t the Church, for whatever Ken Ham is building has a different cornerstone.  We need to be clear: if Christ is not the cornerstone, then whatever you are building is not the Christian faith, and it is not part of Christ’s church. What Ken Ham is constructing his own idol and his own temple…and it is not the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Irenaeus of Lyon, Saint Augustine, and the Theory of Evolution (Part 6)

Irenaeus of Lyon, Saint Augustine, and the Theory of Evolution (Part 6)

saint_irenaeus_oflyons

In the past five posts, I have been discussing Irenaeus of Lyon, an early Church Father from the second century, and his claim that the earliest Church saw Adam and Eve as children who, though created in God’s image, had not yet reached full maturity and God likeness, and whose sin was one of childish disobedience. This was the Traditional Church teaching of Adam and Eve—it was the teaching that Irenaeus received from Polycarp, who received it from John the Apostle, who received it from Jesus Christ himself.

The Figure of Augustine
The reason why such an understanding seems so foreign to Western Protestants is because both Catholicism and Protestantism have been predominantly influenced by Augustine. Now Augustine was a brilliant theologian, and his own story is truly remarkable. It is what he wrote about Adam and Eve and their relationship to the rest of humanity that has dominated Western Christian thinking.

Saint_Augustine

The thing you have to know about Augustine, though, is that before he became a Christian, he was somewhat of a playboy. He’s famous for saying, “Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet!” Without going into a full-blown explanation of the views on sex within the Church in the 4th and 5th centuries, I’ll just summarize Augustine’s take on “the Fall.”

Simply put, Augustine saw Adam and Eve as the first two people who, through their reason, were in full control of their passions. If they did engage in sex before the Fall, Augustine speculated, it would not have involved lust and passion—it would have been controlled by their faculties of reason.

Once they sinned though, they fell from that state of perfection, where they were in full control of their passions, and they thus became slaves to their passions. Sex itself was infused with lust and uncontrollable passion, and the “sign” of this “original sin” was essentially the male erection: he couldn’t control it when it happened…it just happened. Thus, according to Augustine, every time a man and woman have sex, since it obviously involves passion, the child conceived in that sex act would be literally “conceived in sin.” And that is why, according to Augustine, that we are sinful: we are literally “conceived in sin,” during an act between our parents that involved passion, and was thus sinful.

Now when most people talk of “original sin” and “being born sinful,” they simply mean in a very generalized sense that human beings are sinful, period—from the time you are born, you have a tendency to sin. Basically, that’s true. Most people, though, don’t realize precisely what Augustine’s take on “original sin’ really entails.

Given Augustine’s background before he was a Christian, it is understandable why he went this route in his interpretation of Adam and Eve. Unfortunately, though, his interpretation reveals more of a wrestling with his own issues than an accurate understanding of the text. Nevertheless, it has been his take on Genesis 2-3 that has largely dominated the thinking of both Catholicism and Protestantism.

I think we would be much better off reclaiming Irenaeus’ teaching on Genesis 2-3. Like I said in an earlier post, if you want to get back to what the early Church taught, particularly on Genesis 2-3, Irenaeus is the man you should look to.

Irenaeus and Evolution
In a roundabout way, I think Irenaeus’ teaching also has an impact on the current creation/evolution debate. I say “roundabout” because obviously he did not directly comment on the debate. He, like most Christians at the time, probably assumed Adam and Eve were real people, but his teaching on them did not focus on that “historical question” at all. He was combating heresy and interacting with philosophy—he wasn’t addressing modern historical and scientific questions.

Therefore, when young earth creationists like Ken Ham trot out isolated quotes from Christians like Irenaeus, as well as other Christians throughout history before rise of modern science, and claim that they were young earth creationists, he really is being deceptive: the very issue and questions regarding the age of the earth and the historicity of Adam were not really even raised yet. Sure, Irenaeus assumed a historical Adam and Eve, just as he assumed the sun travelled around the earth—it was an ignorant assumption, based on the limited knowledge of the day. When I say “ignorant,” I do not mean it in a derogatory way—it simply is a fact: certain scientific knowledge was not available to them yet.

Yet I think the way Irenaeus understands not only Genesis 2-3, but also God’s purposes in salvation as a whole, can have something to say in regards to the issue of evolution. If Irenaeus is right, and if Genesis 2-3 is the story of God creating a childish-humanity who is given the challenge and free will to choose to obey God and mature into the likeness of God He has created humanity to be, then we can see that salvation itself, by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Spirit, is a process of Spiritual transformation and evolution. The biological theory of evolution, therefore, can serve as yet another example in creation that points to God and His purposes. By doing so, it can give glory to God. C.S. Lewis says pretty much the same thing in Mere Christianity.

Of course, there is an obvious difference between salvation and evolution. On the biological, natural level, evolutionary changes happen all on their own, depending on the environment in which an organism finds itself. The organism really has no say in the matter—it just happens.

With human beings, though, in addition to the mere biological life that we share with the rest of creation, there is something more: the Spiritual life. When it comes to the Spiritual life, it is not just a matter of automatic genetic switches. It is entirely dependent on the choices we make. When faced with the inevitable sufferings in life, we have the choice to adapt, evolve, and be Spiritually transformed by them. Whether or not we are transformed into more heavenly creatures is entirely dependent on our choices. Just as an organism that fails to adapt to its environment soon goes extinct, we, if we fail to trust and obey God through those times of trials, will eventually lose our lives as well.

Simply put, evolution helps us understand that our Christian salvation is not an “I got saved and now I have my get out of hell card all sown up!” It is not a one-time transaction. Christian salvation is a transformative journey of Spiritual evolution, where God, through Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slowly re-creates us into the fullness of Christ, into beings who fully reflect God’s image.

Therefore, the biological evolution we see in the natural world acts as a pointer to the reality of our Spiritual evolution by the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. It helps us get a better grasp of eternity and how God’s plan and purposes stretch far beyond what our limited perspective can clearly see—and that necessitates faith. It helps us also to get a better grasp of suffering and tribulations in this world—they too are part of God’s purposes. They either will be the means by which we achieve maturity in Christ, or the instruments of our ultimate destruction—and it all depends on how we react to them. Do we accept them as Christ accepted the cross, or do we let them embitter us and push God away, and thus reject the very source of life that can redeem us?

As Denis Minns has said, for Irenaeus, “The goal of the divine plan is that created earth should be so transformed that, without ceasing to be a creature, it shares in the glory of the uncreated God” (90). (Irenaeus goes into detail on this point in Against Heresies IV.38). Therefore, we as creatures, as long as we follow Christ, find that we “can exist in an infinite process of becoming perfect, drawing incrementally closer to the uncreated without ever ceasing to be a creature because it never ceases to be in a state of Becoming” (90).

If we can reclaim the early Church’s understanding of salvation as an infinite process of becoming more and more like God in Christ—always being God’s creatures, but ever being taken up into the transformative life of the Trinity—I think we would be much better off in our understanding of God, Christ, salvation, ourselves, and creation around us.

Conclusion
Throughout the Middle Ages, Christian theologians and scholars saw theology as the “Queen of the Sciences,” and they saw what we call science as “natural philosophy.” They did not see an insurmountable divide between “science” and “faith.” Rather, they saw everything in natural, particularly what we now call the “natural sciences” as being the “handmaiden to Queen Theology.” Everything that they discovered about the natural world, they would use to help further explain the Christian faith and theology.

During the Enlightenment though, when certain secular thinkers took a philosophical axe and completely cut the cord that bound theology and the natural sciences, everything started to change in the Western worldview. Before, what was discovered about the natural world was used in the service of theology; helping to further explain the wonderful world God had created.

Now, though, in parts of the Evangelical world, we have men like Ken Ham denying the findings of the natural sciences. He actually goes around saying that “our assumptions” must determine how we “interpret the evidence of science.” Instead of allowing the discoveries in the natural sciences to serve as “handmaidens” to Queen Theology, and serve as examples in the natural world that reflect theological teachings, he not only tells people that the natural sciences are the enemy to Christian faith, he completely ignores what the true fundamentals of the Christian faith are. In their place, he has taken Genesis 1-11 and has constructed his own idol of “historical science,” and teaches people that a belief in a young earth and a historical Adam is a fundamental tenant of the Christian faith.

It isn’t. It never has been. We have the writings of the early Church—such a thing has never been claimed.

I think that if Irenaeus were alive today, he would have seen biological evolution as a tremendous teaching tool to help illustrate God’s purposes for His creation and the nature of salvation. One thing, I think, is for certain: if we understand what Irenaeus revealed about the early Church’s view of Adam, the nature of humanity, and salvation really was, we should realize that the modern theory of evolution (again, whether or not you are convinced of it) not only does not pose a threat to the Christian faith, it can actually be seen to reflect on a biological level the theological teaching of Christianity.

Answers in Genesis, the Moon Landing, and Conspiracy Theories: Oh, the Irony!

Answers in Genesis, the Moon Landing, and Conspiracy Theories: Oh, the Irony!

Today as I was scrolling through my Twitter account, I came across a new post from Answers in Genesis entitled, “Did We Really Land on the Moon?” It’s a relatively short post, but I simply couldn’t believe what I was reading. This might be one of the most ironic things I’ve read in a long time.

So, Does AiG Doubt We Landed on the Moon?
To cut to the chase, no, Answers in Genesis does not believe that the moon landing was a conspiracy. They believe we really did land on the moon. The article is really about how there are conspiracy theorists out there who still doubt that we ever did. What does this have to do with AiG’s favorite subject, evolution? Just wait…

The article states that the reason why some people started to doubt that we ever landed on the moon was because they came to distrust the government, primarily in light of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Therefore, as the article states, “most Americans seemed to think that the government lied about so many things, so the moon landings could have just been one more thing that the government lied about.”

The article then notes that movies like Capricorn One and countless conspiracy theory books fed this distrust in many people. Even though virtually all of the supposed “evidence” the conspiracy theorists point to is easily refuted, there still are some people who buy into conspiracy theories. As the article states:

Conspiracy_theory_poster

“Why is there such interest in the supposed hoax of the Apollo moon landing? As previously mentioned, part of the reason is a basic mistrust of government authorities. But conspiracies seem to have an odd attraction for many people, for many other conspiracy theories abound. People appear naturally to be attracted to conspiracies. Conspiracies certainly are far more interesting than the possibility that things are as they seem.”

The article then says that we can be certain that we really landed on the moon, because two of the astronauts, Charles Duke and Jim Irwin, were Christians and wrote about their time on the moon. Therefore, since “these two Christian astronauts certainly suffice as reliable witnesses…we can be assured that the Apollo astronauts indeed walked on the moon.”

So, we can sum up the article this way:
1. Conspiracy theories (like the moon landing) are held because there is a distrust of the government.

2. No matter how often you conclusively refute the false claims of conspiracy theorists, there will always be some people who cling to the debunked conspiracy theory.

3. We can be confident that we landed on the moon because two Christians testified to the fact that we did.

And Now…for the Irony
The irony, of course, is that what this AiG has effectively done is expose itself as a conspiracy theorist organization! The article states that it is understandable that some might doubt the moon landing, because “so many scientists are wrong about the origin and age of the world.” But how does AiG know that so many scientists are wrong about evolution and the age of the world? Simple, because AiG pushes their own conspiracy theory!

Let’s keep this short and sweet:
1. Distrust of the Government: AiG strongly distrusts “secular scientists” and the government. Ken Ham routinely writes on his blog about how the government is brainwashing people to believe evolution, pushing an atheist religion, and actively persecuting Christians (because he didn’t get certain tax breaks for his Ark Encounter project).

2. Evidence: AiG completely ignores the modern scientific evidence regarding the age of the earth and evolutionary theory. Ken Ham does this by making up his own fictitious category of “historical science” and defining it as “belief about the past that can’t be tested.” And just like that he then calls modern science “secular historical science” that has no evidence and is based on blind faith.

But…there really is evidence that proves this. “Not so,” says Ham, “evidence doesn’t speak for itself…you must interpret correctly, and correct interpretation must be based on starting assumptions!” And Ham’s starting assumption is that “the Bible is true.” But that’s really misleading, because what his real starting assumption is that Genesis 1-11 is meant to be read as history, and is therefore “God’s eyewitness account” and “God’s historical science textbook.” And just like that, it becomes painfully clear: no matter how much evidence you come up with to refute Ken Ham’s claims and prove that the universe really is older than 6,000 years, the folks at AiG will ignore it and cling to their debunked conspiracy theory that scientists and the government are “indoctrinating” society into the “religion of atheism and evolution,” and the sole reason is because they don’t want to live by God’s rules.

3. Testimony: And here is where AiG’s hypocrisy is on full display. They believe we landed on the moon because there were Christians who testified to the fact. But when it comes to the age of the earth and evolutionary theory, AiG’s response to Christians who are tremendous scientists (Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Richard Colling) and tremendous Biblical scholars (NT Wright, Bruce Waltke, Peter Enns, John Walton)–well, they are rejected by AiG and called “compromised Christians” at best, and outright “deceivers” who will suffer God’s judgment at worst.

And why do these Christians get attacked by AiG? Because AiG is promoting a conspiracy theory, and these Christians who are leaders in both the scientific world and the world of Biblical Students have refuted AiG’s conspiracy theory time and time again. Therefore, as AiG is concerned, they deserve judgment.

Yes indeed, AiG correctly describes the dynamics of conspiracy theorists. Ironically, they have described themselves.

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Irenaeus of Lyon: Adam, Christ, and the Christian Life (Part 5)

Irenaeus of Lyon: Adam, Christ, and the Christian Life (Part 5)

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In his article “Our Hearts of Darkness: Original Sin Revisited,” in Theological Studies 49 (1988) (597-621), Father Stephen J. Duffy sums up Irenaeus’ teaching on Adam and humanity in this way:

“For Irenaeus, the unification of creation and redemption in a single order is pivotal. Perfection is at the end, not at the beginning; hope burns not for restored innocence but for healing and homecoming. According to Irenaeus, since ethical perfection cannot come ready-made, God made the world a testing ground, and history a person-making process of growth. Adam was no superman tumbling down from perfection to imperfection. Rather he came from his maker’s hand childlike… Created imperfect, they were perfectible as they grope through a situation in which sin is virtually inescapable.

“Genesis does not contrast the way things are with the way things once were, but the way they are and ever have been with how they ought to be. The garden is the dream, not the memory. Made to the image of God because endowed with intelligence, humans are meant, claims Irenaeus, to become to the likeness of God through the outpouring of the Spirit who conforms them to the pattern and norm, the Son incarnate. Our measure is not the first Adam, but the second. The Fall, therefore, is not deterioration according to Irenaeus; it is retardation of growth. Not the substitution of a divine back-up plan for the restoration of a lost order, redemption is rather the culmination of creation and the assurance that the divine intention is stronger than human folly.” (Duffy, 619-620)

In that little bit, he sums up what I’ve been trying to say about Irenaeus over the past four posts. Nevertheless, I would now like to try to sum up how I feel all this impacts our daily lives, and how we understand the inevitable suffering and challenges we face throughout our lives.

Challenge, Failure, and Reassurance

Obviously, the Bible does not say sin is a good thing, but it does acknowledge that challenge and struggle are inevitable within God’s purposes for humanity to become like Him. What Genesis 3 shows is that a relationship with God involves a challenge: the challenge to obey Him, and to trust that He will grow us up into His likeness in His good time. Genesis 3 also shows us something else: Adam, Eve, you, me, and every human being fails at that challenge. We don’t trust. We don’t obey. That why we find ourselves estranged from God. Such failure affects not fractures our relationship with God, it also fractures our relationship with other human beings: spouses, children, parents, friends, everyone.

Yet still, Genesis 3 shows us one other thing, something that doesn’t get fully revealed until Christ, but it is still there in Genesis 3: there will be a “war” throughout history between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring, and eventually, somehow, the woman’s offspring will crush the head of the serpent. Despite Adam and Eve’s disobedience, despite our own sin and disobedience, God, in His providence, works through the struggle of history to still bring about His purpose: taking creatures made in His image, and growing them up into His likeness.

Thus, as Denis Minns points out, Irenaeus sees the history of humanity and the history of salvation as one and the same. Minns staes, [For Irenaeus] “…the whole process of development is identical with the creative act of God. When the act of creating the earth creature is looked at from the earth creature’s viewpoint, this process of development is what is seen” (84). Therefore, each one of our stories, and indeed the story of all creation, isn’t one of trying to recapture a lost perfection, but rather of choosing to take part in the transformation of God’s creation that He intended all along: from being men of the dust to being transformed into men of Heaven; from the old creation being transformed to the New Creation, from being spiritual infants “in Adam” to being spiritually mature Sons of God “in Christ.”

A NT View of Suffering and Death: The Biggest Loser is the Biggest Winner

Perhaps this can get us to at least a slightly better understanding to the age old question, “Why does God allow suffering and death?” To that question, I can’t even begin go through all the passages in the New Testament that talk about the inevitability, and dare I say, the necessity of suffering and death when it comes to salvation. On virtually every page of the New Testament you will find something about how trials, tribulations, suffering and death itself produce endurance, maturity, righteousness, and growing up into the fullness of Christ. It seems quite clear in the New Testament: You cannot become fully mature in Christ without going through suffering, because suffering is the “sparring partner,” if you will, to our spirits. It is what challenges to become fully mature in Christ.

Perhaps one more analogy will help: the show The Biggest Loser. At the beginning of the show you see various people extremely overweight and out of shape. They are given the challenge to get healthy and work out. The first few workouts are not only extremely painful for them, they are painful for us to watch! And those contestants are in hellish pain—their muscles haven’t worked that much in years, their heart is pumping as if it will burst. They feel like they’re going to die. But little by little, the weight comes off, the muscles get toned and get stronger, and by the end of the show, the ones who really worked hard are not only 10 times healthier than they ever thought they could be, but they have experienced an additional transformation other than their bodies alone. Their self-esteem, their confidence, and their spirit have returned—they are new people. The workouts that once seemed like hell to them are now a source of invigorating life. They love to work out now. Yes, their muscles still hurt after a workout, but it’s a different kind of hurt…it’s a “good hurt,” as opposed to the “hellish hurt” they first felt.

Irenaeus Day

This principle holds true for the Christian proclamation of salvation. For the spiritually immature person (who we have all been at one point or another), suffering and trials are horrific, despairing, and overwhelming. But for the spiritually mature person, they see the spiritual benefit in suffering—that’s why James can say, “Rejoice in your sufferings.” That’s why the spiritually mature person will look for ways to deny himself—whether it be fasting, vows of celibacy, or consciously spending time helping the homeless—because he understands that keeping oneself familiar with suffering keeps one’s spirit on the path to full maturity in Christ. So just as the pain of the workouts are necessary if one wants to get physically fit, the pain of suffering is necessary if one is to become fully mature in Christ. There is a purpose and reason for suffering—to grow us up, and to bring us into the fullness of Christ. Suffering plays a part in our Spiritual transformation.

The Irrelevancy of a Historical Adam

The first time I ever wrestled with the historicity of Adam was twenty years ago, when I wrote a Systematic Theology paper on the doctrine of original sin in a J.I. Packer class at Regent College. It was at that time at I came to see the question of whether or not Adam was a historical person was ultimately irrelevant. Here’s why: even if somehow some historical/scientific find proved that there really was a historical Adam and Eve, it’s quite clear that the goal of Genesis 2-3 is not to “prove” it. Even if it were proven, I’d say, “Okay, so what? How does that fact change anything?”

The fact is that no single person in human history has ever been born fully mature and perfect–not even a historical Adam. As I already mentioned in an earlier post, Irenaeus shows us that the view of the early Church was that Adam and Eve were imperfect and child-like, and their sin was that in their childishness, they disobeyed God and tried to come to a knowledge of good and evil, and thus attain wisdom, before they were able to bear it. It is in that regard, therefore, that we are all “in Adam,” because we all do the same thing.

Yes, Irenaeus and probably most Christians throughout history, have assumed Adam and Eve were the first two human beings—but Irenaeus’ treatment, interpretation, and application of Genesis 2-3 was focused on how that story is our story, both as individuals and has the human race. I have to think that if Irenaeus was transported to this day and age, and it was explained to him the findings of the human genome project, and how that has shown that it is literally impossible for all of humanity to have descended from two people a mere 6,000 years ago—I have to think it would not have phased him, because he already clearly understood back in the 2nd century that Genesis 2-3 was speaking to the human condition of which we all are a part. He’d probably have the same reaction if he was shown that the sun really doesn’t go around the earth, but really the other way around. He’d probably say, “Wow! That’s amazing what you’ve been able to discover about the created order. How can anyone have a problem with that, and think that is a threat to faith in Christ?”

Though he probably assumed it, Irenaeus certainly did not obsess over the historicity of Adam. He would have no doubt looked at Ken Ham’s claims on the Answers in Genesis website, and just be mystified at Ham’s claims that Adam and Eve had some sort of perfect genome, and how if you don’t believe that, then you’re putting the Gospel in doubt. I can almost hear him say, “Ken, you’re missing the point. You’re so obsessed with trying to prove a fact that you’ve failed to see what the story of Adam and Eve is really getting at. Not only that, but your view of Adam and Eve is nearly identical with the heretics I worked so hard to expose and confront.”

Simply put, obsessing over the historicity of Adam and Eve is, I believe, a self-delusional attempt to keep Genesis 2-3 at arm’s length, and to keep it from directly challenging and speaking to our lives in the here and now. To do so is to objectify it, treat it as a fact that has to be proven and defended. Instead, we should see it as God’s revelation that speaks directly to each of us—for we are human beings, we are Adam. And in that respect, Genesis 2-3 becomes intimately relational and subjective, for it tells us who we are, it tells us why we do what we do, and it challenges us to respond and relate to God in obedience and trust.

And we know we can, and we know the goal, because we now see Christ, who is the image of the invisible God who has been revealed. Read through your New Testament through this lens, and you’ll see this view everywhere. It is inescapable. It permeates the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and the entire New Testament corpus. Irenaeus bears witness to it in his writings—and it is something we know deep in our bones, because it is that transformative salvation that we live out and in which we grow every day of our lives.

He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Phi 3:21)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:18-21)

Irenaeus of Lyons: There’s No “Plan B” in Christ–He is it, the Alpha and Omega (Part 4)

Irenaeus of Lyons: There’s No “Plan B” in Christ–He is it, the Alpha and Omega (Part 4)

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In order to understand what Irenaeus was driving at by emphasizing that Adam and Eve were children, you need to first understand that Irenaeus saw Christ as truly the Alpha and Omega of the entire creation. He saw God’s fundamental purpose for creation as being to bring all creation to fullness in Christ. That was the goal all along. The way by which God intended for humanity to “become like Him” had always been through Christ. It wasn’t like God created the world, only to be surprised that His supposedly “perfect” human beings, Adam and Eve, somehow screwed up His perfect masterpiece, and so then decided to resort to “Plan B” and sent Christ to clean up the mess.

This is an extremely important point: there is no “Plan B” with God. This creation, this history, this life we experience—this is the plan, and it always has been the plan: Christ was to be the savior of the world. Now, as Denis Minns points out, for Irenaeus and the Greek Fathers, the word “Savior” didn’t just narrowly mean “someone who pays the ransom for sinners.” It carried with it the notion of “Sanctifier.” And what does it mean to sanctify? It means to offer something up to God and to make it holy and set apart for God’s purposes.

Therefore, Irenaeus essentially said that although Adam was created in God’s image, he still was not yet “according to God’s likeness”—he still was not sanctified and made holy. He was initially child-like, naïve, and immature, and therefore needed to go through the process of life and relationship with God in order to achieve that “likeness.” Now the thing to realize is that all of that child-likeness, naiveté, and immaturity is inherently natural, it’s part of what it means to be a created being. To be created inherently means that we are not like God. He is uncreated perfection, whereas we are created as imperfect creatures, but with a purpose: to relate to God in obedience and trust so that we can forever grow into further likeness of God—and the one who makes that possible is Christ, our Savior and Sanctifier.

We will never be “perfect” in the same way God is perfect. But He has created us in His image, with the capacity to enter into a relationship with Him so that we may forever become more like Him. As Irenaeus explained, that is, and has always been, God’s plan for humanity and His creation: to create natural, imperfect creatures who have the capacity to be saved and sanctified by Christ, so as to grow into the likeness of God. Notice what Irenaeus says here:

“God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.” (Against Heresies V.22.3)

If I can put it into other words, the whole purpose of humanity and creation itself was to give something to Christ to save and sanctify. What this means is that the entirety of human history is salvation history. As Denis Minns said, [For Irenaeus], the history of humankind and the history of salvation are one and the same. This path may twist and wander through many detours, but there is no radical bifurcation…The human race was predestined in Adam, but it was predestined to come to be in the image and likeness of God” (Minns, 58-59).

The Tragedy of Genesis 3 and the “Fall”
If we understand what Irenaeus is saying about Christ and his relationship to humanity, we’ll understand that the story of Adam and Eve is not simply a story of two people way back when. The story of Adam and Eve is meant to be seen as a description of the reality of the human experience. The Adam and Eve story is my story, is your story, is our story.

The tragedy of Genesis 2-3 wasn’t that God created two perfect people who sinned, and thus fell from perfection, resulting in God resorting to some sort of “Plan B of Christ.” The tragedy was on that stemmed from childish immaturity and disobedience—namely, Adam and Eve tried to grow up too fast, and didn’t trust God to grow them up in His good time. They were indeed created in God’s image, but the point of human existence was to grow up into full maturity, into God’s likeness. Being immature as they were, they didn’t want to wait—and so they disobeyed. In that sense, Genesis 3 isn’t about the first couple’s “fall from perfection,” as it is about human immaturity, disobedience, and the inevitable mess we make of things. Simply put, Genesis 3 sums up our human experience–we all know this to be true in our own lives.

Think about it. We are born immature, naïve, innocent and childish—of course…we’re children! When our parents try to teach us patience and wisdom, and try to guide us into maturity, what do we do? We don’t want to wait. We want the “freedom” of adulthood right now. And so, when our parents say, “Now you’re in high school, curfew is 10:00 pm on school nights,” and we find ourselves out with friends, we want to prove to our parents that we’re adults…and so we disobey and stay out until 11:30 pm. And what does that act of disobedience really show? That we’re mature? Absolutely not.

In actuality, it shows just the opposite—that precisely because we haven’t obeyed, that is evidence that we are still woefully self-centered, immature, and foolish. Consequently, punishment ensues, and distrust is sown. Our little disobedient act gave us a real knowledge of “good and evil.” Our eyes certainly are opened—and what we see is how foolish and sinful we really are, and how much hard work it will take to grow up and regain the trust of our parents, and how much work it will take to truly grow up and become mature adults.

The Sin of Adam and Eve: Inevitable? Part of God’s Plan?
As strange as it may sound, that tragedy can also be seen as an inevitability, and actually part of God’s plan. For how else does one gain wisdom, knowledge, and maturity, if one doesn’t step out and miserably fail first? The reality is that wisdom, knowledge, and maturity only come about after a series of steps and inevitable failures. Consider what Irenaeus says here about Adam (and us by extension):

He learns from experience that disobeying God, which robs him of life, is evil, and so he never attempts it… But how would he have discerned the good without knowing its opposite? For firsthand experience is more certain and reliable than conjecture… The mind acquires the knowledge of the good through the experience of both, and becomes more firmly committed to preserving it by obeying God. First, by penance, he rejects disobedience, because it is bitter and evil. Then he realizes what it really is – the opposite of goodness and sweetness, and so he is never tempted to taste disobedience to God. But if you repudiate this knowledge of both, this twofold faculty of discernment, unwittingly you destroy your humanity” (Against Heresies IV.39.1).

This has been the way God has planned it all along. He created immature and imperfect creatures, who were nevertheless created in His image, with the capacity and potential to enter into a relationship with Him, and thereby grow into His likeness. At the same time, He knew we would disobey, and thus invite suffering into our lives. But still, all along the plan was that through our sin, and the suffering and pain that comes with it, God, through Christ, had meant it all for our ultimate perfection, to where we “grow up in Christ,” and become ever more transformed into the likeness of God. Consider what Irenaeus says here.

How could man ever have known that he was weak and mortal by nature, whereas God was immortal and mighty if he had not had experience of both? To discover his weakness through suffering is not in any sense evil; on the contrary, it is good not to have an erroneous view of one’s own nature… The experience of both [good and evil] has produced in man the true knowledge of God and of man, and increased his love for God” (Against Heresies V.3.1).

I think reading and understanding Genesis 2-3 through that lens makes a whole lot more sense that the way I had always been taught to read it, as if it were literal history about the first two people in the world. That story (let’s admit it) never made much sense: These two people are naked, yet somehow don’t realize it until they eat a particular fruit that God had somehow not wanted them to eat? And somehow that particular tree’s fruit gives one knowledge of good and evil, but God doesn’t want them to eat it, because it will make them wise? And these two naked people are perfect, but listen to a talking snake who deceives them into eating the forbidden fruit? If they were so perfect, how were they deceived so easily? And because of that one act of disobedience, that’s why we have tornados, tsunamis, and hurricanes?

Yes, that’s an odd story if one tries to interpret as literal history. Yet if one listens to what Irenaeus says, one realizes that the story is spelling out a fundamental truth regards humanity as a whole, and each one of us as individual human beings. If you realize the symbolism going on in the story, you realize it is saying something very profound about human existence. That is, I submit, what we should take away from it.

Think about the times in your life when you’ve tried to be wise before your time, when you were deceived, when you reached out for some “forbidden fruit,” when you felt shame and guilt for doing something you knew was wrong, and when you experienced broken relationships because of something stupid you did. Read Genesis 2-3 with your story in mind, and you’ll find that Genesis 2-3 speaks directly to you. Despite the pain and suffering that has come about through your bad decision, God has promised to work through you, the woman’s offspring, to eventually crush the head of the serpent.

Irenaeus Day

Now, there’s much more going on in those chapters than what I’ve briefly touched upon in this post, but hopefully my point is clear: Genesis 2-3 tells us the start of God’s plan, and highlights how God is able to incorporate into His plan even the immature and disobedient choices of humanity. And then, in the New Testament, that plan is fully revealed, where we find Christ, taking all that pain and suffering down into death, and showing us that it is through that suffering and death that resurrection and life comes.

Tomorrow, some concluding thoughts about Irenaeus, what this means for the Christian life, and yes, how it figures into the “creation/evolution debate.”

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