Confronting Our Fears, Part 3: Losing Our Savior
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19, ESV)
At the end of my last post, I suggested that as Christians, we have to take seriously Paul’s clear treatment of Adam as a real person rooted in human history. Furthermore, Paul seems to have thought that an historical Adam was important not for its own sake, but for the logic of salvation through Christ Jesus. How could an historical, literal Jesus solve the very real problem of sin that resulted from the rebellious act of a mythical, literary Adam?
While that question makes a lot of sense on the surface, are these two figures as closely linked as I, and many others, think they are? Before I address whether the connection between Adam and Jesus is iron-clad or tenuous, though, I need to briefly address a different common objection heard by evolutionary creationists: If we accept that the cosmology and anthropology of Genesis 1-3 isn’t accurate from a modern scientific perspective, then we can’t trust the remainder of Scripture. Are we truly on a slippery slope toward rejecting everything else in Scripture, to include the necessity of Jesus’ role as humanity’s redeemer? I don’t believe so, and here’s why.
As an evolutionary creationist and a Christian, I hold the Bible to be sacred literature, and I identify fully with the faith community that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures not only shaped, but which also shaped the content of Scripture. As a truth-seeker, I desire to understand what the text is truly saying as much as any other member of our shared faith. I want to read the Bible for all it is worth, and that requires taking the time to determine the author’s original intent for every passage of Scripture, including various passages within the same book that were written utilizing different genres. In doing so, we discover that the life of Jesus as presented in the four Gospels is nothing like the etiological myths encountered in Genesis 1-11; we can safely treat the Gospels as a reliable source for knowing how the early Church viewed the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose very existence is also documented in extra-biblical literature.
Skeptics of evolutionary creationism may accept that the faith-filled life of a theistic evolutionist is evidence that the Bible still wields moral authority in his or her life, and even that he or she affirms the historicity of the God-man Jesus. But there is often still considerable concern over how evolutionary creationists can affirm the historical assertion that Jesus’ death upon the Roman cross was necessary if Adam truly never lived and breathed. If Adam never lived (so the argument goes), sin is illusory, atonement for mankind’s sin is unnecessary, and Jesus’ death is all the more tragic. Because the person of Jesus and His sacrifice are so central to the Christian faith, this is a valid fear.
However, I believe this fear can be dissected carefully and ultimately overcome once one acknowledges that, even without an original source and propagator of sin (i.e., Adam), the sinfulness of mankind (1) remains universally observable and repeatable, (2) can be explained as a result of our status as a created species with free will and a genetic predisposition to sin inherited from our ancestors, and (3) is still recognized as an inherent moral weakness that needs correction and redemption (if a divine lawgiver is presumed). All this, even if Adam and Eve were not historical persons co-complicit in an historical “fall.” In fact, one could argue that evolutionary biology provides an even more powerful paradigm for explaining the source of mankind’s sinful nature in our day than the biblical text does.
Many evolutionary creationists are convinced that our inherited evolutionary baggage—borne of an instinctual (and once necessary) need to preserve one’s self by means of selfish acts—still requires divine intervention in order to allow us to altruistically transcend what Paul calls the “flesh” (Rom 7:18; 8:5-9). We still need the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us on a sanctifying path to make us more than merely human and increasingly like the Logos of whom John the Baptist testified (John 1:6-8).1
An historical Adam
One may argue that Paul treated Adam as an historical person. Yes, I believe Paul certainly did; but this is to be expected and readily admitted.2 To believe that God created Adam approximately 4,000 years before Paul’s day was an integral part of the Jews’ religious heritage. Paul’s belief that Adam actually existed is a natural extension of his rigid upbringing in the Pharisaical tradition. Nevertheless, Paul was not attempting to make an anthropological point and arguing for the necessity of a literal Adam; he was making a soteriological one and defending the necessity for a literal Savior. Even if Paul knew better by exclusive revelation from the Holy Spirit, Paul’s appropriation of Adam’s original act of rebellion is, of course, perfectly acceptable since, regardless of sin’s “material” origin, the solution to mankind’s sin problem remains Jesus’ sacrificial act—an act of love that requires a particular context for it to “make sense” to those to whom Paul preached.
Anticipating the claim that Paul, an inspired apostle, would not have used the rebellious act of a mythical person to justify the loving act of an historical one, I can only appeal to the argument that theological truths need not be couched in the dry, straightforward manner of modern journalism. God can (and did!) inspire the authors of Scripture to express His truths through a variety of methods: myth, legend, epic, poetry, wisdom literature, historical narrative, gospel, pastoral letters, and apocalyptic literature. Jesus’ parables even featured actors who never existed and utilized historical fiction to press his points. Sometimes truth is best communicated through means that accommodate our current paradigms (as inaccurate as they may be) and meet us where we are. All genres that illuminate truth are the “best kinds,” and God uses story as well as history to illuminate His truth.
Next time, we’ll continue our exploration of fears that I and other evangelicals have about considering evolutionary creation by looking at the fear of losing face.
1. See Daryl P. Domning and Monika K. Hellwig, Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006).
2. For other possible ways to understand Paul’s understanding of Adam, see Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012).