Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 3

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February 11, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity

Today's entry was written by Ross Hastings. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 3

This series is based on Ross Hastings’ presentation at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. In part 2, Hastings explored Ephesians 4:1-6, a foundational text for our thinking about Christian unity. Here in part 3, Hastings applies these lessons to the potentially divisive topic of origins, and he explains the importance of emphasizing the core faith that unites all Christians.

The complete essay can be found here.

There are two aspects to this exposition of Ephesians 4:1-6 that are relevant for the science and theology of origins:

United in the faith

We are, I trust, united theologically in the main things that are the plain things—that is, around the essentials of the faith which are developed and more fully expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), which includes the affirmation “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” without saying how!

That God created must unite us as we dialogue over how God created.

There is much diversity in the history of the church as to how the world was created. Augustine, for example, believed in fiat creation, but was convinced that Genesis 1 could not be literally interpreted for the simple reason that a twenty-four hour day was too long. Why would God need twenty-four hours to create the animals if they were created ex nihilo or even out of other dust?1

It may come as a shock to many in the Reformed tradition that the theologian best known for his defense of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures may also have been open to creation by means of divinely supervised evolution.2 I am speaking of B.B. Warfield. To make any viewpoint as to the “how” of creation a matter for determining Christian fellowship is frankly divisive and sectarian or uncatholic.

Whilst we may be convinced we have the best theory of origins at present, and whilst we may be convinced that we are the most intellectually honest or scientifically rigorous, or that we understand the genre and history and authorial intent of Genesis 1 most appropriately—important as these factors are—I venture that the level of certainty due to the nature of the science and the hermeneutics and the theology in this field, is a level of magnitude below that of the creedal assertion that God created and that he in his providence is sovereign over and at work creatively and redemptively in creation.

We Protestants have enough divisions and schisms as it is—we don’t need another one based on the speculative matter of how God created. Rather we must unite on the basis of the fact that the triune God is the Creator. There isn’t a viewpoint represented in the dialogue on origins that doesn’t have some problems associated with it, problems that need to be worked through. Acute curiosity, robust research and careful scholarship in these areas are consonant with the creational or cultural mandate and the command to love God with our minds.

Dialogue between persons of different persuasions is healthy and good—in fact necessary for advancement in the field. But it requires an irenic and peaceful spirit along with an inquiring mind. I feel a particular need to exhort against accusations in the midst of this dialogue that disparage a person’s integrity with regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. These “how” discussions between serious minded evangelical believers are not about the authority and inspiration of Scripture, but on appropriate interpretation of Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative as and only as they are properly interpreted.

Borrowing terminology from Jamie Smith3, another way to say this is that we must distinguish between theology type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is confessional theology, which is pre- and supra-theoretical and which must inform all the disciplines of knowledge, including science. Theology type 2 is more theoretical and speculative.

The first is the rich and unambiguous confession of the church’s faith down through the centuries, expressed in creeds like Ephesians 4 and the ecumenical Creeds rooted in the revelation of God in His Word and affirmed by the historic church. This theology should shape Christian theoretical investigation of the world, including science, and indeed theology type 2. It is when Christians elevate their work in the theology type 2 area to the type 1 category that damage is done to unity and catholicity and therefore the mission of the church. Of course theology type 2 will always be interacting with, shaped by, and subject to theology type 1.

One of the reasons why I devote time to this issue is that it is a very important for missional reasons. First, because our unity in Christ, as the body of Christ around essential issues, is hugely influential for our mission, as Jesus expounds it in his great prayer in John 17, and as I have stated, I feel compelled to call the church to unity on the essential tenet of Christian faith that God is Creator and that he created the universe. There are times when I am tempted to write off others of a persuasion that seems to me unscientific and/or hermeneutically naïve, but I cannot.

The rub here is that commitment to cherished principles comes into conflict when this happens: on the one hand, a commitment to a process of seeking knowledge in this area through the use of fearless reason and research, albeit grounded in faith and tempered by faith and creedal commitments; on the other hand, a commitment to the unity of the body of Christ grounded in the essentials of the historic, orthodox, Trinitarian creeds of the church. This latter principle must win for the serious scientist Christian.

Of course, that immediately distances us from the secular scientific community, who often may not understand that they too have faith commitments that influence reason. It will certainly distance us from evolutionism as an ideology or completely dysteleological (goalless) evolution.

We cannot be one with people of this persuasion in an ecclesial sense, though we will still engage lovingly and humbly with them as image bearers and scientists. We must also see them as people designated by God for the new humanity in Christ. But we are speaking here of an organic and creedal basis for unity that on the one hand includes every Christian devoted to Christ and the essentials of the faith, irrespective of their views on Genesis 1, and that, on the other hand, delimits perspectives outside of this relationship and these commitments.

On these grounds, I would suggest the following very practical exhortations for maintaining the unity and advancing Christ’s mission through his church:

  • Terminating the positions of professors of colleges or seminaries who express perceived problematic views on origins whilst still committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture and these Creeds, and indeed to the denominational or widely evangelical distinctives of these, is sectarian;

  • Establishing schools where teachers or even students are required to profess one view in this arena is counter to the mission of Christ and therefore sectarian;

  • Accusing opponents of compromising the Deity of Christ publicly on the Internet because they may differ on origins of creation is malicious and a move that grieves the heart of our Great High Priest and his desire for his church to be one, that the world might know him through it. It is after all intended to be the one new humanity, the harbinger of the kingdom of God—the community in which persons can dialogue well and even agree to disagree about non-essential matters.

  • Caricaturing the position of others or falsely representing them is grievous to the Spirit, and inhibits the mission of the church.

  • Uninviting preachers who are committed to evangelical orthodoxy because we discover they hold one of these views in this arena of secondary theology, grieves the Spirit also.

But there is a second concern of a missional kind. It has to do with how we present the gospel. Making literal six-day creationism a condition for saving faith or conversion is adding to the gospel in a way that has possibly been the greatest stumbling block in the way of thinking people for over a century since this viewpoint became popular in American evangelicalism. The Church has all too often buried its head in the sand with respect to scientific reality and we can ill afford a repetition of the crisis that occurred in the wake of the Galileo affair.

Notes

1. St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J.; 2 vols.; New York: Newman Press, 1982), 1.125-50.
2. In his class lectures, Warfield comments, "I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. The sole passage which appears to bar the way is the very detailed account of the creation of Eve ... We may as well admit that the account of the creation of Eve is a very serious bar in the way of a doctrine of creation by evolution." Warfield was clear that the origin of the human soul could not be accounted for by evolution. His position in sum seems to be that he did not consider evolutionary theory convincing but stayed open to the possibility that it might be true. "The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & wh [??]. does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, &c) will entail a great reconstruction of Xian doctrine, & a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the occasional [crossed out, sic.] constant oversight of God in the whole process, & his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new ie, something not included even in posse in preceding conditions, -- we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Xians in the ordinary orthodox sense." Warfield, Lectures on Anthropology (Dec. 1888), Speer Library, Princeton University. Quoted in David N. Livingstone, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 118.
3. James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).


Ross Hastings is an associate professor of Pastoral Theology at Regent College, Vancouver British Columbia. Hastings teaches in the areas of the theology and spirituality of mission, pastoral theology and ethics. He has served as a pastor in Kingston, ON, Burnaby, BC, and Montreal, QC, and for eleven years as the senior pastor of Peace Portal Alliance Church in White Rock, BC. He has earned two PhDs, one in organo-metallic chemistry at Queen’s University (ON), and the other in theology at St. Andrew’s University, in his native Scotland. His theological dissertation is a comparative study of the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards and Karl Barth and is in the publication process.

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Gregory - #50936

February 12th 2011

This might re-direct on the main topic a bit, but I’d like some clarification from David O. on this, if he doesn’t mind.

“None of this requires belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.” - David O.

I agree that it does not *require* it. But I think you’ll agree that it is a *logical* (sure, then whose logic, if we are not all relativists?) conclusion from reading the Texts, that for a coherent belief in the Abrahamic religions, there *was* a ‘real, historical’ (single - does it matter how you get from zero to one in this case?) fall & a ‘literal’ (by this I prefer to say ‘real, historical’) Adam, which is why that is also the ‘orthodox’ view among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and many mainline Protestant Christian denominations too.

Are we on the same page with that, even as you quite respectfully and competently create space for a dialogue of ‘higher things’ than simply squabbling about the precise historicity of early Genesis?


dopderbeck - #50939

February 12th 2011

Martin—I think you’re wrong on numerous counts.  It seems to me that most of these mistakes reflect an assumption that only a certain variety of Reformed theology is “orthodox.”

Mormons cannot confess the Apostle’s Creed because they do not believe in the Trinity.

A belief that sin is consciously chosen rebellion and not merely a part of our “created humanity” does not require belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

What Christ saves us from is not, “first and foremost, our condemned status as guilty sinners in Adam,” but rather it is rather from our own sins, for which we are each personally responsible, as well as from the condition of humanity resulting from our common humanity (that is, we all inevitably sin and we all inevitably die).  None of this requires belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

Paul’s anathema was not concerning a particular formulation of of justification as a doctrinal matter but against practices that excluded Gentiles from the community by denying the efficacy of Christ.

It seems to me that you would exclude both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics from your definition of “orthodoxy.”  Correct?


dopderbeck - #50958

February 12th 2011

Martin—you are wrong on numerous counts.  It seems to me that most of these mistakes reflect an assumption that only a certain variety of Reformed theology is “orthodox.”

Mormons cannot confess the Apostle’s Creed because they do not believe in the Trinity.

A belief that sin is consciously chosen rebellion and not merely a part of our “created humanity” does not require belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

What Christ saves us from is not, “first and foremost, our condemned status as guilty sinners in Adam,” but rather it is rather it is “first and foremost” from our own sins, for which we are each personally responsible, as well as from the condition of humanity resulting from our common humanity (that is, we all inevitably sin and we all inevitably die).  None of this requires belief in a single historical fall or a literal Adam.

Paul’s anathema was not concerning a particular formulation of justification as a doctrinal matter but against practices that excluded Gentiles from the community by denying the efficacy of Christ.

It seems to me that you must exclude both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics from your definition of “orthodoxy.”  Correct?


Cal - #50970

February 13th 2011

Substitutionary atonement put too much focus on the legal terms used by Paul and saps some of the absolute love and heroic victory that pours out of Cavalry. I found much more truth in the “Christus Victor” view, easily summed up in Jesus’ mission to “set the captives free”. What do you guys think?


nedbrek - #50987

February 13th 2011

Cal, the problem I see with anything beside SA, is “what are we being set free from” and “in what way”?


Jon Garvey - #50992

February 13th 2011

@Cal - #50970

Resisting the temptation to answer with justifications for my own views (on justification) it seems to me that Biologos Mission Statement is to show thew compatibility of evolution with orthodox doctrine - or actually primarily with Evangelical doctrine.

It’s notable that there there is a relatively low proportion of posters here (on the pro-evolution side) who subscribe fully to the usual formulations of that - which is just the way it goes, as it’s an open forum.

But personally I don’t think that mission is well-advanced by bringing the theological debates *within” evangelicalism to the centre of the table here. What is the point of establishing a Biologos consensus that says, “you really have to embrace a post-modern (or open-theological, or liberation, or marxist, or feminist) understanding of the Bible, or dismiss mainstream theories of atonement, in order to be able to accept evolution.” To do that is to invite great swathes of the target audience to rejecting evolution because it’s (allegedly) incompatible with science.

(...)


Jon Garvey - #50993

February 13th 2011

That’s why I prefer discussion that makes it possible for Evangelicals who hold to penal substitution, Catholics who accept Papal definitions of soul, Orthodox who accept the Genesis account of Adam as history, etc, to seat their faith comfortably with the science, and to “exclude” only those to whom the arguments about old earth, natural selection, etc, won’t wash.

IMHO the arguments about indiviidual doctrinal preferences can then be debated in the theological arena by Christians who, at least, are agreed on the relationship between science and faith.

The question, then, is not whether penal substitution is orthodox (and I for one believe it is one of the major strands of Biblical teaching on the atonement), but whether it is compatible with the science. I am convinced it is.


dopderbeck - #51005

February 13th 2011

Essential orthodoxy is that which Christians of various traditions and at various times have historically confessed in common.  Nearly all Christian theologians recognize that this is summarized in the Nicene Creed (and the Apostle’s Creed).  On the basis of essential orthodoxy we can recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and work together in good will.  I take this to be Dr. Hastings’ central point.

Many other things, of course, flow from essential orthodoxy and are important.  The authority of scripture and the implications of its inspiration, the precise nature of the atonement, the existence and nature of the Church, whether the universality of human sin requires a “literal fall” – all of these are very important questions, which flow from the basic creedal affirmations.  And it is absolutely true that wrestling with evolution requires us to wrestle with how to bring these truths to bear on what we believe we are learning from science, and that this is not always easy.

But with respect to all of these things, we can disagree on the details and still hold to a basic unity and goodwill based on our common commitment to the faith expressed in the ecumenical creeds.


dopderbeck - #51027

February 13th 2011

My goodness—I’ve been mistakenly putting up multiple posts!! I’m so sorry!! I wasn’t doing that on purpose.  I didn’t realize they were going up there!!


dopderbeck - #51028

February 13th 2011

Gregory—yes, I personally believe Adam was a real person because I think too many doctrinal and hermeneutical issues, including many of the ones Martin and Ben raised, become too complex and difficult otherwise.  And, so long as we don’t insist on a strict genetic monogenism, I don’t see why the science compels a different conclusion.

But I will not say that someone is not “orthodox’ merely because they do not believe in a literal Adam.  It’s entirely possible to hold to ecumenical orthodoxy and even to contested things like the infallibility of scripture and the satisfiaction theory of the atonement and original sin while taking Adam to be symbolic.  More difficult, I think, but not impossible.

IMHO, the question is how do we understand the classical loci of historic orthodoxy in our context.  If we know with a high degre of certainty that some specific theories or formulations don’t work in light of current scientific knowledge, then we need to work on our specific theories and formulations, within the “centered set” or “generous orthodoxy” of the Creed.  That at least is my thought about method.


dopderbeck - #51029

February 13th 2011

Gregory—BTW on Catholic and Orthodox understandings—in my understanding the “orthodoxy” here is somewhat fuzzy.  There are some statements that make it seem essential. There are many theologians in each tradition who say it isn’t.  And I understand that this is even more the case in the EO tradition which is more open to metaphor and non-literalism.  Here, for example, is a web page of the Orthodox Church in America advocating a non-literal view of Adam:  http://www.oca.org/CHRIST-life-article.asp?SID=6&ID=118&MONTH=November&YEAR=2006


Martin Rizley - #51145

February 15th 2011

Dopderbeck,  I do not deny that Christ came to save us from our personal sins.  But it seems to me that it diminishes the biblical teaching on salvation to suggest that we need ONLY to be saved from the particular sins (plural) that we commit and not also from sin (singular), which is the power that holds us captive in our natural condition as descendants of Adam.  The Bible is very clear that human beings are universally “under sin” by nature, held captive by a power from which they need to be set free (Romans 3:9; see also John 8:34ff).  They are not in this condition because God created man that way, but because men fell into sin through an historical event.  Therefore,  very first thing Jesus does when He saves us is to bring us out from our captivity to this ruling power of sin, a decisive, irreversible action by which we pass from being spiritually dead in sin to being spiritually alive in Christ (John 5:24; Eph. 21-10).  He also takes away our condemned status in Adam, which we inherited from our first father as the result of his one sin, by which we were all “constituted” sinners.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #51147

February 15th 2011

Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 5:18-19.  For any writer of the Biologos website to deny this truth is simply unacceptable, for that would be to edit the Bible’s inspired teaching on salvation itself—something no mere man has a right to do.  The Bible says that through the one sin of the one man all were condemned and constituted sinners.  Whoever would dispute that is not taking issue with men, but with God.  Because we were constituted sinners in Adam and condemned in Adam, the first thing God does when He saves us is to constitute us righteous in Christ by justifying us in Chrit—declaring us righteous in Christ on the ground of His obedience alone and through faith in Him alone.  Consequently, we are no longer condemned, but justified.  Out of that justification flows our daily deliverance from particular sins through the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives in us.  Thus, salvation is much greater than being delivered from this or that particular sin—which by itself could never give me the assurance of being saved tomorrow.  If I have been saved from sin as a ruling power, however, and have passed from death to life, however, then I know that there is no condemnation for me in Christ—now or ever.


dopderbeck - #51165

February 15th 2011

Martin—I agree with much of what you say here, and I didn’t say we are saved ONLY from our individual sins.  I was only responding to your comment that we are saved “first and foremost” from Adam’s sin. That comment, it seems to me, directly contradicts the Biblical witness about final judgment, e.g. Rev. 20:12:  “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”  Not that it does not say “the dead were judged according to what Adam did.”

Nevertheless, I agree entrirely that sin is universal and pervasive and that salvation properly understood is also universal and pervasive.


dopderbeck - #51167

February 15th 2011

con’td—The argument of Romans 5, and indeed all of Romans, is obviously vital here, and it is dense and difficult to follow.  How is it that the sin of the one represents all our sin?  How is it that we are “made sinners” through Adam’s disobedience (Rom. 5:19)?  How is it that the “gift” of salvation follows “many trespasses”—not just Adam’s (Rom. 5:16)?  And if Paul’s point primarily is about the universal efficacy of Christ’s victory over the universality of sin, does Paul’s use and reinterpretation of the Gen. 2-4 narrative require that narrative to have originally been in some sense literally historical?  (Paul does, BTW, significantly reinterpret or at least amplify the Gen. 1-4 narrative ).  These are incredibly difficult exegetical and hermeneutical questions.  Charity and wisdom suggest that we not easily accuse others of simply denying scripture here.


dopderbeck - #51168

February 15th 2011

cont’d

The Augustinian answer is not the only possible answer to these questions.  It’s not fair at all to suggest that everyone who understands this differently than Augustine is “edit[ing] the Bible’s inspired teaching on salvation itself.”  Again:  do you think the Eastern Orthodox, who take a rather different approach than Augustine, are all denying scripture?

All of this said, as I’ve said in this thread and in other places, I agree that de-historicizing Adam creates significant problems, isn’t necessary, and should be avoided.  I agree with you that, however we come to synthesize the truths of scripture and the truths of science, we can’t dismiss this important and difficult Romans 5 text.


Martin Rizley - #51313

February 16th 2011

dopderbeck, 
You write, “the Augustinian answer is not the only possible answer to these questions.”  By the same reasoning, one could say that heart disease is not the only possible diagnosis of chest pains.  There may be other diagnoses, but on thing is certain: in any particular case, there can only be one RIGHT diagnosis of chest pains.  All other diagnoses are simply wrong; and a wrong diagnosis of chest pains is not inconsquetional; it may well be a matter of life and death.  Likewise, if the Augustinian diagnosis of man’s spiritual condition after the fall of Adam is correct, all other diagnoses are wrong, and therefore, incompatible with biblical Christianity.  Keep in mind that Pelagianism (and even semi-Pelagianism at one point)  was condemned by the church as heresy—not as minor, inconsequential deviations of the truth.  I personally believe the Bible’s teaching on man’s radical depravity since the fall of Adam is shatteringly clear, and we resist that teaching to our own peril.  I follow Luther in this in regarding in calling Erasmus and his like to task for their shallow, optimistic view of human nature.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #51314

February 16th 2011

The Bible could not be clearer in its teaching that the “natural man” is radically depraved, with a spiritually darkened mind, a will that is enslaved to sin, and a heart that is inclined to evil.  “There is none righteous, no, not one. . .there is none who seeks for God.”  Any teaching that ‘waters down’ this exceedingly dark view of the natural man and his spiritual capacities really undermines the biblical gospel; and if people insist on clinging to such watered down views, I find it hard to see how they can avoid the charge of denying the teaching of Scripture.  On this point, by the way, Calvin and Wesley were in closer agreement than is commonly thought.  Wesley affirmed the doctrine of total depravity and denied that fallen human beings in Adam have any natural freedom of will in the spiritual realm.  Human beings stand in need of God’s supernatural previent grace to lift them out of a condition of being dead in sin.  As far as I know, Wesley would have affirmed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that any departure from the “solas” of the Reformation represents a serious perversion of the biblical gospel


Gregory - #51321

February 16th 2011

Hi David O.

Thanks for your clarifications.

You wrote: “yes, I personally believe Adam was a real person because I think too many doctrinal and hermeneutical issues…become too complex and difficult otherwise.  And, so long as we don’t insist on a strict genetic monogenism, I don’t see why the science compels a different conclusion.”

Yes, we are in agreement, “so long as we don’t insist on a strict genetic monogenism.” Now who was the question addressed to recently that contended “most biologists” are polygenists? In the busy days, I forget. But it would be interesting to hear BioLogos voices on this question: ‘polygenist, monogenist or other?’

But your thoughts provoke more…

You wrote: “I will not say that someone is not “orthodox’ merely because they do not believe in a literal Adam.”

Would you call them ‘unorthodox’ rather than simply pausing to call them ‘orthodox’ or is this just word play?

To me, the “Orthodox Christian” view is ‘real, historical A&E.’ (or ‘literal A&E’, as acceptable by USAmerican cultural convention.) Anything else is by definition ‘unorthodox.’ 

We agree about ‘centred set’ & ‘general orthodoxy.’ More light from the East could help here, even in metaphors.


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