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Not All Doctrines Are Equal—Configuring Adam and Eve

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February 17, 2014 Tags: Christian Unity, Evolution & Christian Faith project, Problem of Evil
Not All Doctrines Are Equal—Configuring Adam and Eve

Today's entry was written by Benno van den Toren. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Recent developments in the science of human evolution raise important questions for our Christian understanding of what it means to be human. What do these findings mean for our understanding of the idea that we are created in the image of God? For our understanding of original sin, or how evil came into the world?

I feel greatly privileged to think through these questions as a member of the Oxford-based ‘Configuring Adam and Eve’ team that is part of the wider BioLogos ‘Evolution and Christian Faith’ project. If I am honest, I am not only thrilled to be part of a group of scientists, philosophers, and theologians thinking about some of the recent discoveries and hypotheses about the development of the human species, I am also scared. I do not yet know where this will lead. My faith has grown around a certain understanding of human uniqueness and a historic Fall. As a systematic thinker and theologian, I resonate with the analysis of C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (2011) who claims that the Christian understanding of redemption seems to be intrinsically bound up with a particular understanding of the Fall.

I can see some ways in which these new evolutionary discoveries may be integrated with core Christian commitments, but I am far from certain what this will look like, and this uncertainty does create a sense of unease for me. Yet I believe we need to resist the temptation to run to quick conclusions, either by digging our heels in the sand defending classic solutions or by presenting new ideas as the new orthodoxy. There are historic considerations that warn us from jumping to quick conclusions. We have learned from past paradigm-shifting moments in history, such as those associated with Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Freud, that it often takes generations before theologians and the Christian community arrive at settled opinions on whether and how revolutionary ideas have implications for our understanding of the Gospel and of how God works in the world.

Neither do we need to jump to quick solutions, for our faith is in the crucified, risen, and living Christ and not in any specific understanding of how all that squares with every aspect of our lives and of what we know or think we know. Sometimes, out of fear or some sense of being required to defend our position, Church leaders and teachers have hastily set up a boundary marker around some doctrinal theory which they have confused as a core doctrinal issue. When it later became apparent that these lines were too hastily drawn and could be crossed, the crossing of those boundaries brought the Christian faith into disrepute. The faith had become too closely associated with for example a geocentric universe which had been defended as the only biblical position. It is our calling to bring every aspect of our lives under the authority of Christ and all our thoughts captive to Christ, but it is equally evident that this is an ongoing journey. This is not only the case in our daily struggles to live holy lives – or even to know what this means in the complex world in which we live. This is equally the case when we strive to bring ever more areas of our culture and scientific thinking to the obedience of our Creator.

One tool that may help us in this effort of remaining faithful to the Gospel while open to the challenges we face is the realization that all our doctrinal commitments aren’t equally authoritative. The Early Church has given certain doctrines a special status by marking them out as ‘dogmas.’ A dogma, such as the belief that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, is critical to the Christian faith, because our salvation stands or falls with this truth. The Christian community has said that in our reflection on the person of Jesus Christ, we need to respect certain boundaries: we should always guard the conviction that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. These are, however, boundaries, and they do not intend to give an authoritative description of how we should picture the person of Christ and conceive of the relationship between his two natures in more detail. Theologians have in fact proposed a number of models of how we might conceive of this relationship. Some have talked about the communicatio idiomatum, the sharing of the characteristics between the two natures of Christ. Others have used the model of kenosis or self-emptying: the divine Son laid down his divine powers and prerogatives to live within the limits of human existence.

Our respect for these dogmatic boundaries and for biblical teaching (or ‘doctrine’) does therefore not stand or fall with our acceptance of certain doctrinal theories of how we should conceive of the person of Christ. We may exchange one theory for a better one. We can even hold on to the basic biblical doctrines without any theory at hand. My belief in the humanity or the divinity of Christ does not depend on such a theory. This is not a retreat to obscurantism. You do not need to have a good theory of sound to know that sound is real. You do not need a theory of depression in order to recognise it and to know that it is real. You do not need to deny the reality of love, because it is very hard to formulate an adequate theory of love. Most theories of love I have come across fall short of the reality they seek to describe—and sometimes we need multiple models to help us understand different aspects of the reality we are exploring.

It seems to me that some Christians’ initial defensive posture toward evolutionary science is caused by the fact that we do not always know how to rate our doctrinal commitments appropriately. We rightly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and entirely trustworthy, but we associate that idea directly with a certain theory of how inspiration works and how the human words in the Scriptures can also be the Word of God. When our theory receives criticism, we feel that our deeper doctrinal convictions are under attack.

We believe the doctrine that humankind is different from the rest of the created world because it is created in the image of God and has a special covenantal relationship with God. We may associate this idea with one of a number of doctrinal theories that are currently on offer, for example, the theory that the human being is the only animal with a spiritual soul. There are, however, other theories that understand the image of God primarily in relational terms. Only human beings are created in the image of God because God has invited or called them in a covenantal relationship with him. These different theories will of course face different challenges when considering evolutionary science. When one theory appears inadequate, we may need to look for a different one, but we do not necessarily need to abandon the faith and doctrine that we are unique because we are created in the image of God.

Knowing that all my doctrinal commitments aren’t equally central to my faith helps me personally to find the intellectual and existential space I need to deal with some of the leading theories on human evolution. I realize that some doctrines are worth fighting for much more than others. Some doctrines are indeed essential for safeguarding salvation. Without God being the Creator, for example, there can be no salvation in the Christian sense. If matter is intrinsically evil, as the Gnostics in the Early Church believed, we can only be saved from our physical existence, but there can be no salvation of this material world itself. Yet, other convictions may be more adequately viewed as doctrinal theories: they are efforts at explaining the reality of God which we encounter in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. Our faith does not of course depend on our ability to explain this reality any more than we can only believe in light if we have an adequate scientific theory explaining it.

Some of the recent debates about human evolution may indeed demand adjustment, maybe significant adjustment, of my theoretical understanding of how—for example—original sin works. But this doctrine has always been a conundrum. It is strongly confirmed by experience (particularly for those of us who have tried to raise children) and at the same time, it’s one of the most difficult doctrines to understand (how can we square inheritance and responsibility?). My recognition that we are all enslaved to sin and in need of a Saviour is not necessarily linked to one specific doctrinal theory –not even to my ability to formulate any theory at all. The interface between current evolutionary findings with our Christian doctrines such as original sin does indeed create tensions. Distinguishing between what the Bible and the church teach concerning the human conditions and alternative and sometimes competing doctrinal theories that help us make sense of this reality may give us the conceptual space we need to engage with these issues.


Benno van den Toren is Professor of Intercultural Theology at the Protestant Theological University (Groningen, the Netherlands). Before coming to Groningen, he taught in French-speaking Africa and at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he is a contributor to the Oxford Christian Mind programme. He is Project Co-Leader of “Configuring Adam and Eve”, a research project funded by BioLogos, which explores the interface between the biological evolution of the human species and Christian theological anthropology.

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dcscccc . - #84548

February 17th 2014

about the evolution-creation debate. the evolutionist always says that a watch need a designer because it cant self rplicat. so if we will find a self replicat watch we need to say that is made by itself

scientist even find a motor in bacteria called bacterial flagellum:


and we know that a motor is evidence for design. even if its very small.

Lou Jost - #84551

February 17th 2014

Benno, I appreciate your willingness to push your boundaries, but I cannot understand why you simultaneously wall off certain doctrines from examination. For example, you say “We rightly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and entirely trustworthy.” Even if you are sure that your god is real, and even if you are sure that Jesus rose from the dead, it would still be rational to question the assumption that the bible is authoritative and entirely trustworthy. We know it can’t have been dictated by god, since it contains contradictions and errors. So why not embrace that and allow that the bible has cultural influences that may obscure its message (assuming, as you do, that it really had a divine component)? The moment you recognize this, you greatly increase your interpretational options. Of course, this frightens many people….

Andy and Jen Rutkowski - #84552

February 17th 2014

I applaud this effort and am very interested in what comes out of this project.

Lou, I understand your concern and share them to some extent.  My only thought is that the questions you ask are a bit beyond the scope of this task (focused on Adam/Eve and evolution). What you ask is more at a macro level of biblical authority.  I know biologos has done some work in this area (see sparks scholarly essay) which I found useful.  I’d like to see them do more.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84555

February 18th 2014


For once Lou is right.  The Bible is not the Word of God, because Jesus Christ is the Word (Logos) of God.  See John 1.

We are not saved through belief in the Bible and the Bible did not die on the Cross for our sins.  Nor is the Bible our final authority, because Jesus is the Beginning and End of our faith, our final Authority.   

Jesus Christ is God’s living rational divine Word.  The Holy Bible is God’s written inspired word.  The Bible is good, but Jesus is better than good.  Jesus is perfect.

God’s Word and God’s Spirit often work through God’s word, but they are not the same, nor can they be. 

(Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV)  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, Whom He appointed Heir of all things, and through Whom He made the universe.


Eddie - #84556

February 18th 2014

Roger, you say:  “For once Lou is right.”

In the post from Lou with which you express your agreement, Lou says that the Bible “contains contradictions and errors.”  Is that your view, Roger, that the Bible “contains contradictions and errors”?

If so, will you please list a dozen or so of the contradictions and errors which in your view are found in the Bible?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #84557

February 18th 2014

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,

The Bible is not perfect.  Even the Chicago Declaration pointed out that there are statements in the Bible that modern people might consider wrong or erroneous, but were perfectly acceptable at the time of writing.

Is the mustard seed the smallest of seeds and does it grow into a tall tree?  Jesus is not making a scientific point, but a faith point possibly with more than a little exaggeration. 

You should be aware of the inconsistencies in the resurrection narratives. 

Address the real point of the equality of the Word and the word instead of beating around the bush.

Eddie - #84561

February 18th 2014


Lou is not talking about the exaggerated language in the parable of the mustard seed, or any such passage, when he speaks of errors and contradictions.  Nor, I suspect, would he worry overmuch about trivial differences in the record, such as the differences over the exact words inscribed above the cross.  He is intelligent enough to grant the use of inexact and figurative language throughout the Bible.  He is speaking about serious errors and serious contradictions.  

As for the subject of the word and the Word, I have already addressed that at length.  No Protestant other than Roger Sawtelle thinks that one has to belittle the word in order to exalt the Word.  The traditional Protestant teaching, held by all the magisterial Reformers, and I believe by your man Wesley, is that the word is a reliable guide to the Word, and that there are no serious, as opposed to trivial, contradictions or errors anywhere in the Bible.

Thus, the Bible might include incidental geographical or scientific errors which do not affect its message.  Calvin admits that we cannot learn astronomy from Genesis 1, since Genesis 1 was written for the understanding of the common man, rather than of the learned.  But the Bible—for an orthodox Protestant—contains no errors regarding matters of faith and morals.

What I’m asking you is whether or not you agree with Lou that the Bible contains errors of a more serious kind.  For example, if you think that God did not order the destruction of the Canaanite cities, that would be an error with great theological consequences, because it would mean that the Biblical narrator sometimes falsely imputes words or deeds to God which teach people untrue things about God.  Or if you think that Jesus did not curse the fig tree, you would again be saying that the narrator has told a serious untruth about Jesus, thus painting a false picture of the kind of man he was.  And regarding contradictions, if you think that Christians are no longer bound by the Ten Commandments, based a very small number of passages from Paul, you would be tacitly admitting a serious contradiction in the New Testament, since a number of New Testament passages (including some from Paul), clearly state or imply that the Commandments are still binding.

So Roger, is Lou right to think that the Bible contains theologically serious contradictions and errors?  And if so, please list a dozen or so of the serious contradictions and errors that you see in the Bible.

I have an open mind.  The Protestant tradition may be wrong.  This is your chance to set it straight, by showing the defects of the teaching of the Bible.

Hanan D - #84574

February 20th 2014

For example, if you think that God did not order the destruction of the Canaanite cities, that would be an error with great theological consequences, because it would mean that the Biblical narrator sometimes falsely imputes words or deeds to God which teach people untrue things about God.

Eddie, is this not exactly what I have been asking Roger on the previous Ham vs. Nye thread? 


see comment #84560

Eddie - #84580

February 20th 2014

Hi, Hanan.  I have indeed noticed that Roger generally ducks your challenges (while sometimes misspelling your name).

(He is much like Beaglelady in that respect.  She usually ignored or evaded your objections as well.)

Hanan D - #84585

February 21st 2014

Well, feel free to answer it Eddie. The question is open to anyone

Eddie - #84586

February 21st 2014

Hanan, I’m not sure what sort of comment you would like me to make here.  I looked at the post you referenced.  I agree with you that Jesus’s interpretation of the Old Testament is nothing like Roger’s, and I also think that it is very odd for someone (i.e., Roger) who claims to believe that Jesus is the Perfect and Divine Word to reject Jesus’s interpretation of the Old Testament in favor of the interpretation of modern infidel Biblical scholars.  Further, as I’ve already indicated directly to Roger, I think he believes (but will not state directly) that parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, teach things that are false and bad.

Indeed, I think that many of the TE leaders privately think the same thing, but will never say so publically, because they are making their pitch for Darwin to moderate evangelicals who believe that the entire Bible is true in all matters of faith and morals, and they know that the moment they challenge the truth of any moral or theological teaching found in any part of the Bible, they will have lost the sale.  So they limit themselves to arguing that Genesis 1-11 doesn’t have to be read as a historical document, and remain silent about the many things they dislike about the Old Testament, about New Testament miracles that they don’t believe to be historical, etc.  

Lou Jost - #84558

February 18th 2014

There are also contradictions in the nativity narrative, the two creation accounts, the numbers of animals brought onto the ark, and lots of other details. These may have little theological significance but they do show that the bible didn’t have a divine proofreader, or if it did, the proofreader didn’t care much about some details.

Eddie - #84563

February 19th 2014

Your remarks here seem to be based on the premise that where there is literal contradiction between two accounts, there is necessarily either error or sloppiness.  That would certainly be true if the compilers of the Bible thought they were putting together an accurate chronicle.  On the other hand, they may not have conceived of their activity in that way.  Unless we have a sense what their goal was—in including accounts which even a bright child can see do not mesh in all details and which they easily could have modified for perfect consistency if they chose—we should be hesitant to speak about contradictions or errors in a “gotcha” sort of way.

It’s quite obvious that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 do not mesh on the literal level, and the compilers of the book of Genesis cannot have been unaware of this.  That they chose to leave the two accounts side-by-side indicates that they were not concerned to avoid contradiction on the literal level, but had some other goal in mind.  I would conjecture that the compilers who put together the four Gospels—who were not idiots and were fully aware of non-meshing accounts and who could have sought Church authority very early in the second century to synthesize the Gospels into one literally consistent account, rather than leaving the discrepancies where they were—were similarly animated.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84559

February 18th 2014


You and I know that these “inconsistencies” do not discredit the Bible, but why open the faith up to attack by claiming the Bible to be perfect when the Bible does not claim to be perfect.

The Bible is true because it points us to God.  If it did not, no matter how factual it might be, it would be wrong.  In other words if Jesus is not the Messiah, the Bible would be a lie regardless of what happened 2000 years ago. 

Eddie - #84562

February 19th 2014


I agree with you that the most important thing about the Bible is not trivial historical detail, but the way it points us to God.  The way that this is traditionally expressed (I inform you of this because you show such contempt for tradition that you may not know it) is that the Bible is true in all matters of faith and morals, or true in all that it teaches (which does not include science, geography, etc.).  Note that this way of expressing things avoids unnecessarily denigrating the word in comparison with the Word.  You, on the other hand, are so exercised about fundamentalism that you swing too far in the opposite direction, criticizing the word in order to undercut fundamentalism.  You are letting your personal distaste for fundamentalism (which is well-warranted) affect your entire approach to Christian theology.  This is where you fail to learn from the great theologians of the past, who offered more measured responses to theological extremes.  Calvin, were he alive today, would set Ken Ham straight, without invoking your dangerous contrast between word and Word.

The Bible does not claim to be perfect, because the Bible does not claim anything at all about itself.  But Christian tradition has said that the Bible is without error in matters of faith and morals.  If you believe that is true, then you are opposed to Lou.  But I get the very strong impression that you think that sometimes the Bible (especially the Old Testament) teaches errors even in matters of faith and morals, so I’m asking you for clarification on that.

So, do parts of the Bible teach falsehoods in matters of faith and/or morals?  

If you don’t give a straight answer, I’ll simply discontinue the conversation.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84564

February 19th 2014

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,

This blog is about Science and Faith.  That is what Benno, Lou, and I were discussing.  Now you come busting in and claim that I am trying to undermine Christian morality.

The fact is that certain people claim that people cannot be true Christians unless they believe that the earth was created in 6 days.  I know that you don’t agree and neither do I.

Lou made a sound theological criticism of something Benno wrote which helped clarify the situation.  Not wanting to be completely embarassed by a nonbeliever for doing something that I should have done, I felt it was important to express agreement.

If the Bible speaks the truth, then it needs to be used for instruction.  The difference between the Word and the word is Christianity 101.  The fact that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is superior to and replaces the Old Covenant found in the Law is also Christianity 101.   

I really do not know why you feel that you are the One who determines the right way to make an argument.  I do not see how telling the truth denigrates the Bible or the tradition.  Methinks you have been in the ivory tower too long.

I have never said that the Bible teaches falsehoods, but it is true that some people mistake a version of the Old Legalistic Covenant for the New Covenant and believe that they are saved when they are not as both Paul and Jesus warned against.   

Mt 15:17  “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20  These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

Eddie - #84565

February 19th 2014


The so-called sound theological criticism by Lou was certainly not based on the principle you have advocated, i.e., separating the word from the Word.  Lou has no more use for the Word than he has for the word.  It is pointless for you to pretend that Lou meant what you mean.  If you want to introduce your endlessly repeated distinction between word and Word, you do not need to use Lou as an excuse.  

As for the rest, I do not have time to wade through your rambling answer.  The question was:

Do parts of the Bible teach falsehoods in matters of faith and/or morals? 

I would like one of two possible answers:

A.  No.

B.  Yes, and here are some examples….

Anything else is excess verbiage.  

Lou Jost - #84566

February 19th 2014

My point here about contradictions (even seemingly minor ones) was that these can give important clues about how and why the bible was written. Believers and unbelievers alike often agree on that. For example, the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity accounts strongly suggest that Matthew is stretching the truth to make Jesus fit Messiah prophecies (or at least, prophecies that Matthew interpreted as messianic). This has major implications for the degree of confidence that the gospels deserve.

This particular issue is not an atheist-vs-secularist issue, because even someone with a firm belief in god might decide these gospels are not historically accurate on key points (and indeed many believers from outside the Christian tradition do come to that conclusion).

Anyway, this possibility should be on the table, not settled by fiat.

Eddie - #84567

February 19th 2014

I agree that in inter-faith discussions, all possibilities have to be on the table, and that nothing should be settled by fiat.

However, we have to be on guard against wording that slants matters unnecessarily.  For example, 

the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity accounts strongly suggest that Matthew is stretching the truth to make Jesus fit Messiah prophecies

strikes me as unnecessarily slanted.  A more cautious interpretation of the differences is:  Luke and Matthew each provide a blend of fact and personal interpretation in their telling of the Gospel story; Matthew genuinely believed that Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies, and so that belief shows itself in his telling.  To speak of stretching the truth carries a strong connotation of conscious dishonesty.   

If one wants to argue that the two differing accounts are not historically compatible, that is one thing.  But to suggest that neither Gospel is reliable (and you speak of gospels in the plural, so that seems to be your suggestion) because Matthew stretches the truth is another—especially when it is not clear that Matthew is stretching the truth.

So if your argument is:  these two accounts do not harmonize on historical facts; therefore, at any given point, only one of them can be historically accurate—I find that a reasonable argument.  But introducing notions of stretching the truth seems to me to add a polemical (or at least motive-mongering) flavor to the discussion which makes it non-constructive.

This tendency, needless to say, shows itself not only in discussions about the Bible, but in discussions about evolution, creation, and design.  Each side seems determined to raise the debating temperature by adding unnecessarily slanted comments.  A more detached analysis and commentary would be greatly desirable.  

Lou Jost - #84572

February 20th 2014

Eddie, I tried to be as accurate as possible in my comment, but I did leave out an important qualifier. I should have said that I think the differences between Matthew and Luke imply that at least one of them is stretching the truth, or borrowing from sources that did so. The authors themselves may not be at fault.  I think that the details of the discrepancies can give clues about the motivations of the writers or the sources used by the writers.

Eddie - #84577

February 20th 2014

Lou, I gladly accept your modification, but I would still put the matter slightly differently.  I would say that, if Matthew and Luke were both intending to be what we would now call chroniclers, biographers, or historians, then the discrepancies between them indicate that they cannot both be accurate chroniclers, biographers, or historians.  This formulation allows for the possibility of historical error in Matthew and/or Luke, without introducing the potentially harsh connotations of the phrase ‘stretching the truth.’  On the other hand, if either Matthew or Luke or both were not trying to write chronicle or biography or history in the modern sense, but were trying to write something else, the discrepancies may tell us much more about their differing authorial intentions than about their relative accuracy as historians.  And two authors might have quite different intentions, i.e., quite different goals in the way they deal with their material, without either one ‘stretching the truth’ as that phrase is usually understood.

Darach - #84569

February 20th 2014

Great post.

“how—for example—original sin works. But this doctrine has always been a conundrum. It is strongly confirmed by experience (particularly for those of us who have tried to raise children) and at the same time”

Does trying to raise children teach us that children are fallen and depraved, corrupted by an Adamic sin nature? Or that they are wild animals whom God has called into covenant with him? Ecclesiastes 3:18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84570

February 20th 2014

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,

I have noticed that you, who claim to be the champion of the Bible, hardly ever use it to teach.  I on the other hand, who you say denigrates the Bible, often quote it in an effort to teach.

You might call it “excess verbage,” but I call it “the words of life.” 

STOP trying to be the Grand Inquistor.

LOOK to Jesus the Logos.

LISTEN to His words, “Judge not that you be not judged.”

I have all ready responded to your questions.    

Eddie - #84571

February 20th 2014

Roger, Roger, Roger:

The word is “already” (why do I have to correct your English so often?); and no, you have not directly responded to my question.  But then, you rarely do.  To my questions, which are lucid, precise, and focused, you tend to offer answers that are fuzzy, imprecise, and wandering.  I’m tempted to make a wisecrack about the intellectual difference between Calvinists and Methodists, but I’ll refrain.

As for using the Bible, I quote it when it’s relevant to answering a specific question, not to generate a fuzzy cloud of personal piety which distracts from the exact subject at hand.  I’m tempted to make another wisecrack, about the difference between the way that scholars use the Bible and the way that preachers do, but again, I will refrain.

In any case, you win, Roger.  You have once again escaped saying exactly what you think about parts of the Bible, and once again avoided the subject of just how orthodox your Christianity is.  But if you think that anyone here is fooled by your constant (and tedious) mention of the Logos, you should think again.  Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Christian tradition knows that your understanding of the Logos is deeply faulty and would be sternly criticized by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc.

Of course, you don’t care about that, because you make up your own Christian theology as you go along.  You have complete contempt for the far greater and deeper Christians who have preceded you; all you care about is making Christianity “relevant” to today.  I, on the other hand, don’t care two figs about making Christianity “relevant”; I’m only concerned with getting Christian doctrine right.  If one gets it right, relevance will naturally take care of itself; if one gets it wrong, all the “relevance” in the world can’t repair the damage.  Because you are more concerned about relevant theology than about correct theology, you will always go wrong, both in correctness and in relevance.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84573

February 20th 2014

Hubris, thy name is Eddie.

Eddie - #84576

February 20th 2014

We can now add “hubris” to the list of terms (“dualistic”, “trinitarian”, etc.) that you use incorrectly.  But carry on, Roger.  Don’t let me stop you from bringing up your pet contrast between “the Word” and “the word” on every single column on this site, whether it is relevant to what is being discussed or not.  You have the constitutional right to be monofocused.  And at least it’s a change from the old days, when you brought up “dualism” on every single column on this site, whether it was relevant or not.  A change in monofocus every so often is a good thing.  So carry on.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84578

February 20th 2014


You are right.  I am committed to get our priorities right. 

That means putting God/Jesus Christ first, the Bible second, and tradition last.  It seems to me that you have them in the reverse order, and no amount of BS can change that.  

Eddie - #84579

February 20th 2014

That means putting God/Jesus Christ first, the Bible second, and tradition last.”

Really?  You could have fooled me!  I came away with the impression that you put harmonizing with modern science and modern social and ecological concerns first, a liberal “relational” Christian theology in which God is not omnipotent second, a greatly truncated and liberally interpreted Bible third, and tradition a distant last.   

My approach is quite different.  I naively figure that if you want to put God and Jesus first, you are going to have to take the Bible—all the Bible, not just selections from the New Testament—very seriously, and, since every whacko interprets the Bible in accord with his own bizarre pet notions and therefore control of interpretation is needed, you are going to have to take the longstanding interpretive traditions of the Christian Church seriously as well.  Hard to imagine how one can construct a reliable picture of Jesus and of God if one spurns the two main sources—the Bible and the tradition—from which we can learn about Jesus and God.

But as I said, I guess that’s a naive perspective.  I guess the right way is to assume that one has perfect intuitions of God and Jesus, and doesn’t need the help of tradition or even of most of the Bible, in order to know all one needs to know about God and Jesus.  Perhaps you could bottle your perfect intuitions that have come to you from on high, and sell them to other Christians.  Then they could avoid thousands of hours of study throughout their lives, bypassing the exegesis of every Biblical book except for a few Pauline letters, and never having to crack open a volume of Augustine, the Greek Fathers, Luther, Calvin, etc.  It would make being a Christian theologian so much easier, not to have to do a scrap of scholarly work before declaring oneself competent in the area.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84583

February 21st 2014


Your ability to misread what I say is astounding.  I said Jesus, Bible, and tradition in that order, while you have me say though Jesus alone.

You have made it clear that I have you peged right, tradition, Bible, then God.  You say that you begin with the Bible, but you are clear that it is the Bible as interpreted by the tradition that leads you to God.

Now we come to the question as to whether we can know God directly.  From my experience anyone who has had their life changed by being born again in the Holy Spirit though the saving power of Jesus Christ must answer Yes.  Maybe you have not has this experience.

The Saving Power of Jesus Christ brings life to our understanding the Bible and to our understanding tradition.  I have been doing this for a long time and I know it works.

Now you love to make fun of me because I try to make our faith speak to our historical situation. God has always spoken through history and God’s prophets.  To deny this is to deny God. 

God’s still wants to save our world, not to condemn it.  That means to lead it forward in the right path, not try to send it back into the 19th century.

Of course there are wackos who misread God and history.  There were many false prophets for every true prophet, so why listen to Isaiah?  There were many false messiahs, but only one true Messiah, so why believe in Jesus?  

We need to live by faith and not by sight.  We can continue doing what we have done before or we can respond to the call of God to step out on faith and act in the Spirit of Jesus.


Eddie - #84584

February 21st 2014


Now who is misreading?

I never said or implied that one needed tradition in order to be saved, to know Jesus, or know God.  I said that tradition was a means that could help us to know Jesus and know God, and that if we spurned the two means of Bible and tradition, we would have no basis to talk authoritatively about Jesus and God at all.

Tradition cannot replace the Bible, but it is necessary in order to interpret the Bible.  And by that I do not mean that the Bible has to be read through some particular tradition (e.g., Catholic, Calvinist, Baptist, Methodist), but only that the total deposit of tradition, from the early Fathers through the magisterial Reformers and the later Protestant and Catholic systematizers, needs to be consulted before one goes off on one’s own, with the typical American Protestant attitude of “I’m answerable only to God and my conscience for my interpretation of Scripture”—the individualistic and highly modern attitude that has led to the splintering of Protestantism into thousands of denominations.

One needs tradition, not to be saved, not to possess faith, but to do theology.  Theology is the intellectual formulation of faith, not faith itself.  Tradition helps one to make sure that one’s theology is more or less in line with what the consensus of the wisest Christians has said.  That doesn’t mean theology is rigid or can never change or adapt; it does mean that theology will change only slowly and cautiously.  An analogy for healthy change would be the way that the British Constitution has come into being, and continues to be gradually modified, never throwing out the past, never contemptuous of the past, always reverent toward the past, while keeping one eye on the needs of the present.

Your attitude toward theology, however, is plainly contemptuous toward the past.  You really have no respect for it.  You claim to respect a selected number of theologians of the past, and you’ve named some of them, including Luther, and Wesley, and the founders of your own denomination.  But when confronted with hard data—texts that show that these theological sources are opposed to your own views—you simply brush them aside.  This shows that you don’t really respect tradition at all.  The only theological authority for you, in practice, is Roger Sawtelle.  And Roger Sawtelle decides which books of the Bible are to be kept, and which tossed out, and, of the books kept, Roger Sawtelle decides how they are to be interpreted.  The opinions of Aquinas, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, etc., the Creeds, the various Protestant Confessions, the founding constitutional document of your own Church—these don’t matter at all.  This is unbelievably arrogant, in the strict sense of that word, because you arrogate to yourself, as an individual, an intellectual authority that belongs to the Church.

I have never questioned your faith, your salvation, or your personal dedication to God and Jesus as you understand them.  I have questioned your theology.  I think it is muddle-headed at best, and heretical at worst.  And you could avoid both the muddle-headedness and the heresy if you would put aside your pride and study at the feet of the great minds of the Christian tradition, readjusting your vocabulary and your doctrines in light of what you learn from those minds.  But you insist on improvising theology as you go along, in accord with your own latest bright idea.  That’s why we are in conflict, and why we always will be in conflict.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #84587

February 21st 2014

Eddie wrote:

One needs tradition, not to be saved, not to possess faith, but to do theology.

That is really amazing.  You are saying that Jesus and Paul and all of the NT writers were not “doing theology,” were not talking about God because they did not share the Greek philosophical tradition that is the basis of Western thought.  Yes, the Jews thought about God differently from the way we do, so it must be wrong, because we are right.  

Why are you so upset that I disagree with you?  Why is it a problem that I put God/Jesus first before the Bible and tradition?  Why do you have to overreact to everything? 


Eddie - #84588

February 21st 2014

You unnecessarily personalize and psychologize theological discussions. You say I am “upset” by your disagreement. I am not “upset” in the least. I would only be upset if you were somehow a threat to me. But you are no threat to me. And I am not so insecure about my theological knowledge as to be “upset” merely because someone on the internet contradicts me. I am arguing against your position because it is logically incoherent, dangerously misleading to other Christians, and unsupported by the texts and the historical facts, not because it “upsets” me. If anything “upsets” me it is not your theological opinions (I’m used to all kinds of uninformed and incoherent theological opinions, and none of them shock or offend me), but your stubborn autodidactic self-confidence, a trait that is apparently admired in Boston but is regarded as very unappealing in most other places in the world.
You wrote:
“You are saying that Jesus and Paul and all of the NT writers were not “doing theology,” were not talking about God because they did not share the Greek philosophical tradition that is the basis of Western thought.”
I said no such thing. Instead of reacting to my words before you’ve even tried to digest them, why don’t you try the simple approach of counting to ten, rereading slowly, and trying to determine my intent from my actual statements rather than from what you suppose to be my agenda?
I did not speak at all about “Greek philosophical tradition” or “Western thought.” You have imported these notions, in your usual muddle-headed way. I spoke of “tradition” meaning “Christian tradition”; and you should have read enough of my posts by now to know that by “Christian tradition” I mean the writings of the normative Christian theologians from the 2nd century onward, plus things like the Creeds, the various Protestant Confessions, longstanding liturgical and sacramental practices, etc. And while some normative Christian theologians have made extensive use of Greek thought, among the normative theologians are people like Luther and Calvin, who certainly could not be accused of relying much on “Greek philosophical tradition.” And you are as contemptuous of Luther and Calvin as you are of the more “Greek” theologians. That is the issue, that you are contemptuous of writers who are far your superior in head and heart, and who have contributed far more to Christian life than you can ever hope to do; you arrogantly shove aside their teachings to make room for your own teaching, the teaching of the Church of Roger (current membership: one).
It takes a lot of chutzpah for you, an ultra-Pauline antinomian, to pose as the defender of Jewish ideas. Is your memory so poor that you don’t remember the long argument we just had elsewhere, where you belittled the Jewish understanding of the Law and declared the Ten Commandments no longer binding upon Christians? Who was sticking up for the Jewish thinking then? Certainly not you. It was I.
It also takes a lot of chutzpah for you, who have gone on endlessly about Trinitarianism, to accuse me of importing non-Jewish, “Greek” ideas into Christian theology! And the classical Trinitarian doctrine—which you claim you espouse—is expressed in a Greek vocabulary shaped by Greek philosophy! If you are against Greek ideas, and in favor of Jewish ideas, why aren’t you against the Nicene Creed, Roger? Find me a Jewish theologian who has a Trinitarian view of God, Roger.
Jesus certainly followed tradition as he knew it, except where it was necessary to break tradition for a higher purpose. But even then he did not break tradition frequently, or lightly. His high respect for tradition is shown in Matthew 23:2-3: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do”—an endorsement of tradition as it then existed.
Of course, Jesus goes on to point out certain elements of showy piety and unnecessary observance which had crept into the practice of some Jewish religious leaders, and denounces all such artificial elements of tradition; but he does not question the premise—absolutely essential to Jewish life—that the Written Law needs supplementation by wise teachers, who render their verdicts in accord with the tradition of the Oral Law. It is impossible to be a Jew by following “sola scriptura.” You cannot obey the Law without supplementation by oral tradition for how the sacrifices are to be carried out, how legal situations not explicitly covered by the Law are to be handled, etc. Judaism has always been a religion of scripture plus tradition. (The same was true of Christianity, until the Reformation. And even the magisterial Reformers, though formally acknowledging no authority but Scripture, gave great weight to tradition in practice. They were not so presumptuous about their own intellectual talents as to think they didn’t even have to bother reading the Fathers, and they were not so convinced of their own superior spiritual discernment that they felt comfortable simply setting aside centuries of tradition merely because a practice was not clearly found in the Bible—cf. the case of infant baptism, which Calvin, Luther, Cranmer, etc. all retained.)
Paul certainly did not go by “Scripture alone” (and if he had, you would have criticized him for it); he certainly was shaped by extra-Biblical Jewish traditions. His understanding of sin and fall, for example, is incomprehensible on the basis of the Hebrew Bible alone; one needs an understanding of later Jewish tradition, e.g., the writings of the intertestamental period, to understand how he supplements the Genesis story.
Your insolence toward tradition, Roger, has no extra-Biblical or intra-Biblical basis. It’s an attitude you’ve acquired somewhere along the way, no doubt partly due to bad teachers, and partly due to your own excessive individualism. It’s an attitude you should abjure. It’s neither Biblical nor Christian.
I am not asking you to put tradition before Jesus and God. I am teaching you—though you are a recalcitrant student—that you cannot properly understand Jesus or God without the help of tradition. I am not saying that tradition is an end in itself, but I am saying that it is a necessary means. Once you understand Jesus and God—through knowledge of the Bible and of tradition—then of course your full devotion must be given to Jesus and God. But only a proud, stubborn, conceited individual thinks himself wise enough to “go it on his own” and understand God and Jesus without the twin aids of Scripture and tradition.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #84589

February 22nd 2014

“But only a proud, stubborn, conceited individual thinks himself wise enough . . . (to) understand God and Jesus” even with “the twin aids of Scripture and tradition,” but without a humble spirit commited to put God first in all that he says and does.

God comes first.

As Augustine said, theology should be “faith (in God) seeking understanding,” not as you would have it “seeking to understand God so that you might have faith.”    

I would be glad to explain my method of doing theology, but

  1. I really do not think that you are interested.  You are still in the hubris mode and not yet ready for a dialogue.
  2. As I have said before this medium does not lend itself to this type of explanation.
  3. This information is best found in my book, if you are really interested, which I do not think you are.  Please let me know when you are to allow your faith to seek understanding.



Eddie - #84590

February 22nd 2014


You are right.  God comes first.  He is more important than individual egos.  That is why, when there is someone who knows more about God than we do, we should listen to that person and try to learn from him.  That is why you should be humble enough to learn about God from Augustine, and Origen, and Aquinas, and Calvin.  Unfortunately, you lack that degree of humility.  You think you know more than all of them, and that you stand over them in a position of intellectual judgment.  This is the very opposite of Christian humility.  You therefore do not practice what you preach.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84591

February 22nd 2014


You are hallucinating.



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