Re: [asa] Humanity and the Fall: Questions and a Survey

From: Stephen Matheson <>
Date: Mon Apr 28 2008 - 00:33:13 EDT


I agree that there is a "theological dilemma" surrounding the fall. In fact, I see the difficulty of understanding the narrative of the fall in light of common ancestry as by far the most important challenge faced by Christians who accept the conclusions of evolutionary science. As you know, I'm not troubled by this unanswered question, meaning that I don't consider the challenge to be a challenge to faith. It's just a challenging question, one that isn't easy to answer or to even begin to answer.

But I am thoroughly unimpressed by the article linked below. It's riddled with non sequiturs and overstatement, and I'm somewhat offended by the author's irenic tone, which masks a stance that I find uncharitable and dogmatically closed-minded. Consider, for example, this sentence: "Despite the great difference between Adam and Christ, Paul points to the all-important redemptive-historical analogy between them." "All-important?" Not much point in considering alternatives to ideas framed like that. I found the professor's article, and its logic, to be obnoxious.

To your question: I take it that "neo-orthodoxy" necessarily includes the Barth idea that human sin is "built in" and not the result of a discrete fall. If I have that right, then both you (at the outset, at least) and the Westminster guy are offering a Hobson's choice: either accept "human evolution" (i.e., common ancestry of humans and other species) AND neo-orthodoxy, or accept "a traditional understanding of the fall" AND reject human evolution.

I reject that choice as unreasonably simplistic. There is at least one obvious alternative: accept a historical fall and human evolution, while simply noting that the actual historical narrative is not known and will probably never be known on earth. That's my answer, and I don't understand why there would be anything remarkable or problematic about it. After all -- the glibness of our Westminster don aside -- neither the means by which sin affects humans and creation, nor the mechanisms by which Adam's sin has been transmitted to his descendants, are even remotely understood by anyone. Why should it matter that I or anyone else would confess ignorance regarding the details of Adam or the fall?

And in any case, to assert that "he one who rejects the Biblical teaching regarding the historical Adam and the historical Fall will find no firm basis for accepting the Biblical teaching regarding the historical, Incarnate Redeemer" is to mock those who, like me, would confess that the mystery of our faith is "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Disgusting.

Steve Matheson
>>> "David Opderbeck" <> 04/24/08 12:34 PM >>>
Here is an article by a prof at Westminster Seminary California that I think
lays out the theological dilemma of accepting human evolution:

The author is right, isn't he, that one must either reject human evolution
and accept a traditional understanding of the fall, or accept human
evolution and accept a neoorthodox understanding of the fall? Much as I've
tried to find middle ground, I don't see it.

Clark Pinnock makes an effort towards such a middle ground in a fascinating
book that presages what has become known as the "postconservative" movement
in evangelicalism. Pinnock tries to take the best of neoorthdoxy without
compromising classical orthodoxy. Here is what he says about the fall:

... it is important to interpret the Fall into sin as an event not a myth.
I do not mean that is an event witnessed and described for us by those who
were there. I recognize in the literary depiction of it a mythical
dimension. Nevertheless, it is important to see tha the Fall maks the point
in history when humankind turned aside from God and God's purposes. It is
more than a quant story of Everyman. "It is teh name for that point in
world history when, with human freedom already becoming a reality, man began
to act in a way disruptive of the historical process, working against God's
purposes for him and for the world and thus acting in a manner destructive
of his own being and welfare." The actual event may not have been something
that happened to a couple in a garden just as described -- it may have
happened in another way over a period of generations perhaps. But it is
important that the Fall into sin predates history as we know it and
determines its sinful character. History has been spoiled and turned
around. Salvation is not being delivered from history; it is being
delivered in and with it. In a strong statement, . . . 'to regard the fall
as myth rather than in some sense genuine history shatters both the
consistency and the meaning of the Christian faith." (Pinnock, Tracking the
Maze, at p. 195).

  Something about Pinnock's effort here is just not satisfying. So if you
accept human evolution, is your view of the fall historical or neoorthodox?
If it's historical, how does it square with your acceptance of evolutionary
science? If it's neoorthodox, how does it square with scripture's emphasis
on the effects of Adam's sin?

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Received on Mon Apr 28 00:34:19 2008

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