In their excellent book Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves, along with their team of fellow-contributors, address one of our generation’s most-debated theological topics, and they want us to know that although the historicity of Adam is much under debate it is no less essential to the Bible story and to Christian theology. Their book is an important and timely collection of essays, and we are happy to have Hans Madueme with us today to talk about their work.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
First, tell us what your book is about and the contribution you hope to make.
In recent years evangelicals have been debating the historical Adam, the fall, and original sin. Our book attempts to speak into this conversation. Even though we recognize that much more needs to be said, we thought the time was ripe to engage some of the issues.
Indeed, the issues are many, and people are making bold claims: “Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is bad for the church.” “Science proves Adam and Eve never existed.” “Christianity would make much more sense without the outdated idea of a historical fall”—and more in that vein. Our book offers a voice of restraint, cautioning against such revisionism. The rumors are premature; the sun hasn’t gone down on the traditional doctrine of original sin, and to that end, we gathered a group of scholars from multiple perspectives to prosecute that case.
Many Christians, including self-identified evangelicals, would shrug their shoulders at these concerns. Much ado about nothing they’d say. There’s some truth to that reaction, for these theological questions were debated in non-evangelical, academic settings decades ago. Depending on the circles you run in, this is old news. And yet, from both a historical and a global perspective, much of what is being written today is astonishing.
Books At a Glance:
Okay, let’s pursue this a bit. I realize you can’t reproduce your book here, but at least briefly, what do we lose if we lose the historical Adam? What is at stake in this question?
A historical Adam is obviously crucial for a viable doctrine of the fall and original sin. But setting those important doctrines aside, let me begin with the importance of Adam for human solidarity. Think about it. We grieve instances of racism, genocide, ethnic conflict; we mourn these and other inhumane ways we treat each other, we mourn them in part because of our solidarity as fellow humans. We share a kinship, having so much more in common than what separates us. That kinship is rooted in our lineage to Adam and Eve. We are their children.
The question of human solidarity is closely allied to the doctrine of salvation. Gregory of Nazianzus famously said, “For that which [Christ] has not assumed he has not healed.” The Son of God took on human flesh—he became incarnate—in order to save the human race. He did not become an angel, for no atonement was made for angelic sin. The human nature Christ assumed is the nature we all share with Adam. Jesus saves Adam’s descendants. We should not be naïve, of course; many “orthodox” Christians who believed in a historical Adam were flagrant racists, denying the human solidarity entailed by their declared convictions. But this sad discrepancy does not negate my main point; their lives fell short of their professed theology, and their actions betrayed their convictions—for the very idea of an original couple pointed in a very different direction (cf. Rev 7:9-10).
If we lose the historical Adam we also lose the traditional church doctrine of Scripture. That’s because Adam’s historicity is clearly assumed in Scripture (see the first two chapters of our book). But what if one tries to dodge that conclusion? You might say that the biblical teaching is mistaken, or irrelevant to modern people. Or you might deny that Scripture actually affirms a historical Adam—a perilous move that drastically alters or reconfigures the doctrine of Scripture. That’s the point; such approaches will not compel serious believers because they downgrade, or even worse, trivialize Scripture’s divine authorship.
The moral of the story is that the doctrines of our faith are like family, intimately connected. Michael Reeves and I emphasized that point in our co-written chapter. Christian doctrines do not lie around disparately like loose marbles in a jar. They are more like threads in a garment or pearls in a necklace. By their very nature such doctrines are interrelated. Losing Adam invariably has reverberations throughout the matrix of theology.
Books At a Glance:
Moving a bit further, what do we lose if we lose the historical Fall?
I think we lose the orthodox doctrine of God. The problem is acute: despite the holiness of God, evil exists in creation. That’s a scandal. How is that possible? If God is righteous, whence evil? Boethius for one posed that question in the 6th century and Christians have pondered the same question ever since (so-called “theodicy”). There seem to be only three possible answers.
In one scenario God is both good and evil. Evil is bound up in the very being of God. This is a version of Monism, the idea that good and evil are part of a larger whole, a bigger truth. God is that ultimate reality, he is both good and evil, and that is why evil exists. The second scenario casts Evil as an independent and eternal reality, a second “deity” alongside God. In this Dualism, light and darkness are two eternal forces in conflict (think Star Wars; Manichaeism). Both of these options are antithetical to Christianity. God alone is eternal and there is no hint of sin in him—“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3; cf. 1 John 1:15). That leaves us with only one more option: the Genesis account of a historical fall. God’s creation was good at the very beginning; it was later ruptured by evil, an event that happened in history. I agree with Augustine that this is Scripture’s implicit theodicy. (There are a number of “non-fall” theodicies that have been developed. For instance, Marilyn Adams has an influential account, as does John Schneider. These accounts are worth paying attention to, but I doubt they can escape the basic problem of jeopardizing God’s holiness).
To put it more pastorally, the historical fall clarifies our deep sense—east of Eden—that life is not the way it’s supposed to be (see the classic treatment by Neal Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin). In the face of death, it makes sense to grieve. At a funeral, it makes sense to weep. In the grip of injustice, tragedy—evil!—it makes sense to cry out with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps 13:1). Precisely because the fall happened in history we are right to think this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Without the fall, such intuitions would be false and even irrational.
Books At a Glance:
What do we mean by the term “original” sin?
In traditional systematic theology, the two relevant concepts are “originating” sin (Latin: peccatum originale originans) and “originated” sin (Latin: peccatum originale originatum). The originating sin is Adam’s fall. Originated sin refers to inherited sin, i.e., the moral corruption and guilt we all receive from conception because of our union with Adam. Sometimes the term “original sin” is shorthand for both originating and originated sin. Usually, however, the term is meant to signify originated/inherited sin only.
Books At a Glance:
Sketch out for us the place and importance of original sin in the Bible and Christian theology.
Original sin is a key doctrinal claim that reflects a sound reading of the biblical narrative. As I mentioned already, Genesis 1 and 2 establish the goodness of God’s creation; humanity is part of that original goodness. In Genesis 3, we then have an account of the fall, and God’s good creation is marred by the entrance of sin. Adam and Eve experience spiritual and physical death, and their lives change irrevocably (cf. Gen 2:17). The rest of the Bible explores the ramifications of these events, people sinning, and dying, relentlessly. No one escapes the vicious cycle, the universality of sin and death. It is sometimes claimed that the Bible is never explicit on the connection between Genesis 3 and sin and death in the rest of the story. But surely that is to strain at gnats; Scripture shows rather than tells; the sober reality of original sin is part of the fabric of both the Old and the New Testament.
And besides, it is doubtful the Bible is never explicit about original sin. For example, what do we make of David’s words in Ps 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”? Consider passages like Mark 7:20–23, Rom 3:10-18, Eph 2:2-3, Prov 20:9, and others. Even if those fail to convince, Paul’s words in Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15:21-22 make explicit what is implicit throughout the Bible. It is not merely that we are sinners; we are sinners because of Adam’s sin—original sin! Genesis 3 brought us to our present predicament, morally corrupt from birth, sinful, falling inexorably towards death. The biblical prophets, the apostles, all of the human characters in Scripture were sinners from birth, and they all died (with notable exceptions Elijah and Enoch whom God spared, cf. Gen 5:24; 2 Kgs 2:11). This is simply playing out the doctrine of original sin. All of them died as a condition of original sin—except Jesus.
Except Jesus! … Jesus furnishes the marvelous clue to a deeper theological truth: original sin is the inverse of salvation. Had we not inherited Adam’s sin, had we not been sinful from birth, would the gospel be truly good news? Is that not why we need divine rescue? (cf. Luke 5:31-32, par. Mark 2:17, Matt 9:12-13). It is tempting to side with Pelagius, shrinking the gravity of our sin, but that yields only a pyrrhic victory. In lessening the problem, we diminish God’s wondrous solution. Our disease of original sin is so devastating that God has chosen a radical solution—we must be born again (John 3:3).
Books At a Glance:
Give us a sense of how original sin enables us to understand humanity as it is – and ourselves, for that matter.
Original sin points to a deep mystery about us. We are part of God’s good creation, and we of all God’s creatures are made in his image (Gen 1:26-27). Such truths bring holy angels to their knees worshiping God. And yet, from the third chapter of the Bible onwards, we see a horrible contradiction—in spite of our provenance, Adam disobeyed God, Cain murders Abel, and it’s all downhill from there (cf. Gen 6:5 and passim). On original sin, Blaise Pascal wisely observed: “It is astonishing … that the mystery furthest from our understanding is the transmission of sin, the one thing without which we can have no understanding of ourselves!” He went on to say: “Nevertheless without this most incomprehensible of all mysteries we are incomprehensible to ourselves. Within this gnarled chasm lie the twists and turns of our condition. So, humanity is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is conceivable to humanity.” Just so.
The doctrine of original sin is a safeguard, protecting us from the ruinous assumptions of modern, enlightened society. The cultural intelligentsia divine ultimate happiness in money, sex, power, and other idols that saturate our media myths and stories. But those are damnable lies, broken, empty cisterns that can never satisfy. I cannot find salvation in the things of this world; I cannot find salvation within myself. I must look elsewhere, beyond myself, to God’s stunning remedy (Martin Luther’s “alien” righteousness). Far from a morbid, depressing doctrine, original sin holds the very possibility of our redemption. Christ came to save sinners, and we are sinners because of original sin. The radical cure of the gospel was for people just like us.
Books At a Glance:
Summarize for us how your book is arranged and how you (along with the other contributors) approach this question and establish your argument.
Our challenge as editors was how to give a cohesive voice to this collection of essays. We arranged the book in a logical, progressive manner. After the introduction, three chapters tackle the question of the historical Adam (Part 1). The first two chapters survey the evidence for Adam in the Old Testament (Jack Collins) and the New (Bob Yarbrough); the third chapter engages the paleoanthropological evidence (William Stone, a pseudonym).
Next, the book lays out the doctrine of original sin in the history of the church (Part 2, five chapters). While Augustine was instrumental in shaping the doctrine for Western theology, there were important antecedents within the patristic tradition (Peter Sanlon, ch.4). Significantly, the mature doctrine was embraced by virtually all major Protestant traditions, including the Lutheran, Reformed, and Wesleyan (Robert Kolb, ch.5; Donald Macleod, ch.6; Thomas McCall, ch.7). That consensus began to wane with the rise of modern theology (see Carl Trueman, ch.8). Taken together, these chapters make a compelling case for the doctrine of original sin as an eminently catholic doctrine.
Chapter 9 by Jim Hamilton offers a broad biblical-theological argument for original sin as integral to any truly biblical history of salvation. The following chapter, which I co-wrote with Michael Reeves, presents original sin as a far-reaching doctrine that shapes and informs other central doctrines of the faith. I wrote chapter 11 to wrestle with questions that certain scientific theories raise for the viability of the doctrine. The chapter by Dan Doriani shows the pastoral payoff of this dark doctrine, which in its very darkness opens up, paradoxically, the brightness of God’s glorious gospel.
The final section of the book revisits contentious areas in the history of interpretation. Does Romans 5:12-19 provide an exegetical basis for the traditional doctrine (Thomas Schreiner, ch.13)? Does Genesis 3 actually teach a doctrine of the fall (Noel Weeks, ch.14)? William Edgar’s chapter reflects on whether a historical fall is necessary for theodicy, and the editors close out the book with a concluding postscript.
Books At a Glance:
Talk to us about the relation of theology and science – or, as Warfield would have wanted to say it, the relation between theology and the other sciences. What is a distinctly Christian perspective here?
That’s a complicated question! Where to begin …?
At the popular level, we’re often told that theology and science are in conflict, eternally at war with each other. There is an intrinsic conflict. Richard Dawkins and other aggressive atheists love this image. Mercifully, scholars like John Hedley Brooke and many others have demolished that picture, a misleading picture popularized in the nineteenth century by writers like Andrew White and John Draper. As a matter of fact, the relationship between theology and science is complex and no one narrative captures the whole story. (It is worth noting here that Christian theological assumptions were important for the rise of modern science in the West. We should not overstate this point—there were other contributing factors—but that Christianity played a part is impossible to deny).
In evangelical circles, there tend to be two basic ways of characterizing the interplay between theology and science. (Apologies, while I generalize!) … One group emphasizes biblical authority or the inerrancy of Scripture. The relationship between science and theology is adversarial. Mainstream science is the enemy. We are encouraged instead to see Scripture opening up an entirely different set of answers. This group is not opposed to natural science as such; rather, they criticize the assumptions and worldview of mainstream science.
The other group emphasizes common grace and general revelation. These biblical themes emerge from the Christian picture of the world. In this schema, mainstream science is seen in a much more positive light, something instructive, to be extolled and appreciated. However, this group sometimes incorporates scientific perspectives at the expense of the biblical witness and the Christian tradition, which is its Achilles heel.
I would advocate a third way that draws on the strengths of these two approaches but without their respective weaknesses. But that is easier said than done.
The late Ian Barbour developed a typology for relating science and religion: “conflict”; “independence”; “dialogue”; and “integration.” Interestingly, Barbour strenuously objected to the conflict model. One example of the conflict model that he rightly rejects is scientific materialism (or scientism). His other example of conflict is his bête noire, “biblical literalism,” by which he means inerrancy. In his view, the doctrine of inerrancy sets up the Bible to be in conflict with science. That’s a cardinal sin for Barbour, so inerrancy must go. I can’t get into details here, but I think Barbour’s argument is flawed. He’s right to avoid a conflict model, but he’s wrong to think theology never has legitimate grounds for conflict with science. Barbour wants a theology that is rarely (or never) in conflict with science, but that’s methodologically wrongheaded. Conflict sometimes reveals how our scientific conclusions are impaired by the noetic effects of sin and/or our human finitude. The trustworthiness of Scripture—its inerrancy—often functions here as the whistleblower. (Scripture’s inerrancy is a catholic doctrine, a doctrine believed by all branches of Christendom prior to around the 18th century—for good reason, as it’s a biblical doctrine. For a recent account, see Mark Thompson’s helpful essay in the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?).
In my view, then, there is no one size fits all when thinking about the relationship between science and theology. We should adopt instead an eclectic approach. That is, theology’s relationship to science must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Some scientific theories are very consonant with theology; some are in conflict; some are completely independent, and so on. In fact, an eclectic approach seems inescapable once you factor in the staggering complexity of science itself, the rich history of the encounter between science and theology, and the many intricate questions within philosophy of science.
Books At a Glance:
Do you have any other books in the works that we can watch for?
I’m working on a book tentatively titled The Evolution of Sin? Sin, Theistic Evolution, and the Biological Question (Baker Academic). I’m trying to give a robust theological account of the Christian doctrine of sin and its interface with issues in modern biology.
On a smaller scale, IVP has a book in the works, Five Views on the Fall and Original Sin, co-edited by Chad Meister and Jim Stump. I’m one of the contributors to the volume. I was initially reluctant to do the project, but eventually I got Stumped.
Kelly Kapic and I are co-editing a volume: Reading Christian Theology in the Protestant Tradition (T & T Clark). The book is a collection of short essays on specific Christian classics from different periods in church history (the chapters are written by different scholars). By the way, it’s worth clarifying that my co-editor is not a woman—despite the name “Kelly”—though his hairstyle sometimes adds to the confusion.
Buy the books
Adam, The Fall, And Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, And Scientific Perspectives