Questions for Dr Ben Myers

by Pastor Thomas Belt

Ben Myers’ LATC presentation on the atonement was excellent and raised several questions for me, two of which I’ll raise here and comment on.

Question 1: If one adopts an evolutionary view of human origins (which I’m sure Ben does), how does one then say death is a result of human sin (which Ben’s seems to hold)? If evolution is true, mortality predates humanity, in which case death can’t enter creation through Adam (as Paul seems to think in Rm 5). So how does Ben relate mortality to atonement since mortality is unrelated to morality per se?

Some thoughts of my own along these lines:

There’s no doubt Paul believed Adam and Eve were the historical first human pair who let mortality and decay into the material order. Not knowing of evolution, he couldn’t have believed otherwise. For Paul, it seems decay/mortality entered a pristine creation through the sinful choices of Adam and Eve. But once you adopt an evolutionary view of things, I don’t see any way to avoid implicating Paul’s theology. To the extent the essential truths Paul teaches (about sin, salvation, the preeminence of Christ, etc.) require a literal/historical Adam and Eve, Paul is just wrong.

John Walton’s suggestion that Adam and Eve be viewed as the ‘paradigmatic’ and not the ‘biological’ heads of the race might help minimize the damage. Here Adam and Eve aren’t the first of our species, but they do represent the first moment in the history of our race where, presumably, the dawn of moral consciousness is fully manifest (only to be violated). While there has to be some such moment in time when moral consciousness matures, I don’t think Walton’s view helps all that much. It doesn’t help with the question of death for example.

At the very least conservative understandings of inerrancy are not viable and ‘death as enemy’ in particular has to be rethought. It cannot be that mortality per se is the result of morally sinful choices. And unless we want to adopt something like Greg Boyd’s warfare worldview in which entropy itself is the work of demons perverting the natural God-given dispositions of created things, I don’t see an alternative to concluding that God created us mortal, in which case mortality cannot be the consequence of human sinfulness.

What do we do with St. Paul? How does mere mortality become death our enemy? Evolution aside, death certainly does occasion existential despair and angst in us. How so if death is ‘natural’ (i.e., not a privation per se)? Perhaps mortality is a natural beginning but an unnatural end, a natural context in which to begin our journey, but an unnatural place to end it. In this case mortality becomes death/enemy when mortality occasions existential despair in those who remove themselves from loving submission to God. They must face their mortality alone. And that is certainly ‘unnatural’.

But the decay of cells is not an evil in itself — “…unless a seed falls into the ground and die, it abides alone.” Entropy cannot itself be a privation of a good creation if we suppose it to be merely a temporary (and necessary) mode of creation’s beginning. Even on the traditional view of Adam and Eve as historical, prelapsarian matter is still less than what God intends it to be in its final state. This is just to say it has not achieved its telos. Naturally (pun intended), the beginning of things is going to be characterized in ways incompatible with their fulfilled existence. Created mortal by God, we are other than the incorruptible persons we shall be, but this is not to say that as mortal we are ‘privated’ by evil.

In this view then, mortality is the necessary, natural, means for the formation of the perceptions needed for human beings to responsibly meaning-make vis-à-vis ultimate concerns. Death only becomes an enemy where we misrelate to mortality and attempt to establish a meaning for ourselves outside faith/trust in God. Paul could not have expressed this enmity or Christ’s victory over it in terms consistent with biological evolution or the mortality that predates moral consciousness given evolution. But though the terms in which he imagined things (a literal, historical Adam and Eve who open Pandora’s Box and let death into a utopian material realm) are no longer viable, his essential theological point (that death as enemy threatens us with meaninglessness and that Christ’s death/resurrection free us from this existential nightmare) is still correct.

Question 2: The other question I have relates to the woman who asked Ben about the relationship between the ‘incarnation’ and the ‘cross’ relative to atonement/salvation. If the incarnation is the fundamental act by which God and creation are united, why does the union it achieved not universally unfold with the Incarnation? How is it that what is fundamentally an incarnational reality (the union of divine and human being) must await the Cross and resurrection to be realized?

Well, actually it’s not universally realized at the Cross/Resurrection either. It’s still not universally realized in us today. But it is a foregone conclusion. Christ is the eschaton. In Christ, then, creation is not groaning in expectation of glorification. It is fulfilled. But for us and the rest of the created order, we still “groan.” But why, if the Incarnation fulfills creation?

I’m an ‘incarnation-anyway’ proponent. Creation is intended for incarnation from the get-go. In fact, Incarnation just is the reason God creates. Human beings are both the created means of accomplishing this and the beneficiaries of it. But none of this requires a Cross per se. [Side note: This is the fundamental mistake of the passibilist approach to divine-human relationality ala Boyd/Moltmann and others. They define suffering into love metaphysically such that if one doesn’t suffer one isn’t loving. Some take this as far as imagining God in se to eternally undergo the painful ecstasy of inter-trinitarian self-denial and acceptance constitutive of divine being.] The hypostatic union, the lived union of uncreated and created being in the Logos, is the eschatological fulfillment of human being united with God. The Cross doesn’t effect that union at all. It accomplishes something else relative to it, but it is the Incarnation which achieves the union of God and humankind.

But still two questions persist: (1) Why the Cross at all if the Incarnation effects the desired union? And (2) Why, given the accomplished nature of the union of divine-human in the Incarnation, is that union still not universally effective? To my mind the answers to these are essentially the same. The universal reality achieved by the Logos in Incarnation is a personal-hypostatic reality that must be appropriated personally by us. First, then, we must choose. We are not impersonally implicated in the union achieved by Incarnation. Second, we require the Cross because the truth of Incarnation isn’t obvious. Given the privated, despairing, mistrusting, fearful, fallen state in which we find ourselves, we require a demonstration of Incarnate love we are able to perceive within the horizon of our finite and fallen state and so, having perceived it, choose it. And so Paul says, “God demonstrated his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the unglodly.”

The Cross, then, doesn’t seem to be to be the metaphysical price-tag for humanity’s union with God. That union is secured via Incarnation. Nor does God need the Cross to make it possible for him to forgive us. Forgiveness precedes the Cross as its motivation. Nor is the Cross where God experiences a change in attitude regarding us, where he moves from “holding our sins against us” to “not holding them against us” (2 Cor 5.19). They were never “held against us” and the Cross demonstrates precisely this. It seems to me that atonement models that assume anything else (and I think Ben’s assumes something else, namely, that our union with God must, on account of realities on the divine side, be purchased by divine [incarnate] suffering) are dead in the water.

If the Cross is a demonstration of the truth of Incarnation that makes choice possible, it also makes clear that our participation in the new incarnate reality of the God-Man requires us to take responsibility for our choices, to own/confess the truth about ourselves, and this requires our perceiving the gravity of sin. The Cross displays the true nature of our sin and its consequences — not because God must suffer to forgive, but because we must see the truth about ourselves.

This is how we begin to navigate our new identities in Christ through the Church. The Cross makes the choice existentially possible for us, but the Incarnation is the reality into which our choice takes us. Given our fallen condition, we would never have perceived (and so could not have welcomed) the Incarnate One. So the Cross is entirely for us — a demonstration (confirmed by Resurrection) for violent, despairing minds that reveals the identity and benevolent intentions of God and introduces within the horizon of our fallen perspectives a reason to believe that God is in Christ reconciling us to himself. But I see no reason to suppose God must suffer either so that God can forgive us or to secure the union of God and humanity. God gives himself to the very despair and violence in terms of which we have enslaved ourselves only to demonstrate through his death and resurrection that true human being is otherwise than we imagine it to be, definable in peaceful, benevolent terms not threatened by mortality (Heb. 2.15).

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133 Responses to Questions for Dr Ben Myers

  1. Steven Hoyt says:

    well, to the first question, simply read the first four centuries of church fathers. obviously death is metaphor, since all christians still die.

    what is a natural view of sin? well, a jewish one and the same jewish solution to that jesus gives; repent, forgive, love, do good.

    jesus’ message is only unique in his extension of the inner-man.

    in judaism as well as christian theology (except for literalist wingnuts, who are at least scarce), the two trees in the middle of the garden are two choices in every moment, in the center of ourselves, our humanity. do we judge, or, do we love?

    on the evolutionary view, several theories of atonement are perfectly suited. for instance, irenaeus’ recapitulation or abelard’s moral influence theory.

    we are rising apes, not fallen angels. everything about christianity hinges on what problem we say christ came to fix. since we are apes, it is rational to say that we do have likeness to god, see ourselves as insufficient to have society with god (god didn’t care about disobedience in the garden but did care about our hiding in shame because of our nakedness; metaphor for the insufficiency).

    jesus came to save us from judgment, to remove our ignorance of ourselves and show what human nature really entailed, and that “nothing you do will change the fact that you’re my son and i love you!” (in response the the prodigal still judging himself and begging to be with the father if only as a slave)

    on this view, removing ignorance and raising consciousness is what christ came to do.

    there is no problem finding the gospels replete in support of this view; even down to the symbolism of yet two more trees where on one a man hung to free all from judgment and from a noose on the other, a man judging himself, unable to forgive himself. life, and death.

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  2. The second question and the response to it remind me of Fr. John Behr’s comments on an overemphasis put on “Incarnation” and a neglect of the Cross in modern construals of early Christian and Patristic theology. There is something disturbing in this underlining of the Incarnation as THE thing that accomplished union of God and man when one has in view the amount of attention that is devoted in the Apostolic writings to the Cross and it can be hardly stated that the “demonstration” language is the most pervasive one within them. Can the union of God and man be really accomplished without Christ partaking in the human existence as it really exists, in suffering, death, dissolution, degradation, this abyss of creaturely privation that is always threatening all things which have emerged ex nihilo?

    It seems to me that in speaking of the Cross as a demonstration of incarnate love, the old nominalist approach lives on, but this time it’s not God who needs to see us justified, but we need to see God loving. In part that’s true, but the Cross is the expression of divine love exactly, because it really accomplished our deliverance at great cost, not nominally expressed something beyond itself.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr John Meyendorff’s essay “Christ’s Humanity” can be profitably be brought into conversation with Dr Myer’s lecture and Tom Belt’s questions.

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  4. brian says:

    I am somewhat reticent to enter into this dialogue (though not enough to avoid doing so, apparently). I have not found time to listen to Ben Myers’ lecture. I am personally not persuaded that Darwinism is true. This does not mean that I embrace a young earth creationism. Nor am I fully certain that some form of evolution isn’t involved. Rather, I am somewhat agnostic regarding the mechanism of creation. It seems to me there are unresolved problems with every version of evolutionary theory that I am aware of. In my youth, I was at one time a biology major (I had several as an undergraduate) and around that time I investigated a lot of this. I remain fairly current on the debate, such as it is. I have to say that I just don’t accept that death is natural in any form, though I may be quite wrong about this. I think there is an ambiguity about placing Adam and Eve as historical individuals, but I don’t think this requires one to accept them “mythically” in the modern usage of that term. I believe there is a divide between the prelapsarian aspect of the Genesis myth and what comes after. The latter is certainly a gesture towards historical origins that remains outside scientific scrutiny. The former, however, and I think there is patristic warrant for this, involves I believe some kind of corporate identity that is prior to temporal fragmentation. The whole placement in Eden, whatever manner of existence is alluded to, should be thought as a difference in kind, a different dimension, a different form of duration, even. One would never be capable of discovering the geographical location of Eden. Those who seek for such have misunderstood the metaphysics involved.

    As for atonement, that is perhaps even more beyond conceptual capture. In Balthasar’s Theo-Drama, he basically offers up a constellation made up of various different approaches. His view, which I consider the most prudent, is that one has to live with the incapacity of any particular theory to comprehend what remains essentially mysterious. I do think it is very important to side with those who emphasize that God’s loving design for Creation was always aimed at Incarnation. It is problematic to deny this, for then the Incarnation can be interpreted as purely reactionary to human fallibility. And some who I admire have asserted that the Cross is not in any fashion a demand of God, but the logical playing out of divine Love when it meets human intransigence. It is not that the Father requires some kind of penal satisfaction, but rather that the perverse erring of sinful humanity has wandered into depths of isolation and depravity that require the Cross to discover sinful men and women where they are. I am largely sympathetic to this view, though following Balthasar’s careful resistance to conceptual closure, I think it wise to allow for other theo-logics of the Cross as well. Certainly, adopting the position that the Cross is essentially something required by the human condition (or perhaps more widely, because the broader realm of nature, including that of angelic and demonic elements impinge on human nature) does not compel one to assert or defend an extrinsic or nominalist reduction of the Cross. Doubtless, the Cross is a radical demonstration of divine love and somehow a necessary part of deliverance from the alienation of the sinful ego and restoration to flourishing community.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Brian: It is not that the Father requires some kind of penal satisfaction, but rather that the perverse erring of sinful humanity has wandered into depths of isolation and depravity that require the Cross to discover sinful men and women where they are.

      Tom: What he said.

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  5. Kevin Davis says:

    “In this case mortality becomes death/enemy when mortality occasions existential despair in those who remove themselves from loving submission to God. They must face their mortality alone. And that is certainly ‘unnatural’.”

    I like this approach.

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  6. tgbelt says:

    Thank you Steven and Kamil.

    I’m not suggesting that Paul thought the trees or the serpent were literal. I do think (because I think his argument in Rom 5 seems fairly clear) that Paul thought of ‘death’ literally, i.e., as ‘mortality’, and that mortality had its entrance into creation through the failure of the primal pair. If one can plausibly dismiss Paul’s reading of ‘death’ as historical/literal, then I the problems I imagine disappear. That’s good news I suppose. I just don’t think it’s plausible to suppose Paul thought of ‘death’ as other than physical mortality (Rom 5 and 1Cor 15 per death are related).

    Regarding an overemphasis on “Incarnation” and a neglect of the Cross, I don’t know what else to do. The “demonstration” language is Paul’s. I don’t think I neglected the Cross though. We require it. I just don’t think God requires it. There’s nothing on the divine side of the equation (if I can speak that way) that requires God to suffer to open God up to union with us—no “pound of flesh” that satisfies divine justice, no thirst for wrath to “be satisfied,” no divine “Somebody’s got to pay.” But once that’s seen, some understandings of the atonement are rendered invalid. And I may be misunderstanding Ben Meyers here, but it seems to me he’s working with an understanding that posits just some such reality on the divine side.

    As far as overemphasis on Incarnation, the hypostatic union either secures the union of divine and human being (in which case it is a unique and saving act in its own right) or it doesn’t. What’s the alternative to view it as a saving act? That it is just a necessary step on the road to the Cross where the true saving act occurs (because after all, God has to be born so he can get to the Cross and suffer)? I’m not suggesting the reverse (i.e., that the Incarnation is everything and the Cross is incidental). I do think both are necessary, just not in the same way. I included a reference to Heb 2.15. Jesus suffers and dies “to free us from our fear of death.” That’s got to happen, but only because we require it. And the cross is not reduced to nominalism by locating the need for it in us as opposed to God.

    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, are you identifying Incarnation with the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin? Perhaps we should not think of it as being accomplished in an instant but as comprehending the totality of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection.

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      • brian says:

        Sorry, Father. I’m stepping on your lines. I posted without seeing your response.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Thanks Fr Aidan. Good question. I do think the union God intends is a fulfilled (and glorified) human life. God takes the human journey in its totality. That, let us say, is the saving act in its entirety. And we can’t confine that to a moment in Mary’s womb. But I do think that moment is uniquely miraculous in itself and enjoys a certain priority; i.e., what follows unfolds its reality. I want to avoid viewing the hypostatic union as necessary simply to get God to the Cross where the saving deed is done.

        That said, I think we still need to (a) deal with the problem raised by an adoption of evolution (re: death as enemy) and also (b) avoid an understanding of the Cross that views God as needing/requiring it to remove issues on the divine side of the equation, as if there’s something about God that stands in God’s way of union with us which God’s suffering (in Christ) removes.

        Tom

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    • brian says:

      You’re right, of course, Tom. I would actually include an arc from Incarnation to Ascension as constituting God’s redemptive action.

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    • tgbelt says:

      By saying “I don’t think it’s plausible to suppose Paul thought of ‘death’ as other than physical mortality (Rom 5 and 1Cor 15 per death are related)” I’m not suggesting Paul never talks metaphorically about ‘death’ (as spiritual death–e.g., Eph 2).

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I’m sure there are Eastern Orthodox theologians who have seriously engaged the challenge of scientific cosmology, but I do not know who they are. Perhaps they just haven’t been translated into English yet. I glanced this morning at the second volume of Staniloae’s dogmatics on creation, and as far as I can tell, he completely ignores everything we know about the origin and development of the universe. Yet this stuff cannot be ignored, so it seems to me, if we are going to persuade the world, and ourselves, that the disobedience of Adam introduced death, i.e., mortality, into the world. Mythological constructions simply will not cut it.

    I do not know what the answer is. I keep coming back to C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. The mortal, unfallen sentient creatures of Malacandra do not fear death and do not sin because of death. For them, death is not privation nor inconsolable loss. It is ascent.

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    • brian says:

      Lewis’ work is a really good and plausible interpretation. It’s possible “natural” death would involve translation to divine plenitude without sorrow and a feeling for the “living” of painful separation. (I put living in quotes because in the unfallen scenario, surely death is more accurately understood as a transition to a more fully realized life. Well, even now, but our certitude of its nature is through a glass darkly and the psychology of grief is surely part of the inescapable misery of fallen existence.)

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      • tgbelt says:

        “Lewis’ work is a really good and plausible interpretation. It’s possible “natural” death would involve translation to divine plenitude without sorrow and a feeling for the “living” of painful separation.”

        Precisely. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” would be true irrespective of the fall.

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    • tgbelt says:

      I’m sure I read a paper by Fr John D. Jones (Marquette U) on evolution and theology, but I can’t for the life of me find it.

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      • brian says:

        Tom,
        I’ve no doubt one can reconcile evolution and theology. I am simply unconvinced by the arguments that Darwinism is demonstrably proven.

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    • RC says:

      Fr. Aiden, have you listened to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s series on evolution, from his Speaking the Truth in Love program?

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        No I have not. I shall look for it. Thanks.

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      • tgbelt says:

        RC, can you clarify a point for me about Fr Hopko? I haven’t yet listened to him either, but a good friend told me just this week that Fr Hopko views mortality in no uncertain terms as an evil privating upon a good creation, not in any way intended by God. I’ll try to get to his comments asap. Thank you.

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  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have an impression that Western Christians worry about modern theories of evolution because they worried they cannot be reconciled with the biblical story of Adam and Eve and thus the moment when sin was introduced into the world, but that Eastern Christians worry about the fact that death and predation appears to have characterized animal life from its initial appearance.

    Is my impression wrong?

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    • brian says:

      I think that’s accurate. I believe they are both legitimate concerns. It takes quite a bit of finesse to deal with them. My interpretation would place the moment of sin in a metahistorical “place” that allows for a substantial reality behind the Adam and Eve story. In short, I don’t think they are simply fictive symbols for early humanity, but neither are they historical individuals in the way we think of such. As far as death and predation go, I do not believe that could ever have been a proper mechanism in an unfallen world, though I also believe that amity in the creation has always been pointed towards an eschatological fulfillment. One can make a case that the current economy in the created world was intended. There are a lot of Thomists that have no problem with it, but then again, they also tend to have an Aristotelian notion of the destiny of individual creatures that I find deeply offensive.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Brian: “…a metahistorical “place” that allows for a substantial reality behind the Adam and Eve story.”

        That’s the rub. This is where Greg Boyd inserts a precreational (or immediately after some initial state) angelic fall, making Satan out to be a quasi-demiurge who possesses (by God’s original intent and gifting) the portfolio for administrating/overseeing creation’s development. When Satan rebels, creation falls with him. He perverts matter/energy; hence, mortality per se is his doing.

        But Greg believes with Paul in Rom 5 that mortality enters through Adam (not a primal angelic being). So what he does is view the creation narratives as RE-creation narratives. God carves out Eden as a restored enclave within a fallen world. In Eden things were pristine. There was no entropy, no mortality, etc. But all around Eden death and entropy reigned. When Adam and Eve fell, death/decay flooded in and here we are. That’s Boyd’s God at War in a (decaying) nutshell. ;o)

        Tom

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    • Mike H says:

      Fr. Kimel,

      For western Christians there seem to be several different things going on at the same time. I don’t know that it can be generalized because western Christians are a diverse group.

      Much of the “worry” (an understatement) has to do with defending particular definitions of biblical inerrancy and inspiration (and these definitions can vary wildly). No literal, historical Adam & Eve = Genesis and Paul are wrong = no “inerrancy” = a slippery slope to the bible is wrong about everything = people lose faith = our children are going to hell. The particular concerns of the moment of sin, historicity, etc. are not unimportant, but they’re secondary to the “battle for the bible”.

      Other (mostly) scholars seem most interested in genre and in putting forth arguments that the early chapters of Genesis aren’t accounts of material origins at all. This very nuanced approach is still working it’s way to the layperson (like me). It’s hard to understand, and doesn’t play well with the biblicism and “plain meaning” mentality that pervades parts of the western Christian culture. The main focus of this though, IMO, is that a person need not LOSE faith in the Bible as a result of scientific discoveries (evolution). Most of the time though, the focus isn’t really on engaging the theological implications of death and predation.

      There is a group within that 2nd group who (whether working within a genre nuanced version of inerrancy or having discarded it all together as a categorically incorrect way to view scriptural inspiration) seem to be working through those theological implications and problems – death and predation. “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn comes to mind. I haven’t read the book, but I followed the blog discussion on Jesus Creed – RJS went through it on McKnight’s blog back in 2014.

      Theories of biblical inspiration aside, Pete Enns has argued forcefully that evolution isn’t something that can just be grafted on to existing theology. I think that’s right. I used to be desperate –DESPERATE – to find theologians who were really working through this, but couldn’t find any. I suppose my biggest concern with it is going all Calvinist with language – rendering words like “good” and “love” as meaningless. Still, the problems aren’t going away.

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      • Mike, I enjoyed your lucid comment. I do indeed know a devout Calvinist for whom evolution must be false because it implies animal predation before the Fall.

        What difficulties, if any, do you find in the view that–

        (1) Genesis 1-11 situate the Jews mythopoetically with respect to the myths of their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Narrative details not relevant to that task are not relevant to any task.

        (2) In Genesis 1-2, God creates the cosmos as his temple and places all humanity in it as his image and likeness.

        (3) Because of (2), St Paul used his tradition’s first man tale to make an archetypal point about all humanity. Had he instead made it about Job, it would have been no less true; it simply would not have been so clear that it was about everyman rather than only that man.

        (3) The expiration of a snake is not the same as the thanatos of a being with human self-consciousness. Death, as Genesis means it, did not enter the world when the first mold dehydrated or the first baby whale was eaten by predators

        (4) Rather, (a) sin and self-consciousness are mutually associated; (b) their mutual association is prior to the subjectivity of death.

        (5) Apart from Genesis, (4) might not have been noticed, but nevertheless (4) is phenomenologically true, as is attested by such believers as Kierkegaard and such non-believers as Sartre. The Bible does not prove that this phenomenon of experience is *true*; it relates it to God’s dealings with man.

        (6) Christians should not overlook other references to creation in the OT canon that have NT echoes (eg Wisdom in Proverbs 8).

        (7) Those who worry that the actual scriptures that we have received may not be adequate to the evidential needs of the theology they defend face three challenges that the rest of us do not: (a) they are trying to support all loci of their theology using only a historical grammatical hermeneutic of the scriptures unknown in the world that produced them; (b) they are trying to establish the meaning of scripture without relying on either the apostolic *regula fidei* or the Spirit’s witness in tradition or even the narrative of messianic prophecy and fulfillment; (c) they are trying to achieve *reflective faith* (cf Philip Cary) through an *internalist* and *foundationalist* knowledge of the mechanism by which the work of Christ on the cross saved them. When we step back from this project and calmly assess the odds of successfully threading those needles, we cannot be surprised that this project has failed. Those who have foresworn neither non-scriptural insight nor messianic, apostolic, and traditional hermeneutics for scripture, and who understand trust in the person of Christ to be sufficient for justification have lost nothing in that failure.

        (8) The failure at (7) is a form of the *scientism* that has similarly failed in other cultural projects. Positing a method of making *facts* from *data* and rejecting all non-conforming testimony has sometimes enabled patterns to be recognized by consensus more easily (eg the correlation of the masses of the elements with their properties). But nothing ensures that this will always be the case.

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        • Mike H says:

          Bowman,

          Re: #3, I’m not convinced that Paul is putting forth an archetypal argument, but his point stands either way. If Paul was wrong about that, it doesn’t really bother me anymore. Boy did it used to. That’s a whole separate thing that I could talk about all day.

          #4 is where I run into problems. This is where we start nuancing what we mean by “death”. Predation – nature red in tooth and claw – apparently doesn’t qualify as death. Creation – a creation that at all levels seems to require the death of something else in order for to live – is “good”. I mean, I think the whole thing hinges on this point – how we define death and good and creation etc.

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          • Thanks, Mike, for your swift reply.

            On #3, yes, I agree, St Paul’s argument would still be valid even if his archetypal man turned out to be an historical person. Historicity has never been assumed by the argument itself, whatever St Paul thought about it, and the lack of historicity has never weakened the argument. But I hope that you will someday summarize what used to bother you. I’d like to better understand why people get stuck at that precise point.

            For my part, Romans 5 is notoriously tricky, especially the syntax at v 12, but it does seem clear that he is interested in showing that the essence of man requires salvation and that the scope of God’s redemption is universal. To me that defines *archetypal.*

            On #4, it seems that exploration of *death* began quite early in an East untroubled by darwinian ideas that were still far in the future. For example, St Maximus seems to see in mortality the fleshliness by which we are subject to the passions that induce sin. Hence the reading of v 12 that seems bizarre to Westerners but is commonplace in the East, roughly paraphrased– *Adam’s sin caused his mortality, and his mortality transmitted to his descendents causes them to sin.*

            http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm#_Toc26430266

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          • Mike H says:

            Bowman,

            On #3, I don’t know whether Paul is arguing for the existence of an actual human being named Adam, or some other actual historical person who’s being referred to as Adam, or his argument is purely archetypal or mythical. But if he is referring to an actual historical person per one (possible) ancient Israelite worldview (which doesn’t seem unrealistic to me) and he is wrong about that, it doesn’t bother me all that much. That’s not the case for large chunks of the west for very straight forward reasons. If Paul was wrong about that, what else was he wrong about? It’s a matter of a doctrine of scripture – not as big a deal in the East the way that I understand it.

            On #4, you’re saying that there was an exploration of death prior to the fall early on in the East? I didn’t see any mention of that in the linked article, but maybe I missed it.

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          • On #3, Mike, we seem to be in loose agreement. To my mind, your position is secure because the Holy Spirit illumines St Paul’s intelligible arguments, not the illustrative details that are only incidental to them. (Likewise, the Holy Spirit illumines the faithful reader of 1 Corinthians 10:4 even if the idea of a water-gushing boulder following the wandering Israelites never altogether makes sense or seems likely.) So, to the large chunks of the West that you mention, I cheerfully concede that this view entails what the text on the face of it demands– that we can only receive the *testimonium internum spiritus sancti*, not by arbitrarily applying our wills to the conclusion, but only through the careful thinking through the text’s argument that often leads organically to assent. Revealed reasoning remains reasoning; certainty that one will follow the argument is never assured; we just have to pray and try. If one’s theology requires only trust in Christ for one’s salvation, this is not a troubling thought.

            On #4, I must have been unclear. You will find a translation of what I paraphrased in the seventh paragraph of Meyendorff’s discussion of *original sin* at the link. In that paragraph and in those that follow, you will see that sophisticated reflection on death is nothing new. St Maximus had a quite nuanced view of mortality in the C7, long before anyone could conceive of challenging the historicity of Adam. In his influential paradigm, the mortality of human beings is, not just our clinical death, but our susceptibility to the *passions*– we might say *addictions*– that rot out our lives.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Mike, I’d love to check out that 2014 convo about this over at McKnight’s blog. In what weeks did it occur?

        I was thinking about the exchange here between you and Bowman, and I agree we have to understanding the creation narratives mythopoetically. Finding the historical nuggests (whatever they be) is another issue. But what my basic point in the main post was had to do with Paul’s understanding of this material. I don’t think he saw it all as literal (serpents, trees, etc.). But I do think whatever his appreciation of myth might have been, however one interprets Rom 5/1Cor 15, it seems clear that for Paul mortality is the result of sinful choices made by (some) humans (literal, archetypal, whatever). That’s the problem (if one adopts evolution). I don’t see how this aspect of Paul’s theology isn’t implicated. Is that your sense too?

        Tom

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        • Mike H says:

          Hi Tom,

          If you google “Death Before the Fall Jesus Creed” you’ll see it. There were several posts – first one was in Feb-2014.

          As to your question, I’m pretty sure that I see the dilemma the same way that you do. I suppose that I’m able to weasel my way out of being destroyed by the idea of Paul being “wrong” because I view his use of Adam (who, after the early chapters of Genesis, plays virtually no role in the OT so far as I can tell) as a way to get his point across – that point being about “breaking down walls” between people groups, that there’s no difference between Jew and Gentile, etc. There’s no way for Paul to talk about such things other than within the context that he exists. A (rough) quote that I remember from back in school: “without shared experience there is no real communication”. I guess I’m ok using that here – I’m not expecting Paul to have absolutely everything all worked out.

          So I’m less concerned about the implications for Paul’s theology as I am with the actual realities of death and predation (even though I’m not exactly comfortable saying that Paul’s usage of Adam and his view on physical death as NOT being an embedded mechanism within creation are purely incidental either). Even if Paul’s theology isn’t implicated – whether exonerated through archetypal language (it may resolve the historical Adam problems, but not “death”) or defining “death” as a word that doesn’t address mortality (for example, the view that “death” is meant to reference a sort of “exile” from the promised land/the garden, which I do find compelling). But none of that eliminates the theological problems present in ANY non-YEC model. I think that evolution has a unique set of challenges, but an “old earth” model still has to deal with the implications of a cosmos that was inherently predatory outside of the choices made by humans. Whether it’s plants competing for light and sucking the life out of trees, or sharks being perfectly fit to tear apart other animals as opposed to seaweed, there would seem to be a level of violence, suffering, and death that permeated creation before any type of “fall”.

          I’ve no doubt that there are ways to resolve this. I just wonder, at what cost? I have more questions than answers.

          I want to respond to your first comment too – just haven’t had time yet.

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  9. tgbelt says:

    Many thanks for the comments. I’m helped by them all. Looking back over the post (which are thoughts I forwarded to Fr Aidan for the sake of conversation), it does seem to me that I confined God’s incarnational purposes to “the womb” too exclusively, making the ‘moment’ of conception the beginning and end of God’s saving act.

    I was encouraged in this by a Catholic Priest who a few years back asked me, “Do you know why Icons of Jesus as an infant on Mary’s lap so often portray the infant as a full-grown adult?” He told me the reason is to express the truth that our salvation is the Incarnation, that even had Jesus been stillborn or died in infancy, the work of salvation would remain complete.

    I think this is mistaken. So let me rephrase myself and suggest that what saves our human journeys is God’s taking the human journey (in its entirety), and while this obviously requires the hypostatic union, that union only achieves God’s unitive purpose in a fulfilled human life, and this means the Incarnate One has to face mortality, he has to navigate his divine identity in and through the threat that finite morality presents. Forgive the promotion, but I tried to get at this here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/creation-as-intra-trinitarian-gift/

    What this doesn’t entail is that the finite condition in which Christ develops his identity and faces mortality must be a fallen condition. It in fact is, of course, but that may in fact be incidental to God’s unitive purposes. We don’t want to say evil has some necessary role to play in uniting God to creation or that there is that in God which must suffer to satisfy that in God which demands such satisfaction.

    For decades the four-minute mile was believed unbreakable. After Roger Bannister became the first to break it in 1954, others followed. Soon it became common. Today if you don’t run the mile in under 4 minutes, you’re slow. I sometimes imagine the human achievement who is Christ under the conditions of finitude and mortality to exercise a similar liberating (Heb 2.15) influence us.

    Tom

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  10. Jeremy says:

    I was fascinated by Myers’ attempt to find a “mechanism” or ontology of the atonement. That was an endeavor I was intrigued by myself at one point as I tried to find a more satisfactory explanation than the penal substitutionary model that I inherited. I thought he did a pretty convincing job demonstrating that the church fathers did have a coherent mechanism by which they understood the atonement to work. But that does not mean I believe their account is without flaws.

    It was interesting to me that Myers described Nyssa’s fishhook metaphor but limited it to pointing to a deeper, more robust, metaphysical model (the topic of his talk). Both metaphors and models, however, are approximations of reality. I believe now, attempts to find a metaphysic of the atonement, while interesting historically, are unnecessary and misguided.

    I agree with you, Tom, that the incarnation or the atonement cannot be events that change God’s disposition toward us (whether through Penal Substitution, whereby God can forgive us once he has expended his wrath on Christ, or whether God is only able to “enter” death, to overcome it, once he unites with human nature.) The primary impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is how it changes us in how we see God. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds”, Colossians 1:21. “Be transformed, by the renewing of your minds”, Romans 12:2. (On a side note, the word “transformed”, in Greek, metamorpheo, is the same word used in the synoptics to described Jesus’ transfiguration!)

    Regarding God’s impassibility: Myer’s view, and the church fathers’ view, that the incarnation was a way around the “problem” of God’s impassibility seems problematic to me. Likewise, those who see God as passible and see that God must become human, and suffer and die (Boyd and Moltmann?), as you say, who “define suffering into love metaphysically such that if one doesn’t suffer one isn’t loving.” seem misguided to me too.

    The view that I would espouse is that in the incarnation, Jesus demonstrates “Immanuel”, God with us. He demonstrates the extent of God-with-us-ness, in ways that we had not before conceived. In Jesus’ incarnation and suffering (being born in relative poverty, into a country occupied by a pagan government, with the probable reputation of a bastard, suffering the grief of the loss of his earthly father Joseph, his rejection and shaming by his countrymen and family, his suffering and death and shame on the cross) God demonstrates that ALL ALONG, he has been with us and suffering with us.

    When we show compassion towards someone (lit. together-suffer), show empathy (lit. in-feeling or in-suffering), we suffer in our minds, and in the depth of our beings even as we listen to other’s stories. People can develop post-traumatic stress disorder just from listening to the horrific stories of other’s suffering. How much more does God suffer with us, has God always suffered with us, he “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and who “holds all things together” (Col 1:17). Is God unaware of every neuron that fires a pain signal? Does he not feel every cry of every soul? But did God have to suffer? No! Just as he did not have to create, but as the creation of free, finite beings entails suffering, he willing entered into creation and suffering, out of his all abounding love!

    And so now we get to the Imago Dei. (The actual title of Myer’s talk was “Atonement and the Image of God). Jesus, “the image of the invisible God”, (Col 1:15), reveals to us the true nature of God, “if you have seen me, you have seen the father” (John 14:9). He destroys our anthropomorphic violent projections of sinful human nature onto God, and reveals “God is Love”. But he also shows our own telos, our own end, our predestination since the foundation of the world. We, broken image bearers that we are, see in Jesus what we are to become. We see the hope of our resurrected glorious bodies. We see the example we are to follow. We see that the example of the Son can only be followed in loving fellowship with our heavenly father through the power of the Spirit. We see our end which is theosis.

    And so God does not need a metaphysical mechanism to save us, beyond the revealing of humanity’s need for him, revealing to us our telos in Christ, and revealing to us the nature of the father. (Doubtless there will be some quite complicated physics involved in the the composition of our glorified bodies, which we may or may not one day understand in eternity), but it is unnecessary to entail some sort of metaphysic of the incarnation/atonement by which he saves, though I believe I have outlined some theological/psychological ideas of how we are saved through the incarnation.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Jeremy: The view that I would espouse is that in the incarnation, Jesus demonstrates “Immanuel”, God with us. He demonstrates the extent of God-with-us-ness, in ways that we had not before conceived. In Jesus’ incarnation and suffering (being born in relative poverty, into a country occupied by a pagan government, with the probable reputation of a bastard, suffering the grief of the loss of his earthly father Joseph, his rejection and shaming by his countrymen and family, his suffering and death and shame on the cross) God demonstrates that ALL ALONG, he has been with us and suffering with us.

      Thank you Jeremy. That helps me. Precisely what I was trying to express. Forgive a second link, but I try to explore it here as well: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/god-enters-our-nightmare/

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      • Jeremy says:

        Thanks, Tom. I’ll check out your post.

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      • Mike H says:

        One of the critiques of an “example” or “influence” type of atonement model is that it doesn’t anything actually change anything. It’s nice advice on how to live perhaps. Or good information that God loves us and always has (information that we might not otherwise ever KNOW for sure – no philosophy can prove it), but how does it result in at-one-ment? Does it merely present a picture of God as requiring nothing in order to love and forgive which, apparently, we’ve largely misunderstood in the West for the last 500 years? I think it’s a legit question.

        I recently read “Desire Found Me” by Andre Rabe – much of his theology is based on the work of Rene Girard. He critiques the exact things being discussed here – in regards to God being the one who needs to change, his hands being tied by his own sense of justice, or the metaphysical problem of death, or the devil, or whatever – and proposes “Mimetic Atonement”, a sort of hybrid Christus Victor / Moral Influence model. At the heart of atonement theories is framing the problem to be solved, and Rabe framed the problem and it’s subversion differently than in penal types of theories. And he posits that the “atonement” is more than a mere historical event – it is a “now” thing.

        A few quotes (apologies for the length):

        ”If the source of this disharmony between ourselves, ourselves and God, and ourselves and creation, is our own inherent blindness, then harmonious at-one-ment involves the kind of revelation that shatters our isolating illusions and reveals us as located in the bosom of our Abba.”

        “The very nature of atonement is revelation. In the same way in which our blindness was more than wrong beliefs, so this revelation is more than accepting right beliefs. What we fundamentally believe about ourselves, about others and about God, cannot be changed by simply being presented with new information.”

        “Mimetic revelation is the encounter in which every desire I have allowed to form me dissolves, and consequently I am undone. It is the event in which I am re-formed as I come face to face with my origin, the authentic desire that imagined me and brought me forth, the God who is love. The boundaries of who I think I am disintegrate when I realize that love defines me.”

        “The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s self revelation within our history and, as such, atonement is a historic event. But atonement is also more than history, it is the “now” or “wow” moment in which the Spirit of God opens my eyes to see the true God and find myself as his reflection.”

        “Jesus so radically subverted sacrifice, that the practice of it stops wherever the gospel is heard and embraced.”

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        • tgbelt says:

          Mike,

          I think you ask a legit question too. I confess my answer is along the lines you’d suspect. I wouldn’t say the atonement changes anything if by change we mean a change in God’s attitude toward us or the satisfaction of just payment that makes it possible for God to forgive us—as if there is some metaphysical obstacle in God that atonement addresses and in addressing opens up to us the realities of divine forgiveness.

          But it does “change” something if by change we mean a change in available reasons human beings have for knowing God loves them, forgives them, will never abandon them, etc. There is now on the horizon a demonstration of love revealing the unchanging reality of God’s love for us. And that demonstration is nothing less than creation’s being united to God via Incarnation. That’s pretty significant. It changes everything actually.

          In other words, it’s not just that God loves us and we need a reason to know this is true, so the Incarnation/Cross give us the reason while in fact being incidental to the union that God lovingly seeks. I don’t think that. God’s purposes for us require the Incarnation. God must take the human journey to unite us to God because (as I believe but can’t prove) creation can have no destiny outside of Incarnation. Incarnation is the metaphysical price tag (so to speak) of getting created, finite being united to God in final beatitude. There’s everything to change in that sense. But that’s not to say the Incarnation/Cross are required to appease God’s anger or anything along those lines. There’s nothing to change in that sense.

          Hope that helps. I’m still looking for answers myself, Mike, so I appreciate the feedback.

          Tom

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    • brian says:

      Thanks, Jeremy. I think this is very well stated.

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  11. Ed De Vita says:

    If one thinks of immortality as a gift bestowed on Adam and Eve after their creation (and this would be the symbolism of the tree of life from which they had to continue to “eat” if they were to remain immortal), the difficulty is largely overcome. Though, in themselves, they were mortal, they had , nevertheless, been prepared by God to receive the gift of immortality. And they retained this gift only in their dependence upon God. Sin destroyed this relationship with God. The couple was barred from eating of the tree of life and returned to their mortal state.

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    • MorganHunter says:

      Interesting! The Catechism, as I recall, describes our first parents as being “mortal by nature but immortal by grace”–meaning, I suppose, that if you were to obtain a DNA sample from them you woudn’t see anything radically unfamiliar. One could even go further and note that in the narrative of the Fall it seems that they haven’t yet eaten of the tree of life–as you said, they were merely being ‘prepared’ to receive immortality at that stage.

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  12. Once upon a thread on a post long ago, one of us– was it Jeremy?– noted that a complete atonement doctrine must explain, not only the ‘mechanism’ of cosmic redemption, but also the ‘saga’ of Israel and the being of the Church. This is true; St Paul views Israel as faithless, but not as a waste of time, and baptism as initiation into Christ’s death, not as a simple penitential bath. The cross may figure, differently, in both strands of the braid. As Tom Belt says above, incarnation may indeed have entailed some sort of death, so that God in assuming it redeemed it. And as Tom Wright says here and there, the ‘faithfulness of the Messiah’ may have entailed a conscious sacrifice of life in which the baptized also participate, so that the risen Jesus replaces the Temple. Is there any reason to pit either subplot against the other?

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  13. mattkofler says:

    Accepting that mortality is a good/useful/natural thing might solve a couple of theological issues raised by modern biology/cosmology, but I’ll admit that it’s a tough pill to swallow. I really dislike the idea of a God who uses “planned obsolescence”, to use a technology term, in his creation. It seems wasteful and cruelly nonsensical. For me, when push comes to shove, I’d rather accept something like Greg Boyd’s world-view, regardless of it’s plausibility, if it paints a more compelling picture of God. That’s just how I do my theology nowadays. Do I know why death is a part of creation? No, nor do I feel like speculating at the moment. But I’d rather have mystery that an unsatisfying answer or, worse, an unsatisfying God.

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  14. When Pastor Belt says, “Paul is just wrong” I wonder if the whole initial premise that he puts forward is disjointed in that we have –

    “Dia touto hōsper di’ henos anthrōpou hē hamartia eis ton kosmon eisēlthen kai dia tēs hamartias ho thanatos kai houtōs Eis pantas anthrōpous ho thanatos diēlthen eph’ hō pantes hēmarton”

    “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”

    Now I am no Greek semanticist, but when I read Romans 5:12 I come away with a potentially different meaning in that, it is “Sin” that [enters into the world of Men] not necessarily the rest of Creation, which evolved through eons death and struggle up to that point in time. Therefore physical “Death” then becomes a consequence of human existence itself, because all will then “Sin” voluntarily now inheriting that propensity through Adam. This idea roughly clicks into RTB’s Day-age Creationism and or even potentially Denis Alexander’s installment of the “nepesh” into “Homo divinus”. But either way, there are huge hurdles that can snag this collage of models.

    “And unless we want to adopt something like Greg Boyd’s warfare worldview in which entropy itself is the work of demons perverting the natural God-given dispositions of created things, I don’t see an alternative to concluding that God created us mortal, in which case mortality cannot be the consequence of human sinfulness.”

    So God’s original creation of us in the garden was not to be “mortal” but through believing the satanic lie that, “Surely you will not die”, we thus fell and fractured our physical and spiritual union – Christ then restores that harmony via Myers’ 12 step model.

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  15. tgbelt says:

    Thank you Matt K and Dave P. I’m grateful for the comments and help.

    Matt, you might be downplaying what’s solved (“a couple of issues”?) for those believers who adopt an evolutionary history of origins. If evolution is true, mortality predates our race entirely and cannot be a consequence of human sinfulness. Squaring that with Paul’s view that mortality is linked to such sinfulness is significant. I suppose on this question we’re all bailing some water.

    Just to clarify what I mean by calling mortality ‘natural’, I’m not suggesting it’s a natural ‘end’, i.e., that it fulfills nature’s telos. But it doesn’t follow from this simply that mortality is an evil in the sense of being a “privation” of the good God intends. It may be God-given in the sense that it confronts us with the Void, the truth of our nothingness, our utter dependency upon God, and so contributes to what William Desmond calls existence as a conatus essendi (an inherent struggle of personal becoming). That ‘struggle’ is natural though not our intended “end” nor an experience of “privation.”

    I’m also uncomfortable with the apparent waste and pain of our evolutionary history. And though it may not make sense for me to say this (I don’t know what to do but say it without explanation), but I think that apart from universalism this is a wasteful and cruel way to go. Given universalism, however, I don’t sense that same problem.

    Greg’s view has its supporters. His particular brand of warfare isn’t theologically viable to me. It makes Satan out to a demiurge (functionally speaking). I will say this though; conceding mortality as the God-given means of personal becoming doesn’t in itself rule out the reality of warfare and the presence of angelic wills working at cross purposes with God in the world. I could grant the reality of such warfare on significant levels. What I don’t see is that entropy and mortality themselves are demonic perversions of a prelapsarian golden age where nothing died or decayed, tectonic plates didn’t shake the ground killing animals, and human beings never slipped on wet surfaces and cracked their skulls—i.e., accidents are fictions. Tree limbs only fall on napping infants because some demon has manipulated matter (which is Greg’s view).

    ————————–

    Dave, I’d be happy if it turns out Paul didn’t think of Adam and Eve as a historical couple and didn’t imagine mortality to have found its way into creation via Adam and Eve’s choice. But I don’t see how to interpret him otherwise. If anyone knows of a purely metaphorical interpretation of death in Paul, I’d be interested.

    Tom

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  16. Tom –

    The re-jigment of Roman’s 5:12 was a pretentious attempt on my part to potentially shift the categories of order in the phylogenetic tree. Other key verses would obviously challenge these assumptions. What I find ironic though is the unwillingness of some to diverge away from the evolutionary process even slightly when formulating a Pre-Adamic model, but then, have no trouble whatsoever accepting the veracity of OT Divine intervention and or NT Miracles/Resurrection. God has the freedom of divine creative interpolation into the hominid genetic code at his good pleasure – as Collins and others have suggested. However, if one has a separate necessary prerequisite “privation” for the animal kingdom – viz. [Cosmic Temple cannon fodder; a la Walton] as a window dressing for the main event – “The Creation of Adam”, you run into problems of biological continuity on a whole host of levels. At first, a Progressive Creationist account doesn’t seem to be at odds with Meyer’s atonement sequence in that the “death” of Adam is not only physical but then a spiritual one as well – being that he was the first intentionally “sentient” being created (supposedly?) Unlike the rest of creation, he was intended to originally live forever harmonious in relation with God. Some have claimed that the lack of “blood” not apparent in Christ’s Resurrected body, points to a similar Adamic [glorified resurrected bodily-like condition]: yet he ate, so I assume he digested and shat – Ha! So much for the symbiotic evolution of enterotypes ?

    The bizarre twists go on and on. I Think Bowman skillfully nails it in his comment above, especially in numbers (7c) & (8) where much of what we postulate lacks the aerodynamics to get off the ground theologically.
    Cheers.

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  17. “…Paul is just wrong,” says Tom.

    Well… no… he’s a C1 midrashic interpreter of scripture who studied with Gamaliel, not with Warfield, and who practiced merkabah spirituality, not scholastic theology. This is the same Paul who speculates on whether travelers in the third heaven are in or out of the body, who comments without worries on water-gushing boulders that follow people around the Sinai, and who tells people that if they touch a prostitute, it is actually Christ who is doing it. Paul of Tarsus was not Thomas Reid. Whether we even can get the *midrashic* reasoning of Paul (and indeed Jesus– Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:13, Mark 14:62) to somewhat brush up against the *causal* reasoning of modern evolutionary theory is very far from having been shown. This reality lies behind the position of Peter Enns to which Mike H. alludes above.

    Tom’s reflections on the first question are certainly suggestive. They may timeworm patristic reflections on the corruption of human nature to modern meditations on anxiety, dread, finitude. Which is very cool.

    But our interest in those reflections should not be motivated by panic at some sort of “damage” until we are clear as a cold-hearted insurance adjuster about what, exactly, the damage is and how much it is worth to whom. On the face of it, (1) Paul’s veracity is not in doubt– (a) his midrashic interpretations were accepted in his day; (b) we do not have a hermeneutic that can bring Darwin the naturalist face to face with Paul the mystic, and (c) we may eventually have to resign ourselves to differences so deep that we never will. Nor (2) is Genesis in doubt– (a) we have no epistemic ground for retrojecting contemporary and even future understandings of causation (eg Lewis’s counterfactual account) into the narrative priorities of the representative ‘adam’s sin to his mortality, and that mortality to our sin; (b) literary features of the text itself– the ‘adam (=dust)/Adam pun, naming of the animals, the fashioning of a woman from a rib– will always enable non-causal understandings of the ‘adam’s representation; (c) the situation of Genesis among other ancient Near Eastern origin tales will always warrant more or less plausible competing metaphysical readings. Nor finally (3), is the natural history of evolution in doubt– (a) Genesis does not exhibit the primal world as initially perfect; (b) Genesis does describe a Creator who experiments to find a companion for the ‘adam. All is well; still, there is disquiet.

    Notably, it is not felt equally in all corners of Christendom. Mike describes well the discomfort of discovering that (4) the historical grammatical method (a) is not a skeleton key to all passages in all horizons of the scriptures, and (b) does not warrant confidence that anyone with a Bible can actually read and understand all of it. The opposition to Peter Enns’s position on this shows who feels that discomfort most acutely. Generally, it is those who were committed most exclusively to St Augustine’s already causal theory of the Fall who are now most troubled by the unwelcome arrival of an evolutionary causal reading that (5) cannot be disentangled from it. To agree with St Augustine on original sin, you have to read Genesis as a causal account, but once you have conceded this then Tom’s evolutionary questions about that causation inexorably follow.

    Given the availability of an Eastern alternative– a representative ‘adam; a more probable construal of the Greek; a deeper understanding of mortality– why would one not take it? Because (6) a representative ‘adam points away from *particularist* accounts of salvation and toward comparatively *universalist* ones (Warfield’s terminology). Ultimately, evolution threatens the scriptural basis for particular election, non-participationist soteriology, and non-incorporative ecclesiology. It threatens what George Hunsinger identifies as *rationalistic* forms of Calvinism. To those who know no other theological idiom, it seems to threaten Protestantism.

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    • tgbelt says:

      However, just to clarify, I didn’t just float the claim out there that “Paul is just wrong.” I said “to the extent the essential truths Paul teaches (about sin, salvation, the preeminence of Christ, etc.) require a literal/historical Adam and Eve, Paul is just wrong.” It may be as you say (let me re-read your post though!) that nothing essential to Paul’s teaching regarding these truths is dependent to any extent upon a literal/historical Adam or requires reading Paul as believing that mortality entered the created order through human sinfulness. That’s fine. My point was that if such a connection is Pauline, I think we have to disagree at that point with Paul. There’s no damage or alarm here for me personally. I brought the question up to Dr. Meyers in the interest of the majority of my Christian colleagues and friends whose faith I think would be undermined were Paul wrong about anything.

      Tom

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      • tgbelt says:

        The first sentence of my post there didn’t make the “cut”! It was:

        Thank you Bowman. Appreciate the comments. I’ll add them to what I’m already trying to think through.

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      • Tom, your remarks are so clear and memorable that an ellipsis is sufficient. 🙂 No, Paul’s argument does not need an historical Adam, but yes, *eph ho* probably does refer to *thanatos* in Romans 5:12. The question is simply– what does that mean? I have enjoyed your thoughts on this, and hope to hear more about them.

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    • Mike H says:

      Bowman,

      As I see it, the question isn’t whether Paul is midrashing or not. It only matters what he’s saying – in this context what he’s saying about “death” (and/or if it’s incidental or not to his purpose of writing about Christ).

      If Paul is using midrash to argue that death – as in physical death – didn’t exist in any capacity before the poor choice of humanity, then that is the argument. Why does it matter if the argument is made using a culturally normal midrash? If wanting to correctly understand the argument that Paul is putting forth (taking into account his own hermeneutical methods) makes me beholden to the historical critical method then I’m willing to own that.

      I think the only argument that can be made is that Paul is working with a particular definition of “death” that is different, and for some that won’t seem feasible. Unless, I suppose, we’re free to midrash Paul, in which case “death” can mean whatever we “midrash” it to mean.

      But for me, I’m not so concerned with what this does to biblical hermeneutics or Paul’s theology or how I can explain away any difficulties as I am with the thing itself. A representative Adam and/or midrash doesn’t ease the anxiety of the thing itself.

      Ultimately I think this matters immensely to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. And it matters as a backdrop for this atonement conversation.

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      • To be clear, Mike, whose death concerns you, and what exactly is the “anxiety of the thing itself” that “matters immensely to a lot of people” for diverse reasons? Of course I’m glad that are not concerned about hermeneutics, biblical authority, etc as others are, but your own thoughts about death in Eden are not clear to me.

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        • Mike H says:

          Bowman,

          Thanks for all your thoughts.

          I’m talking about death, suffering, predation existing before any choice of humans that would have directly brought them about. So not only the death of human beings, but death in general – death and suffering that characterized creation from the very beginning.

          As far as these science/faith types of things “mattering immensely”, I’m referring to anyone whose faith has been tested by them, particularly young people. Some people can roll with evolution without any problem, but some people can’t.

          Apologies if that has been unclear.

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          • Mike, no need for apologies. I do not mean to try your patience, but alas I still do not quite get it. What in the *faith* of eg *young people* is being *tested* and by what?

            Do they doubt *I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth* because they feel sorry for pre-human animals that expired in geological deep time? If so, what contradiction between creed and fact do they think they see?

            Like

          • Mike H says:

            Bowman,

            As to how people’s faith is being challenged, I think Tom answered the question better than I ever could. See his comment below (10/14 at 2:12)

            Like

      • tgbelt says:

        Mike: As I see it, the question isn’t whether Paul is midrashing or not. It only matters what he’s saying – in this context what he’s saying about “death” (and/or if it’s incidental or not to his purpose of writing about Christ). If Paul is using midrash to argue that death – as in physical death – didn’t exist in any capacity before the poor choice of humanity, then that is the argument.

        Tom: I agree. Thank you Mike. The question is not (as Bowman is reading me I think) simply whether or not Paul thinks Adam is a historical person (though for those who see that being Paul’s view it makes locates the historical entrance of mortality to a particular person, Adam), but as you’re saying here Mike, whether or not physical mortality is historically contingent upon poor human choices (i.e., whether Paul locates the historical entrance of morality to a particular kind of choice). In the former a human being marks the historical entrance of mortality while in the latter unnamed human choices mark it. Either way mortality as such is linked to poor human choice.

        ——————-

        Bowman, do you read Paul as making no such connection between morality and human sinfulness? If you can make that case, many would welcome a viable way to avoid disagreeing with Paul.

        Tom

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        • Tom, if you can indulge a very concrete question of mine, I will try to answer yours. Are the *many* concerned that Science’s fossils show that creatures were dying long before the Bible’s sinner could have enabled anything whatever to die?

          Like

    • tgbelt says:

      Bowman: On the face of it, (1) Paul’s veracity is not in doubt– (a) his midrashic interpretations were accepted in his day…

      Tom: Bowman, can you point me to some 1st century Jewish readings (or Jewish readings reflective of 1st century beliefs) of Adam/Death which dissociate mortality and sinful human choice?

      Like

      • Tom, there is a wealth of OT pseudoepigrapha, edited first by Charlesworth and now by Bauckham, that may eventually change the background against which we read Judaism’s first man tale, but I am not expert in it.

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  18. Jonathan says:

    I’m not sure I understand the nature of the first question about death. Surely death is a word or an idea, not a thing in itself. Discursively, the word works in a variety of ways and does not refer to biological death only. Indeed, I think biological death is the more metaphorical or figurative usage of the term. Biologically, death is nothing but the cessation of that physical state we refer to as life. And what is that physical state? When a person dies, he or she may be physically constituted in exactly the same way as he or she was in life, moments before. (Actually, death is located precisely in the momentary.) What goes missing between death and life? Motion? Electrical charge? I remember my ninth grade science teacher, a very smart man, telling us that fire exhibits all, or perhaps all but one, of the characteristics which biologists use to define life. What is life? What does it mean that God is a God of the living?

    Like

  19. Jonathan says:

    A wee point about the Paul, from the Lit. Crit. corner:

    Lets say Paul meant physical death (whatever that is — very hard to define, very easy to recognize). And let’s say that’s all he intended. In this case he is factually wrong. What I want to propose is that this does not matter in the least. It is possible to utter truth far in excess of what one intends, and perhaps even directly contrary to what one thinks one is saying. To presume that Paul’s statements stand or fall depending on whether he knew what he was talking about is a hermeneutical fallacy, a severely reductive understanding of how meaning works. It is important to be able to read scripture at least as intelligently as we read, say, a novel. No one expects a great novelist to be able to account for all the meaning in his work. In fact, much more commonly the major artist of any kind can hardly begin to be conscious of the meaning in the work; and indeed this is usually the case as well for any given reader. The value of a work can stand in sharp contrast to the intelligence and ethical commitments of its makers, just as it can do so in relation to its recipients. I think of Ezra Pound’s fascism and anti-semitism, for example. We may well believe Paul was inspired in a more reliable fashion than an eclectic modernist poet. It in no way follows that the true meaning and value of everything he says is on the literal level. Literal meaning is grossly overrated, as evidenced in the pervasive misuse, for emphatic purposes, of the word “literally.”

    Like

    • Thank you, Jonathan, for literary counsel. Unless I misread them, Tom, Mike, et al are open to the imaginative depth of Genesis and Romans. In this case, it seems, the literature to be understood is the canon as a whole, and the understanding sought is knowledge of that from which Christ has delivered us.

      Like

      • Jonathan says:

        Yes, I see that. I desire and seek the same insight. There seems to be a good deal of concern, one way or another, about whether physical death came into the world with sin. I am saying this should not even be on the table because 1) physical death is not quite as obvious as we’re assuming it is; nevertheless 2) anyone claiming there was no physical death prior to the sinful human race is manifestly mistaken. I’m suggesting that it may be helpful to think less about death and more about the life that Christ is and has promised us. We are treating death like a quiddity, which it is not.

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        • Agreed, Jonathan. And I think Tom and Mike also agree. But they are presenting the views of others who lack a direct path to the sort of imaginative rebooting you suggest.
          In our cultural context, that rebooting may require both the unlearning of a somewhat rationalistic imaginary (as I have explained and signposted above, and as you have noted in your appeals to the imagination) and also the learning of a soteriology that exfoliates into quite different patterns of life and thought in Christ (as Fr Kimel’s whole project here implies). Like learning to ride a bicycle, this is tricky until suddenly it isn’t.

          In the link that I sent Mike, Meyendorff explains that the Greek fathers thought of *thanatos*, not reductively as the cessation of physiological functions indicated by *vital signs*, but as the corruption of human nature that arises from the heart’s susceptibility to the *passions* (= addictions) that degrades both spirit and flesh and becomes visible in the corpse’s decay. (An analogous view– my global health friends who work in developing countries rarely see cases of diabetes, except among those who serve the economies of the North where, unsurprisingly to them, people wealthy through exploitation die through indulgence in alcohol, sugar, etc unavailable to the great mass of the earth’s inhabitants.) In the view of the patristic East, even the body of the Theotokos, who had overcome the fault of human nature, ceased at her dormition, but it did not decay. The Christian hope is not deathlessness but relative incorruption followed by Wright’s “life after life after death.”

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          • Jonathan says:

            Very well, my apologies to all and sundry if I have appeared frustrated or callous in the face of honest concerns about a supposed causal relation of sin and physical death. I suppose I take the “imaginative rebooting” for granted. I wouldn’t make a good pastor.

            There’s a lot in the eastern/patristic Christian understanding of death that seems spot on to me, although it would have to be discursively repackaged to ever catch on in the west.

            Like

          • Frustrated? Callous? Wouldn’t make a good pastor? Fiddlesticks.

            Clearing the path to a better imaginary is important, as Tom and Mike have both said, and as I would argue myself on other grounds. Doing that involves trailblazing from both ends toward the middle. Neither end matters more than the other.

            Speaking of a somewhat rationalistic imaginary–

            http://postbarthian.com/2015/07/11/george-hunsinger-on-the-pathogenicity-of-rationalistic-calvinism/#comment-59693

            Like

          • tgbelt says:

            Bowman: And I think Tom and Mike also agree.

            Tom: Well, I wouldn’t agree that the question of whether death/mortality in the created order is a consequence of creaturely disobedience should, as Jonathan suggests, not even be on the table. What I’m doing a bad job of trying to say is that it looks fairly obvious to me that Paul has already put this question on the table by attributing mortality to creaturely disobedience. The “reboot” for me isn’t how to find a way to understand Paul as not making this connection (I think that connection is fairly obvious). The “reboot” for me is how to encourage those whose faith is traumatized by this mistaken connection in Paul to reimagine faith in a way that’s not threatened by Paul’s being wrong here.

            Tom

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          • Jonathan says:

            Tom, I agree that we disagree. What do you think of my proposal that the truth Paul unintentionally announces can be dissociated from the falsity he intended?

            Like

          • Mike H says:

            Tom/Jonathan,

            I like Tom’s way of putting it – Paul has put the question on the table.. In trying to get to the significance of the entire Christ narrative, Paul is going to the very core of what is wrong – all the way back to the beginning of his own ancient Israelite story.

            Maybe we need a word to describe the type of “death” that we’re talking about. I’m talking about the entire history of animal predation, a world red in tooth and claw, human death, pain and suffering in childbirth, an earth that yields thorns, etc. – ALL prior to any creaturely disobedience. For the sake of this specific thread, I’ll refer to this as “pre-fall corruption.” Not perfect by any stretch, but perhaps it’s enough to differentiate terms. Toss it if you don’t like it.

            Suppose Paul is working with a definition of “death” that COMPLETELY excludes any association with “pre-fall corruption” (which I remain unconvinced of – but again, I’m not as hung up on that as some others might be). Even if I were convinced Paul didn’t have that in mind AT ALL, I’d STILL like to talk about pre-fall corruption and how that relates to “atonement”.

            While an “imaginative rebooting” may extricate Paul and provide a way to avoid being caught up in the quicksand of literalism, I still argue that pre-fall corruption needs to be addressed. If Paul and the early church is working with a different definition of “death”, it just means that they aren’t addressing the issue of pre-fall corruption at all. It doesn’t mean they’ve explained it away.

            So if they aren’t talking about it, the question is – is it an issue even worth talking about? I think it is. I think is has an impact on how we perceive the nature and goal of the atonement (amongst other things). And to the degree that an imaginative reboot is actively engaging “pre-fall corruption” (as opposed to demonstrating why the word “death” never intends to address pre-fall corruption) I’m all ears. I’d really like to see how people are working that out.

            So I don’t expect to resolve all of the complexities though blog comments, but we might agree on whether “pre-fall corruption” is even worth talking about, and whether it has any implications for atonement theology.

            Like

          • Mike, what makes *pre-Fall corruption*– do you mean *pre-Eden corruption*?– a hard thought for me to think is that *corruption* has a particular Judaic and patristic anthropology in view that I cannot intelligently associate with a non-human creature. That anthropology posits a self-consciousness that is intrinsically dependent on the right God-consciousness. The creatures that lived and died before H. sapiens showed up with a triune brain, a neo-cortex, a certain connectome, etc capable of that anthropology do not have obvious relevance. But perhaps there is something that I am missing?

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          • Tom, it may be that the error that you think you see in St Paul is located, not so much in his natural history of death as in the anthropology that I have just mentioned to Mike. Given that anthropology, I am not sure that his remarks can be read as natural history. Do you have any particular passages in mind?

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          • Mike H says:

            Bowman,

            I guess I don’t know how to make my point any more clearly. Final attempt.

            I’ve listed a few basic things that would constitute “pre-fall corruption”. I say “pre-fall” but call it “pre-Eden” if you want.

            Would you say that any of the things that I listed are the result of creaturely disobedience(or call it a break in communion between God and humanity) at a particular historical moment, or were they there all along, prior to any break? I don’t see what this question has to do with anthropology. And I’m not sure how else to ask it.

            Like

          • MorganHunter says:

            I’m not sure that “pre-Fall/pre-Eden corruption” can be regarded as part of God’s original good intention for this world when one considers both the Old Testament prophecies in which predation comes to an end in the glorious future age (“the lion shall lie down with the lamb,” “they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”, etc.) These texts seem to indicate that predation and other forms of animal suffering and death can’t be regarded as morally indifferent or positively good. More significantly, Romans 8 describes “the creation” in its entirety as being ” freed from its bondage to decay” suggesting that even entropy in the inanimate world is not what was originally intended for it. I agree with you that as Christians we can’t believe against all scientific evidence that there was no death in the world before the appearance of humans, but that simply regarding all non-human suffering and death as insignificant seems impossible.

            Like

  20. tgbelt says:

    Thank you Jonathan and Bowman (and all). Thanks as to Fr Aidan for letting me vet these questions here.

    Couple of thoughts—

    1) I hope I haven’t suggested that I think (or that I think Paul thought) of death as a substance the ‘quiddity’ of which we can speak about in positive terms. If Paul’s theology does concern physical mortality (which I take to be obvious), it’s not because he thinks death is a substance that bares properties, an instantiation of ‘being’ as such. I don’t think anybody makes the mistake of thinking of death in such terms. It’s the experience of dying (the heart stopping, the cessation of breathing, buried and eaten by worms—i.e., the decay of the body which the body’s resurrection addresses) that figures into Paul (and the NT generally) and the questions about the meaning and purpose of existence which (I think) Paul’s theology is not indifferent to.

    2) Bowman, you ask if what the *many* are concerned about is that fossils show creatures were dying long before the Bible’s sinner could have enabled anything whatever to die? I think what many are concerned with is what this would mean for how they read and believe Scripture. Many cannot bring themselves to say Paul or any biblical author is mistaken about any (textual) claim he makes. It poses an epistemological crisis for their faith. They believe no contradiction can obtain between any truth of science and any claim (rightly understood) which the Bible makes. One way to avoid contradiction this in this instance, given the reality of death prior to the arrival of humanity, is to say that Paul (or the Bible for that matter), rightly understood, does not in fact attribute mortality and decay in the physical world to creaturely disobedience as such. I don’t find this plausible. I think Paul was simply wrong on this point, but I’m open to seeing evidence, for example, from readings of Genesis available to Paul which held death/mortality as such to be (historically/causally) unrelated to creaturely disobedience. I’m all ears.

    Tom

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    • Jonathan says:

      I think we speak of death as a quiddity all the time. It’s hard not to, because our encounters with death are so visceral and penetrate heart and mind to the core. Just indicating the phenomenon with a noun, death, instead of the gerund, dying, is revealing. When we are trying to be intellectual, responsible theological thinkers, we can hash out in so many words that death is no thing, no essence, that it is rather a mode of privation, of the evil that has no being in itself. But we don’t commonly speak of death or any other evil that way, and patterns of thought tend to conform to patterns of speech.

      But that’s all as may be. The real problem here is reading. Most people do not know how to discern one discourse from another, one way of telling the truth from another. Most people have no sense for aesthetic structure, such as the Bible manifests in perhaps a greater degree than any other text. Fundamentalist/literalist Christians and scientistic atheists are two sides of the same coin and it is no accident that they both appear in the same historical epoch. Even Catholics are having a harder and harder time believing in the Real Presence.

      Some might say that if you remove the literal base level from the allegorical reading pyramid, the whole thing topples. There is a valid insight in such an objection to the hermeneutic I’m gesturing towards, but ultimately I’m not worried. All we’re lacking is a metaphysics of the fictive. Sooner or later someone will figure it out.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Jonathan: Tom, I agree that we disagree. What do you think of my proposal that the truth Paul unintentionally announces can be dissociated from the falsity he intended?

        Tom: Thank you Jonathan for clarifying.

        It’s been my point to argue for just this sort of layered approach. But it involves a pretty significant paradigm shift for—well, certainly for the majority of believers I worship and work with. Admitting layers of truth and falsity that have to be discerned between what an author supposedly intended to say and what he says unintentionally is precisely what provokes such epistemic crisis in many. I certainly don’t have anything like a road-map to navigate it, but I am at a place where I can’t pretend this is not the nature of the biblical texts we read. That is what I’m asking Ben Meyers about.

        So I agree with you: To the extent Paul understands mortality to be the consequence of creaturely disobedience, he is, as you say, factually wrong. That was my opening statement that folks seem to be objecting to. I also believe, in agreement with you, that “this matters not in the least.” But one has to find one’s way to seeing what it doesn’t matter to and how it doesn’t matter. What’s left of faith when one removes from it the inaccuracies and falsehoods they constructed their faith around?

        I took your “the question of physical mortality shouldn’t even be on the table” to dismiss the very sort of conversation by which people come to terms with where and how faith in Christ is and isn’t conceivably threatened by a biblical author (Paul in this case) being wrong. It seems to me that Paul puts the question on the table. He does in fact link mortality and disobedience in the ‘factually wrong’ way. So, going with your distinction, we’ve got to discern what it is about Paul’s view that can be taken off the table (as factually inaccurate) and what truth remains. And—here’s the kicker—I do not assume we should expect to find abiding truth at the scene of every factual inaccuracy, i.e., I don’t assume that every theological claim a biblical author makes has to embody some abiding truth the author intends. The truth about death, mortality, and faith may not be discoverable in anything Paul says in Rom 5 about ‘mortality being the consequence of disobedience’. There may be no truth to squeeze out of that. We will have to find that truth elsewhere. The epistemic crisis (for some) should be pretty obvious, however much it turns out (for those whose faith survives the ordeal) to not matter in the least. I keep meeting long-time believers whose faith is not surviving these sorts of questions.

        Does that help? Are we any closer?

        Tom

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        • Jonathan says:

          Yes it helps. I agree that there is not necessarily truth lurking behind factual error. I only wanted to make a strong statement in defense of the possibility of finding truth in spite of factual error.

          Could be my nonchalance regarding Biblical authors’ personal knowledge and credibility is — for once! — displaying my basic (modern) Catholic sensibility. Could also be due to the fact that my education is grounded in the interpretation of literature (and to a lesser extent music). For me, it’s hermeneutics all the way down, and I have always had a hard time grasping how it can be otherwise for some — indeed, many — people. But this is indicative of a failure of empathetic imagination on my part, and has probably led to some less than generous behavior over the years. Like I said before, I wouldn’t make a good pastor.

          So then, what truth remains in Paul’s statements relating death and sin? Well, it’s a huge and urgent question, for sure. Many ways to come at it. I happen to be re-reading (hopefully with some comprehension this time around) Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety. It is very germane to the question, but also very tricky business. If I have the leisure to say a bit about it later, I will do so. Unfortunately it takes me like twenty minutes of solid concentration to produce one substantive sentence about SK. However, I can now give you a Kierkegaardian answer to your question, “What’s left of faith when one removes from it the inaccuracies and falsehoods they constructed their faith around?” — Anything that might actually deserve to be called faith.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Mike H says:

          Well said Tom. I think that explains the epistemic crisis very well.

          Like

    • Tom, thank you for clarifying. Three patristic options follow. As you will see, (a) and (b) avoid contradiction from the Genesis side, while (c) avoids contradiction from St Paul’s side.

      (a) The simplest traditional one– and perhaps the most parsimonious reading in any case–sees the creature ‘adam (= dust) of Genesis 1-3 as developing toward some eternal fellowship with God, but not yet immune to death by default. On this interpretation, the ‘adam is a creature becoming human in stages, and disobedience did not so much cause death as preempt whatever alternative to it was originally planned. In order for Dust to escape the common fate of all earthly creatures, he had to complete the assignment, and because he didn’t complete it, he didn’t escape.

      (b) An alternative tradition sees mortality as planned for human beings from the very beginning, so that the consequence of disobedience is a shorter span of life, not the beginning of death. If not for that, we might have been elves…

      (c) It is mainly in the causal consciousness of our culture that *death* means only flatlined vital signs. As explained, *thanatos* in St Paul has been taken to refer to a corruption of nature, a *sickness unto death* that requires a *self- consciousness- dependent- on- God- consciousness* unique to human beings. Given his Judaic worldview, it makes sense that a break with God would break something in the self as well.

      In actual patristic writings these usually appear in combination.

      I’ll respond to your other thoughts later.

      Like

  21. Jonathan says:

    OK, so I think Mike H has brought the question around to the problem of evil. Why is there predation, privation, suffering, pain, etc?

    In asking why is there suffering and privation, etc, we must ask, if we do not assume, what these things are. Can it be that they are in a sense illusory, not what they seem? (Or that they need not be what they seem?) If I may orientalize somewhat grotesquely, I would say that is the basic thought of the (non-Christian) east. But it is a thought available to the Christian as well. Asceticism of any kind often appears to be a kind if mimesis of privation. We are enjoined to carry each of us our cross. And so on.

    This may be an odd thought ultimately doomed for my mental trash-heap, so it is to be taken with a grain of salt: I am not very old, but I notice the older I get, the less I find any consolation when I suffer greatly, when I am brought fully to confront the brutal inadequacy of the natural order. Everything that people say at a funeral, for instance, whether it be ancient piety or newfangled platitude, strikes me as equally useless, I am incapable of paying attention. I simply exist, I resign myself and go through the suffering without struggling in vain to think my way through and out of it like I used to do when I was younger. When we are in the midst of suffering, the suffering is absolute, it completely defines the terms of our existence and there is not even, properly speaking, a problem. For problems are the stuff of reflection. Only in reflection, that is to say only with the aid of mediation and memory, can we engage suffering as suffering, i.e. a non-necessary aspect of existence as opposed to the apparent whole of existence. I don’t know what this means, save that it points to something illusory about psychological anguish, and I think perhaps about physical pain as well — I think of some things I’ve heard women say about childbirth.

    At any rate, I am with Bowman in not quite getting how the problem of evil is an impediment to faith. Our ancestors were neither oblivious to evil, nor did they convince themselves it wasn’t a mystery because there was this man and this woman who one time ate some fruit. Why should creation groan with us, just because we messed up? Surely somebody has had that thought before now. Having said that, I find Bowman’s clear and succinct presentation of (a) and (c), above, very helpful and persuasive. Although (b) is clearly the best option, because it involves a consideration of elves.

    Here is the bottom line for me: the Bible does not provide a solution to the “problem” of evil. It just lays out the human condition in all its plenitude. Job is not a solution to anything. The aetiology of Genesis is not really an aetiology in a physical-causal sense. And the Atonement is a mystery this side of the eschaton (about which we may nonetheless say a great deal). If this is a problem for faith, then I think it’s time to remind ourselves that faith itself is a problem.

    Like

    • Mike H says:

      Jonathan,

      I’m not really asking if the problem of evil is an impediment to faith (although I think it can be).

      It’s a simple question. Did the things that I listed as constituting “pre-fall corruption” exist before the “fall” of man or not?

      And if your answer is “yes”, is that significant in any way? Does it challenge any aspect of theology?

      Like

      • Jonathan says:

        Do I think the universe we inhabit in this life has always been of the same sort of nature? Yes. At no time have lions or sharks lived off grass or seaweed.

        Do I think this matters to theology? Not in a negative way. Because I don’t see the Fall as having happened in what we call the universe. I imagine something along the lines of what I think Brian called a “metahistorical place.”

        Like

      • Mike, thinking of Psalm 104:21, I am tempted to agree with Jonathan’s *yes* and *no* as far as they go. But given some other passages (eg Deuteronomy 25:4, Psalm 8, Isaiah 11:6), I am wary of the implication that non-human life will have no place in the new creation of Romans 8. Surely the most famous passage in Byzantine theology– St Maximus at Ambigua 41– hints otherwise in explaining that the believer in Christ is a microcosm where the five polarities of the cosmos are reconciled– Creator-creation, Invisible-visible, heaven-earth, paradise-world, man-woman. The tradition seems to have an adequate soteriology, but you may enjoy thinking through how the creation might be perfected in the aeon to come.

        http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm#_Toc26430265

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    • tgbelt says:

      Jonathan: In asking why is there suffering and privation, etc, we must ask, if we do not assume, what these things are. Can it be that they are in a sense illusory, not what they seem?

      Tom: I totally think there’s “a sense” in which these are illusory. I kind of tap into that sense in a post about apatheia here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/god-enters-our-nightmare/. And I think the sense in which they’re illusory has important implications for theodicy. The realities that pursue us in our “nightmares” (or, say, irrational fears) are not real. They’re illusory. But those trapped in those perspectives really do suffer. Anyhow, my point (in agreeing with you, I think) is that death and decay are illusory in the sense that so long as one misrelates oneself to them, one existence suffers a certain privation, i.e., one’s natural capacity for the good, the truthful and the beautiful fails to achieve God’s intentions.

      Jonathan: At any rate, I am with Bowman in not quite getting how the problem of evil is an impediment to faith.

      Tom: It poses an impediment to faith, I think, because faith (arguably) is a ‘choice to trust’ when one has reasonable evidence to doubt, given one’s context. “We love God because he first loved us.” Some people struggle to see God’s love of us (and so fail to believe) given the mess we’re in suggests God is other than benevolent and trustworthy. And without perceiving oneself as being ‘benevolently given’ (Desmond’s passio essendi) in spite of a world cancerous with evil, I don’t see how genuine faith gets off the ground.

      Tom

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      • Jonathan says:

        One thing that puzzles me is that the problem of evil seems to be much more of a quandary for modernity than for the medieval period. Why is this? The Middle Ages had perhaps the most morbid imagination of any civilization, and they undoubtedly had more contact with the brutality of nature than many of us in the developed nations of late modernity, yet while medievals could recognize the problem of evil, theodicy was not of great interest. In fact, I believe it was Leibniz who coined the term “theodicy.” Medieval poetry overflows with humor and joy and the goodness of the natural world, as well as with sin and death. And yet there is faith. Because what else could those poor benighted souls have had? — so goes the usual response. Is our preoccupation with suffering of a unique degree or kind? If so, is this due to our scientific knowledge of the natural world — the shielding physical comfort and the distracting entertainment that knowledge supplies us? One last sincere question: Is theodicy Biblical? (I feel like this question comes from my reading of A J Heschel, who is always somewhere in the back of my mind. But of course I am thinking of the Christian Bible.) I’m not trying to dodge the ethical, I’m trying to understand its proper place. I doubt apologetics can begin or end with the ethical.

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        • Jonathan, (1) Charles Taylor is right– the modern world has a quasi-transcendent commitment to the distribution of all life’s goods to all, so it is shocked– shocked I tell you! (lapel grasped, hand raised, fist clenched, Lenin evoked)– to find that God does not quite share it; (2) Theodicy is not biblical– Job’s frenemies were rebuked by the Whirlwind.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Thanks, Bowman. That was my thought as well. “Not as the world gives, do I give. . .” is unthinkable for the modern. Our apologetics starts and ends in the ethical, with an abstraction called “morality.” Alas, the ethical appears to have no need of the Biblical, and Christians speaking to non-Christians usually appear to be trying to convince themselves first of all. It is a battle of moralisms, a discursive maelstrom that does not arrive at reality.

            Like

          • Jonathan, I’m guessing that you’ve read the opening chapters of MacIntyre’s After Virtue.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Yes, indeed, I am a MacIntyre fan. His diagnosis of our situation I find wonderfully insightful. Less confident of his proposed remedies.

            Like

  22. tgbelt says:

    Mike, by ‘death’ you seem to just mean (a) ‘decay’, the ‘decay’ of Rom 8 which is responsible for creation’s “groaning” and (b) predation. I like to keep these separate, because I don’t think they imply each other in the same way, but I agree with you that they’re a crucial part of the discussion believers are (and ought to be) having with non-believers.

    Like

    • Mike H says:

      Thanks Tom, makes sense. I’m fine using the word “decay” to separate ideas then, but I’m intending both decay and human mortality to be addressed.

      Still, I feel like the same set of questions applies to Paul’s theology and general atonement theology even if human mortality and decay are separated. In the case of an evolutionary model, both are present in the world prior to any human sin. And that’s fine, I just think that there ARE implications and that it does matter.

      Like

      • tgbelt says:

        I wasn’t distinguishing between decay and mortality but between decay/mortality and predation. 😀

        Couple more posts and we should have 2,000 years of questions all answered!

        Like

        • Mike H says:

          My head hurts.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Tom, by your distinction between decay/mortality and predation, do you intend a distinction between privative and moral evil?

          Like

          • tgbelt says:

            I meant that I could imagine the former not entailing the latter, i.e., God creating us mortal as the necessary context for achieving personhood without that involving predation. But I can’t imagine predation not involving mortality. Mortality per se doesn’t seem to me to be a ‘privation of the good’ since it it’s conceivably the God-given good of finite being’s capacity for personal existence. I take ‘privation’ to be ‘privation of the good’, i.e., a failure of nature to be what God intends. I don’t think mortality itself is a failure of nature to be what God intended.

            Just thinking out loud (at midnight, not quite aware of what I’m saying).

            Like

          • All philosophical theology is *thinking out loud at midnight, not quite aware* of what is said. Which is fine.

            Like

  23. tgbelt says:

    Bowman: Tom, it may be that the error that you think you see in St Paul is located, not so much in his natural history of death as in the anthropology that I have just mentioned to Mike. Given that anthropology, I am not sure that his remarks can be read as natural history. Do you have any particular passages in mind?

    Tom: Pretty much all Paul’s comments regarding death, decay, and mortality. I don’t read Paul as limiting these in his understanding to sentient moral agents, as if predation, death and decay in non-human animals (who are not ‘corrupted’ in the ‘personal’ or ‘moral’ sense we are) are theologically irrelevant to Paul’s points or ultimately unrelated ontologically speaking in his thinking. I think the opposite is the case—which I surmise is why a creation groaning under decay gets set free from its decay by the redemption of our bodies.

    Tom

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  24. Thank you all for a stimulating thread. Godspeed, Tom and Mike, in your compassionate searches. Tomorrow, I will reply to comments to me posted tonight. And then I’m done.

    Like

  25. My final thought is also from the LATC. Bruce McCormack says–

    http://postbarthian.com/2015/02/24/bruce-mccormack-misuse-imago-dei-image-god/

    Thanks again to all.

    Like

  26. brian says:

    Hey fellahs,

    This has been a fascinating conversation. Unfortunately, I’ve been snowed under with drudgery and unable to properly enter into the fray. Indeed, I’m going to print this thread out so I can ponder it all a bit. Gabriel Marcel used to say “theodicy is atheism,” by which he meant, I think, that the approach and mode of thought that generally animated efforts at theodicy were fundamentally misplaced — not that the mystery of evil was insignificant, of course.

    Jonathan,

    Just started looking over Lyric Powers last night.
    I like Hallberg’s notion that if he has the best poems, he probably has the best argument.

    Like

    • brian says:

      LOL. 53 pages of commentary on the initial article.

      Like

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes, I remember that opening salvo in Lyric Powers. Senior faculty, at least of that generation, have a freedom and power by no means accessible to their juniors. Also, one may say in print what cannot be said in a classroom, where students are increasingly likely to litigate if they hear something they don’t like. RvH has an appreciation for the limits of argument in balance with his argumentative ability; good taste; and confidence into the bargain, as you can see. I think you will enjoy his book, it is sui generis.

      Agree completely with Marcel’s aphorism, and your interpretation of it. I at no point wanted to imply, as I fear I may have, that I think the problem of evil is trivial, or that I think the life of the world to come is worth wanting if it doesn’t involve the whole of creation. What this conviction implies about mortality and predation I’m not sure. The last thoughts Tom wrote about mortality and predation as distinct form privation of the good were intriguing. Have to reflect on all this more. But now it’s my turn to be swamped by work.

      Like

    • Mike H says:

      Brian,

      I personally hadn’t gotten to thinking about theodicy much because I don’t think that we’ve firmly established whether physical death, predation, pain in childbirth, decay, an earth that yields thorns, etc (segregate them or lump them together however you like) ARE in fact evil. If they aren’t an evil, then there’s no reason to talk about theodicy. So perhaps that’s the first thing – are these things an evil or not? And perhaps, per Tom’s original question, does Paul think they are?

      If they aren’t an evil, then what does that mean? What do we do with that? What are the implications for atonement and the restoration of all things? I mean, are these things evils that need to be set right?

      If they are an evil, what does that mean? What do we do with their existence prior to any choice of humans that would have caused them? And what are the implications for “atonement”? There is where a “meta-historical fall” (I think that’s how Jonathan phrased it) becomes interesting to me.

      As far as theodicy goes, I think it’s pointless to go at it as a philosophical problem to be solved. It seems like a person will have to play the mystery card at some point. But most people don’t approach it that way – it’s a very personal thing. Tom, being a pastor, might have something to say about that.

      Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I tend to come at this question as a preacher, and I can say that during my active ministry I rarely addressed theodicy head-on. The only satisfying answer I know to the question (satisfying to the heart but perhaps not always to the head) is the death and resurrection of Jesus, so that is what I focused on in my preaching.

        I do think that scientific cosmology has made it more difficult to simplistically declare that the sin of Adam created death. We still need to say this, because we must insist that God did not create death; but now we must unpack the meaning of mortality and death. How do we do this without falling back into biblicism and mythology?

        Anyway, my compliments to the gang for this lengthy and thoughtful discussion. You make this blog a delight.

        Like

      • brian says:

        Mike,

        I take it that a work like David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea addresses the mystery of evil without falling prey to the weaknesses of theodicy. I do think its getting a little too esoteric when one starts to wonder if pain, predation, and death are evil or not. I frankly think its obvious that they are. One can never give a single and simple explanation to the witness of Scripture — there are infinite depths — but I’ve always thought at the basic, literal level, that Christ weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, whatever else it implies, is acknowledgement of the sorrow of death. My heart recoils when I see the suffering of an animal on those nature shows, for instance. I’m not satisfied with an argument that my mode of perception is faulty and its not really a bad thing.

        All that said, I do think our “Euclidian” minds are limited and our modes of perception require an expansion that Christ makes possible. Early on in this thread I tried to advert to a “metahistorical” Fall — that is where my thinking is as well.

        Like

  27. Jonathan says:

    I was getting “metahistorical” from Brian, earlier. How in the world do we manage to think such a place and just what is locative about it? Well I don’t know exactly, but there’s this famous poem by Robert Duncan:

    “Often I am permitted to return to a meadow”

    as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
    that is not mine, but is a made place,

    that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
    an eternal pasture folded in all thought
    so that there is a hall therein

    that is a made place, created by light
    wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

    Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
    I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
    whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

    She it is Queen Under The Hill
    whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
    that is a field folded.

    It is only a dream of the grass blowing
    east against the source of the sun
    in an hour before the sun’s going down

    whose secret we see in a children’s game
    of ring a round of roses told.

    Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
    as if it were a given property of the mind
    that certain bounds hold against chaos,

    that is a place of first permission,
    everlasting omen of what is.

    Like

  28. tgbelt says:

    My last contribution on this one. Just ran into a few interesting comments.

    This is very interesting (on Athanasius and mortality): http://existdissolve.com/2010/12/athanasius-mortality-and-the-problem-of-unbecoming/

    And then this (check out p. 363, middle of the page to the end, especially n. 5 (references Bishop Ware in support of the fact that Eastern Orthodoxy “does not interpret mortality in penal terms”): https://books.google.com/books?id=9Iavr0e-NiYC&pg=PA363&lpg=PA363&dq=athanasius+on+mortality&source=bl&ots=BQPqLp9uqA&sig=DI69zZF_4aqEIrl-Ba3SJaA3uDM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CD4Q6AEwB2oVChMI7IbujqrFyAIVB9ZjCh1vwwhn#v=onepage&q=athanasius%20on%20mortality&f=false

    Also look at n. 6 on that same page(!): “That God created humans mortal and intended immortality as something to receive by grace was the common understanding among the church Fathers….”

    Tom

    Like

  29. Karen says:

    Has anyone else ever noticed that in the story of Genesis, Adam doesn’t ask God what it means that if he eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he will “die”? Death, in the simplest sense of physical death at least, is apparently not a mystery to Adam. It seems to me this could only be the case if he had already experienced the death of creatures and knew what that meant.

    Like

    • tgbelt says:

      Well, it cuts both ways. You’re quite right, Karen, that to the extent we take the divine instructions as a meaningful exchange reflective of humanity’s understanding the consequence of disobedience, yes, then to tell someone in a world with absolutely no knowledge of morality and death, “You’ll die if you eat this” is pretty meaningless. On the other hand, to tell someone who is already mortal “You’ll die if you eat this,” doesn’t make sense either. “What do you mean I’ll die if I eat this? I’ll die if I don’t eat it. I’m mortal!”

      Tom

      Like

      • Karen says:

        You make a good point, Tom. What your comment made me realize is that I always read the warning in Genesis as meaning “if you eat from the forbidden tree, death will be immanent” (which doesn’t necessarily rule out an eventual “normal” death after a long life), though I always also accepted the traditional Christian explanation that had Adam and Even never sinned, they would not have had to suffer physical death. This traditional Christian explanation, incidentally (as I understand this) would be theologically true even allowing the patristic teaching that created beings, including humans, are not created in themselves immortal, but only become so by being in communion with God. On the other hand, the Orthodox Christian teaching is also that human nature (and by extension, the whole of creation) can only fulfill itself (i.e., be fully human, become fully what it was intended by God to be and reach its proper End/Telos) by being in communion with God.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Karen,

      Yes, there are so many internal questions that the narrative generates. For me, it’s a question of pragmatic integration. To what extent should I allow the precepts of evolution to govern my spiritual experience when reading Genesis? One can have an eisegetical “Concordist” approach that might even embrace a Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), but you’re still faced with what seems like an irreconcilable incoherence between pre-Adamic “privation of being” – death (as in Meyer’s second step) and the supposed reality of hominoid progression which requires it, if one accepts that man was created a “mortal being”. If not, then why make a “special creation” of man, place him in a garden and make him codependent on one particular tree to sustain his immortality – if in fact he lost it once banished.

      As Tom points out below, it’s one of those – “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t” situations – Ha!

      After watching Gordon J. Glover: Science Education For Christians You Tube series, it becomes even harder to square this circle. He says a lot poignant and adroit things that supposedly expose the shambolic “folk science” of YEC’isms and the like.

      Gordon J. Glover: Science Education For … – YouTube

      But if we are to accept his Resurrection for what it is and the miracles of Jesus that preceded it, (which I do!) Then whatever discrepancies that may arise from the infusion of contemporary science into ‘atonement theories’ are easily overcome by Divine intervention and providence, even though this position is often attacked by skeptics as classical “Gap” idealism.

      Cheers

      Like

      • Karen says:

        Dave,

        Thanks. This is a bit of an aside, but I don’t believe there is any real conflict between science (the real thing, not the naturalistic philosophy or scientism that frequently pass for it in the modern era) and Divine revelation (properly interpreted–the Christian Bible is a revelation of Jesus Christ, not a science text book). I have no idea whether or to what extent the Theory of Evolution is a reasonable explanation of what the hard physical evidence reveals about the origins and development of life and the universe, but I have read critiques (such as missing intermediary forms in the fossil record) that make me seriously doubt it can completely hold up. I read and enjoyed The Language of God, but I understand even Dr. Frances Collins may have backed away from his wholesale support for the Theory of Evolution from the evidence in the human genome in the wake of more recent findings on the nature of the genetic code and how it works.

        I find YECism to lack credibility and integrity (and its approach to Scripture isn’t supported or necessitated by the classical patristic approach to the Genesis narratives, which are more theological and less literal from what I understand). The arguments from science for a relatively old earth and universe seem sound to me. I offer all this with the caveat I am neither a patristic expert nor a scientist. I am an Orthodox Christian, and the fundamental dogma of the faith once delivered are about the only things not up for grabs for me as well.

        I’m not smart enough to reproduce or summarize his arguments here, but in The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart explains how both the new atheists and many modern would-be apologists for Christian faith get their concept of the nature of God wrong (i.e., they make philosophical category errors) and end up arguing against (or for) the existence of a God Jesus Christ did not reveal. (There is some discussion of theistic personalism vs. classical theism at Fr. Aiden’s site that is pertinent to this question I believe.). Hart argues the classical understanding of the nature of God as not a Supreme Being, but rather as the Ground of all being shows why the argument for the “God of the gaps” (or seeing the “supernatural” as an interruption of, or in competition with, the “natural”)–so, even apologies for or refutations of “Intelligent Design”–reflects this conceptual misunderstanding or philosophical category error. From a classical theist perspective (a patristic Christian understanding), what we view as the natural (not naturalism, but nature proper, i.e., everything that exists) is an expression of the Supernatural (i.e., God, the Ultimate Ground of being) no less than what we view as “miracles” (such as the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus) are. All this is to say, from a genuinely Christian perspective, not only events like the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, but also all of existence itself is an occasion for wonder and belief in the God revealed in Christ.

        Like many commenting here, I’m still a bit baffled where this all puts us with regard to the theological question of the (in the case of human beings, conditional?) mortality of created nature vs. the introduction of “death” per Genesis (and St. Paul) into human experience as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. The point of my observation above is it seems to me the biblical narratives in Genesis themselves present us with something of a conundrum for modern philosophical assumptions inherent in both modern atheism and scientism, on one hand, and many modern fundamentalist-influenced forms of Christian faith (and interpretation of Genesis), on the other, alike. My hunch is Genesis and St. Paul would not seem so “wrong” to some of us were we to turn our capacity for critical thinking on some of those modern philosophical assumptions in the light of the fullness what has been revealed in Christ, rather than the other way around. I could be wrong about this, of course–I certainly have far more questions than answers to anything. I simply note that in the Person of Jesus Christ, we are confronted with the profound paradox of God as Man appearing apparently smack bang in the middle of human history and seemingly as a product of it, though He is revealed thereby to be “the Beginning and the End” of it, and thus to transcend and transform its existence, meaning and direction, as well. According to our modern historical analysis of the Gospels, Christ died on the Cross and rose again three days later in about the year AD 33, but is revealed to St. John in the Apocalypse as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

        Like

        • Thanks for an awesome reply! The great thing about this site is that it is truly “eclectic” in that we all bring our experiences to the table of thought and discussion. Yes, the apparent lack of necessary transitional forms within the fossil record (adequate hominid morphologies) is an ongoing bone of contention for a lot of polarized YEC’ists. But nevertheless, it’s one of those circles of evidence that is not easily squared by either side or those who find themselves somewhere in the geological strata between – Ha! I think that stepping outside that sphere of conflict; which often seems trite and even embarrassing at times, and rather embracing the concepts of [divine apatheia and analogia entis] frequently found in the work of David Bentley Hart is an excellent position to find oneself in. I recently finished his – “The Doors Of The Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?” A wonderful suggestion by Fr Kimel & Co.

          Hart states in “V” of (Part 2) Divine Victory –

          “Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces – whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance – that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the fuller, richer more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven in darkness. That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a true demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from his saving action in history upon the whole of time. The fall of rational creation and the subjection of the cosmos to death is something that appears to us nowhere within the unbroken time of nature or history; we cannot search it out within the closed continuum of the wounded world; it belongs to another frame of time, another “kind” of time, one more real than the time of death.”

          Gorgeous thoughts!

          “My hunch is Genesis and St. Paul would not seem so “wrong” to some of us were we to turn our capacity for critical thinking on some of those modern philosophical assumptions in the light of the fullness what has been revealed in Christ, rather than the other way around.”

          Hear! Hear!

          “The fullness” as described by Paul in Colossians 2 is key to understanding our own spiritual evolution – where we stand [in Christ], rather than attempting to intertwine it with some kind of biological ascendancy – which I think unfortunately is our technocratic Post-Modern scientific disposition and proclivity to do so. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but Atonement Theories like Myers’ kind of force us to scrutinize in greater detail our own presuppositions about the nature of Sin & Death.

          Greg Boyd name has been mentioned a few times early on in this discussion and being someone familiar with his work, I remember his guidance on this subject where those who are unable to resolve this issue of “Human Origins” in relation to “Sin”, often then succumb to a “House of Cards Faith”, where if they are unable to reconcile the conundrums and enigmas inherent in the exploration of science and faith – their world view, if you will, comes crumbling down.

          I really appreciated Tom’s recommendation of “The Role of Death in Life” – edited by John Behr & Conor Cunningham. I haven’t read it but within, there’s an essay by “Emmanuel Falque” entitled – “Suffering Death” which I really want to get a hold of (without purchasing the book – Ha!) Being the cheap garage sale guy that I am! Most of Falque’s stuff is in French and or is expensive but well worth the investment. Anyway, I think this thread is spent……

          Cheers!

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          • Karen says:

            That’s one of my favorite passages in DBH’s Doors as well (a book, btw, enthusiastically recommend to anyone who will listen to me!). 🙂

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  30. tgbelt says:

    Just thinking out loud. What if:

    Mortality persisted throughout the evolutionary history of the world but could never be interpreted as an existential threat to meaningful existence until such a time as human beings developed sufficient capacities for ‘meaning-making’? Alongside such capacities, naturally, there would have emerged the divine image. In the case, then, what was a mere animalistic preference for pleasure over pain and the natural avoidance of perceived threats to one’s existence became more than a biological survival mechanism, viz., that preference became a true “desire” for “meaningful” existence. And with the emergence of this capacity for meaning-making came (or rather is also) the divine warning not to eat, which need be nothing more than the dawn of moral consciousness which humanity pretty much immediately violates, thus failing to take the next step Godward in its journey. And so (now I’m repeating previous comments) did Adam “die’—not by becoming mortal (that was already the case), but by coming to experiencing one’s mortality as one’s own death in existential terms (i.e., as the end of one’s meaning grounded in the relation to God). Thus, mortality became death, and God can be said to have created the former, but not the latter. We might even say mortality is a grace insofar as it is the God-given means for achieving personhood. What is not God-given is the death that follows from misrelating to our mortality and finitude.

    It may be that this is not Paul’s view. I don’t think it is. I still read him in Rom 5 and 1Cor 15 as viewing mere mortality as equivalent to death in the latter sense of existential failure.

    I seriously need to find something happy to think about.

    Tom

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  31. tgbelt says:

    Anybody see this?(!)

    The Role of Death in Life: A Multidisciplinary Examination of the Relationship between Life and Death (August 2015).

    http://www.amazon.com/Role-Death-Life-Multidisciplinary-Relationship/dp/1498209580/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1445092911&sr=8-5&keywords=John+Behr

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  32. tgbelt says:

    And if you haven’t viewed this (on atonement) by Ben Meyers, enjoy this:

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  33. Tom, our conversation here left me with a puzzle, unavoidable in my main project.

    Why do the same, mostly post-origenist fathers who say that mortality causes all men to sin also say that the eight evil thoughts (or the seven deadly sins) are the proximate causes of sin? One can build an existentialist bridge from death through anxiety and dread to many sinful acts, as some of us were doing in the thread, but that is not the association that most of the fathers seem to have made. Rather, they see mortality as compelling Adam and his descendents to sustain their lives in activities with motivations that can harden into passions (roughly, addictions) that lead to sin. In that way, the Eastern view of the Fall directly drives hamartiology.

    This has an implication for your question about how mortality could reasonably be said to have entered the world with human beings. Death existed before humanity, but mortality is a condition of consciousness that requires a neocortex.

    The fathers just mentioned seem to be thinking of mortality, not as limited lifespan but as the need for life to be supported by conscious effort that can be corrupted. Animals also hunt for prey, of course, but doing so does not put them at risk for self-destructive behavior. For that reason, death in animals cannot be conceived to be a cause of sin. Genesis 2 sets the ‘adam in a clear contrast with that condition. Plucking food from trees in Eden, Adam and Eve were not immortals, but they lived as though they were, so that nothing hardened occasional hunger into gluttony. Only when they were expelled from the garden did Adam and Eve begin to live with the consequences of not being immortal. Thus death entered the world when they left Eden.

    Does this make sense of St Paul? Of course it fits Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. But does it fit the apostle’s overall account of the human predicament? Yes, insofar as he speaks of sin most often of bondage and release, and insofar as he sees humanity as both linked to the cosmos and called to a special role in it.

    I hope that this is helpful. Thanks again for an interesting thread.

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