Loren Haarsma | Four Approaches to Original Sin

Loren Haarsma lays out four different approaches to Original Sin in his book, When Did Sin Begin? and talks with us in the episode about the approaches, as well as the benefits and theological challenges of each approach.


I was interested in this discussion because I was intrigued by whether or not the process of evolution would be discussed in regard to sin entering into the world. The discussion made clear that animals are innocent of sin because they do not possess self’- aware consciousness. That, it seems to me, is the crucial element in understanding this topic. Scientists and most Theologians accept that God chose evolution as the way in which we were brought into existence. However, little was said about how that process affected human behavior. To gain insight, I will refer to Genesis Chapter 3. The text makes clear that Adam and Eve did not know the difference between right and wrong until after they ate the fruit. This is an inspired metaphor for the transition from animal consciousness to becoming self - aware human beings. The punishments for becoming self - aware were not really punishments at all, but the consequences of becoming aware of the pain of childbirth, the toil of hard work, and the reality of death. They were banned from the Garden not because of any disobedience, but because of the threat that if they ate from the tree of life, they would live forever.

One of the things that we have learned from the evolutionary development of the human brain is that it is accretive. The lowest level of the human brain is referred to as the hind brain and it controls the most basic functions that keep us alive such as respiration. It also controls other survival instincts which ensures that we will live long enough to have progeny through procreation. It is basic and selfish. We share that part of our brain with reptiles. When the reptile is introduced as the tempter in the story, we have always understood that it was an outer being. What we now understand is that is an inner presence.

As Christians, we need to focus on listening to the words of Jesus, and his mission to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. His vision of peace, love and justice will only become a reality if we obey his commandments here on earth as they exist in Heaven. We can overcome our inherited selfishness of evolution if we follow Him.

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I was wondering if Dr. Haarsma’s book included any consideration of Dr. Julian Jaynes’ theories regarding the fall and original sin in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind? Jaynes’ theory basically is that man’s original sin was an action by man which was in disobedient to God’s commands when mankind developed an independent concept of self which could act independently. Something worth considering. Personally, I wish the word “sin” would disappear from usage. Who talks about an archery term meaning “to miss the mark”? The original sin was disobedience, plain and simple.

I like Jim Stump’s comment that, to many people (myself included) efforts to maintain Adam & Eve as historic individuals in spite of the vast gulf between scientific truth and a naive reading of Genesis 2-3 are analogous to “epicycles”. We maybe should have realized long ago that this was a highly symbolic theological story that is telling us what sin is like rather than how sin got started (I think I am getting that last bit from Barth). Which corresponds to the way it is read by Jewish scholars, for whom the concept of a “Fall” is foreign. As Peter Enns might say, science can provide us with “genre calibration.” It says something about the captivity of the Evangelical church to Enlightenment ways of thinking that so many try to hang onto some sort of concordist interpretation, viewing truth communicated symbolically as inferior.

Loren’s comments near the end about God’s self-revelation in Jesus were interesting. It seems like he is thinking about the idea that God’s “good” creation does not mean a creation without sin, but a creation in which creatures would evolve who would be capable of reciprocating that self-sacrificing love. Which might not be possible without the creatures also being capable of sinning. This is similar to the line of reasoning in the thought-provoking book by Christian Barrigar, Freedom all the Way Up.


In 4 bullet points on an A5 card, what are they?

I can bet what they’re not.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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