Substitutionary Atonement and Evolution, Part 2 | The BioLogos Forum


(system) #1

Introduction

My previous post centered on several critiques aimed at substitutionary atonement. To review briefly, substitutionary atonement argues that humans are sinful and God is Holy. Because of sin, God cannot be in right relationship with humanity or creation. As a solution, Jesus plays the role of mediator between humanity and God. Jesus becomes the perfect sacrifice for human sin. His blood covers our iniquities and because of his death, humans can be forgiven.

The focal point of the substitutionary view is the cross of Christ. We are forgiven and saved through Jesus’ blood and sacrifice. In what follows, I will argue that emphasizing Jesus’ death is the wrong way to approach the atonement. Instead, I suggest that any discussion concerning Christian atonement would be better served focusing on the incarnation.

Why the incarnation? What is the reason for the incarnation? Why does God choose to take on flesh and bone and live with the people of Palestine and Galilee? What is the significance of God choosing to become human? The substitutionary view often argues that the primary reason for the incarnation is the cross. That is, God becomes human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth with the sole purpose of dying for humanity's sin. I argue that this view of the incarnation is somewhat limited. Jesus doesn’t become human to die. Jesus takes on flesh and bone to show us how to really live, how to be fully human. In what follows, I will focus on two reasons for the incarnation and subsequent atonement: Revelation and Inspiration. It is important to note that these do not represent an exhaustive list. There is much more to the incarnation and atonement than can be written here. But I do believe that revelation and inspiration get to the heart of the Gospel message of hope, transformation, and salvation.

Revelation

God is revealed in many ways. Scripture, the sacraments, creation, and human love represent some of the most common things associated with God’s revelation. But nothing reveals the nature and character of God more fully or more clearly than the person of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”(John 14:8-11) Anyone who has seen Jesus has also seen God. How wonderful! If we want to know what God is like, all we need to do is look at the person of Jesus. In this way, the incarnation gives humanity its clearest glimpse of the Divine. Now, when there are disputes about God’s character, God’s nature, or God’s love, we can look to Jesus to provide clarity.

What is more, Jesus also reveals the true nature of humanity. That is, Christ shows us what it means to be fully human. Scripture suggests that in the end, God’s kingdom will be fully established on earth as it is in heaven. Christ’s birth represents the inauguration of this kingdom. The incarnation begins God’s reign on earth that will come to final fruition when Christ returns. As Christians, we are called to live as faithful citizens of God’s kingdom in a world that opposes it. Thus, we live in anticipation of the day when Christ returns and God’s kingdom is established in full. In the meantime, Jesus shows us what kingdom living really looks like. Unfortunately, this kind of kingdom living often creates enemies of those who live according to the logic of the world. In many respects, this is why Jesus finds himself hanging on the cross.

In the life of Jesus, we see the way of our salvation. Earlier in John, Jesus responds to Thomas saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 4:6-7) God sees humanity lost, isolated, and desperate. But God does not leave humanity to languish in sin and sorrow. Instead, God chooses to become human, to become mortal, to become flesh and bone. God chooses to be present to humanity in a new and powerful way, a way that requires God to become vulnerable, broken, and isolated. But this love, this presence, this compassion is the way of Christ. It can be seen throughout Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Inspiration

Jesus shows us the way, but revelation is not enough. We are also called to imitate Christ, to follow his way of living and loving, to participate in the abundant life. Believing and following the way of Christ is the heart of atonement. But no one can imitate Christ on one’s own. Hard work and willpower are not enough. Fortunately, through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we are inspired and equipped to actually live the way of Christ. This is the method and the means of our salvation. In this way, salvation is not something that happens when I die. Salvation is something I participate in today, right now. As I pursue the way of Christ, I am saved from the selfish, lazy, prideful person I was without Christ. And this isn’t done alone. We do this in community as the church. The more the church imitates Christ, the more we image God to the world. In this way, the church participates in God’s redemptive work that will only come to fruition when Christ returns. But to choose the way of Christ is to choose the way of love, service, and suffering. The same love that took Christ to the cross should lead us to work and to sacrifice for the redemption and salvation of the world.

Atonement

How does the view I’ve sketched differ from substitutionary atonement? First, the incarnation is not primarily about the cross. God does not send Jesus to die. God does not require Jesus’ death in order to forgive humanity’s sin. As a result, God is not motivated by retribution or righteous anger. Instead, the incarnation is motivated by love. God wanted humanity to know him in a new and robust way. God wanted to be present to humanity in the midst of its sin and isolation. God desires right relationship. As a demonstration of God’s immense love and compassion, God takes on flesh and bone. He becomes a vulnerable child relying on humans for his every need. He learns what it is to hunger and thirst. He experiences torture, humiliation, and isolation on the cross. In the end, Jesus experiences death. And in so doing, Christ connects to humanity in a new and powerful way. His compassion both shows us the way of our salvation (revelation) and inspires us to follow after him.

I argue that God did not will the cross. An angry crowd, a prideful group of the religious elite, and a cowardly Roman prefect, put a perfectly innocent man to death. They willed the cross. And I believe this act is an example of sin. But God is holy, loving, and just. Thus, God cannot will or condone sin. Instead, I argue that the incarnation is about life, revelation, and inspiration—not death. I believe that God knew Jesus would be killed. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of this world. But Christ’s death was not part of God’s divine plan. It was the tragic result of human sin. But as horrific as the cross was, God’s love extends beyond and redeems it. In spite of the anger, hatred, and violence displayed during the crucifixion, Jesus still calls out for God to forgive the crowd. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) God’s love is greater than human sin. And the redemption promised in the coming Kingdom of God is revealed most clearly in the resurrection that occurs three days later. What sin and violence destroyed, God’s love redeemed. This is a vision of the eschaton; it is a vision of our atonement. God promises to absorb violence and death and replace it with reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. This revelation, this vision, is the reason for the incarnation. It is the power behind the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it is the method and the means of our atonement and ultimate salvation.

This view of the atonement is important for several reasons. First, it doesn’t require, though would be compatible with, a historical Adam and Eve and a traditional view of original sin. The substitutionary view argues that Jesus’ death redeems the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. To adopt this view, one must read Genesis 1-3 more literally. At times, this kind of biblical hermeneutic may run counter to evolutionary theory. The view sketched above does not require a historical Adam and Eve or a traditional concept of original sin, making it more compatible with evolution. Additionally, my view of atonement argues that Christ’s death was not part of God’s plan. This helps preserve God’s power (God can forgive in many ways, he doesn’t require blood) and God’s goodness (God doesn’t will the cross).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/substitutionary-atonement-and-evolution-part-2

(David Baker) #3

There are certainly many issues in relation to evolution and the cross to discuss and it is a good discussion to have. But there are some problems with this particular article:

(1) Joseph Bankard states: “The incarnation is not primarily about the cross. God does not send Jesus to die.” This contrasts with: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10v45).

(2) Joseph Bankard states: “God does not send Jesus to die” and that “Christ’s death was not part of God’s plan.” This contrasts with: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2v23). It also contrasts with all the OT prophecies pointing towards coming of Christ, the OT sacrificial system which pre-figured Christ, etc.

(3) Joseph Bankard states: “God is not motivated by… righteous anger.” This contrasts with: "“For the wrath of God [ie His righteous anger] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

(4) Joseph Bankard states: “Through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we are inspired and equipped to actually live the way of Christ. This is the method and the means of our salvation.” This contrasts with: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2v8-10)

While the good Mr Bankard raises some important questions that are worthy of consideration and investigation, it is difficult to attribute much credibility to the answers that appear to re-write much established Christian theology at a stroke of the pen!


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #5

@David_Baker

John 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

This basic Christian theology states that the motivation of God is to save the world which includes everyone, including you and I. A problem with this is that by definition those who are not saved are condemned, and at times we dwell on this negative aspect instead of the Good News of Salvation. It is not our job as Christians to judge others, but to hold out the hope of Salvation for those who judge themselves as sinners.

I would make one change in the out line of atonement presented above. God is never out of right relationship with humans. God is Love and God loves everyone perfectly. However humans are clearly not in right relationship with God and one another and themselves, which is what sin is all about.

Original Sin, which came about by humans using their God given freedom against God, did not destroy our ability to relate to God and others, but corrupted it, so that we cannot restore it on our own. Only through accepting our failure to be good and turning to God for help and forgiveness can we be reconciled with god and others and this relationship be restored to what it should be.

Too often we want forgiveness, but are unwilling to accept responsibility for our sins and to make real changes in our lives. Too often we want forgiveness for our misdeeds, but fail to forgive others who sin against us.

The death of Jesus on the Cross was not to break down the wall of sin the God created and could uncreate, but the wall of pride, anger, hatred, fear, etc. that humans created and God the Father could not deny without destroying the integrity of Godselfhood. God the Father did not send Jesus the Son into the world necessarily to die, but to reveal Who God really is.

That includes being ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for God" plan and others, And we if we truly want to be like Christ as we say we do, should be ready to do the same. While this might be humbling to our selfish genes and “guilt” inducing, it is true and the only way to truly go beyond this guilt and humiliation is to accept the forgiveness found in this death.

Jesus was the Messiah expected by the nation of Israel. They expected Him to throw off the yoke of Rome and would have supported Him in that war. The people of Jerusalem greeted Him wildly on Palm Sunday because they believed that to be the case. However Jesus has other ideas of how the Messiah should act.

It was not because He as the Messiah could not have defeated Rome that He did not lead the rebellion (which did occur later in 70,) but He knew that a rebellion would have cost many thousands of lives, would have deepened the gulf of prejudice between Jews and Greeks, and would not really solve anything.

Thus Jesus died rather than lead the rebellion that the Jews including His disciples expected and desired Him to lead. Jesus died because as long as He lived the Romans considered Him a threat to their power. Jesus died because the He was a threat to the power of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus died because some people thought He might lead a ill advised rebellion, which would bring brutal retaliation on them. Jesus died for the sins of the world, the human evil could not and did not sabotage God’s Love for the world.

God does have every reason to destroy us as we known when we watch the news on TV, read on the internet, or the newspapers, but God is not eager to destroy sinners, but to eradicate sin, which is done through reconciliation, another Biblical concept which is similar to atonement, but better in explaining the Mission of Jesus and His People in the Kingdom of God…


(David Schwartz) #6

Thank you, David.
I think that if we are going to be honest in our evaluation of Scripture, we need to submit to its authority. Scripture, I have found, does leave room for an evolutionary perspective as Warfield and a host of others point out and which include a literal and federal Adam. There are also a few evolutionary scenarios of the fall that will not do damage to the text though they include some non-literal interpretations. But, to remove the substitutionary atonement of Christ without damaging the integrity of much of the New Testament, especially the letters, is not possible. In addition, having studied Church history, though I am no professor in this matter, I have found that I can rely on a historical and relatively consistent orthodox interpretation of the atonement, found in both Eastern and Western churches. This is not to say that they didn’t have their difficulties, or heresies to address, or that they did not over emphasize certain doctrines to the detriment of others, but that they were generally consistent regarding doctrines like the atonement and divinity of Christ with some periods of adjustment.


(Michael Straight) #7

Joe, it seems like if you’re going to say that God’s response to sin according to Substitutionary Atonement seems unjust, that you need to be more specific about what you think a just response to sin would look like.

The poor and the oppressed cry out for justice and, all to often in this life, they do not get it. There are many people who are responsible for horrible, evil crimes who live their entire lives without ever being held accountable for what they have done. And actually, (nearly?) all of us have done evil things to hurt other people that we are never really held accountable for.

Under your theory of atonement, what does God’s justice for sinners look like, and what part does the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection play in God’s justice and mercy?


(sy_garte) #8

Thank you for a stimulating post, Professor Bankard. While I share many of the theological concerns about your viewpoint (as expressed in comments to Part 1 and here) I love your emphasis on the incarnation, and the wonder of God coming to Earth to walk and talk among us. I am not a theologian, and cannot comment meaningfully on the implications of rejecting substitutionary atonement. I would simply like to say that I believe the argument related to evolution is not necessary.

First, I see no inconsistency between the Fall and evolutionary theory (as you mentioned in Part 1), if the fall is interpreted to mean the origin of sin. There is no science, or in fact any perspective in which our pre human animal ancestors can be said to be sinful. So sin did not start at any point in evolutionary history before the rise of our own species. The Fall, in evolutionary terms, would be consistent with those evolutionary features of modern H. Sapiens that allowed for a moral sense, and the understanding of sin.

The major obstacle for reconciliation of evolution with the Fall is the literal interpretation of Romans 5: 12 “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.” Some have suggested that this meant there was no death before Adam’s fall, but a common interpretation, namely that death here refers to spiritual death, allows for the hundreds of millions of years of death during evolution before the emergence of moral awareness in people.

I realize that reconciliation with evolutionary ideas is not the major issue in your proposal of this fascinating idea for Christian belief. But I think its value is diminished by the fact that an alternative interpretation of a single line in Scripture, removes the necessity for questioning the Fall in terms of evolution.


#9

David, you have with great clarity given an excellent response to this article written by Joseph Bankard. The fallacy is to think that God cannot do both, contrary to Bankard’s statement: " Jesus doesn’t become human to die. Jesus takes on flesh and bone to show us how to really live, how to be fully human." Jesus became human to die as a human. He also showed us how to live. How to be obedient as a man/person. Both. But primarily to take our place, to humiliate himself to our level, and to to take our punishment, provided we accept his payment, and confess our need for it. Our living by the spirit in obedience, is not the means of our salvation, but the result of it.


(Albert Leo) #10

“So sin did not start at any point in evolutionary history before the rise of our own species. The Fall, in evolutionary terms, would be consistent with those evolutionary features of modern H. Sapiens that allowed for a moral sense, and the understanding of sin.”

Sy, your quote suggests that the problem of defining ‘Atonement’, presently under discussion, may be due to Christianity’s reluctance to dispense with the word, Fall. In this context the word ‘Fall’ implies a sudden decrease in value or capability, and archeological evidence and evolutionary theory point in the opposite direction: after living for 100,000 yrs. on this earth, Homo sapiens acquired a Mind that could judge right from wrong, and thus became capable of Sin, but also capable of a relationship with their Creator–actually to become co-creators with Him. However, The primary aspect of our Creator is unconditional Love, and it took the Incarnation to give us the example to follow if we are to achieve that goal.
Al Leo


(David Schwartz) #11

Amen. He is indeed our ultimate example though that was not His primary reason for coming. It is quite amazing that He, the holy God came to dwell among us, as a Shepherd among His sheep, (but we were not willing).


(David Schwartz) #12

Let me say that I do like the attention given to the Incarnation in these posts. That a just God would dwell among a sinful people is astounding!


(Agapetos_the_disciple) #13

Dr. Bankard,
I’m curious if you’ve read a good systematic theology such as Millard Erickson’s “Christian Theology”?

Certainly the doctrine of the Incarnation of God was to show us love and “what the perfect life looks like.” But the culmination of the Incarnation was the Cross: Jesus clearly knew throughout the Gospels that he was going to die. Even from Genesis onward, we have the Protevangelium in Genesis 3, promising that the serpent would strike his heel and that he would strike (or crush in some translations) the serpent’s head. Genesis 15 is another prefigurement, where God walks in between the cut up pieces of animal carcasses (Genesis 15:17) – that God himself would take on the covenant curses. We could go on and on about the prefigurements even in the sacrificial system.

As to the Fall and original sin, well, let’s put it simply:
At some point in time, the covenant couple chose to disobey God, by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil.

By disobeying God, they caused problems in four spheres: 1) their relationship with God was sundered, 2) their relationships with each other became problematic, 3) their relationships with themselves became problematic (i.e., they started rationalizing), and 4) their relationship with nature became difficult and painful.

Every human being born after this time is born apart from the life of God, and therefore cannot help but sin, and their sin precludes them from fellowship with God.

Paul’s usage of righteousness (dikaiosune) and cognate verb (dikaioo, “to declare as righteous, to justify”) are very emphatic and obvious throughout the Epistle to the Romans. Paul does declare that because all are sinners – nobody is righteous – but are freely declared as righteous through faith in Christ (Romans 3:23-25). And very clearly, BLOOD is mentioned in mention with propitiation.

I don’t think this requires us to read Genesis 1-3 “less literally” or “more allegorically / metaphorically / symbolically / etc.”

Moreover, why does it affect God’s goodness if He should take on the covenant curses upon Himself, or that God should provide a sacrifice of infinite worth? This is puzzling to me. It would seem that God is magnanimous for providing the solution to a problem that we human being incurred.

Overemphasis on the crucifixion as merely an example seems very Socinian. Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology in pages 781-800 does a wonderful job of looking at the various strengths and weaknesses of these theories of atonement (and of course 801ff on the Central Theme of Atonement and Substitutionary Atonement) – and of course as he says, “In his death Christ (1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction of the Father for our sins. All of these things we as humans needed done for us, and Christ did them all. Now we must ask, Which of these is the most basic? Which makes the others possible?” (p. 799)

-Agapetos the disciple of Jesus, who is both a scientist and a theologian


(David Schwartz) #14

I think that I have pretty much exhausted what I feel respectfully impassioned about in regards to this post. I will try to refrain from cherry picking and focus any further comments to addressing main concepts.

One last observation is regarding the concept of justice. I think there have been a number of comments which have addressed this issue already so I will keep my comments short (ha, ha). First let me say that Justice is not a community agreeing upon a certain set of behavioral standards and the punishment of those who violate those standards. If that were so, none would be in a position to judge (neither the majority or minority opinions). Aztec virgin sacrifice, Roman abandonment of children or Mother Theresa giving dignity to the dead laying in the streets would be amoral. Communities might affirm or strongly oppose certain behaviors but none could say whether one behavior or another would be “right”. The beauty of Justice is that it is based on the Just One and His attributes. If we appeal to a higher justice, a divine justice, we must acknowledge a Lawgiver who not only determines Justice by His own character but also the severity of punishment against such a divine standard. How beautiful that we have One who is not only just but the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ. With the attention of our culture to social justice, we are in a unique position to present the gospel of Jesus Christ.


(Patrick Watters) #15

Again as a simple old man trying to follow Jesus, I am happy to see comments remain graceful for the most part. There is obviously much more about God that remains a mystery, than that which we think we know. I’ve tried to learn to look for the “larger picture” God is painting and not get caught or lost in details (theology?) I simply choose to focus on incarnation and resurrection, because the older I get, the more I see it’s all about life. I spend most of my days out in the world among broken and lost folk who need hope. The Gospel remains very simple in that context, and suits this old Moose fine. }:wink:


(Patrick Watters) #16

Tonight the idiom “the devil’s in the detail(s)” came to mind as I pondered the disunity caused by dissension among Christians over differences in theology. Indeed the evil dweeb loves to use details, etc to create division in the Church, but Christ is victorious and cannot be divided. As a dear friend and Sister says when proclaiming the Gospel, “keep it simple sweetie”. Good perspective.


(Joseph Bankard) #17

Thanks for your post David. I think it is important and helpful to highlight certain Scriptures in relation to the atonement. However, I’m not a Biblical scholar. I try to keep my comments to things I either know well or have thought some about. As a result, my comments will be brief.

  1. I think certain passages of Scripture (like Mark 10) allude to something like substitutionary atonement. And it makes sense for Paul to use imagery that a Jewish audience would understand (sacrifice animals for sin, Old Testament sacrificial system, etc.). Because of this, I think that substitutionary atonement has a legitimate place in Christian theology and the church. My intention is not to destroy this view or argue that it shouldn’t be discussed. However, the Bible is not univocal when it comes to issues of atonement. Just like the Bible references predestination and foreknowledge, but it also emphasizes human free will and self-governance. Theologians and Biblical scholars must parse through these texts to figure out if God predestines those that go to Heaven or if humans choose to accept God via free will. Theologians like John Wesley advocated human free will to the expense of some of God’s sovereignty (God does not control all events or salvation). Whereas John Calvin emphasized divine sovereignty and diminished human freedom. Both of these theological views have merit because both can be supported with Scripture. I think the same is true of atonement theories. The Bible is not univocal on this issue, so some legitimate disagreement is warranted. You endorse substitutionary atonement. For the reasons given, I do not. But I think we can disagree on this issue while still reading and wrestling with the same Bible. in some ways, this is the beauty of the text.

This passage of Scripture is not directly related to atonement or the role of the cross. I believe that God gets angry. Jesus gets angry when he turns over the tables in the temple courts. But I don’t believe that the cross is motivated by Divine anger.

If you read my quote, I make it clear that it is through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that we are saved by faith and by God’s grace. But faith is not about belief. Faith is about living faithfully (I would argue that faith cannot be separated from faithfulness). If I have faith, then I will trust God. This trust will show in how I live. So if I have faith, I will live as a radical disciple of Christ. When I don’t, I must rely on the grace of God.

Thanks again for the response.


(Joseph Bankard) #18

Thanks for your thoughtful reply Roger. I especially liked your quote below.


(Joseph Bankard) #19

Great question Michael. I would argue that American Christians often interpret justice in a retributive way. That is, justice means giving people what they deserve (both good and bad). I think this is a very limited concept of justice. I think Biblical accounts of justice are often (but not always) restorative in nature. Restorative justice, in contrast to retributive justice, does not seek to give people what they deserve. Rather, restorative justice seeks to restore people, circumstances, and relationships. I don’t think God’s just nature required Jesus to die for humanity’s sin. I don’t think God is forced (because God is omnipotent and free) to punish sin with death. This would mean God is trapped in a retributive mode of justice. In a retributive model, God must punish sin. But instead of punishing humans, God punishes Jesus. This is flawed (in my view) for two reasons. It is solely retributive in nature. Also, it doesn’t even satisfy retributive standards of justice because a sinless man is the one who gets punished. But definition, this isn’t something Christ deserves. Instead, I want to focus on restorative justice. The atonement is about restoring humanity, restoring relationship (with God and neighbor), and restoring creation through the inauguration of God’s kingdom. And all of this restoring can be done without the blood of Jesus. Sin can be forgiven and redeemed without death. Certainly Jesus does die and he dies willingly. But I don’t think Christ’s torture was part of God’s will. It wasn’t what God wanted. Restoration and atonement can happen in many different ways. I don’t believe it requires blood.

Thanks again for your question.

Joe


(Joseph Bankard) #20

Thanks for the post Sy. My comments are below.

I think that evolution creates some problems for tradition views of the Fall. For instance, many believe that God created the garden as a paradise. There was no sin, no death, no disease, etc… Once sin enters the world through Adam and Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit, so too does death, decay and sin. This view holds that every descendent of Adam and Eve will now inherit original sin (I define original sin as a strong predisposition towards sin, selfishness, violence, lust, etc.). However, if evolution is true, then death, violence, decay and extinction all precede the first human sin. These are just natural features of God’s intentional creation. This means that humans evolve from small primate groups where out-group violence is the norm. Selfishness is a part of natural selection. Without selfish impulses, a given organism or species will lose the competitive game. This is not to say that primates or humans are purely selfish or purely competitive, but this is a part of our nature. And evolution makes these instincts a necessity for survival. So the first humans would have instincts for out-group violence, selfishness, lust and the like. They would inherit these impulses before the first sin was even committed. So this really stacks the deck against the early humans. If God chose to create via evolution then God intended for humans to emerge in a context of extreme competition and violence. It’s one thing if two humans with a perfected, sinless nature choose to disobey God. It’s another thing entirely to have two early hominids with animal-like instincts sin. Can we really call these first actual sins as a “Fall?” A fall from what? The context would already include promiscuity, war, competition and violence. What would the first sin cause humans to fall from? It makes sense if the first two humans existed in paradise. Now there is a context to Fall from. But this doesn’t seem to be the case if evolution is true.

Also, I think a distinction needs to be made between original sin and actual sin. Certainly, actual sin entered the world at some point. Somewhere along the evolutionary process early humans because morally aware. They began to know the difference between right and wrong and they decided to do the wrong. But this only explains actual sin. And we have all committed actual sins and need forgiveness and redemption and a savior because of these sins. But this doesn’t help us much with original sin. Traditionally, original sin was the inherited predisposition to desire sin. But how would I inherit this if evolution is true? Early church fathers believed that original sin was passed from generation to generation through the semen during procreation. This view doesn’t seem to have much merit anymore. A more plausible account of original sin (in my view) is that we have sinful desires, in part, because of our animal heritage. We lust, desire violence, are selfish, etc., because we are highly evolved animals. Another part of original sin is we all inherit a culture where sin is rampant. This context generates sinful desires. Fortunately, we are not solely animals. We are also spiritual creatures who, through the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, can transcend this sinful, animal nature to become more fully human (more like Christ).


(Joseph Bankard) #21

Thanks for this insightful post John. I believe it is possible for Jesus to take on flesh and bone to both show us the way to be fully human AND to die for our sins. However, I don’t believe that a loving and just God would will or command the death of Jesus. So it is logically possible for Jesus to serve both roles, but I think the role of slaughtered lamb cannot be the will of God. I believe God knew that Jesus would die (hence prophesy, Christ’s own awareness, etc.), but God did not will it.

It is also important that you bring up Christ’s willingness to die. This is where trinitarian thought enters the picture. If God incarnates and then chooses to die as an act of grace and love, then I think this is perfectly consistent with the nature of God. However, if we conceive of God the father sitting in heaven and willing, commanding or causing Jesus (a somewhat separate entity) to die on the cross, then I think it violates God’s loving and just nature. A God who willingly dies out of love for humanity demonstrates the height of kenosis and morality. But a God the commands that some innocent third party be tortured to death, don’t seem to fit with this loving nature (at least in my view).

Thanks again.


(Joseph Bankard) #22

Thanks Agapetos. This is a very insightful post. I really enjoyed your questions and your helpful insights. I think I’ve addressed all the major questions you raise in other responses on this thread. I’ve copied and pasted those below.

  1. God’s prophesy and foreknowledge of Christ’s death. I believe that God knew, as did Christ, that Jesus would die. I think this occurs any time the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of the world. But God knowing that this would occur and God willing or causing this to occur are two different things, in my estimation.

  2. The fall and original sin- I think that evolution creates some problems for tradition views of the Fall. For instance, many believe that God created the garden as a paradise. There was no sin, no death, no disease, etc… Once sin enters the world through Adam and Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit, so too does death, decay and sin. This view holds that every descendent of Adam and Eve will now inherit original sin (I define original sin as a strong predisposition towards sin, selfishness, violence, lust, etc.). However, if evolution is true, then death, violence, decay and extinction all precede the first human sin. These are just natural features of God’s intentional creation. This means that humans evolve from small primate groups where out-group violence is the norm. Selfishness is a part of natural selection. Without selfish impulses, a given organism or species will lose the competitive game. This is not to say that primates or humans are purely selfish or purely competitive, but this is a part of our nature. And evolution makes these instincts a necessity for survival. So the first humans would have instincts for out-group violence, selfishness, lust and the like. They would inherit these impulses before the first sin was even committed. So this really stacks the deck against the early humans. If God chose to create via evolution then God intended for humans to emerge in a context of extreme competition and violence. It’s one thing if two humans with a perfected, sinless nature choose to disobey God. It’s another thing entirely to have two early hominids with animal-like instincts sin. Can we really call these first actual sins as a “Fall?” A fall from what? The context would already include promiscuity, war, competition and violence. What would the first sin cause humans to fall from? It makes sense if the first two humans existed in paradise. Now there is a context to Fall from. But this doesn’t seem to be the case if evolution is true.
    Also, I think a distinction needs to be made between original sin and actual sin. Certainly, actual sin entered the world at some point. Somewhere along the evolutionary process early humans because morally aware. They began to know the difference between right and wrong and they decided to do the wrong. But this only explains actual sin. And we have all committed actual sins and need forgiveness and redemption and a savior because of these sins. But this doesn’t help us much with original sin. Traditionally, original sin was the inherited predisposition to desire sin. But how would I inherit this if evolution is true? Early church fathers believed that original sin was passed from generation to generation through the semen during procreation. This view doesn’t seem to have much merit anymore. A more plausible account of original sin (in my view) is that we have sinful desires, in part, because of our animal heritage. We lust, desire violence, are selfish, etc., because we are highly evolved animals. Another part of original sin is we all inherit a culture where sin is rampant. This context generates sinful desires. Fortunately, we are not solely animals. We are also spiritual creatures who, through the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, can transcend this sinful, animal nature to become more fully human (more like Christ).

  3. God taking the pain and death upon Himself- It is also important that you bring up Christ’s willingness to die. This is where trinitarian thought enters the picture. If God incarnates and then chooses to die as an act of grace and love, then I think this is perfectly consistent with the nature of God. However, if we conceive of God the father sitting in heaven and willing, commanding or causing Jesus (a somewhat separate entity) to die on the cross, then I think it violates God’s loving and just nature. A God who willingly dies out of love for humanity demonstrates the height of kenosis and morality. But a God the commands that some innocent third party be tortured to death, don’t seem to fit with this loving nature (at least in my view).