Today I downloaded, via Kindle, N.T. Wright’s new book, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. In it he gives his take on a wide variety of issues today swirling in religion, science, politics, and the coming of Jesus. Below is the beginning of the chapter in which he wrings out whether or not a Biblically faithful Christian needs to believe Adam was a historical person.
“THE ROOT PROBLEM we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, antiscience, obscurantist, and so forth. This constitutes a wake-up call to us in this form: though the Western tradition and particularly the Protestant and evangelical traditions have claimed to be based on the Bible and rooted in scripture, they have by and large developed long-lasting and subtle strategies for not listening to what the Bible is in fact saying. We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions. Our concern is for the truth and beyond that for our love of the God of truth and our strong, biblically rooted sense that this God calls us to celebrate the wonder of his creation and to work for his glory within it. There are two theological drivers for people to believe in a young-earth creationism and a historical Adam. The first supposes that if people let go of this position, they are letting go of the authority of scripture . I suspect , myself, that sociocultural factors are among the main influences. In dispensationalism in particular, a flat, literal reading of Genesis is part of a package that includes the rapture, Armageddon, saving souls for a timeless eternity, and so on, together with the usual package of ultraconservative (as it seems to a Brit) policies in society, government, and foreign policy. So I suspect we need to think through the question of how the authority of scripture actually works and what it might mean in this case. But there is a second theological driver of the problem. This has to do with the deep-rooted Western soteriology that has characterized Catholic as well as Protestant, liberal as well as conservative: a sense that we know, ahead of time, that the Bible, particularly its central New Testament texts like the Gospels and Romans , must really be about the question of how we get saved. For some, particularly in the Reformed tradition, the question of Adam as the federal head of his descendants is one part of the soteriology that sees Jesus the Messiah as the federal head of all those who are “in him.” So let me say something brief about scriptural authority, and then something slightly fuller about Adam and related issues.”
Wright, N. T. (2014-06-03). Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (Kindle Locations 437-445). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
It’s not about the authority of scripture or soteriology, but about making sense of the death of Jesus. Without a historical Adam, leading to Original Sin, the death of Christ becomes a meaningless Roman execution of an uppity Jewish faith healer and apocalyptic preacher.
Yes, Lin, Wright goes on to say precisely that… that a Reformed reading committed to Adam as a soteriological building block would need that to stay in place. However, as you probably know, Oringinal Sin, as Augustine conceived it, has always been said by the Greek Orthodox church to be a mis-reading of Paul’s Greek, and there are many more people today also wondering if our post-Augustinian understanding of Original Sin is really the problem the Bible is talking about. Neither Judaism nor Islam need a doctrine of Original Sin to explain the reality of human sinfulness and our need for forgiveness and grace. Sin doesn’t have to be some cosmic substance I inherited by being born in order for me to need healed of it. Here’s a bit more on what I mean.
Just putting it out there, but paragraph breaks make a post a lot more readable.
Ha, I missed that. You’re right.
Well, a little caveat here, I’m a student of the history of Christianity but no longer a practitioner, so a deeper spiritual take on Original Sin won’t get much traction with me. As it was taught to me in the Catholic Church, the sanctifying grace that was lost through Original Sin was very much like a family fortune that Adam and Eve blew on tulip futures or something, so there was nothing for their heirs to inherit, and it was not really a matter of their personal fault.
I looked through your interesting and enjoyable blog site for quite some time. I don’t know if a “deeper’ spiritual take on Original Sin is what I have seen unfolding so much as the idea that there is no such thing as “Original Sin.” Rather that we commit some sins, end of story. You’re a witty and enjoyable writer; I’m sure I will pop in to see what your’re working on from time to time.
Thank you very much Rev. Todd. I’ve accepted your invitation and begun to follow you.