08 October 2007

"The gift is not like the trespass"

Our family embraced the Reformed tradition (of evangelical Christianity) while we were a part of Park Street Church in Boston. We have many fond memories of our time at Park Street; I first picked up a copy of Del Ratzsch's excellent Science and Its Limits from the church library there, and it was at Park Street where we first learned about Calvin College. But right now, I'm remembering the many times when I heard a particularly excellent sermon, the kind of sermon that makes you feel as if you're hearing simple and well-known truths for the first time. If you're a Christian, perhaps you know what I'm talking about. This past Sunday, I had one of those experiences. The text was Romans 5:12-21, and when my friend Rev. David Kromminga was finished, I had that weird feeling like I'd never read Romans 5 in my life. It's worth sharing here, because the text is one that surfaces amid creationist objections to evolutionary theory.

If there is any problem at all between evolution and Christian belief, it arises in the context of the historical narrative of redemptive history. (The notion that evolutionary theory, as a natural explanation, is hostile to Christian belief is, in my opinion, preposterous. Hence my low regard for ID.) Specifically, the historical nature of the Fall, in which sin and death entered the world due to the actions of two particular people, is difficult to fit into the narrative of common ancestry.

In my view, the problem is simply historical (the stories don't seem to fit well together), but many Christians see a more serious conflict, because they believe that the existence of a single historical Adam is central in the redemption narrative. In fact, I'm sure that the vast majority of evangelicals would take this position. And Romans 5 would be a big reason why.

The standard proof text is this one: "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..." (Romans 5:12, TNIV). The basic claim, that sin entered through Adam, is repeated three more times in the passage. Moroever, the passage clearly sets up Adam and Christ as types to be compared. No list of "dangers of theistic evolution" would be complete without reference to Romans 5.

I think this is sad, because it seems to me that Paul is trying to say something much bigger than "Adam brought death, Christ brings life." The problem with that summary is that it strongly intimates a kind of equality between the two types, as though Adam's sin was "cancelled out" by Christ's redemptive work. What Paul is saying, I think, is something like this: "don't think for a moment that one of those is equal to the other." Verse 12: "The gift is not like the trespass." Or, as David put it on Sunday: "the rot does not equal the redemption." Read the whole passage; Paul's repetition suggests that he is determined to make sure we get that message.

I agree that the "historical Adam" question is a tough one. But I'm not sure it's enormously important. Adam was the "dirt man." Jesus is the God man. The gift is not like the trespass. Let's not compare the God man to the dirt man, as though they're two sides of the same coin. And let's not forget that Jesus is the author and finisher, the beginning and the end. Even if we never figure out how that whole dirt-man thing actually went, we'll know everything we need to know if we know the God man.

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