Teaching ‘original goodness’ is anti-Gospel
First published in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, April 2020.
Today, many modern writers who describe themselves as evangelicals openly disagree with the core Christian doctrine of original sin. Some argue instead that Jesus seeks out original goodness in us.1 They reject a historical Fall in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against the clear instructions God had given them (Genesis 2:15–17), earning the punishment of both physical and spiritual death (Genesis 3:19; Romans 6:23). Such denials of the words of Scripture by theistic evolutionists are deeply ironic: Adam and Eve’s very sin was in agreeing with the serpent’s questioning and open defiance of God’s words: “Did God actually say?” and “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:1, 4).
Sadly, this slide into further compromise of biblical truth shows no sign of slowing. Far too many Christians are oblivious of what leading movers and shakers of evangelical thought actually believe and teach. We need both to be aware for ourselves and to help prevent others in our churches from succumbing to such scholarly-sounding but treacherous teachings.
Sin redefined and minimised
Influential Old Testament scholar John Walton advocates the idea of pre-Adamic, soul-less people doing things which today we would consider sinful for thousands of years before the events of Genesis 3. Supposedly, God then stepped in and designated a human pair (Adam and Eve) to be priestly representatives in the sacred garden. That does not mean, says Walton, “that Adam and Eve were specimens of humanity who were perfect in every way”.2 Not at all. Their taking of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what he calls the “beginning of sin”, was simply when human accountability began. Before that point of accountability, he teaches that all sorts of ‘sinful’ behaviours were being committed by other humans (see Sin before the Fall of Adam?).3
However, there’s not a shred of biblical support for the idea that God set aside Adam and Eve as priests in some sort of cosmic temple. Walton reimagines Adam and Eve and flatly disagrees that the Fall was an act of disobedience, alleging that “An Israelite reader … would not necessarily recognise the serpent to be morally evil or bent on the destruction of mankind”; Walton says of the serpent, “He does not say ‘you will not die’. Instead [the words convey] something more like ‘don’t think that death is such an immediate threat’.”4 He even argues, shockingly, “we can have a much more charitable attitude toward Adam and Eve”5 but Walton’s twisted, distorted understanding of the Fall is frankly anti-evangelical.6
Irish theologian Niamh Middleton’s recent book Homo lapsus pushes theistic evolution further than most writers have gone before. She argues that evil behaviour evolved in our ancestors—deception, exploitation, cruelty, corruption, aggression etc. This was humanity’s gradual moral lapse. Admitting that this renders ‘original sin’ redundant, she thinks nevertheless that it enhances our understanding of Christianity!7 A detailed review of her ideas was published in Journal of Creation.8 Here, we will content ourselves with a few quotations. According to Middleton, hard-heartedness is not rebellion (contra Hebrews 3:15) but something that aided human evolution:
This means that the genes of the harder-hearted and more deceitful … would have begun to increase incrementally … 9
… my argument [is] that human nature in and of itself is basically good, and that the evolution of evil was an aberration within a purely natural context.10
… Homo sapiens also became Homo lapsus.11
Speaking of Adam and Eve, Middleton says:
… it may not be their genes or souls that are the vehicle of transmission of original sin but the impact on the human gene pool of the moral decisions that they make. 12
But make no mistake, these ideas are alien to the teaching of true, biblical Christianity. She goes further:
Most of all, science reveals the basic goodness of human nature itself, made good over millions of years of evolution … No matter what decisions our forebears made or might have made, there is a fundamental goodness to human nature … that is prior to any free moral decision; this premoral goodness with its associated behaviors and behavioral patterns cannot be eliminated (my emphases).13
Notice the claim being made here. Not only does she teach that the evil side of human nature evolved but that the goodness of human nature is also due to evolution! Whenever the Fall is minimised or redefined—with an insistence on the pre-Fall, inherent goodness of human beings—the Gospel is undermined.
To imbibe the idea of ‘original goodness’ is no longer to see people as fallen sinners in need of Christ’s forgiveness, cleansing and redemption. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Middleton goes on to assert:
Much of what would have been considered ‘sin’ in the past can now be attributed to circumstances that are not the fault of any particular individual and can, in fact, be remedied through secular rather than religious means (my emphasis).14
The remedy of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ for sinners (1 John 1:7) is nowhere in view. A denial of the Fall leads to an overestimate of human goodness, which in turn tends towards a denial of the need for salvation through Jesus Christ. The doctrine of original sin is a Gospel imperative, providing a logical basis for the imperatives of repentance and faith in Jesus (see The Lamb—and Genesis history—in Scripture).
Ironically, a few theistic evolutionists do insist that Genesis means what it says, even though they themselves admit to disbelieving it. For example, Denis Lamoureux (a professor of science & religion) is critical of his fellow theistic evolutionists who try to make out that Genesis doesn’t actually teach six regular creation days and a real Adam and Eve. He believes in billions of years and rejects a historical Adam but he does acknowledge that the apostle “Paul … definitely believed that death entered the world with Adam. This was not merely spiritual death [he then quotes Genesis 3:19]. Clearly it is physical death”.15 He insists Genesis teaches that, when “Adam broke God’s Word, he inaugurated sin…”.16 Without doubt, the Genesis account of a literal Fall is what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to affirm (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22).
Sabotage of Christian fundamentals
What is happening to the core biblical teachings about Adam and Eve and the Fall in ‘evangelical circles’ is terribly sad but also devastating too. The foundations are being undermined from within the Church itself. John D. Currid (Old Testament Professor) succinctly observes:
The macro-structure of the Bible is a historical account of God’s actions from beginning to end. If we remove the profoundly historical nature of Genesis 1–3, we will remove the historical foundation on which all the remainder of the Bible rests. 17
Currid’s words are so true. As fundamentally important doctrines of the faith are being deceitfully displaced by sham alternatives, the Church is fast losing its credibility or right to be an authoritative voice in society. The fall-out is deadly, as philosopher and theologian (James Peter) J. P. Moreland dogmatically asserts:
… the rejection of historical Adam and Eve reinforces the privatized, noncognitive status of biblical doctrine, ethics, and practice … If the church has been mistaken about one of its central teachings for two thousand years, why should we trust the church regarding its teaching about extramarital sex, homosexuality, or the role of women in the church? … Those who reject a historical Adam and Eve inadvertently harm the church and become its gravedigger.18
It is vital that those of us who profess to be evangelical Christians are aware of the dangers of compromised teaching within the Church. But awareness is not sufficient: we must be doing all that we can to counteract these sabotaging influences.
References and notes
- See, for example, Chalke, S. & Mann, A., The Lost Message of Jesus, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 67, 2003. Return to text.
- Walton, J.H., The Lost World of Adam and Eve, IVP Academic, p. 57, 2015. Return to text.
- For a fuller discussion on the idea of pre-Adamic sin, see: Bell, P., Evolution and the Christian Faith, Day One Publications, pp. 159–163, 2018. Return to text.
- Walton, ref. 2, pp. 133–134. Return to text.
- Walton, ref. 2, p. 145. Return to text.
- For a review of Walton’s views on the subject see: Halley, K., John Walton reimagines Adam and Eve, a review of The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton, Journal of Creation 29(2):47–51, August 2015; creation.com/lost-a&e. Return to text.
- Middleton, N.M., Homo Lapsus: Sin, evolution, and the God who is love, Deep River Books, Sisters, Oregon, 2018. Return to text.
- Bell, P.B., Homo lapsus—another failed theodicy, a review of Homo Lapsus: Sin, evolution and the God who is love (Niamh M. Middleton), Journal of Creation 34(2):48–51, August 2020. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 158. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 202. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 215. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 216. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 241. Return to text.
- Middleton, ref. 7, p. 261. Return to text.
- Lamoureux, D., in: Matthew Barrett & Ardel B. Caneday (Eds.), Four Views on The Historical Adam, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 62, 2013. Return to text.
- Lamoureux, ref. 15, p. 124. Return to text.
- Currid, J. D., Chapter 28, in: Moreland, J.P. et al (Eds.), Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, pp. 861–862, 2017. Return to text.
- Moreland et al, ref. 17, pp. 648–649. Return to text.