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Teaching ‘original goodness’ is anti-Gospel

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Published: 29 December 2020 (GMT+10)
First published in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, April 2020.
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Some teach the basic goodness of human nature was perfected over millions of years of evolution.

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

Homo lapsus

Homo-Lapsus

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.

Gospel imperatives

Bible-Gods-Word
With Gospel imperatives increasingly under attack, Christians must rest upon God’s Word, not human opinions.

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

  1. See, for example, Chalke, S. & Mann, A., The Lost Message of Jesus, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 67, 2003. Return to text.
  2. Walton, J.H., The Lost World of Adam and Eve, IVP Academic, p. 57, 2015. Return to text.
  3. 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.
  4. Walton, ref. 2, pp. 133–134. Return to text.
  5. Walton, ref. 2, p. 145. Return to text.
  6. 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.
  7. Middleton, N.M., Homo Lapsus: Sin, evolution, and the God who is love, Deep River Books, Sisters, Oregon, 2018. Return to text.
  8. 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.
  9. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 158. Return to text.
  10. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 202. Return to text.
  11. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 215. Return to text.
  12. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 216. Return to text.
  13. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 241. Return to text.
  14. Middleton, ref. 7, p. 261. Return to text.
  15. 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.
  16. Lamoureux, ref. 15, p. 124. Return to text.
  17. 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.
  18. Moreland et al, ref. 17, pp. 648–649. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Niamh M.
As the author of Homo Lapsus I have to point out that the book’s main argument is not only that there was a primal Fall/original sin, but that evolutionary science provides empirical evidence for it. Homo Lapsus means Fallen Humanity! The scientific and biblical accounts of human origins fit together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and give us a much bigger picture. The book also includes the various hypotheses of who Adam and Eve were: a single couple, the first leader and his wife, or the male and female sexes as portrayed in Genesis 1. I am from the Roman Catholic tradition, which holds to a mythological dimension to Genesis. Ultimate truth does not have to be literal! As Galileo said the Bible tells us how to get to heaven, not how the heavens go. The latter is the task of science.
John P.
Walton and Middleton are just 2 false prophets-wolves in sheep's clothing. There are many others trying to lead others astray. These heretics are a danger to the church and need to repent urgently or they will find out their error when it is too late to do anything about it. There are many others who are called scholars but who fail the exam and we need with God's help to expose them. We are fighting a spiritual battle and despite our victory in Jesus, the devil will continue to try to take as many as possible with him, right to when he is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Giancarlo B.
This might sound crazy but in light of what we have seen so far by people like Walton and Middleton, there is simply no "but akshually"; we need to excommunicate as the Body of Christ against these people. Why should we consider these people to be genuine Christians if what they are doing is ... denying the basic doctrines that are derived exegetically from the text ... [and] disagree[ing] with Jesus on virtually everything save His Resurrection (and even that is shaky with them)? The liberalization and liberal infestation on these people should serve to us as clue that we should not give these people the credibility they deserve as inheritors of the faith. Liberal ideas like feminism, LGBTQ theology, "Christian Marxism" and other liberal aberrations have infiltrated the Church to the point that evangelical Christianity is being divided between the liberals and "fundamentalists", where really, there is only Christians and liberal distortionists of the faith. ... [W]e are The Body of Christ as a whole, we should not welcome these people to the faith. Middleton literally believes that secular solutions to ethics are preferable over to religious [read Christian] solutions. That's a Christian? Yeah I'm not buying it. We need to be firm and uncompromising and tell these people what Jesus told to His followers: You are either for Christ or against Him. If Christ affirms six day creation and you disagree, you are against Christ. Is this harsh? Yes, and that's literally not a problem versus playing "well aksually, you see" or other "nuances".
Philip Bell
I very much doubt that Niamh Middleton would self-describe as an evangelical, rather she's someone with very ecumenical ideas and I believe she hails from a Roman Catholic background. John Walton is considered an evangelical Christian by many people but many more would challenge this. My colleague Gavin Cox wrote words with which I personally agree (in his review of three of Walton's 'Lost World' books):
"Walton’s writings do not offer the reader the reasonable middle ground between theology and science as claimed. His books instead offer scholarly rationalizations for doubting the Bible. The end result of Walton’s teaching is to place in the mouth of Christ and the Word of His Heavenly Father falsehood and error. This is tantamount to blasphemy and should be rejected by discerning readers."
It goes to show that the idea of theistic evolution is embraced by a wide spectrum of 'Christians' (some of whom actually deny the very faith they profess through their (written) works; see e.g. Titus 1:16).
Jim G.
Sometimes I wonder if they're even really Christians. They're so far from Biblical Christianity that it's hard to imagine that they are. Sad.

Jim
Geoff C. W.
Walton quotes from Genesis when it suits him. but rejects other parts that don't suit him. He wouldn't be the first. Rather complimentary of you to call him a scholar.
Philip Bell
I take your point but I was simply using the word according to the dictionary definition, e.g. Collins: "A scholar is a person who studies an academic subject and knows a lot about it." That a person qualifies as a scholar is, sadly, no guarantee that s/he will make accurate or fair assessments!
Stephen N.
Thank you for the informative article. There was a pastor in the last century in the USA who was fond of this expression. He said that we must not only believe in God, but that we must also believe God- in other words, believe what He says in the Holy Bible. Jesus Christ is the Personal Word of God and the Holy Bible is the written word of God. People that fail to believe the written word of God in its entirety are missing the mark to one degree or another. Human reason is no substitute for the inspired scriptures. Replacing God's truth with human reason results in people believing and following the serpent. This is a serious matter indeed, and we need to beware of false teachers.
TOM G.
Thank you for your article exposing false teaching. Your ministry provides a great service. I am a physicist by education, but scientific training has not altered my convictions and firm belief that the Bible is not only the basis for truth, it is all truth. The attempts of those who add or subtract from the literal meaning of Scripture is always driven by personal agendas or preferences. They commit the same error that Adam and Eve made....believing that God did not mean exactly what He has said. The Bible tells us that even in the things which to us may seem small are not small to God. Adam and Eve in the Garden and Moses striking rather than talking to the rock are prime examples of the precision of compliance required by God to please Him. To disavow what God literally said, or to twist Scripture to other than clear meaning is blasphemous. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture to inform and guide us, not to mislead or confuse us. God only has the purpose of righteousness for us through Christ, who came to forgive our inadequacies in keeping God's words. Jesus did not refer to His own words as friendly suggestions, but as commands. Those who warp Scripture's meanings or seek to add to what God has said and His clear intentions, are in great need of repentance for their arrogance and rebellion. Those who teach falsely will have to answer to God for their actions....that will not go well.
Bill P.
There is no basic goodness in human nature. I cringe every time I hear someone say that.
We in ourselves have nothing to bring to the table that'll get us through "The Pearly Gates", nor to add to what Jesus Christ did on our behalf (on that cross) nor can we take away anything HE did (on that cross).
The ONLY THING that is on the table that will allow us to pass through into "Eternal Life" is The Righteousness of Jesus Christ, case closed.
I was raised in a religion that kept the "The Love of The Truth" hidden from me for 25 yrs. I've since learned the truth "Let God Always be truthful and every man a liar".
Forty yrs. ago The Lord had mercy on me and saved me. I at last picked up a Bible and my Lord taught me HIS WAYS.
This "evolved goodness" in human nature has effected many in my family and has taken away their ability to handle
hardship that comes their way. This idea of goodness in everyone has taken what should be "Jesus Christ at the center of everything" and replaced it w/the puffed up the foolish pride of many.
Have they not learned that it was "THIS SIN" (pride) that was in the heart of "the father of ALL lies and murders", the one who destroys everything he touches ??
Hope those who trust in their own abilities repent soon because 2000 yrs ago the "last days" started, and now we are in the "last minutes", and time is very very short.
Yet our Savior is still working calling by name and tapping on the door of the hearts of many lost sheep in hopes they will open that door and let our Lord in, so HE can sup w/them and they w/HIM and be saved.
Keep up the good work as long as possible CMI..
Michael B.
Why aren't these teachings called out for what they are? Heresies... At some point we started extending an non-biblical grace to those who clearly teach contrary to the Scriptures.
A question for those who believe man is basically good.... "If man is basically good why is there so much evil in the world?"

Genesis 6:5 "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
Your Brother in Christ,
Michael
David B.
It beggars belief that anyone claiming to be "evangelical" could hold such heretical beliefs.They don't just go beyond what scripture tells us but have deviated widely from anything even resembling Biblical truth.They are to be exposed as false prophets and I'm deeply grateful to God for this ministry doing just that.Keep up the great work and God prosper your ministry.

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