Reconciliation and reality
Do the spiritual truths of the Gospel negate its reliance on history?
We received a good number of positive comments on Ann Lamont’s article Genesis: the roots of the Gospel. But a negative one came from John P, who said:
This article includes too many issues irrelevant to sharing the Gospel. It confuses forgiveness and faith with a particular limited imperative view of science.
The exchange that followed with CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland is one we think has teaching value, especially as the sorts of views John subsequently espoused are becoming increasingly common among evangelicals. Though individuals can be well motivated, such ‘overspiritualizing’ in a seeming attempt to negate the reliance of the Gospel in Genesis history comes close to earning a title like neo-Gnostic.
Carl wrote back:
Many thanks for bothering to comment. Could you please indicate what you mean by a ‘limited imperative view of science’? It is of particular interest because quite apart from any process of reasoning to show how these issues are logically foundational to the Gospel, we deal almost daily with people who find that these issues are of vital relevance to sharing their faith effectively, and often were crucial in their own salvation. People who are actively involved in street evangelism are particularly adamant that these are the ‘cutting edge’ issues of our time, and that dealing with them effectively (which includes having answers as to how the dinosaurs could fit into Genesis history, where all the different races come from, how Cain could find a wife, etc.) are the key to successful outreach. I myself recall giving a talk to a large audience at Stellenbosch, South Africa, mostly uni students. After that, the pastor gave a follow-up no-gimmicks, no-emotional-overlay appeal based on straightforward preaching on sin and salvation, and precisely 30 students made a public first-time profession of faith in Christ.
An article written by one of those street evangelists is [found on our site].
The Gospel is not dependent upon a six day view of creation or a claim organic death came upon all living creatures as a result of man’s moral fall from God which CMI uphold. It confuses the issue of sin and reconciliation, and introduces unsupported natural science in an attempt to explain the origins of the organic reality of physical death. Which is irrelevant to the nature of sin.
The good news is however dependent upon the fact that sin separates one’s spirit from God; as in the case of Adam and Eve, their spirits were separated from God on the very day they sinned by participating in a moral violation of God’s holy character. Sin is moral and affects spiritual relationships and not preexisting organic natural science. Only repentance and atonement for sin can restore that relationship of spirit to the offended party—namely God. [One is considered in Biblical culture already spiritually dead in sin even though physically alive.] Christ gave up his perfect spirit to the Father and was resurrected by the approval of God on the third day and this verified a perfect atonement for the sin of every man. Man is eternally restored to God because of the atonement of Christ giving his holy life to the Father. Making the life and character of Christ Lord in one’s life restores us as a son of God. The unforgiven sinner in eternity is separated from God while the reconciled will enjoy the eternal presence of God. They both have eternal reality but different destinations. One with God one without God.
To introduce natural science while dealing with spiritual concepts when a person recognises their sin takes them into a carnal universe rather than matters of the soul and spirit. Of course people who attend your meeting are expecting you to deal with natural science. But people whose hearts are burdened with guilt do not need a science lesson.
Thank you so much for the clarification. It’s good to see your heart for Jesus. There is a great deal of misunderstanding of this ministry however, but I’m travelling back from overseas at present, so can’t do more than give you this cursory answer. I apologize that I did not give you the link the last time, the article in question is at Street preacher says creation ‘is the issue’
But the real issue is not simply gospel/evangelistic pragmatism, it is also a rational recognition of what the Word of God teaches, and it is woven throughout the warp and woof of the NT, intimately related to the ‘gospel big picture’—the creation of a good world, ruined by sin, to be restored in the future (Romans 8) such that in the future there will be no more death or suffering due to the removal of the Genesis Curse—spelled out clearly in Revelation, in a particularly non-difficult part to understand. If that big picture is not a cosmic reality, then God has seriously misled the church for some 2,000 years.
Consider one thing only re your well-meant attempt to claim that Adam’s sin only involved spiritual death: 1 Corinthians 15, the definition chapter of the Gospel in which we read: “For as by a man came death, so also by a man comes resurrection from the dead”. It’s so obvious that this is comparing and contrasting the death Adam brings in with the death which Christ conquered. But it is not just one or two verses, as indicated, it is ultimately in the very fabric of the NT. If you think that this is simply some attempt to put a particular interpretation of science onto the text, you could not be more mistaken, respectfully. Fortunately, some very able expositors like the very erudite theologian Al Mohler (head of the world’s largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention) are beginning to speak out.
RC Sproul has made the switch on the basis of the Bible, not science. The key is one’s point of presupposition; these arguments [of yours] sound awfully like a lot coming out of Sydney’s Moore College—they sound very evangelical, and are undoubtedly sincere, but when I have been in discussion with holders of that viewpoint, inevitably it is clear that it is in fact a particular understanding of science, not the Bible, which drives the exegesis (with no disrespect, in some areas it is really eisegesis).
Our starting point is not ‘unsupported natural science’—the need for a scientific apologetic follows a proper exegesis, not the other way around. It is often, I have found, a genuine desire (recognized or not) to ‘protect’ the Bible from potential falsification via placing it in conflict with what are perceived to be ‘facts’ [which motivates the sorts of arguments coming across here]. See Loving the Bible too much? which attempts to deal sympathetically with such understandable motives, while pointing out the unwitting harm that is done.
A key issue is the genre of Genesis: is it to be taken as history, or not? There are so many powerful reasons/arguments for the affirmative that it is a little like shooting fish in a barrel to debate this, something which might surprise you, given what you have obviously been led to believe. See our booklet 15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History, which is short enough to read in one sitting—but if wanting real intellectual meat, Refuting Compromise is undoubtedly the gold standard on the subject; I suggest that anyone who wants to make serious comment on the creationist position needs to have grappled with that work before being able to make such confident statements on what the Bible allegedly teaches. Just a few points: Jesus so obviously believed in a recent creation (with people at the beginning of creation, not after a drawn-out creation process) that when I was speaking to a Christian academic in Melbourne on this, who tries to promote theistic evolution as the position of choice for evangelicals, he freely conceded this. I asked him how he can possibly deal with that as a long-ager who believes in a parade of death, disease and suffering prior to the Fall. He said that Jesus obviously didn’t know any better, and proceded to hint at the fact that Jesus had effectively lobotomized Himself at the Incarnation—which doesn’t get around the fact that the Father still would have permitted this error (in the good professor’s view) to be spoken by His Son, and to get into the Holy Bible. It’s only one example of the intellectual pretzels into which people end up tying themselves by denying the obvious (atheists are at least consistent): another example is Dr William Dembski’s recent book. He is one who believes in the authority of the Bible, as I trust you do, and yet is obviously placed in a real bind by two things:
- His conviction that the fossils must be millions of years old and
- His conclusion that there is no escaping the fact that the Bible would have death and suffering in the entire creation be the consequence of Adam’s sin.
The very fact of how he tries to ‘harmonize’ these two highlights that if there was an escape from 2, as you suggest, he would gladly take it. This web article (my last point, I promise) is definitely worth reading to see what extraordinary lengths he has gone to, to the point of earning the description bizarre: The ’problem‘ of evil and the supremacy of Scripture [Dembski tries to harmonize the two by claiming that the death and disease shown in the fossils was retrospectively caused by Adam’s sin, ‘millions of years’ later.]
Well, I hope that’s been at least some food for thought on this very important issue for our day and age.
JOHN (Carl’s responses are interspersed between John’s words):
Man is the only moral creature with a guilty conscience because of sin and is held accountable for his actions.
That is perfectly true, but not exactly relevant to the strong inferences in Scripture that even animal death and suffering/cancer have no place in His pre-Fall/pre-Curse creation. In fact, if I may gently say so, this entire response neatly and pointedly sidesteps the issues I brought up, which related not to some spiritualized philosophizing, but to the authority and accuracy of His revelation.
Why? Isn’t it because he indulged in a sin against the moral character of God? Man’s disobedience to God resulted in guilt; evidenced by his hiding from God. A broken relationship of spirit had occurred toward God.
No one is arguing with you here. But the whole point is that the death and bloodshed Adam’s sin brought in, though not restricted to physical death, of necessity includes it. Or else it makes nonsense of all those NT teachings about the curse and its removal. In fact, the 1 Corinthians 15:21 passage clearly teaches physical death, but you did not address it.
Adam’s spirit died to the eternal life of fellowship with God. Sin is an offence against the moral character of God and separates the spirit of man immediately and eternally from God. Reconciliation [atonement] is needed to restore man to life in God. This eternal separation of the spirit if unrestored is the second death of Revelation!
Again, the relevance of all this to these important biblical points is simply not there.
Are you saying that sinners have no existence after the death of their natural body because their body does not receive eternal life?
I’m not sure how this could have been deduced from my comments.
Are you saying the Christian’s body does not die, because Christ has given it eternal life? Are you saying the eternal life we receive is the life of the Flesh? This is as carnal thinking as Nicodemus who believed the words of Jesus referred to a second birth of the body.
Once again, you are appealing to a strawman; I did not say or imply anything of the sort. This is not an either/or situation; Christ’s death, for instance, clearly involved spiritual issues, but was also clearly a physical death, just as His Resurrection was a physical one. And His resurrected body, just as ours will be, had both physical and spiritual aspects.
The spiritual principle is Adam introduced sin into the world which cut us off from God: Christ restores us in relationship to the Father of spirits immediately upon faith. The life we receive from Christ as contrasted to the death Adam introduced; is a restoration of our guilty spirit to an eternal innocent [atoned] fellowship with God. Eternal life is not realised after the death of our mortal body at a physical resurrection it is present immediately upon faith. Upon the death of our mortal body for the Christian places our spirit into the full presence of God. Eternal life is realised immediately upon faith because the eternal Holy Spirit of God has restored our spirit and restored us to the Father while still in the flesh. We now reflect His moral character—not just post death of our mortal body. Eternal life is defined as pure moral character and not merely a physical existence after death. Christ in us restores [resurrects] our spirit from the eternal death of hell—separation from God.
God has not misled those spiritually discerning his truth. It is true many Church leaders have misled the Church for almost 2,000 years by their carnal thinking.
We are not talking about the reality of spiritual life or spiritual death, but rather of your rejection of the fact that the Bible also very much deals with the presence or absence in His creation of physical death, physical suffering, and disease. The ‘misleading’ to which I refer is actually not misleading, that was hypothetical, i.e. if your view is correct, it would hypothetically mean that they had been misleading people. To clarify: for nearly two millennia, including for some of the greatest scholars and saints, it was a ‘given’ from the Bible that such ‘bad things’ are a result of the Adamic Curse, and will not be there in the restoration (New Heavens and New Earth) precisely because of the removal of this Curse. Yet this cannot be true if the fossils are millions of years old, as they evidence carnivory, struggle, suffering and death—and diseases such as cancer. Hardly deserving of the title of a world which is ‘all very good’. So by adjusting your understanding of things to permit this idea, you have to be saying that all those people, and the millions of believers in the pews for all those years, were misled as to the ‘true meaning’ until the last 200 years or so when non-believers have deduced that death and suffering have always been part of the scene.
Organic death is part of the original created nature of the field where every living system is designed to die and reproduce new organic life, and is contrasted to the Garden and presence of God where the tree of eternal life is present. Which is the scene of heaven.
John, I have no problem with the fact that as an individual, you are perfectly capable of being a sound Christian while holding to such notions which are so powerfully contradictory and inconsistent in regard to the Scriptures. (That is, if the time-honoured historical-grammatical hermeneutic has any meaning—but then I see no evidence that you have been spurred into investigating this. Once someone feels that they have spiritual ‘enlightenment’, the hard work of understanding the Bible in its own frame of reference, especially when it might reveal that one has been going down the wrong garden path, seems off-putting, I know.) But have you thought of your responsibility to others, the people to whom you are exposed? Statistically, the majority will not be able to handle such obvious contradictions. In practice, the consequence is that people are increasingly moving right away from any meaningful notion of biblical authority. So while those in that camp sometimes make commendable public statements about upholding the Bible in matters such as marriage, sexuality, etc. they have already cut off the branch on which they sit, and should not be surprised that they are increasingly isolated, sadly.
I commend you for your willingness to discuss these issues, and I again commend to you some really serious investigation into both the science and the Scripture involved (particularly the latter—this is not just some minor disagreement over a phrase here and there, it concerns a total hermeneutic and the overall big picture of the biblical worldview).
John’s last communication followed, where he said:
I believe it is pointless discussing biblical theology since you are convinced that heaven has natural physical flesh and blood characteristics. That Christ is physically in the presence of God. I believe heaven is of the spirit even as God is spirit, that Christ’s resurrection body is not his ascended state. That the Kingdom of heaven is certainly not flesh and blood but of spirit. Christ’s spirit (who expressed the very character of God) is present as Lord in the spirit of those whose attitudes, character, actions express his. Those that accept the moral wisdom of the God of Eden remain pure, those that defy it have the eyes of their spirit opened to guilt, (this is not their natural eyesight). The holy do not fall to the temptations of the natural wisdom of the field that reduces the character of God.
Carl then wrote:
Thanks, John. You haven’t quite represented my position appropriately, but I can agree with you that there is not much point our discussing biblical theology, but my reason is that the words of the Bible itself, and their intended meaning, seems to be of secondary importance to you (no disrespect intended, just how I perceive it).
Your blessings are returned in kind.