Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Search for the Historical Adam 5

The Search for the Historical Adam 5

by rjs5
posted on August 9, 2011

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative perspective, in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical and extra-biblical texts concerning Adam. In the last post we looked specifically at Dr. Collins’s discussion of Gen 1-5. In the post today we will look at the rest of the Old Testament and at references to the creation narrative in other second temple Jewish literature. In the next post we will move on to consider the references to the creation narrative in the New Testament.

In this section of his book Dr. Collins makes the point that there is a coherence to the Hebrew scriptures and to the interaction with these scriptures in the second temple literature. On this point I agree with Dr. Collins – when we try to divide and dissect the Old Testament we will fail. The Old Testament is better thought of as a library than a single book, but it is a coherent cultural library with a purpose … not an accidental collection of disparate texts tacked together and thus preserved. The general academic endeavor that divides, dissects, and analyzes the text can miss, it seems to me, the main point. The conclusions may be correct in many cases – but are only of value as they are reconstructed to help inform us of the way the entire text works together. In fact, this view of the text as a coherent whole plays a significant role in my view of scripture as authoritative and from God.

This leads to an important question though. The question really has to do with the form of our reasoning from the texts to an understanding of our faith. We need to consider and evaluate the form that the argument for or against a historical Adam takes. There are many references to the Genesis creation narrative in the OT and in the extra-biblical second temple Jewish literature. There are at least two ways these references can be interpreted in the context of the consistent narrative of scripture

Do these references attest to the historicity of the account in Gen 1-5?


Do these references attest to the significance of the creation story in Jewish culture and thought?

These two approaches may seem to reflect a minor distinction – but I think it is actually the root of much of the problem we have in our church today, both with the Genesis account of creation and with our understanding of scripture as inspired by God. Dr. Collins seems to imply in his writing that these references and more significantly, the opinion of the OT and second temple Jewish writers regarding the historicity of Adam, should be a determinative factor in our approach to the question of Adam.

The Old Testament. Dr. Collins cites many allusions to the creation narrative in general and to Genesis 1-5 in particular scattered throughout the Old Testament. References to creation are not rare – if one is looking for them. Creation and the role of God in creation is part of the world view of the original authors and audience of the text. The role of God in creation is an important component of the message of the text – explicit or assumed. Some examples are given below:

Psalms 8:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Psalms 104: …O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all;

Mal. 2:15-16 refers back to the God ordained institution of marriage.

Exodus 20:11 refers back to Genesis 1, the six days of creation and the day of rest.

References or allusions to Eden are found in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Joel. References to the Fall may be found in Ecclesiastes 7, Hosea 6, and Job 31, although these are disputed by some. Reference to Adam is found in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles.

This list of OT references or allusions to the creation narrative is not exhaustive, but it does include the most significant references and many of the less explicit references. Dr. Collins makes his point that reference to Genesis 1-5 are not absent from the rest of the OT. However, it does not appear that the references are profound or extensive in their importance. Most, if not all, of them reflect an assumed background or are of a general nature.

Extra-Canonical Second Temple Literature. References to Genesis and creation are also common in the second temple literature – and here the reference to Adam, Eve, and the Fall is developed more completely. Dr. Collins considers references in Tobit, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, The Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and in the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.

There is a theme here – Dr. Collins makes the point that these second temple authors, along with some of the more specific OT references, take Adam and Eve as historical individuals in the same way they consider Abraham, Moses, and David historical figures.
However, the citation in Sirach 49:16 makes it clear that he did take Adam to be an historical person. He is recalling worthies from the history of Israel in chapters 44-49 … He begins with Enoch and Noah as the first named “famous men,” then goes on to Abraham and so forth through Biblical history. … He completes the run-up to Simon in 49:16:
Shem and Seth were honored among men, and Adam above every living being in the creation.
The way he mentions all these men in this context indicates that he took all of them as historical figures. (p. 75)
Philo of Alexandria may be an exception, but Josephus wrote in a manner that intends to relate history and does not take an allegorical approach to scripture or the Jewish tradition. In the Antiquities (1.2.3, line 67) he calls Adam “the first man, made from the earth.”

The second temple literature also contains specific references to the Fall. Dr. Collins quotes the Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24 which refers to the creation of mankind in the image of God and the introduction of death through the devil’s envy and Sirach 24:25 which references the introduction of sin and death through a woman.
Dr. Collins sums up this section:
Thus in the period that bridges the Old Testament and the New, the Jewish authors most representative of the mainstream consistently treat Adam and Eve as actual people, at the head of the human race. (p. 76)
Evidence for Historicity of Gen. 1-5. The underlying current in Dr. Collins’s discussion of these references to Adam and Eve, or to Eden and the Fall is that the perspective of the OT and second temple writers on the historicity of Adam should influence our thinking about Adam and the Fall. Certainly there are some who will claim that the text of Gen. 1-5 was never meant to be interpreted literally and that the literal interpretation that causes us so much grief was a relatively late invention. Therefore we can and should abandon this interpretation. I am not an expert on this literature and cannot put all of the references into sufficient context to judge the belief of the various writers about the historicity of Adam.

I will contend, however, that all of the writers are sufficiently distant from the actual events of the past, hidden in the mists of antiquity, that the beliefs of these writers are not a determinative factor. Dr. Collins may very well be correct in his analysis that they believed their cultural history and wrote with the assumption that Adam was a unique historical individual. But this belief does not provide evidence on any level for the actual historicity of Adam.

There are two points to consider here. First the period of time from the origins of humanity [possibly hundreds of thousands of years - skinhead], to the development of civilization [possibly tens of thousands of years - skinhead], to the very early history of Israel (say 1000 to 2000 years BC) was without much in the way of concrete record. Stories were passed along. Sumerian and Akkadian texts have been found – and their relationship to the OT narratives help us understand the context of the OT. But the connections are tenuous and distant.

Second, the authors of the OT and the second temple literature had nothing to go on except the stories of their cultural history. They also had no reason to question the historicity of their cultural story. Without impetus to question, the fact that the story was generally accepted and assumed in their writing is unsurprising. In many respects the background is incidental to primary intent of the OT and second temple texts.

I expect that there will be some significant difference of opinion here, and some who will want to question, clarify or refine the issues, so I will stop here and ask the question.

Does it matter if the writers of the OT and second temple literature thought the creation narrative of Genesis 1-5 was historically accurate?

Does it matter if they thought Adam was a historical individual? Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 5 at Jesus Creed.

The Search for the Historical Adam 4

The Search for the Historical Adam 4

by rjs5
posted on August 4, 2011

I began this series a while ago, but had to put it on the back burner to concentrate on other things. Today I would like to get return to the topic of Adam and to the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative perspective, in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical texts concerning Adam. Today we will consider his discussion of Genesis 1-5. The first point of note here is that Dr. Collins has respect for the form of the text we have and cautions against reading it too literalistically. He also cautions against reading it shallowly, with a dismissive attitude, as myth or as a loosely edited collection of ancient stories. He points out that many will claim that the accounts of creation in Genesis 1-2:3 and 2:4-25 cannot be reconciled with each other.
As for the question of separate sources, the arguments for and against such sources will be forever indecisive, since none of these putative sources is actually known to exist. The only text we have is the one that places these two passages together. 
Further, we have no reason to expect that the whoever did put these passages together was a blockhead (or a committee of blockheads), who could not recognize contradictions every bit as well as we can. … Therefore, if literary and linguistic studies point to a way to read the whole production coherently, we do well to pay heed. (p. 52-53).
I agree with Dr. Collins here – although not entirely with the way he then takes the idea. Genesis 1-5 is a coherent whole, put together for a purpose and in an acceptable fashion by the editor(s) of the text we have, whatever sources were used. It isn’t a sloppy jumble of dissonant pieces. To me this suggests that any apparent contradiction, say the apparent contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, should inform our understanding of the mindset, culture, and purpose of both the original author/editor and the original audience. We should not twist the text to match our expectation for the literary form of the text.

What should be our attitude toward the text of Genesis 1-5? What should we look to learn from the text?

Given that the text of Genesis 1-5 is a coherent whole, Dr. Collins goes on to discuss the interpretation or potential interpretation of many elements of the story. Dr. Collins is describing a “third way” to read the text of Genesis 1-5. He advocates a reading between (i) the overly literalistic reading of the text as a reporter’s account of events as they happened and (ii) the overly literalistic reading that sees myth, magic, folklore and etiological “just so stories” and thus dismisses the text as fiction, an ancient Near East creation myth with theological meaning. I will highlight only a few of his points here.

The Creation Narratives. Dr. Collins takes the view that Genesis 1-2:3 is, as he describes it, almost “liturgical”.
[I]t celebrates as a great achievement God’s work of fashioning the world as a suitable place for humans to live. “The exalted tone of the passage allows the reader to ponder this with a sense of awe, adoring the goodness, power, and creativity of the One who did all this.” Perhaps the best way to read the passage is in unison, in a service of worship. (p. 54)
Genesis 2:4-25 on the other hand, takes a specific part of God’s creation, the formation of humans, and expands it in detail. Again the text is not simply history, but it carries much intentional meaning. Dr. Collins finds it persuasive that Adam and Eve are presented as a unique pair from whom all humanity descends and that this was the intent of the author. But this doesn’t exclude Adam from a representative role as well: he discusses the names Adam and Eve, and the potential for wordplay with these names, although he downplays this aspect. Adam is intended in some sense at least as a proper name.

The Garden, The Snake, and The Trees. The form of Genesis [is] similar to Mesopotamian prehistories, where the term prehistory refers to the time before written records. Genesis 1-11 connects the story of Israel to the past hidden in the mists of antiquity.
I say “the mists of antiquity” to remind us that we are dealing with the kind of literature that deals with “prehistory” and “protohistory.” … And, as Kenneth Kitchen argues, in the nineteenth century B. C., people “knew already that their world was old, very old.” Therefore the phrase “mists of antiquity” represents the perspective the ancients themselves would have held. (p. 57)
Because Genesis 1-11 is a record of prehistory it uses elements that are common to the genre – both figurative elements and literary conventions. The form of the stories tell us that we err if we read them too literalistically. But the figurative elements and literary conventions serve a purpose within the context of a true story of origins. We do not have a collection of magic, myth, and folklore with talking animals and magical trees. For example, Dr. Collins sees the snake as a reference not to a talking snake, but to Satan. The snake serves a purpose in the story, but the purpose is not to provide an etiological explanation for snake locomotion. The snake is as a mouthpiece for the Evil One, a creature used by Satan. He considers it a faulty reading to ignore the connection of the snake with Satan. The lack of connection in the text of Genesis is inconsequential, because the intent is clear. Likewise the trees are not to be viewed as magic trees, capable of providing life or knowledge, rather they have a sacramental function in the Garden.

According to Dr. Collins the point of the story of Genesis 3 is not in the details of dust and trees and snakes, but in the disobedience introducing sin into the world and the connection of this sin to all people.

The Genealogies. The genealogies play a significant role in Dr. Collins understanding of Adam and Eve. The genealogies link Adam and Eve to Abraham – in other words they connect Israel through Abraham to the beginning of humanity hidden in the mists of antiquity. The fact that the genealogies in Genesis 1-11 and those in 1 Chronicles and Luke 3 connect back through time to Adam does not mean that every generation is listed with absolute precision. We cannot add the numbers and arrive at the age of the earth. But Dr. Collins suggests that this connection does mean that the authors of Genesis, Chronicles, and Luke assumed that Adam was a historical figure [(or a representative historical person - skinhead)]. Although he does not state it explicitly the implication is that this assumption of historicity should influence our understanding of Adam as a historical figure at the beginning of the human race.

We will get back to the idea of Adam as a historical figure in later chapters of the book – this too can be nuanced. Adam as historical does not necessarily mean Adam as a unique individual, although it may. But it does mean that the story, according to Dr. Collins, cannot be dismissed as mere myth describing the current state of mankind.

Do you think that there is a “third way” to read the text of Genesis 1-5?

Is there a valid middle ground between reported history and fiction with theological meaning?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 4 at Jesus Creed.

The Search for the Historical Adam 3

The line of thought made by RJS5 is quite profound and correlates readily with other articles, topics and sections found within this blog. As such, I have offered several points of observation to help guide readers by adding several theological references at various points within the discussion of the article below. I do not intend to do this in every article that is presented on this website, but will do so every now-and-again as a reminder to the reader to utilize this blog's content in-total and not simply in piecemeal fashion by blithely picking-and-choosing here-and-there subjects.

Further, this website is being built with a thoroughness in mind that will help in the cross-examination of theological subjects in rigorous and systematic fashion. And as such, please use it as a growing theological compendium to spur on further study and exploration on subjects beyond this site's content. Hopefully each article will be inter-related as much as possible to the last and succeeding articles as is demonstrated in the web pages below.

Overall, relevancy22 is meant to be a capable guide but not an exhaustive guide. To this end I have listed other blog authors that require reading and examination, biblical tools and resources, church ministry sites as well as mission sites that may be directive or helpful. These can not be exhaustive but are meant as compelling guides by faithful Christians dedicated to the witness, demonstration and service of our ancient faith that we call Christianity. Whose liturgies and doctrines can be overwhelmingly complex to the uninitiated novice seeking to grow in Christ and his Word. Some of the limitations on this site will be in ministry and individual practices, how-to's, methodologies and other practicums. However, that is because this site is primarily dedicated to the theological understanding and expression of Scriptures and then secondarily to areas of devotion, inspiration and practice.

This then is the purposes of this blog. It was started initially for family and friends, then to disciples whom I have mentored over the years, and now wish to extend to a greater global audience than I have presently been able to do. There are gaping holes in this blog's presentation that with the passage of time may be filled. Ultimately, it may become a website or a web journal instead of a web blog but my skills for such a technological feat do not serve to that end.

Further, my passion is for biblical theology, not systematic, not topical studies. But for now it is amiss as I establish a biblical understanding and foundation to present a Christianity that I and many others currently understand it. Too, this site needs additional contributors and correspondents beyond myself but for now I use the blogger community that I have come to know and trust. And it has lastly served to allow me to express both the positives as well as the negatives of Christianity and rightly so.

Finally, in all things may we pursue our God with the loving fervor and witness that he has instilled within us with the time that we have left. Be at peace and may God go with you.

Jun 17, 2011

The Search for the Historical Adam 3

by rjs5
posted on June 16, 2011

One of the most significant questions faced by Christians when confronted by the evidence for an old earth and evolutionary process as the major mechanism of creation is the place Adam and Eve play in the biblical narrative. The CT editorial on the topic began with a rather provocative headline, No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel. When many believe this without nuance or analysis the stakes are high.

A recent book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, by C. John Collins looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key questions. In chapter 2 of the book Collins considers the shape of the biblical story. This includes a discussion of the elements of story and world view, the distinctions between history and myth, and the features of the biblical story.

According to Collins we should consider the literary characteristics used by the biblical authors the tell their story, in doing so we should also consider the way people use language to make important points (speech act theory), and we should pay careful attention to the overarching narrative or worldview implicit in the writing of the text.

With respect to the literary characteristics used by the authors, Dr. Collins suggests that as we look at the books of the Bible, including Genesis, we should notice the following (p. 24):
  • The narrator is reliable and omniscient: that is he serves as the voice and perspective of God.
  • The narration is scenic: that is, the emphasis is on direct action and interaction of the characters rather than on descriptive detail of the environs.
  • The narratives are sparsely written: that is they focus on what is essential for the narrative.
  • The author signals heightened speech using poetic diction: that is, elevated diction of a speech is evidence of its significance, often oracular, it may even be divine speech.
These characteristics, combined with an understanding of the way people use language and the overarching worldview will allow us to read the text for the intended and inspired meaning and intent.

Do you think these characteristics are a good guide?

In particular, do you think the narrator is omniscient? What does this mean for scripture?

In the next section of this chapter Dr. Collins elaborates on the distinction between history and myth in the telling of a worldview story such as that found in Genesis 1-11. To relegate Genesis 1-11 to myth, especially myth in the common understanding of untrue or fiction, he finds unhelpful. Dr. Collins argues extensively that we are wrong to consider the purpose of Genesis 1-11 as theological rather than historical. This is not a story telling “timeless truths,” either timeless moral truths or timeless theological truths but a story pointing back to a cause and effect for the current situation on earth.

Dr. Collins takes this point beyond the story of Adam, Eve, and the Fall. It is an overarching theme. We should not read the stories presented in the Bible looking first and foremost for moral, spiritual, or theological truths to apply to our lives today. This is true when we read of Adam, or Abraham, the story of David and Goliath or the miracles of Jesus. The story of David and Goliath, for example, should not be read as a story to inspire faith in daunting circumstances. It should not even be read as a story of God’s faithfulness if only we trust. Rather this is a story of David as the faithful king when Saul was faithless. There is a historical significance to the event in the grand narrative of scripture. [for further reference, see relevancy22's blog articles on Hermeneutics and NT Wright's exhaustive article on the significance of biblical authority based upon the historical-critical method of hermeneutics: http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/07/nt-wright-how-can-bible-be.html ]

1 - The real question then is not does the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 contain figurative elements in the telling of the story? Dr. Collins would agree that it does.

2- The question is not does the text borrow from Mesopotamian origin stories? Again Dr. Collins would agree that it does.

3 - Rather the important question is What is the historical event that the author of Genesis is presenting?

Dr. Collins structures the remainder of this chapter making the argument that the historical event key to Genesis 3 is the idea that God made a good creation and sin is an alien intruder in this good creation. In the discussion of “timeless theological truths” he notes:
scholars thinking along these lines might suppose that Genesis 3 teaches that “humans are sinful.” But this is not a timeless truth on its own: sooner or later someone will want to know, did God create humans with a tendency (or at least an openness) toward sinning, or did he make them good, only for humans to become sinful? If they became sinful, how did that happen? (p. 37)
In the summary at the end of the chapter he concludes:
The Biblical authors therefore portray sin as an alien intruder into God’s good creation. The story of Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, explains how this intruder first came into human experience, though it hardly pretends to explain how rebellion against God – as expressed in the serpent’s speech – came about in the first place. (p. 49)
Where does this leave us?

I agree with Dr. Collins that there is a historical element in Genesis 2-3 and this historical element should not be brushed away with comments about timeless truths and a story of everyman. As in Genesis 1 where there is a historical element behind the form of the story – God created the world for his purpose – so too there is a historical element in the story of the rebellion of mankind [in Genesis 2-3].

We were created for community and relationship with God, with each other, and with the world. This relationship was ruptured, not because God was unfaithful but because humans, from the very beginning, were unfaithful and wanted to be like God. It seems to me though that God did create humans with an openness toward such sin because in the story Adam and Eve fell almost immediately when presented with the temptation. Others may disagree here, and I would like to hear some of the nuances and reasons. [ for further reference, see relevancy22's blog articles on Calvinism and Universalism for further discussion on Sin and Free Will ]

Did God create humans with an openness for sin? Why do you hold this position?

What do you see as the historical elements in Genesis 2-3?

There is another question I find raised by Dr. Collins’s discussion in this chapter. I think he is right to note that we should not be always searching for theological truths or devotional moral lessons in scripture. In much of scripture we have stories rooted in real historical events and these events are essential for our understanding of where we are today – how we got here and where we are going. This is an element that is sorely lacking in most adult teaching and preaching and most Sunday school curricula for children and youth. We need to be rooted in the story, God’s story. This is a story of his relationship with his creation, his faithfulness, and, all too often, human unfaithfulness. [please refer to http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/07/nt-wright-how-can-bible-be.html on common errs that are made when spiritualizing biblical narratives away from their historical events]

But all scripture is not historical, and I don’t think we are right to look for historical antecedents everywhere. As examples I would put forth the books of Job and Song of Songs. I think these two books are literature, even “fictional” literature, with a point to the story. These are not elements of the historical narrative of scripture. When we look at Genesis, Genesis 2-3, or more broadly Genesis 1-11, we need to ask about the historicity of some of the elements included in the narrative.

Where do you see history or story included in the text of scripture?

With respect to Genesis 1-11, are these stories with a purpose or are they stylized stories with real historical antecedents? How do you discern the nature and purpose of the text?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 3 at Jesus Creed.

NatGeo - 2008 Human Genome Study

The Human Genome Study - 2008 - National Geographic

New DNA studies suggest that all humans descended from a single African ancestor who lived some 60,000 years ago. To uncover the paths that lead from him to every living human, the National Geographic Society launched the Genographic Project, headed by Spencer Wells.

This study will combine population genetics and molecular biology to trace the migration of humans from the time we first left Africa, 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, to the places where we live today.

Ten research centers around the world have received funding from the Waitt Family Foundation to collect and analyze blood samples from indigenous populations (such as aboriginal groups), many in remote areas. The Genographic Project hopes to collect more than a hundred thousand DNA samples to create the largest gene bank in the world. Members of the public are also being invited to participate.

"Our DNA tells a fascinating story of the human journey: how we are all related and how our ancestors got to where we are today," Wells said. "This project will show us some of the routes early humans followed to populate the globe and paint a picture of the genetic tapestry that connects us all."

Nat Geo's 2008 Genetic Roadmaps Project
Intro Video

On a single day on a single street, with the DNA of just a couple of hundred random people, National Geographic Channel sets out to trace the ancestral footsteps of all humanity. Narrated by Kevin Bacon, The Human Family Tree travels to one of the most diverse corners of the world -- Queens, N.Y. -- to demonstrate how we all share common ancestors who embarked on very different journeys. Regardless of race, nationality or religion, all of us can trace our ancient origin back to the cradle of humanity, East Africa. What did our collective journey look like, and where did it take your specific ancestors? At what point in our past did we first cross paths with the supposed strangers living in our neighborhood? Now, in The Human Family Tree, the people of this quintessential American melting pot find out that their connections go much deeper than a common ZIP code.

To Read More

Spencer Wells & Nat Geo's Human Family Tree 
Interactive Map

National Geographic "Beyond Race"
Introductory Video

Catherine Keller - Process, Poetry & Post-Structuralism

Process, Poetry & Post-Structuralism
by R.E. Slater

Side Note: I write this in 2021, ten years after posting here in 2011, to tell the reader that relationality is an immanent quality of process theology even as it cannot be entertained in classic theistic structures which lean heavily on transcendence of the divine - or God's apartness - from creation. Thus panentheism (not pantheism) must go hand-in-hand with relationality.
Too, I came up from the biblical side or Arminianism to get to this point not realising that "Open and Relational" theology is a major tenant of process theology and is more aptly described as "Open and Relational PROCESS" theology. Hence, two sides describing the same coin - one biblically and the other philosophically. Coincidental? Perhaps. Beautiful? Absolutely!
One last, it seemed natural to me to place together open theism with relational theism. Apparently many scholars resisted this joining which felt better together and apart from one another. Which is why I shall go on to always place an open future with a relational future. Eventually Tom Oord go on to become great friends who also came up from the Arminian (sic, Wesleyan) traditions even as I did my own Baptist traditions. Too, we both had to excised Calvinism from our biblical constructs in order to better grasp process theology. - re slater

I would like to propose a synthetic position between Classic Theism on the one hand, and Process Theology on the other hand. To borrow a term from process theology - that had once been considered but later rejected - to call it Relational Theism and go on to then explain this position as "Seeking a Postmodern Relational definition of Classic Theism."

It is an attempt to reconcile classic theism's theistic base without finding the need to move to the alternative panentheistic base of process theology. It neither disavows nor declaims process theology's statements of the Divine but wonders aloud if these statements couldn't better be described through relational terms from a theistic foundation that separates the substantive vs. the pervasive elements of process theology's discoveries back into relational theistic terminology.

And to those open and process theologians who are better versed in this philosophical research than myself, I ask for their help and assistance in developing the argument for the case of Relational Theism as a mitigating position between the classic and postmodern positions. I believe there is a validity to this effort that needs further exploration and a positive voice of research.

I should further note that this synthetic position may be unrelated to Thomas Oord's similarly voiced position that I only later discovered shortly thereafter. And although Oord does seem to lean in the same direction with mine own thinking it seems to require the correspondent terminology and language that currently fills process theology's research and development.

Perhaps, however, I am totally off base and we can only declare for either classic theism/open theology on the one hand, or for process theology on the other, with neither of the twain intermingling between their philosophical bases. Perhaps too, these are simply different halves of the coin, one looking at the Godhead from a deterministic viewpoint and the other from a non-coercive viewpoint. Only time and effort will tell if this is true. In the meantime I would suggest a better familiarity with both positions theological in this post-structural / post-modern age of philosophical denouement within the mystery of the Divine.

R.E. Slater
December 29, 2011

* * * * * * *

Post-Structural Process Theologian
Catherine Keller

Process, Poetry, & Post-Structuralism
with Catherine Keller:
Homebrewed Christianity 112

July 20, 2011
Catherine Keller is clearly one of the most brilliant theologians taking residence on our planet and she is our guest this week on Homebrewed Christianity!! We have done a bunch of process theology on the podcast but we haven’t had a process thinker who connects Whitehead with Deleuze and Derrida so sit back, relax, and get ready for a whole world of new ideas for your theological imagination. Catherine has a ton of books (On the Mystery is a book for everyone), Facebook author page, and a super-spiffy Professor page at Drew University (plus tons of free lectures\chapters for your reading).

Catherine is a theological poet…theology needs more poets!!! Many thanks to Catherine for sharing her imagination and time. May you all join the Nicolas of Cusa fan club.

- Deacon Chris from Australia Calls In (Twitter \ Blog)

Homebrewed Audio Interview
(1 hr 23 min)

Enter website below and press the "play" button on the bottom:

* * * * * * *

~ Some Definitions ~


Today structuralism is less popular than approaches such as post-structuralism and deconstruction. There are many reasons for this. Structuralism has often been criticized for being a/historical and for favoring deterministic structural forces over the ability of people to act.

In the 1980s, deconstruction and its emphasis on the fundamental ambiguity of language - rather than its crystalline logical structure - became popular. By the end of the century structuralism was seen as an historically-important school of thought because of the movements that it spawned, rather than structuralism itself, as having commanded attention.


A term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading. Heidegger's term referred to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that tradition has imposed on a word, and the history behind them. Derrida opted for deconstruction over the literal translation destruction to suggest precision rather than violence.

In describing deconstruction, Derrida famously observed that "there is nothing outside the text." That is to say, all of the references used to interpret a text are themselves texts, even the "text" of reality as a reader knows it. There is no truly objective, non-textual reference from which interpretation can begin. Deconstruction, then, can be described as an effort to understand a text through its relationships to various contexts.


Writers whose work is often characterised as post-structuralist include Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva.

The movement is closely related to postmodernism. As with structuralism, anti-humanism, as a rejection of the enlightenment subject, is often a central tenet. Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; one commentator has argued that phenomenologists are post-structural existentialists."

Some have argued that the term "post-structuralism" arose in Anglo-American academia as a means of grouping together continental philosophers who rejected the methods and assumptions of analytical philosophy. Further controversy owes to the way in which loosely-connected thinkers tended to dispense with theories claiming to have discovered absolute truths about the world. Although such ideas generally relate only to the metaphysical (for instance, metanarratives of historical progress, such as those of dialectical materialism), many commentators have criticized the movement as relativist, nihilist, or simply indulgent to the extreme. Many so-called "post-structuralist" writers rejected the label and there is no manifesto.


In critical theory, and particularly postmodernism, a metanarrative (from meta/grand narrative) is an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. According to John Stephens it "is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience". The prefix meta- means "beyond" and is here used to mean "about", and narrative is a story constructed in a sequential fashion. Therefore, a metanarrative is a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other "little stories" within totalizing schemes.

In postmodern philosophy, a metanarrative is an untold story that unifies and totalizes the world, and justifies a culture's power structures. Examples of these stories are nationalisms, religion, and science, to name a few. Metanarratives are not usually told outright, but are reinforced by other more specific narratives told within the culture. In the case of Christianity, the school Nativity play is a good example of this.

Process Theology
A school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) and further developed by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000). While there are process theologies that are similar, but unrelated to the work of Whitehead (such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) the term is generally applied to the Whiteheadian/Hartshornean school.

For Major concepts - See:

  • God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion. Process theologians interpret the classical doctrine of omnipotence as involving force, and suggest instead a forbearance in divine power. "Persuasion" in the causal sense means that God does not exert unilateral control.
  • Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. These events have both a physical and mental aspect. All experience (male, female, atomic, and botanical) is important and contributes to the ongoing and interrelated process of reality.
  • The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot totally control any series of events or any individual, but God influences the creaturely exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. To say it another way, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God's will.
  • God and the universe are interdependent realities (panentheism, not pantheism or pandeism). Some also call this "theocosmocentrism" to emphasize that God has always been related to some world or another. This speaks to the idea of immanent relationality.
  • Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid.
  • Charles Hartshorne believes that people do not experience subjective (or personal) immortality, but they do have objective immortality because their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was. Other process theologians believe that people do have subjective experience after bodily death.
  • Dipolar theism, is the idea that God has both a changing aspect (God's existence as a Living God) and an unchanging aspect (God's eternal essence).

Alfred North Whitehead

Gilles Deleuze

John B. Cobb

* * * * * * *

Our "Spooky Connectedness"
"Why I Love Catherine Keller"

by Jeanyne Slettom
November 8, 2011

People who write about process theology can be eloquent and inspiring, or intellectual and demanding, but for sheer poetic beauty no one surpasses Catherine Keller. Catherine writes as a theologian, yes, but also as someone who could as easily have gotten an MFA in writing as an MDiv and PhD in theology. Her writing aims for the liminal space in your psyche, where it emits flashes that illuminate your understanding and point you toward new possibilities.

I was reminded of this all over again as I read Beatrice Marovich's interview with Keller in Religion Dispatches (November 2, 2011, "Quantum Theology: Our Spooky Interconnectedness"). The interview is about a book Keller is writing, called Cloud of the Impossible: Theological Entanglements. In it she brings together Nicholas of Cusa and quantum physics, specifically, quantum entanglement, to reflect on the multiplicity of relations--between people, between disciplinary fields, between human and divine--that comprise our lives.

More than that I hesitate to say--I haven't read the book, only the interview! But her comparing Cusa's either/or "cloud of impossibility," where, as she says, "two different things that you believe come into conlfict and contradict each other," with the particle-wave uncertainty of quantum physics reminds me of my favorite comparison between Whitehead and Jung. Whitehead writes of turning conflicts into contrasts; Jung writes of holding the tension of polar opposities long enough for a "transcendent third"--a third element that includes and transcends the two--to emerge. In both Whitehead and Jung, a useful metaphor is a container large enough to hold opposing ideas without obliterating one or the other.

Our world is in terrible need of that container, give the increasingly dire struggle between economies of life and economies of death. And of course the transcendent third is not necessarily the best solution. We have already seen the polarity of Republican/Democrat resolved into the larger container of Wall Street and shadowy plutocrats--a disheartening development, to say the least, but one that calls not for despair but the search for a still larger container.

It is this--the insistence of possibility within impossibility--that appeals to me about Keller's project. Her language is both theological and scientific, but in preaching language, "possibility within impossibility" boils down to one thing: hope. And no matter what language we speak, that is something we all need.

Discussions on "Heresy, Universalism, Hell and Free Will"

by Roger Olson
on July 30, 2011

I have called universalism “the most attractive heresy.” For a lover of God’s love, universal salvation might seem to be necessary. (I guarantee you that some neo-fundamentalist will take that sentence out of context and attribute it to me without acknowledging what follows.) However, I’m not a universalist. On the other hand, I’d rather be a universalist than a true Calvinist (i.e., a five point Calvinist who believes in double predestination).

Someone once asked me whether I would still worship God if somehow I became convinced the Calvinist view of God is correct. I had to say no. Sheer power is not worthy of worship. Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.

If somehow I became convinced that universalism is correct, would I still worship God. Yes, but…. I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely. Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann). I would just call that optimism. There’s no way to believe that's true other than a leap of optimistic hope.

Everyone harbors some heresy in his or her heart and mind. The only question is–how serious are the heresies one holds? Of course, nobody thinks they harbor any heresies (in the sense of theologically incorrect beliefs).

I agree with Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (and others) that universalism is heresy. It is unbiblical and illogical. However, that does not mean a person who holds it is not a Christian. I have never met a Christian who was one hundred percent theologically correct. Scratch hard enough and you’ll always find some heresy beneath the surface (if not on the surface). That’s true for me as much as for anyone else. If I thought I held no heresies, I’d think I had already arrived at the fullness of truth–something even the apostle Paul did not claim.

I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism. (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.) I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it? If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious. Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.” The term is usually associated with liberal theology. In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.

Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity. The Catholic church allows hope for universal salvation but not confident affirmation of it. But, of course, as Luther demonstrated, all branches of Christianity can be wrong. That is why I reject paleo-orthodoxy and any appeal to absolute authority of tradition. Tradition gets a vote but never a veto. The Bible trumps tradition.

When universalism is believed on biblical grounds (as in The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald–a pseudonym), it is much less serious than when it is believed as part of a liberal theology that denies the wrath of God and the sinfulness of all human beings (except Jesus Christ, of course).

(Sidebar regarding neo-fundamentalism: A neo-fundamentalism is someone who will take what I have written here and claim I have affirmed universalism or at least given aid and comfort to heretics. A neo-fundamentalist, like a straightforward fundamentalist, is a person who cannot distinguish between non-absolute condemnation of error and error itself. Count on it. Some probable Southern Baptist heresy-hunting neo-fundamentalist will pick up on this blog post and spread it around as “proof” that Roger Olson harbors sympathies with universalism. That is, however, evidence of either a weak mind or ill will.)

So, what is my final word on universalism? I don’t have a “final word” on it because “it” is not all that clear. What kind of universalism? Based on what? I consider all positive affirmations of universal salvation that include denial of everlasting hell heretical. But not all are equally bad or condemnable. Some are based on confusion. Some are based on liberal theology. Some (e.g., Karl Barth’s) are based on the logic of God’s love and electing grace (viz., “Jesus is victor!”). All are wrong, but not all are equally bad.

Let me be clear  (this is necessary because of the power of neo-fundamentalists within evangelicalism today!) I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism. I am simply trying to get people to consider the possibility that not all versions of universalism are on the same level of error. There is (1) egregious error and there is (2) simple error. One kind of universalism (based on denial of God’s wrath and human sinfulness) is egregious error. Another kind (based on confusion about God’s love requiring his overriding free will) is simple error. I hope I don’t hold any egregious errors, but I’m sure I hold some simple errors. I am open to having those pointed out to me.


Hopefully Now I Am Able to Respond re: Hell and all That

by Roger Olson
on July 29, 2011

Comments (56)

This morning I wasn’t able to respond to all of the comments. Hopefully now I can.

Someone suggested that a person who refuses God’s love, preferring hell, would not be free but insane. In that case, he suggested, a God of love would save the person without his or her consent.

My response is that even an insane person has free will. As a society we do not force insane people into institutions to be “cured.” (See C. S. Lewis’ defense of that in an essay in God in the Dock. He was very sensitive to the whole issue of governments deciding who is and who is not insane and to forceful treatment of those deemed insane.) If a person who refuses God’s love is insane, it’s an odd kind of insanity that we may simply be attributing to him or her because we don’t understand their choices. I don’t think God is obligated by his love to force his grace on anyone against their will.

Also, we need to keep in mind the difference between free will and true freedom. I’ve discussed that important distinction here before. The only person who is truly free is one who is all that God intends for him or her to be. But free will is the gift God gives us with which to move toward or away from that real freedom. Real freedom is ours to lose; misusing free will is how we lose it. God graciously extends to all the possibility of realizing true freedom IF we meet a certain condition–acknowledge our dependence on him and his grace and cease our own efforts to achieve it apart from God. The only alternative would be for God to force true freedom on us which seems oxymoronic.

The only way I see to avoid universalism (which I cannot accept because of my belief in free will and God’s respect of our personhood and desire for our free, uncoerced acceptance of his grace) and Calvinism’s view of hell as God’s horrible decree (which makes God a monster) is to view hell as our choice–not God’s. Hell is real, but only because we insist on making it real. 

As C. S. Lewis said, in the end there are only two kinds of people–those who say to God “Not my will but thine be done” and those to whom God says “Not my will but thine be done.”


Some random thoughts about that awful but necessary word “heresy”

by Roger Olson
on August 2, 2011

Comments (28)

Recently I’ve used the word “heresy” here. I hate that word, but I find it inescapable. But dictionaries aren’t very helpful for defining it (or many other necessary theological terms). So, in an attempt to shed some light (and hopefully less heat) on the matter, please bear with me as I explain what I mean by it.

The most general meaning of heresy is any theological error as determined by some authoritative religious group. In other words, to call something heresy is to imply that it is not just theologically mistaken in one’s judgment but also in the judgment of some organized (or at least semi-organized) group of religious people (e.g. a denomination or movement). When I call a belief (or denial of a belief) “heresy” I do NOT mean it is something I find erroneous by my own lights. There are many things I find erroneous by my own lights; they are not all heresies. When I call something heresy I mean it is generally considered seriously theologically mistaken by some group I recognize as having some authority to make such judgments.

But even there a caveat is in order.

When I call something a heresy I MIGHT mean it is considered theologically mistaken by a group I recognize as having some right and authority to make such judgments BUT I DISAGREE in which case I would be using the term in a strictly descriptive, not prescriptive, manner. OR, when I call something a heresy I MIGHT mean it is considered theologically mistaken by a group I recognize as having some right and authority to make such judgements AND I AGREE in which case I would be using the term prescriptively and not only descriptively.

Also, I think every group implicitly recognizes degrees of seriousness of heresies. For example, the Catholic church considers obstinate heresy tantamount to apostasy but does not consider all theological error tantamount to apostasy. In other words, once a person has been shown the serious error of his or her thinking and persists in it, that amounts to apostasy. On the other hand, when it is determined that a person simply does not understand that his or her thinking is erroneous and why, the error is not automatically tantamount to apostasy.

Think about my three categories of right religious beliefs: dogma, doctrine and opinion. (I have written about this rubric in many places.):

1 - A dogma is a a belief considered essential to authentic Christianity (insofar as a person is capable of understanding such matters).

2 - A doctrine (in this technical sense) is a belief not essential to authentic Christianity but essential to being faithful to a particular church system and its tradition.

3 - An opinion is a belief one holds that is not essential to anything.

A similar taxonomy could be used for heresy:

1 - egregious heresy amounting to apostasy (when the person is capable of understanding such matters),

2 - heresy as denial of something important to a church system and its tradition,

3 - and heresy as profoundly mistaken belief but not a denial of anything essential to either authentic Christianity or a particular church system and its tradition.

One thing should now be apparent: “heresy” is itself an essentially contested concept AS SOON AS one applies it to a particular belief (or denial). In other words, what counts as heresy (of any kind) in one form of Christian life may not count as that in another one.

As an evangelical Protestant Christian I work within and out of that general tradition and I define it broadly–as encompassing a wide range of denominational traditions and doctrinal systems. For example, it includes both Reformed and Anabaptist individuals and groups (to choose two branches about as far apart as any two can be and still somehow be part of the same movement!). When, over a long period of time, the consensus of all evangelicals is that something is heresy, I tend to call that heresy also. But I don’t think all heresies are equally pernicious.

For example, all evangelical Christians (and I’m talking about respected spokespersons for the movement beginning with Edwards and Wesley and ending for now with Henry and Graham) agree that denial of the deity of Jesus Christ is heresy. They also agree that FOR SOMEONE WHO CLAIMS TO BE EVANGELICAL to deny the importance of conversion is heresy. But the second heresy is specific to evangelicalism; the first one is universal among all orthodox Christians. I would have trouble recognizing someone as “evangelical” who denied the importance of conversion, but I wouldn’t necessarily say he or she is not a Christian.

Another tradition I belong to is Baptist. A person who denies the deity of Jesus Christ is, in my view, not a Christian whether he or she is a Baptist or not. A person who denies the importance of believer baptism may be a Christian but is certainly not a Baptist!

So, when I say that a person who denies the importance of believer baptism is a heretic I’m using the term in relation to being Baptist and not in relation to being Christian. Such a person would, of course, have to be Baptist for that appellation to apply. That person would possibly not be a heretic in another church system and tradition.

When I say that we are all heretics, I mean we all hold some mistaken beliefs–the third category that corresponds with opinion. We all hold opinions that are theologically incorrect even if we will only find that out with certainty in the afterlife.

So, now, that all points to the question–what do I mean when I say universalism is heresy? Well, it certainly is historically a heresy within the evangelical movement and its tradition. Whether it is a heresy in terms of authentic Christianity, making a universalist automatically apostate, is another question. For now, anyway, I don’t think so. There have been good Christian universalists and, from where I sit, there is no authoritative Christian magisterium to settle that question. I tend to look back to the consensus of the church fathers and reformers, but I also recognize they could have been wrong about some things.

So, when it comes to making my own personal judgments about heresy in the absence of an authoritative body that I regard as legitimate for deciding with finality what counts as heresy I have to turn to my own best theological judgment. Then I should say “In my opinion, going by my own best theological judgment, such-and-such is heresy.” And the I should explain what level of seriousness I attribute to that heresy.

All this messiness is why some Protestants run to the Catholic church. It has a magisterium to settle these matters. But is that magisterium always automatically right? I don’t think so. Therefore, I have to live with the messiness of terms like heresy that can’t be completely avoided but contain a good deal of ambiguity.

Practically speaking, on the ground, so to speak, when I say something is heresy, at the very least I mean I would not affiliate with a church or denomination that tolerated it among its leaders OR that I would at least continue to try to convince those who held the defective belief that they are wrong.

If someone has a better approach to defining “heresy” that does NOT appeal to an authoritative magisterium or simplistically say “unbiblical” I would love to hear it. In the meantime, at least you now know what I mean when I utter “heresy” toward a belief (or denial of a belief).

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