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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Yes, I'm the Mechanic" ... Contentedness in Public Service ...

"Yes, I'm the Mechanic"

Auto-repair shop owner George Zaloom says there's no reason
why every Christian shouldn't find joy at work.
"I love this video profile of George the mechanic and his sense of purpose in the honest work he does for the citizens of his community. We spend at least a third of our adult lives in the workplace (at least in the developed world) so it is a wonder to me that we don't have a more robust theology on God in the workplace and the high calling of the ordinary working life. Not all of us can be Bono or Oprah and change the world from a stage. Most of us are working hard to change our little corner of the globe. Like in George's case, one driver at a time. I look forward to more video profiles like this one!! "- Vimeo viewer Pam H.
 15 Bible verses about serving God
and others out of love (NIV)
Romans 12:11 (#1 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Deuteronomy 13:4 (#2 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
Galatians 5:13 (#3 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
1 Peter 4:10 (#4 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
Joshua 22:5 (#5 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul."
1 Samuel 12:24 (#6 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

 24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.
Mark 10:45 (#7 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
1 Chronicles 28:9 (#8 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

9 "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.
Malachi 3:18 (#9 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
Matthew 6:24 (#10 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Luke 22:26-27 (#11 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
John 12:26 (#12 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Romans 7:6 (#13 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Hebrews 9:14 (#14 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
1 Peter 4:11 (#15 of 15 Bible Verses about Serving God and Others)

11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

3 Christian Perspectives on War: Just War Theory, Christian Pacificism, and Active Peacemaking, Part 1

Reading through the reports today I came across an article on America's thoughts about going to war with the Muslim country of Syria. A deplorable government to be sure, committed to torture and human atrocities, oppression and tyranny by both the father and his son for decades:
Syria has been under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens. Its system of government is considered to be non-democratic.[7] Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1970 to 2000.[8]
Syria is a member of one International organization other than the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement; it is currently suspended from the Arab League[9] and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,[10] and self suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean.[11]
Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in civil war in the wake of uprisings (considered an extension of the Arab Spring, the mass movement of revolutions and protests in the Arab world) against Assad and the neo-Ba'athist government. An alternative government was formed by the opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, in March 2012. Representatives of this government were subsequently invited to take up Syria's seat at the Arab League.[12] The opposition coalition has been recognised as the "sole representative of the Syrian people" by several nations including the United States, United Kingdom and France.[13][14][15]
Another article to help understand Syria's current state of affairs and areas of conflict was found here:
Elizabeth O'Bagy: On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War: "The conventional wisdom—that jihadists are running the rebellion—is not what I've witnessed on the ground."
A Divided Syria

Hence, in the following piece Johnathan Merrit provides three avenues for societal response: (1) the Just War Theory as proposed by Thomas Aquinas in his day of Medieval government; (2) Christian pacifism as resulting from the Anabaptist experience of purgings in 16th century Europe; (3) and a new theory going under the name of Just Peacemaking. This latter response I found to be the most intelligent and worthy of consideration. It responds according to the degree made necessary:  Just Peacemaking supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. It is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective (further reading on this topic may be found through provided links below).
The last article I've supplied is from Frank Schaeffer's intensely critical piece directed towards the American media's handling of President Obama's resolve to not commit American troops so immediately into the position of global enforcer and preventionist. Frank provides stiff support for the president's actions even though it could have been more easily interpreted as a lack of action based upon political expediency as I did. Still, it requires the American public's support for, or against, its military involvement in regional conflict. And I suspect, if given the choice, Frank, like myself, would likewise explore the third alternative of "Just Peacemaking" before too hastily marching to war with America's sons and daughters into regional conflicts where there are too often no winners.
And so, it is with deep prayer and sincerity of heart that healing would come between the Muslim nations within their tribes and nations, even as it would come with America and the West. If we are to enter into any kind of global cooperation and synergy then all wars and hostilities between nations must cease. From Somalia to Egypt, from America's urban centers to Europe's class conflicts, from Russian, China, the Mid-East, and Indonesia. But to so simply focus on peace must first require us to place our focus on justice and liberty, however it is worked out, so that power and wealth learns abeyance to the needs and rights of all men everywhere.
R.E. Slater
September 4, 2013 

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad gather in Damascus’s Bahrat Square
Courtesy of FreedomHouse (http://bit.ly/17lre46)

On Syrian conflict, three Christian perspectives
by Johnathan Merrit
September 3, 2013
The Syrian civil war has become a humanitarian hell. More than 100,000 are dead, images of a state-sanctioned chemical weapons attack have evoked a global protest, and most Western leaders agree that Syrian President Bashar Assad is an all-around bad guy. But enacting another bloody and expensive war against an unstable Middle Eastern country, particularly one with the backing of Russia and Iran, is something many Americans have little stomach for.
So which position should Christians support?
Traditionally, Christians have viewed war through one of two lenses. Those who hold to just war theory believe that war is often right if the violent conflict meets certain criteria. This is the view held by most Catholics and conservative Protestants. On the other hand, Christian pacifists believe that violence is incompatible with a faith that is patterned after the one who blessed peacemakers and urged his followers to “turn the other cheek.”
But in recent years, a third view called just peacemaking has gained traction among some Christians. It has been promoted by evangelical theologians Glenn Stassen and David Gushee, and supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. Stassen and Gushee point out that just peacemaking theory is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective.
Below are position statements on the Syrian conflict from Christian thought leaders representing each of these perspectives:
Just War Theory
Russell Moore, President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
The first principle of a just war, that of a just cause, has been met in this case. Assad’s regime is lawless and tyrannical, and rightly provokes international outrage. That said, there are other principles missing here, both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially.
I do not see, from President Obama, a reasonable opportunity to prevail, or even a definition of what prevailing would mean. Regime change is not the point of this action, and even if it were, we don’t yet know who the good guys are. Replacing one set of terrorists with another does not bring about justice or peace.
I agree with the President on the moral urgency of Syria, and I morally reject the crypto-isolationist voices that tell us, in every era, to tend to “America First” and leave defenseless people around the world on their own. In this case, though, the Administration is demonstrating neither an imminent threat to national security nor a feasible means to alleviate the very real human rights crisis in Syria.
Moreover, there is the very real threat to religious minority communities in Syria. How will an attack further jeopardize the Body of Christ in Syria? Could it be that an anarchic regime of al-Qaeda sympathizers could do to the church in Damascus what Jesus prevented Saul of Tarsus from doing? Those are questions worth answering, and that means the President and the Secretary of State must communicate to the country not just the moral condemnation of the Assad regime (most of us agree), but the more difficult task of communicating the moral case for American intervention in this civil war, making clear how such wouldn’t make the situation worse.
Saving national credibility is important but it does not make a war just. The President must use his bully pulpit to make the case that what he wants to do here is more than a symbol, a symbol that will leave blood and fire in its wake. Right now, it seems the Administration is giving an altar call for limited war, without having preached the sermon to make the case.
If I were in Congress, I would vote “no” on this war. 
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door
The news this weekend feels to me so much like Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN in 2003. We always want to go to war for a moral reason. But as a Christian, I have to ask, “How is Assad’s violence toward innocent civilians morally different than our ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Baghdad?” When I see the images from Syria, my gut wrenches. But I don’t ask, “How could anyone do that?” because I was in Baghad in 2003. I know that we did that–and did it while we were telling our citizens we weren’t.
Of course, that was the Bush administration. But I cannot forget the stories I’ve heard from friends in Afghanistan about drone attacks under the Obama administration. We love drones because they don’t put US soliders at risk. But when they hit the home of a known Al Qaeda operative, they kill indiscriminately.
Obama is trying to maintain credibility by meeting force with force. But Jesus showed us a better way–that we can only overcome evil with good. We are in no position to do this as a nation because we’ve invested all of our resources in the overwhelming power of military machines. But these technologies cannot bring peace. Indeed, I fear our investment in them has catapulted us into a policy of perpetual war. If troop numbers are down in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the Pentegon needs somewhere else to do its business. If not, contractors would be out of business. This is a cruel economic calculus.
Our only hope is to refuse cooperation with a system that demands violence and begin investing our lives and resources in things that make for peace. Of course, someone will ask, “But what about the innocent victims? Don’t you care for them?” As a disciple of the nonviolence of Jesus, I have to admit that some people may die because of my refusal to fight with violence. But people also die when we fight with violence. Nonviolence is not passive. It seeks to devote our resources to a better way. In our present public policy framework, this looks like opting out. But it is not disengagement. Christian nonviolence is engagement of the most serious kind. I give thanks for small experiments like the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, and the Global Nonviolent Peaceforce. We won’t have better options on the global stage at a time like this until we invest seriously in these approaches to intervention. 
Just Peacemaking
David Gushee, author of The Sacredness of Human Life
From all indications, President Obama has never been contemplating more than a relatively small punitive strike on Syrian military targets, so we are not really talking about a “war.” The question is on what basis might a punitive strike by the United States (and possibly some group of allies) be morally justified, and whether there are any alternatives that are morally preferable.
In the world envisioned by the official declarations and principles of the United Nations, the world community, acting primarily through the UN Security Council, would long ago have intervened in the Syrian civil war. Proven use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would certainly have triggered the condemnation of the world, and the UN would have stepped in with various steps to protect civilians, separate the warring parties, and isolate and possibly remove the Syrian regime. Sadly, we do not today live in the world envisioned by the United Nations, because power politics and alliances and resentments continually prevent the five powers of the UN Security Council from acting in concert.
Just peacemaking theory would suggest that the United States should first test the UN’s own principles by taking a case for rigorous international intervention in Syria before the UN Security Council. Show all the evidence. Call for the UN to live up to its own principles. Draft a strong resolution. Only if such a resolution should fail would the US have a case for going it alone. The president could say that international moral and legal norms and humanitarian concern demand international action, but failing that, the United States is acting in the stead of the international community. This is a case that could be far more effectively made after an effort at the UN.
But in this case, so far, anticipation of failure has led to a preemption of a UN effort. This has led the US out onto a very shaky limb. And the weakness of the President’s isolated position is reducing the likelihood that the United States (or anyone else) will end up doing anything at all. Meanwhile, civilians continue to die in large numbers, and the threshold against using chemical weapons has been breached without penalty by Syria. 

Just Peacemaking

Just Peacemaking is the product of 23 scholars across various denominations who
have collaborated annually for six years to specify the 10 practical steps and develop
the undergirding principles of this critical approach.
The Left and Right Entirely Missed the Point of
Obama Deferring to Congress on Syria
September 3, 2013

President Obama has used the Syria gas attack to accomplish something stunning: He's deliberately turned back the clock on presidential military intervention prerogatives to the World War Two paradigm. Whatever happens in Congress now the president has made it much harder for future presidents to pull a George W. Bush stunt and take America into dumb wars.
From now on there's a twenty first century template that will be applied by the nation when we talk war: ask Congress for permission to throw America's military might around.
President Obama has just struck a blow for peace. The left and right are so tied up in knots trying to parse the present politics of the situation that they forget that this president thinks long term.
President Obama has again proved that he will leave his opponents in the dust. By using the Syria crisis as a teaching moment on constitutional prerogatives the president has extended his reach far into the future. He may have paid lip service to reserving his right to use the military with or without Congresses approval but in fact he's done the unthinkable: the president has just seriously and voluntarily curtailed presidential war making power--for a long time to come.
More than gay rights, more than reform of the medical delivery system, more than attempts to regulate Wall Street, more than ending two bad wars, this surprising action by President Obama will mark his presidency. His action is the beginning of the end for the imperial presidency that Kennedy, Nixon and everyone since has inexorably exploited and expanded. Gone are the days when it's assumed that presidents don't even have to pretend to listen to Congress and the American people on using American force.
Speaking as the father of a US Marine that was deployed in Bush's miserable unjustified wars of choice, I can't thank President Obama enough for trying to restore a little constitutional balance to America's addiction to easy wars that others pay for. Since the sons and daughters of the ruling class rarely contribute skin in the nasty "game" of war, since most Americans go shopping rather to war, this Marine's father is glad that it just got harder to send young men and women in uniform to their deaths.
By President Obama shocking the chattering classes with something utterly unexpected he's insulted them. Expect cynical blow back. The talkers and pundits like to think they always see into the future, know more than the president and can outsmart him. They have been proved wrong again and again, on the economy - its back - on health care - it is working and on "Obamacare" - it will outlast the crazies in the Republican Party, and now on this stunning action. They will say he's weak, vacillating, trying to blame Congress and so forth.
What this president's critics don't get - ever - is that President Obama thinks long range. That's why he's remained silent in the face of incessant racist-based Tea Party attacks. He knows he's winning the future by not playing to their angry-black-man stereotype. That is why he's never been the in-your-face lefty the left craves. He's playing for keeps, not short term visceral satisfaction.
The pundits mostly are trying to figure out the president's tactics short term on the "next war" or "what this means politically." But Syria isn't the point. Politics isn't either. Our Constitution is. What they don't get is that irrespective of the outcome now in this case, President Obama has injected an old/new note of constitutional restraint into the American war making game that is revolutionary for our times.
It's a very big story that the media seems to be missing by concentrating on the short term situation, Syria, and politics. The real story here isn't Syria--it is presidential power. President Obama just put our country's good ahead of his power and handed a little of presidential power back to We The People. Thank you Mr. President.

J.R. Daniel Kirk: "Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?"

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
Spring 2013
The Christian tradition has made much of Adam. We in the Western church speak regularly of the Fall of humanity that took place in Adam’s primal disobedience. Theologically, we speak of inherited sin and guilt—an original sin that renders us all complicit. We are guilty of humanity’s first great act of disobedience and enslaved to sin’s power.
Such theological claims derive more from our reading of Paul’s reflections on Adam than from the Genesis story itself. For many, the most significant theological reasons for affirming a historical Adam have to do not with what Genesis 1–3 may or may not teach about human origins, but with the theology of Adam that Paul articulates in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. In short, if there is no historical Adam with whom we are enmeshed in the guilt and power of sin, how can we affirm that in Christ we participate in the justification and freedom of grace?
The levels of freedom (or lack thereof) that many of us experience with regard to the question of Adam as a historical person is inseparable from the theology that we see bound up with him. For some, to reject Adam as a historical person is to reject the authority of Scripture and trustworthiness of the very passages within which we learn of justification and resurrection.1 Others are concerned that to deny a historical Adam is to deny the narrative of a good world gone wrong that serves as the very basis for the good news of Jesus Christ. In short, if there is no Fall, there can be no salvation from it and restoration to what was and/or might have been.2 Even more expansively, Douglas Farrow concludes that “there is very little of importance in Christian theology, hence also in doxology and practice, that is not at stake in the question of whether or not we allow a historical dimension to the Fall.”3
High stakes, indeed. But I want to suggest that things might not be so dire. Specifically, I want to open up the conversation to the possibility that the gospel does not, in fact, depend on a historical Adam or historical Fall in large part because what Paul says about Adam stems from his prior conviction about the saving work of Christ. The theological points Paul wishes to make concern the saving work of the resurrected Christ and the means by which he makes them is the shared cultural and religious framework of his first-century Jewish context.
Paul has an important story to tell. It is the story of God’s new creation breaking into the world through the surprising mechanism of a crucified and resurrected Christ. This conviction about the new creation being brought about by Christ provides Paul with the ground to stand on as he draws Adam into the conversation in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
One crucial dynamic of Paul’s Adam Christology is representation. Christ does, is, and becomes what we need to participate in, be, and become in order to be God’s eternal family. For this reason, Paul takes hold of the “image of God” language with which we are so familiar from Genesis 1, and uses it to describe Jesus as he stands in relation to us: “he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son.”4 Christ represents who we are, and who we are becoming, as members of God’s new-creation family.
This representation is focused on two particular aspects of Christ’s saving work: his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Romans 5 develops Paul’s Adam Christology around Christ’s death. Throughout the latter half of Romans 5, Paul outlines how Christ’s act entails benefits for many: it brings about God’s gracious gift in a manner that more than undoes the work of Adam, even reclaiming humanity’s privilege of ruling the world for God (5:15–17; cf. Genesis 1:26).
Similar dynamics unfurl in 1 Corinthians 15, where Adam is viewed as the progenitor of death in contrast to Christ who, as God’s new representative human being, anticipates humanity’s coming resurrection life (15:21–22). A new humanity has been inaugurated by the resurrected Christ.
This theological framework positions us to step into Paul’s statements about Adam. Paul is working with the stories of Israel, as told in the Old Testament, but from the perspective of someone who knows, now, that God’s great act of salvation has come in Christ.
This brings us to our central question: To what extent do we need to affirm a historical Adam in order also to affirm the saving dynamics of Paul’s Adam Christology?
Romans 5 presents us with what are arguably the most pressing reasons to affirm a historical Adam. There we find these striking words from Paul: 
  • Sin entered the world through one person (5:12).
  • Many people died through what one person did wrong (5:15).
  • The judgment that came through one person’s sin led to punishment (5:16).
  • Death ruled because of one person’s failure (5:17).
  • Judgment fell on everyone through the failure of one person (5:18).
  • Many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person (5:19).
Paul is clearly appealing to both the common experience of enslavement to sin and death and the normative narratives of Israel regarding Adam to explain the reality that Christ overcomes. Moreover, the consistent point of comparison is that one person, Adam, represents the rest of humanity in coming under the guilt, the power, or the condemnation of sin.
One of the first questions worth confronting is whether this passage allows for various understandings of how Adam might represent humanity. Thus, for example, might there be room here, not for a physical, natural progenitor of all subsequent human beings, but for a person who was chosen by God from a developing or, at any rate, numerically numerous, human race to play the role of representative in obedience and disobedience?
But the question that will clamor for the attention of many is whether such a moment in which sin’s guilt and power are unleashed as the lords of humanity is required at all. There seems to have been death in this world millions of years before human beings came on the scene. Is it possible to affirm the point Paul wishes to make—that God’s grace, righteousness, and life abound to the many because of Christ—without simultaneously affirming the assumptions with which he illustrated these things to be true?
Writing to the Romans, Paul wished to argue that God’s people are found in Christ, and thereby cut off other possible ways of construing idealized human identity and what salvation and the people of God might look like. In claiming that Christ is (un)like Adam, Paul was simultaneously taking other options off the table. What difference might it make to our discussions about a historical Adam that Paul was claiming, “Christ, is (un)like Adam, therefore God’s people are not demarcated by Torah”? This latter statement is, in fact, the point of Paul’s argument in Romans 5 (cf. 5:12–14, 20–21). Paul’s Adam theology is an avenue toward affirming that God has one worldwide people; therefore, the specially blessed people are not defined by the story of circumcision. But he does not ask the question of whether an evolutionary account of human origins might stand within the story of God’s new creation work in Christ, and his argument is not aimed at denying such an explanation of where we came from.
When the ancients told stories of human origins, it was never simply to tell people “what happened.” Instead, such narratives indicate why their particular people and their particular god played the roles of sovereigns of the world. Genesis 1 is an introduction to the covenant story of Israel, in which God promises to make fruitful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and also multiply them (17:6; 28:3; 35:11; 47:27; 48:4). The story of Adam in Genesis is written with the latter story of Israel in mind, so that the reader can see that Israel is destined to fulfill God’s primordial promise of not only filling the Earth but also ruling over it (cf. 17:6).
Similarly, Paul employs the story of Adam based on his new understanding that Christ is the man through whom God has chosen to rule the world and that the churches are the people who are the fulfillment of the promise of numerous descendants. For neither Paul nor the writer of Genesis does the story of Adam exist as a standalone narrative to which later history must correspond. Instead, the convictions about what God has done at a later point in history determine how the Adam story is read.
New Testament scholarship over the past half century has developed the insight that the first data point in Paul’s Christian theologizing was his understanding that the cross and resurrection formed the saving act of God. In the 1960s, Herman Ridderbos argued that this fundamental conviction becomes the great act of God by which all other acts and ideas are understood.5 The significance of this focus on Christ is that it ripples out in all directions: not only does Paul rethink the future in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but he also reinterprets what came before. Thus, Ridderbos concludes that “Paul’s whole doctrine of the world-and-man in sin . . . is only to be perceived in the light of his insight into the all-important redemptive event in Christ.”6 A decade later E. P. Sanders concurred, claiming that Paul reasons “from solution to plight.”7 Because Paul knows that God has provided the solution to the problem of human sin in the crucified and risen Christ, he therefore reassesses the place of the Law, in particular, in God’s saving story. Romans 5 is one particular outworking of this.
Both Ridderbos and Sanders have come to the same conclusion: what is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. Recognizing this relieves the pressure that sometimes builds up around a historical Adam. Contrary to the fears expressed by Douglas Farrow, we can now recognize that Adam is not the foundation on which the system of Christian faith and life is built, such that removing him means that the whole edifice comes crashing down. Instead, the Adam of the past is one spire in a large edifice whose foundation is Christ. The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s [perceived] assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.
Where, then, are we left, if the pressures of scientific inquiry lead us to take down the spire of a literal, historical Adam? What might it look like for us to faithfully receive Paul’s testimony not merely by saying what he said, but by doing what he did? Might it be possible that we could retell the stories of both Adam and evolutionary sciences such that they continued to reflect our conviction that the endpoint of God’s great story is nothing else than new creation in the crucified and risen [historical] Christ? For many, the cognitive dissonance between the sciences and a historical Adam has already become too great to continue holding both.8 We therefore have to carefully determine whether the cause of Christ, and of truth, is better served by indicating that a choice must be made between the two, or by retelling the narrative about the origins of humanity as we now understand it in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.
The task of reimagining a Christian story of origins for our modern era has already begun.9 As it continues, faithful articulation of our story will have to attempt to hold together for our day what Paul’s articulation held together so beautifully for his own: humanity as a whole, not one particular race or ethnicity or nationality of people, is the purview of God’s saving work in Christ; humanity’s final destiny has been determined by the advent of the new creation in Christ’s resurrection; and this solution in Christ indicates that the problem to be solved entails not only personal estrangement from God, but a whole world that fails to live up to the harmony, peace, fruitfulness, life, and eternality of the God who created it. Perhaps most importantly, we must not allow biology or physics or chemistry to have the last word about the destiny of humanity. The reality of our lives as creatures limited by death and decay must stand in subordinate relationship to the eschatological reality of new creation that God has granted us in Christ.
To accompany Paul on the task of telling the story of the beginning in light of Christ, while parting ways with his first-century understanding of science and history, is not to abandon the Christian faith in favor of science. Instead, it demands a fresh act of faith in which we continue to hold fast to the truth that has always defined Christianity: the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all. Belief in Christ’s resurrection was a stumbling block for the ancients, and it is a stumbling block for us moderns as well—and increasingly so as we learn more about our human story and the biological processes entailed in life on this Earth. We do not give up on the central article of Christian faith when we use it to tell a renewed story of where we came from. On the contrary, we thereby give it the honor which is its due.
  1. E.g., A. B. Caneday, “The Language of God and Adam’s Genesis and Historicity in Paul’s Gospel,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 (2011): 26–59.
  2. E.g., C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 133–35; John W. Mahoney, “Why an Historical Adam Matters for the Doctrine of Original Sin,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 (2011): 60–78; Stephen J. Wellum, “Editorial: Debating the Historicity of Adam: Does It Matter?” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 (2011): 2–3.
  3. Douglas Farrow, “Fall,” in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (ed. A. Hastings, A. Mason, and H. S. Pyper; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 233–34.
  4. All scriptural citations are from the Common English Bible unless otherwise indicated.
  5. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 44–90.
  6. Ridderbos, Paul, 137.
  7. E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977), 474–508.
  8. See, e.g., John R. Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An ‘Aesthetic Superlapsarianism,’” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62 (2010): 196–213.
  9. E.g., Daniel C. Harlow, “After Adam: Reading Adam in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62 (2010): 179–95.