Thursday, October 26, 2006

the gospel and original sin

Needless to say, Brian McLaren has thrown my brain for a loop in the past month. I've been rehashing a comment that he made in one of his talks at the Leadership Institute. This is the way I remember it (If I am remembering it wrong, I am sorry. If you were there and I'm wrong, please correct me. But at least you will understand the way I interpreted it, and how it affects my journey): "Somewhere around 3rd century the gospel got reduced to the point of being seen as nothing more than the answer to Original Sin." The way he said it made it sound like we all naturally agreed that he was right. But as I've been thinking about it, the gospel is primarily God's corrective response to Original Sin.

Here's another edge to the issue. From reading The Story We Find Ourselves In, I get the picture that McLaren doesn't believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Without Adam and Eve, you have to throw out the doctrine of Original Sin altogether, as well as much of New Testament theology. What do you do with this passage from Romans 5 if there was no Adam and Eve?

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Not only that, but if we throw out Original Sin, then the Methodist movement is meaningless. Wesley said the Methodist Movement is built on three doctrines: 1) Original Sin, 2) Justification by Faith, 3) Holiness of Heart and Life.

I'm coming to understand how much the historic Christian faith is built upon the literal interpretation of the Bible. If you start allegorizing Genesis 1-11, you lose Original Sin and you have to come up with another "gospel" in order to remain a Christian.

No wonder Paul was so distressed in Galatians 1, where he wrote:
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
I'm not saying Brian McLaren is to be accursed. I actually still like him. I'm just trying to digest all this strange food I've eaten lately, and throwing up some of it.


Anonymous said...


I hope these theological exercises help you to solidify the doctrines your heart, mind, and soul tell you are part of the historic Christians faith as it was passed unto the saints. That you would follow Christ, even to death.

The alternative could be something like this, a gospel that elevates man and his reason.

The early Church fathers defined and defended the doctrines of authentic Christianity. So these false doctrines are nothing new.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 (ESV)

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Your brother in Christ,

John Flores
Frisco, Texas

JD said...

Great comment John! That was awesome, uplifting, and timely.


Thanks for the posts the last few days! Your blog really is "going somewhere." :) I appreciate your challenging thoughts and scripture references that, I know, will help many a Christian, and hopefully reach a few non-Christians.


Nick Draper said...

Wrestling with God beats you up, doesn't it? If there's anything that college has forced me to do, it's wrestle.

Couple points:

I think you're right about the gospel being a response to sin, certainly. I'm not convinced that's as in opposition to McLaren as it might come off at first. I don't have his books in front of me, but in his quote, I think he's talking about sin as merely one's standing before God/ticket to heaven. And I think we'd all agree that it's more than that. But sin is also the cause of all the falling away from God's creation that we do, and so the gospel, even in redeeming the world and making a new creation, is correcting original sin.

Literal Eden - this topic in Hebrew Bible class generally sporked the class's brain. Not that Adam and Eve couldn't have existed, but there's a lot of internal evidence in Genesis 2-3 that suggests the story is folklore. (See the very precise description of the location of Eden. That place can't possibly exist - but when taken as allegory for the cradle of life, the passage makes a lot more sense.) That doesn't rule out the possibility of a historical core, but I don't know of any positive evidence for believing that there is one, other than later Jews believing that the story is historical. More on in a couple paragraphs. (I should post about this on my blog.)

Paul would almost certainly refer to Wesley's gospel as "another gospel." See 1 Cor 15, the earliest statement of faith that we still have. (Well, as far as we can tell. You never know.)

15Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Now if you look real hard, you can find Wesley's gospel in there, but without knowing it beforehand I'm not sure that's what I would have come up with from that passage.

Glad you're wrestling with this. Thing about this that sporks my brain. Carried to its logical conclusion, the allegorization of much of the Bible means that the NT writers wrote about ahistorical things as if they actually happened. (And in some of those cases, I think it might have been knowingly. Someone had to know who Joseph's dad was. Or where the family went after Jesus was born.) That's been the hardest challenge for me thus far.

Good luck!

Jason Woolever said...

John and JD. Thanks for the encouragement and insight. Its great to have you guys along on the journey.

Nick, you nailed the crossroads that I see McLaren and all of us coming to in trying to do theological exploration, when you said, Carried to its logical conclusion, the allegorization of much of the Bible means that the NT writers wrote about ahistorical things as if they actually happened.

I once asked my New Testament professor who was a self-identified liberal theologian if he believed that Jesus believed in a literal hell of fire. He said, "Yes, I think he really did." So it appears that you have Jesus and all the NT guys taking everything literally. I mean, look at the whole Melchizidek (sp?) thing in Hebrews. It says he has no beginning or end just because it doesn't tell about his birth and death. The NT guys take the OT to a hyperliteral degree in their theologizing from what I can tell.

And also, from what I can tell, the early church fathers did as well. Justin Martyr held a futurist interpretation of Revelation comlete with a literal thousand year reign. It seems that if it was so obvious that it was figurative language, then the earliest church fathers would have picked up on that, but hardly anyone suggests it before Origen.

So now here we are 2000 years later, and we're at this crossroads. Historical criticism, literary criticism talks about genres and all this stuff. But from the point of the NT writers and the early fathers, none of that seems to apply. Not that we should throw all of it out because of that. But, I'm challenged by it for sure.

Like you said, "wrestling with God beats you up." Thanks for the empathy. The cool thing about being Methodist is that I can talk about different positions of Scriptural interpretations, and even go back and forth on the one I prefer, and not worry about getting called heretic.

Thanks for the conversation guys.

JD said...


I like your comment, "The cool thing about being Methodist is that I can talk about different positions of Scriptural interpretations, and even go back and forth on the one I prefer, and not worry about getting called heretic."

When I look at ecumenism and what the early Ecumenical Councils set out to do, I began to realize 2 things (way back in high school and freshman year of college): 1.) Sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination, especially in your walk with Christ and a call to evangelization, 2.) The arguments that arose within the Councils and after, in an attempt to define the traditions of the Church, have, at times, done more harm than good in the unification process of the Church, but have sparked more desire and spreading of the Gospel than could ever had been hoped for at the time.

(Not sure where that actually came from, Holy Spirit finished writing through Jeremy...)

That is why I enjoy reading your posts and posts of others, especially like Nick, that are newly out of or currently in the seminary. You are challenged and challenge yourselves and others in an attempt to come to a PERSONAL understanding of Jesus, or as Martin Gore once sang,

"Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there"


Jason Woolever said...

the cool thing is that Nick is actually just in college. He's getting a lot of good training.

Nick Draper said...

It's true. I'm actually a junior at U of I. I recommend religious education at a public school for pre-seminary folk. It's wonderful stuff.

CSDL said...

Good luck wrestling with all this stuff. It's generally hard to do. I'm not going to comment directly on your post, but just on "wrestling."

I can't remember if you ever post ed about reading Rob Bell's book "Velvet Elvis" (I know you have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Bell). This quote may speak to you a little bit:

"The rabbis have a metaphor for this wrestling with the text: The story of Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32. He struggles and it is exhausting and tiring and in the end his hip is injured. And he walks away limping.

Because when you wrestle with the text, you walk away limping.

And some people have no limp because they haven't wrestled. But the ones limping have had an experience with the living God.

I think God does know what he is doing with the Bible. But a better question is, do we know what we're doing with the Bible?

And I say, yes, we are bind and loosing and wrestling and limping.

Because God has spoken."

Good luck with your wrestling! (and pick up Velvet Elvis if you haven't yet. Its a quick and easy read.

- CSDL (Wishing she could be as eloquent and helpful as Nick...)

Jason Woolever said...

great quote CSDL. Rob Bell is insightful. Actually I have read Velvet Elvis, and about every line is quotable, so its good to see pieces at a time. thanks for the encouragement!

JD said...

Well Nick,

Even better that you are only a junior in college. I think your blog and postings show not only a love for the Lord, but a more complex understanding of most things theological. I know old men that wish they understood and could share the things that you do...