This is a guest post by George Murphy, and is the ninth installment in a guest-post series discussing his paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.
The first 3 questions for George regarding the historicity of Adam were discussed in part 1 of the Q&A. Here is George's answer to question #4.
Reader Question #4
Theology shouldn't be an academic exercise only – it should have practical pastoral implications as well. In what ways do you think the view of original sin articulated in your paper can be helpful from a pastoral perspective?Questioner 4 makes the point that “theology shouldn't be an academic exercise only.” I couldn’t agree more. If theology is to have any real value it must help to inform, support and encourage the work of the church in proclaiming the gospel, teaching, pastoral care and action in the world. Too much work in the science-theology dialogue has remained at the academic level, and needs to be made accessible to pastors, other church leaders, and congregations. The fault is not entirely that of academic theologians, for many clergy avoid these matters because of their unfamiliarity with science or the controversial character of the issues. But I digress.
How my suggested model of original sin and sin of origin – or indeed, of any model - will inform ministry will depend to some extent on the context in which ministry is being done. In a conservative evangelical congregation in which there is considerable hostility to the idea of human evolution such ministry will differ from that in the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church in which I have worked as a pastor for twenty-five years. (This does not mean , that members of those “mainline” denominations all have “liberal” views about evolution, the Bible, and other matters.) But some general statements can be made.
To begin with, this model can help to alleviate the concerns that many thoughtful Christians have about evolution. Many are aware of the overwhelming scientific support for evolution but are unsure about how it can fit in with a Christian worldview beyond a vague idea that “that’s how God did it.” Here churches have generally failed in the educational task of helping to understand evolution theologically. It is not enough simply to say “a knowledgeable reading of the Bible does not require early Genesis to be understood as scientific or historical fact”;. there also needs to be some positive view, if only a tentative one, of how God actually has worked in the evolutionary process, and of how our scientific understanding of human history and human nature can be coherent with core Christian beliefs. I think that what I’ve suggested is one such model.
Understanding evolution in a Christian context is best dealt with in educational situations rather than in preaching. A relaxed classroom session, where questions and discussion are possible provides the best climate for enabling people to come to grips with controversial issues. Such education needs to be provided, in age appropriate ways, from children’s Sunday School classes through adult forums. Of course there are a number of practical issues that have to be dealt with in order to provide adequate teaching and leadership here.
If human evolution is dealt with well in educational settings in a congregation, people will be better prepared to hear the preaching of law and gospel. Here of course the fundamental message is that all are sinners and that Christ is the all-sufficient savior from the guilt and power of sin. What I have said about original sin (i.e., that sin had an origin in human history) and sin of origin (i.e., that all people begin their lives as sinners) helps this message to be proclaimed with the necessary clarity.
An historical origin of sin, distinguished from the origin of humanity itself, means that God is not the creator of sin, and sin is not God’s intention for humanity. We are, even as sinners, God’s creatures. But sin of origin means that we are not able to avoid sin, or deal with the problem of sin, by ourselves. We cannot even contribute to repairing our relationship with God because everything we do is tinged to a greater or lesser degree by sin. All Pelagian or semi-Pelagian notions that we can contribute to our own salvation are closed off. With this understanding the preacher can express, in words appropriate to his or her listeners, what Luther said in his great Reformation hymn.
With might of ours can naught be don,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God himself elected.
(The Lutheran Hymnal, hymn # 262, verse 2)