Moral Authority and the Media: An Uneasy Relationship

by W. Jackson Watts

Controversy has recently erupted on the American sports scene as off-the-field incidents involving professional athletes have come to the attention of the general public. Given the nature of contemporary media, it really was unavoidable that major news outlets would pick up these stories and make them front-and-center in many evening news programs.

These controversies have developed on several fronts, but all center upon off-the-field player conduct in the National Football League (NFL). Several players have been indicted or convicted in cases of domestic abuse, while another high-profile player has been indicted on charges connected to his excessive use of corporal punishment on his 4-year old son. Coupled with the usual pattern of drug and alcohol-related criminal activity, the world’s most profitable sports league has lately come under as much scrutiny as any time in the past.

As an avid sports fan, it has been especially difficult for me to avoid—intentionally or unintentionally—this extensive coverage. Like most aspects of contemporary society, much of the intrigue lies underneath the surface. It’s much like the fisherman surveying the algae settled on the top of the pond. It may be thick and green, but he still wonders what’s swimming around underneath.

If I may play the role of fisherman-cultural commentator, there is a caution which conscientious Christians should heed in this ongoing coverage. This caution concerns the link between authority and the closely-related issue of morality.

Who’s to Say?

I believe it was F. Leroy Forlines who first introduced me to the “Who’s to Say?” question. By this question, Forlines was calling attention to the nature of authority, especially as it concerns right and wrong. Anytime we start dealing with strong moral claims, we’re also dealing with the moral agents making such claims. And by thinking about agents, there is a presumption to authority which allows these persons to make such claims.

We’ve been conditioned in postmodernity to question the idea of authority. Many of the figures and institutions which in earlier periods were thought to possess moral authority included the church, the clergy, parents, and even elected officials. Yet in countless instances most of these have lost their cultural authority to assert anything about right and wrong, good and bad. “Who’s to say”? Moral judgments are simple statements of value. Nothing more. At best, morality is socially-constructed and constantly evolving.

However, in the midst of the recent coverage of the football players, journalists and media personalities of all sorts have declared their outrage at the conduct of the athletes. Moreover, they have hurled their invectives against league officials, including team-owners, who haven’t dealt with these situations in a way they thought was appropriate.

There’s no doubt that most spectators (myself included) deplore the actions of these players. Even many teammates have expressed their disgust and disdain. However, the role the media has come to play as judge, jury, and executioner is worth special attention.

Mainstream, irreligious thought today sees morality as nothing more than a cultural construct, the consensus of human opinion and preference. As troubling as this is, we should perhaps be equally concerned about having the “all-seeing eye” of the media serve as our conscience when it comes to morality.

In past decades, journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge and cultural critics like Daniel Boorstin have cautioned about the perils of modern media. We should keep in mind that this was before the 24-hour news, and largely before the surge of for-profit news organizations and programs. Boorstin warned of the “pseudo-event,” in which the media is able to manufacture and make news as opposed to merely reporting it [1]. Muggeridge, himself a journalist, spoke of how the media had created and belonged to a world of fantasy, purporting its presentation of things to be reality [2].

These observations clue us into the realization that an organ of society such as news media is not at all best positioned to instruct us in the morality of human conduct. As any powerful entity, it is far too easy for persons in this industry to not only describe events of interest and ask insightful questions, but to stand over and above society as if removed from it to render verdicts. Yet who stands over and above the media?

Because the news networks rely on advertising just as any other television programming does, they are still in some respects at the mercy of the viewers who choose to tune in. But this actually doesn’t help the problem of media authority because as consumers people may choose to find a network that narrates reality the way they choose to hear it. The news media is still in a position of moral authority.

Christians and Authority

It is difficult for Christians to wade into this arena because we recognize that the church has had far too many black eyes in the past to be taken seriously by so many. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell assembles a staff to study issues in domestic violence and player conduct, no clergy, theologians, or Christian counselors will be summoned to participate.

Even aside from the moral failings of pastors and massive church organizations, people often reject the moral claims of Christianity simply because “in unrighteousness they suppress the truth.” This is a problem which we may bemoan, but it will not go away. The added difficulty is that perceptions of the church’s moral credibility come to so many by way of the news media! What can be done in the midst of such a challenging climate? I would offer two suggestions:

 

  1. Maintain Integrity in Order to Gain Credibility

While it is no guarantee of mainstream cultural success, it is certainly a basic truism that integrity precedes credibility. People tend to listen to those who have demonstrated consistency, and fairness with others. Though we may bear some corporate responsibility for the failures of the church in the past, we are God’s people today. We can only fully answer for our own lives and those with whom we covenant together in the church. Seeing things this way may the scope of our influence more to the local level than the national one, but faithfulness begins in the area where God has placed us.

 

  1. Along with Integrity, Offer a Narrative

 The idea of a controlling narrative or story is a convention utilized by persons in the media. They often purport to be presenting a narrative of what is happening in society at any given moment. More often they are defining and creating a narrative within which to report their stories in a coherent way.

Christians, however, have the most powerful narrative of all time: the story of King Jesus. The morals of Jesus are still compelling to many, but we go much further by declaring that the Christ of Scripture is also the Lord of Heaven. So as we speak about the same subjects the media covers, we interpret them through a lens which is infallible. The Christian worldview makes sense of the world in all its glory and garbage. It accounts for the exemplary athletes and the despicable ones. But it also holds all of us accountable.

The notion of moral authority is a thorny one to be sure. But Christians must not back away from it simply when others seek to usurp it. We recognize that only King Jesus has ultimate authority, and we want to live under that authority as we proclaim it in a confused, media-saturated world.

____________________

[1] Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1961).

[2] Malcolm Muggeridge, Christ and the Media (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).

Spirituality Versus Theology?

by Kevin L. Hester

It happened again this year. Another pastoral student confided in me that when he announced his intent to attend Welch College, he was warned about studying theology and told not to let those theologians “ruin his spirit.” It doesn’t surprise me anymore, but I still have a difficult time understanding the dichotomy that so many place between spirituality and theological education.

Sometimes this caution comes out of fear. When Protestant liberalism arose in the late nineteenth century, theological education came to be associated with criticism of the biblical text and skepticism over the cardinal doctrines of the Church. Many biblically-conservative believers did not have the resources to battle such attacks and instead retreated to a fideistic maxim of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

For others, these warnings come from a misguided perception that religion is about the heart and the head has little to do with it. They argue that fervor and feeling define spirituality rather than doctrine and dogma. We may indeed sanctify the Lord in our hearts but we are at the same time called to be ready to give an answer for our hope (I Peter 3:15); and one of the minister’s primary attributes is that he be “apt to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24).

I have learned that these objections aren’t new nor are they confined to Free Will Baptists. In 1911, B. B. Warfield answered this concern in his opening address to students at Princeton Theological Seminary. The resulting essay, The Religious Life of Theological Students, still provides helpful insight. Instead of dividing spirituality and theology, Warfield answers with an illustration: “Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.” In the same way, both proper religion and proper theology require balance and reciprocity. But should I take time away from prayer and visitation for study? Is not one investment of time better than the other? Warfield asks, “Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?” Instead, we should understand that “religion does not take a man away from his work; it sends him to his work with an added quality of devotion.”

However, it is not that there are no dangers associated with theological study and Warfield points them out as well. The student of theology can be infected by the sin of pride as easily as the student of any other discipline. There are times when theology students emphasize methods or theories over the leadership of the Spirit. But worst of all is the danger of allowing the things of God to grow commonplace. When content replaces relationship, theology becomes an idol as damnable as any other.

What then is the answer? How can we avoid uninformed, juvenile fervor and spiritless god-talk? How can we, as Warfield says, be a man “standing on two legs?”

As Forlines has pointed out, theology only occurs in the context of relationship, and foremost is a relationship with God that is continually nourished by prayer and biblical study. One of the oldest definitions of theology given by Anselm of Canterbury expressed the discipline as “faith seeking understanding.” Theology must always begin in faith and consistently return to it. Theology has never been meant to stand over against or to replace faith; instead, theology’s task is to form and inform our faith and its function in the Church. And theology, like faith, can only occur in the context and under the accountability of a believing, worshipping community.

In a helpful little apologetic on theological study entitled Who Needs Theology? Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson define theology in a way that speaks to this relational aspect, to this give and take between religion and theology in community. They argue that theology is “reflecting on and articulating the God-centered life and beliefs that we share as followers of Jesus Christ, and it is done that God might be glorified in all we are and do” (52).  Understood in this way, they give three very practical purposes served by theology.

  1. Theology strengthens our faith. Rather than sowing doubts, theology, through testing and scrutiny, convinces us of the truth of faith. The synthetic expression of biblical teaching in theology allows us to properly order biblical beliefs and to guard the centrality of the Gospel. In defining our faith, theology helps us recognize biblical truth and reject falsehood so that we will not be easily deceived (Ephesians 4:14).

 

  1. Theology “grounds Christian living.” Good theology is intensely interested in practical expression. Not only does it define what must be believed at conversion, but it points out why Christ’s death was necessary and how we should live in the midst of a world broken by sin. The missional purpose of the kingdom demands that we know the Gospel and know our culture so that we might be prepared to proclaim the good news of Christ.

 

  1. Theology ignites our praise of God. It is a poor theologian who has never been driven to his knees by his study of theology. Theology points us back to our center in our Creator and Redeemer. It calls us back to our created purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. Theology is the prism that turns the gems of biblical revelation so that the light of God continually breaks forth in new beams of His glory. The task of theology is the worship of taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and loving the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, and minds (Matthew 22:37).

 

Was Infant Baptism Practiced in Early Christianity?

by Matthew Pinson

Traditionally, advocates of infant baptism (or paedobaptism) say that its practice dates back to the apostles. Yet there is no proof for this assertion. No clear evidence for infant baptism exists before the third century. Even Augustine’s statement that infant baptism was a “firmly established custom” in the church is off the mark. As late as the time of Augustine’s writings in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, many church fathers either didn’t practice infant baptism or did not themselves receive baptism until they were adults. It was not until after Augustine’s death in the fifth century that one could call infant baptism a firmly established custom.

In understanding this question, we need to talk about two things: First, we must discuss what caused infant baptism to take root in the third century and become general practice by the fifth century. Second, we must establish that infant baptism was not the practice of the early Christians from the time of the apostles to the third century.

Yet before we do these two things, we must take note of the main idea that seems to be driving the paedobaptist argument from history: If infant baptism was a late addition, then why was there no controversy over its introduction into the churches? The answer to this question is twofold: First, there is no clear evidence of infant baptism before the third century, and the paedobaptist must face this. No amount of discussion about why infant baptism came on the scene with little recorded opposition obscures the fact that believer’s baptism is the clear practice before the third century—and infant baptism is not. Second, Tertullian did speak out against the introduction of infant baptism, which we will discuss in a moment.

Now, why was infant baptism introduced in the third century? There are two things here that we must discuss: first, the catechumen system, and the second, the question of infant damnation and baptismal regeneration. The catechumen system was in place as early as the second century. In this system, people would undergo a period of instruction after conversion and before baptism. The early church fathers placed so much emphasis on one’s being instructed in the faith prior to baptism that most converts underwent months or years of catechetical instruction before their baptism.

Many of the best-known church fathers underwent such catechesis and didn’t receive baptism until adulthood, even though they were born to Christian parents. These included, among others, such men as Athanasius, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine himself [1]. If infant baptism had been a custom since the time of the apostles, surely these men would have been baptized before adulthood. Yet these men were products of the catechumen system. They were catachumens who underwent instruction in the faith for many years before being admitted to baptism.

So, given this background, how did infant baptism come to displace the catechumen system? It is simply this: People began to believe the erroneous doctrines of infant damnation and baptismal regeneration, and soon they became widespread in the churches.

Now we must deal with the question, what proof is there that, before the third century, baptism was administered only to believers and not to infants? [2] The best place to start is in early second-century Christianity. Every reference to baptism we find in second-century Christianity reflects confession of faith as an essential qualification for baptism [3].

The earliest and best second-century source on believer’s baptism is the Didache (or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” A.D. 100-110). This document goes into more detail on baptism than any other second-century treatment. The Didache not only establishes moral qualifications for the one who is about to undergo baptism but also requires the baptismal candidate to fast for a day or two [4].

Paul K. Jewett asks, “How shall we account for the omission of all reference to infant baptism in this primitive manual of proper baptismal usage? It is hard to imagine such an omission occurring under the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or even Presbyterian, Methodist, or Congregational auspices. . . . Is it not, then, highly implausible that the Didache was produced by a community of early Paedobaptists who just happened to say nothing about infant baptism?” [5].

All other references to baptism in the second century yield the same results. Paedobaptists have long tried to misconstrue Justin Martyr as teaching infant baptism when he speaks of “many men and women, sixty or seventy years old, who from children were disciples of Christ” [6]. Yet no Baptist would deny that if a child is mature enough to be a “disciple of Christ”—and is one—then he can be admitted to baptism. Far from supporting infant baptism, Justin’s comment supports disciple’s baptism.

Many paedobaptist authors, such as Joachim Jeremias, have said that Irenaeus believed in infant baptism, because of a statement he made (c. A.D. 180) that through Christ people of all ages are reborn, including infants [7]. However, as Everett Ferguson argues, “Before rushing to accept a reference to infant baptism here, we should be cautious.” Ferguson argues that Irenaeus uses the term “reborn” (renascor) for “Jesus’ work of renewal and rejuvenation effected by his birth and resurrection without any reference to baptism. . . . The coming of Jesus brought a second beginning to the whole human race. He sanctified every age of life. Accepting his renovation by being baptized is another matter and falls outside the purview of this passage” [8]. This is the standard baptistic interpretation articulated by authors such as Hezekiah Harvey and Paul King Jewett. Yet this view of Irenaeus is also shared by paedobaptists such as Kurt Aland [9].

As we move into the early third century, we find Tertullian, who wrote the first full treatise on baptism, De baptismo. Strongly favoring the catechumen system, he believed that people should delay baptism until they have been instructed in the faith for a long while: “Consequently in view of the circumstances and will, even the age of each person, a postponement of Baptism is most advantageous, particularly, however, in the case of children. . . . The Lord indeed says: ‘Forbid them not to come unto me,’ Matt. xix. Let them come, then, while they are growing up; let them come while they are learning, while they are being taught whither to come; let them become Christians, when they have been able to know Christ. Why hurries the age of innocence to the remission of sins?” [10] This passage shows that Tertullian is against infant baptism precisely because he is for believer’s baptism.

Baptists, of course, agree that infant baptism took root in the third century. Such church fathers as Cyprian, Origen, and Augustine approved of it. Yet Origen was defensive about it, saying that infant baptism “is a thing causing frequent inquires among the brethren” [11]. This statement works against the paedobaptists’ argument that no one protested the gradual introduction of infant baptism.

There is no direct evidence for the assertion that infant baptism was practiced in the first two centuries of the Christian church. On the contrary, all the evidence establishes believers as the only fit subjects for baptism prior to the third century. When placed alongside the New Testament data on baptism, this demonstrates that apostolic baptism was for believers only.

________________________

[1] Hezekiah Harvey, The Church: Its Polity and Ordinances (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1879; repr. Rochester, NY: Backus, 1982), 211; A. W. Argyle, “Baptism in the Early Christian Centuries,” in Christian Baptism, ed . A. Gilmore (Chicago: Judson, 1959), 187, 202-03, 208.

[2] For one of the best succinct treatments of the early Christian view of baptism, see Paul King Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978). 13-43. See also Steven McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1006), 163-88.

[3] See, e.g., The Epistle of Barnabas (c. A.D. 120-130), which advocates the baptism of believers only: “We go down into the water full of sins and foulness and we come up bearing fruit in our hearts, fear and hope in Jesus in the Spirit” (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Apostolic Fathers, I, 121). Obviously, infants are unable to exhibit this type of behavior. Another example is found in the Shepherd of Hermas, written in the mid-second century. Hermas makes repentance a condition of baptism (Jewett, 40).

[4] “But before baptism, let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any also that are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before” Didache, 7.1).

[5] Jewett, 40-41.

[6] Quoted in Harvey, 202.

[7] Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, trans. David Cairns (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 73.

[8] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 308.

[9] Harvey, 203-04; Jewett, 25-27; Kurt Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? Trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 58-59. For an early Baptist treatment of Irenaeus similar to this one, see John Gill, Infant Baptism a Part and Pillar of Popery (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851), 22-23. See also “The Baptismal Question in the Light of Scripture and Church History,” Freewill Baptist Quarterly 26 (1859), which asks, “If infant baptism was practiced by Christ and his apostles, and in the first and second centuries, is it not passing strange that our Pedobaptist friends can find no proof thereof but this passage of Irenaeus,which, after all, says not a word about baptism?” (128).

[10] Tertullian, Tertullian’s Treatises: Concerning Prayer, Concerning Baptism, trans. Alexander Souter (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 69.

[11] Quoted in Jewett, 30.

“The Juvenilization of American Christianity” by Thomas Bergler: A Book Review

by Randy Corn

The Juvenilization of American Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012); 229 pgs. $19.17

 

Like many book-reading pastors, I pay attention to suggested reading lists.  For a number of years now, Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has published a top ten list of books that would be helpful to those in the ministry.  The Juvenilization of American Christianity made Mohler’s list for 2012.

The thesis of the volume is that from the 1940s and onward, the church has been gearing itself toward winning its young people.  This is summarized in the introduction:

“By personalizing Christianity and creatively blending it with elements of popular culture ranging from rock music to political protests, youth ministries helped ensure the ongoing vitality of Christianity in America.  But these same ministries also sometimes pandered to the consumerism, self-centeredness, and even outright immaturity of American believers.  For good or ill, American Christianity would never be the same.” (pg. 5)

What is interesting is to see how the various branches of American Christianity have gone about “juvenilizing” Christianity.  The author divides this into four large religious bodies:  Roman Catholics, Liberal Protestants, Black Protestants, and Evangelical Whites.  The Roman church wanted to say that Catholics made good Americans, but tried to keep them in a cultural ghetto.  The Liberals thought that the key was to champion progressive political involvement.  The Blacks did a version of this same thing, but it was more focused on their own problems and therefore there had greater involvement.  The Evangelicals followed the lead of Youth For Christ and determined to be entertaining and to emphasize how God could help people live a happy, fulfilled life.  Of these approaches, the author says that the Evangelicals had the most numerical success.

The problem with that success was that it has produced at least two generations of Christians who don’t seem to understand what spiritual maturity would even look like.  This is reflected in much of the popular Christian music, which speaks of falling in love with Jesus, almost like He is your lover.  The idea is that we are to have something of an adolescent crush on him.  To quote the author, “If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity.” (pg. 225)

While I found all of this book interesting, I would have to say that the concluding chapter is worth the price of the book by itself.  The author asks,

“In our attempts to ‘reach’ people in our community, are we conceding too much to the characteristic weaknesses and besetting sins of our culture?  We will always have to build cultural bridges to people outside the church (Acts 17:16-34, 1 Cor. 9:19-27).  But which direction is the traffic flowing on those bridges?  Are unbelievers crossing the bridge to reach a countercultural, spiritually mature way of life, or are believers crossing  back into the spiritually immature ways of the world?” (p. 227)

I did not expect it, but it really challenged me to ask myself how mature my faith really is.  What’s more, as a pastor, what sort of Christianity am I hoping to develop in the lives of the people that I serve?

 

Note: Bergler’s follow-up book, From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity, will be released in November.

 

Adam, Eve, and Maple Tree Leaves

by Kevin L. Hester

I have the privilege of working at Welch College which is nestled in the historic Richland Village neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee. Every fall I am greeted with the brilliant yellows and bright reds of the neighborhood’s American maples. The beauty of this time of year always brings me back to the glory of God’s creation. My Christian worldview understands the beauty, intricacy, and order of this world within the context of God’s creation as outlined in Genesis 1-2. Sometimes I take this worldview for granted. After all, it isn’t the only one, and it certainly isn’t the predominant view in this country.

Modern science has argued for an alternative worldview story of accident and happenstance. Since Darwin, Christians have wrestled with the implications of his theory for Christianity. At times the Church has incorporated the view by reading “gaps” in the Genesis narrative or epochal “days” of creation. Still other parts of the Church have rejected naturalism entirely, preferring the “literal” interpretation of Genesis. This latter view has been the predominant evangelical view until recently. But more and more evangelicals have embraced forms of “theistic evolution” in an attempt to reconcile science and theology. This has led them to reread or reinterpret the Genesis narrative according to a scientific framework.

While many evangelical Christians have done an exemplary job responding to the challenge of Darwin’s thought, others have embraced it. New “advances” in the study of genetics promise to raise similar questions. Recently, Francis Collins and Karl Giberson of the BioLogos Forum have questioned the existence of a historical Adam and Eve as presented in Genesis. Their position was heavily covered both in Christian media and in secular news programs.

The appearance of a book covering this topic in Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series indicates that such thinking is infiltrating a number of branches of evangelicalism. Yet what is sometimes overshadowed or overlooked by these discussions are the implications of the loss of a historical Adam and Eve for the Church, for the Christian worldview, and for the gospel.

I am sure that technical answers from Christian scientists will be forthcoming. Already advances in discoveries about what was previously thought to be “junk DNA” are promising that there is much more to the story of human diversity both in reference to other species and variety in our own (see here).

Those technical answers will not come from me. I am not a scientist. Rather, I am a Christian theologian who knows what it is like to live in a beautiful, broken world. It is the story of Adam and Even that holds the key to the beauty, the brokenness, and the promise of redemption.

This promise lies in a historical Adam and Eve. Rather than reading Genesis 1-3 according to a scientific preconception of what it must mean, perhaps we should attempt to read it according to the narrative of the book in which it is found. In this case, the Bible is thoroughly historical in nature. Even books that are not strictly historical are set within a historical framework. Some books such as Kings, Chronicles, and Judges are historical in the highest degree. Others like prophecy occur in the context of historical disobedience or punishment. The wisdom literature is tied to historical authors striving to live their faith out in community. Likewise, the Psalms are linked to human authors, attest to human events, and cry out for lived experience in the present and future communities of faith. The Gospels describe the incarnation of Christ in historical detail dating the events by Roman rulers. Acts and the Epistles relate the growth of the Church in time and narrate its experience of living out the faith until Christ’s return. The whole scope of Scripture is historical in nature. Why should we expect anything different from the book of Genesis?

Genesis itself reads as a historical narrative starting as it does “in the beginning.” The ordered arrangement of the creation days speaks to temporal flow. The genealogies and events described all function to set the narrative firmly in the historical genre. The author clearly intends the text to be taken as history. Jesus and Paul likewise understood and presented the story of Adam and Eve as a literal event (cf. Rom. 5:12-14).

The events of Genesis 1-3 tell the basic worldview story of Christianity. Christianity is a historical religion. It preaches a historical gospel about a historical Jesus crucified under Pontius Pilate. But the events of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection have no meaning without the creation and fall of Adam and Eve. Paul, in Romans 5, outlines that it was Christ who came to set right all that had gone wrong because of Adam’s sin. The effects of the fall are being undone as we are recreated in God’s image as sons and daughters of God, and it is these effects that will be finally undone at the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth. The Christian doctrine of the atonement, of salvation, and the eternal state–of the Gospel itself–are rooted in the historical Adam and Eve.

The story of Adam and Eve also explains human culture and relationships. According to Genesis 1, humans were designed, we did not simply come to be. Things that are designed have a purpose and this purpose is likewise described in the first few chapters of Genesis. Humans were created in God’s image so that they might have a relationship with God and with all the rest of creation. Genesis 2 points out how Eve was created to govern the world together with Adam and to be his partner establishing marriage and the nuclear family as the basis for human culture. Jesus himself makes precisely this point when he discusses the importance of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6. Without the story of such a design, there is no basis for societal norms and no standard for human relationships.

Genesis 1 tells us that what God created was good, but in Genesis 3 we see what humanity has done to God’s creation. Original beauty is marred and relationships are broken by sin. Consistent human experience tells us this is true. We inherently “feel” that something is wrong with the world. Evil exists and we are uncomfortable with it. We recognize beauty, but all too often see the grotesque creeping in around us. But where can such ideas of beauty and brokenness, of right and wrong come from?

The naturalistic worldview has no basis for such categories. In naturalism there is only good and bad for me but human experience consistently tells us that there really are such categories. The story of Adam and Eve, of a good creation corrupted by an evil use of free will explains the categories and promises a way back to the garden.

We need a historical Adam and Eve. The story’s historical reality is confirmed by the literary genre and by its use in Scripture. The historicity of the narrative from Genesis best accords with the historical faith of the Christian Church doctrinally expressed in the atonement as found in evangelical Christianity. It best explains the human desire to love and be loved and the human experience of good and evil, beauty and brokenness. Without Adam and Eve there is no Christianity, and without Christianity there is no hope.

This hope is also promised in the narrative of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:15, in the midst of the curses that came as a result of original sin, there is a promise. This promise shines a glimmer of hope in a dark world broken by sin with the story of the defeat of sin and death. You see this is why I can enjoy those autumn leaves. I know they are dying and will fall. I know that there will be months of cold and days with more darkness than light. But because of Adam and Eve, I have hope. I know that what appears dead and broken can be made new again. I know that a beauty lost can be regained.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine