This is part four in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and the Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.
Wow, it’s been a while since I posted last. The break I took from blogging was both intentional and necessary. I began this series on accepting the reality of evolution and theorizing about its effects on the Christian faith, hoping that my writing would spark others to think more critically about their own beliefs, and also that my own thinking would be sharpened on the subject. While I did find that this happened a little bit, I also found that I was being attacked for rejecting some of my previous beliefs. In particular, one of my blog posts, the introduction to this series, was posted on Ken Ham’s (a well-known[?] creationist/speaker) by a family friend. Though I do not think the friend intended for the consequences of her actions, this led to a smattering of public, ignorant criticism by people who do not know me or my family, which could have negatively affected my current occupation, since I work at an Evangelical university that stands on a few of the “truths” I so readily attempt to deconstruct.
All that aside, I’m hoping to get back into a regular blogging schedule, hopefully 2-3 times per week. I will continue exploring these ideas with the help of some writings on the internets and the work of Peter Enns, and hope that I can clarify my own thoughts in my writing and push you, dear reader to do the same.
Last time, I wrote about the direct effect that accepting evolution has on some traditional Evangelical doctrines – particularly inerrancy. In other words, I think it is important to accept evolution as a defining reality of the physical universe, as observations from the last 150 years have proven to continually support evolution as a natural reality. As such (and because I do not think it to be an orthodox Christian belief), I think inerrancy is insufficiently supported and should be rejected by Evangelicals as a core doctrine. I’m not saying biblical authority should be rejected – only the notion that Scripture itself is “inerrant.”
To continue in the series, I think it is necessary to examine the effects of evolution on some of the doctrines Christians hold sacred. And I’d like to begin with the doctrine of Original Sin.
Generally, the doctrine of Original Sin is defined across the board as humanity’s universal rejection of God’s will. Not only that, but humanity is born with a natural inclination to reject the kind of life God desires for humanity. This happened as a result of Adam’s initial rejection of God’s command in the creation story; Adam sinned as some kind of representative of humanity, thus we are all sinners.
This view is further supported by texts like Romans 5:12-21 (where we have the in/famous “through one man, sin entered the world” bit) and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and 44-49. This is not to mention the fact that Paul probably believed in a literal Adam. He would have had no reason not to. So, if Evangelicals want to ignore the entire paradigm upon which modern biological science is built and attempt to retain an outmoded and unwarranted doctrine like inerrancy, it seems likely that Original Sin as “traditionally understood” can be maintained. If, however, Christians desire a robust theology that can (ahem) handle something like evolution, then we need to rethink Paul’s statements about Adam as the originator of sin.
Let me be clear here: what I AM saying is that I think we need to reject Paul’s acceptance of Adam as a historical figure and the cause and origin of sin, especially in light of evolution. I’m NOT saying that sin is not a reality, even a universal one. I follow Enns here, where he says we should not focus on the historicity of Adam from Paul’s perspective, but what Paul was trying to say in his letter to the Romans and the Corinthians. In particular, it seems that Paul’s focal point is always the Crucifixion and Resurrection as the solution to a particular problem. This problem, to Paul, is death. Enns says it this way: “Paul uses the theological vocabulary available to him, and so names the root cause of that universal dilemma [the existence of death] as Adam and his disobedience.”
Further, it’s no secret that the Christian concept of Original Sin is not one that exists in Judaism. Perhaps one veiled reference may exist in Habukkuk 6:7, but most scholars (even Evangelical ones!) not that the “Adam” referred to by the author is meant to be the name of a place, not a person.
To conclude, I’d like to quote Enns one more time. Regardless of Paul’s (faulty, through no fault of his own) view of human origins, three very important elements remain in his theology, despite the acceptance of evolution:
1. The universal and self-evident problem of death
2. The universal and self-evident problem of sin
3. The historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ
To remain within the bounds of orthodoxy, I think one must accept the above three claims. Nonetheless, the question remains: in light of evolution, what is sin, how does it affect us, and why is the cross a solution to that problem?
 Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 123.