Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What, No Fall?

Mike Wittmer is blogging about Brian McLaren's new book. What is a bit interesting is what McLaren says about the standard Biblical storyline of creation-fall-redemption. (N.B. at this point I'm just going off of Dr. Wittmer's account). I thought I would make note of it here since it deals with several items I've discussed here in the past.

Dr. Wittmer writes:

Kuyperians such as Al Wolters (Creation Regained) Neal Plantinga, (Engaging God’s World), and myself (Heaven is a Place on Earth) have argued rather persuasively that the evangelical church can free itself from Platonism by recovering the biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption. So I was startled—and amused—by Brian’s claim that this creation, fall, and redemption narrative is itself the product of Platonic thought.

Why does Brian think that the narrative of C-F-R comes from Plato rather than Scripture? He mistakenly thinks that C-F-R implies that the original creation came in static perfection and that redemption returns us to a heavenly condition where any sort of growth is impossible. Of course, many Christians hold such a view, or something similar, which is why we Kuyperians have written our books. But we don’t think that Brian can dismiss the C-F-R paradigm as Platonic without contending with us who have used C-F-R to defeat Plato.

Brian’s real beef with C-F-R is not the C or the R but the F. He does not believe that there was a Fall (or original sin or total depravity or hell) but that what we have traditionally called the Fall is actually “a coming-of age story” which—wait for it—describes “the first stage of ascent as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond.”

First, I find this interesting in that reading the "Fall" as "coming of age story" is pretty much standard straight on full fledged Gnostic reading of Genesis 3. It is pretty standard par for the course for Gnostics to view what happens in Genesis 3 as the ascent of man. He achieves wisdom. The Serpent generally has a positive function since he is the one who enlightens man. The man point is not disobedience which brings corruption but ascension, knowledge and--well--a coming of age.

From the Gnostic Document On the Origin of the World:
Now Eve had confidence in the words of the instructor. She gazed at the tree and saw that it was beautiful and appetizing, and liked it; she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she gave some also to her husband, and he too ate it. Then their intellect became open. For when they had eaten, the light of knowledge had shone upon them. When they clothed themselves with shame, they knew that they were naked of knowledge. When they became sober, they saw that they were naked and became enamored of one another. When they saw that the ones who had modelled them had the form of beasts, they loathed them: they were very aware.
Of course, emergents have wielded the gnostic sword rather quickly against evangelicalism. Particularly fond of that charge has been Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt has also overplayed the Gnostic/Platonism card. I've commented on this here, here, here, and here. In fact it was getting so common I started calling the argument "Reductio ad Gnosticum"--guess it hasn't caught on yet.

But now we get something more akin to an actual gnostic interpretation and its not from the evangelical side. Evangelical theology of the pop culture variety has its problems--but most serious theologians and scholars have been clear on the kind of thing that guards us from Gnosticism (cf. here). Mike Wittmer even notes that we need to return to Creation-Fall-Redemption.

Second, historic Christian theology--particularly in its Reformed stream does not see creation as created in static perfection only to be returned to such a heavenly condition. Here we consider, what is commonly called the fourfold state of man. Man was created in a state of innocence (#1), there is the fall and unregenerate man (#2), there is the redeemed by sinful man (#3) and the final glorified (#4) with new creation and the resurrection.

But clearly in Reformed theology state #1 is not state #4. In fact, most theologians of redemptive history acknowledge that hypothetically if Adam had obey in the garden and cast out the sermon he would have won a kingdom and been "glorified" in the eschatological state.

Several lines of evidence point to this:
(1) The body Adam had was susceptible to the curse. Meaning his pre-fall state was vulnerable. But in glorification we have a resurrected body that is of indestructible life. It cannot succumb to death again. It is clearly superior in that it's state is secure.

(2) The presence of the Tree of Life in Revelation--along with the removal of the people from the garden so that they cannot eat of the Tree of Life-- suggest that the Tree of Life is the reward of the eschaton. Eating of it secures on in the eschatological state.

(3) Christ's mediatorship does not merely undue the effects of the fall it secures a real inheritance and kingdom. This is more than just re-creation but actually new creation.

This distinction of the created state from the eschatological state is ubiquitous in Reformed theology. One can find it in the catechisms and if memory serves you can find it in everybody from Turretin, to Boston, to Vos, to Kline, to Michael Horton. Creation is far from merely "static" as history is the arena is which God reveals Himself (see Vos on Hebrews "Hebrew's Philosophy of Revelation).

If Christ is so central to us the two coordinate point of history really are Adam's one act and Christ's act. We have Adam and Second/Last Adam. A denial of Creation-Fall-Redemption is a denial of that which is most basic to the Bible. At this point the Bible is no longer a history-of-redemption. For all the supposed love of the kingdom of God in the emerging church, without Redemptive History there is indeed no real kingdom of God--no inbreaking, no eschatos. When we fall into these errors then we are truly on our way to a Gnostic-Platonic or evolutionary progression of man. Ironically none of these errors are new--and this coming from one desirous of giving us a New Kind of Christianity.

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