Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Second Temple Literature Against McLaren

Apparently, Brian McLaren's new book rejects the fall and argues that this notion of the fall in Genesis 3 is based on Platonism. Here's two helpful summaries:

Brian’s first whipping boy is what he terms the “Greco-Roman six-line narrative.” Many of us are familiar with it’s story:
In Brian’s words, “To be a Christian has required one to believe that the Bible presents one very specific story line, a story line by which we assess all of history, all of human experience, all of our own experience.” (33) His quest for a new kind of Christianity begins by questioning this story line. How does he do this? By claiming that “it’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught!” (37)
In two conversations with two separate friends, “a suspicion began to grow in [him]” and he began to “realize it was also the social and political narrative of the Roman Empire.” According to Brian, the historical understanding of God’s Story of Rescue in terms of Creation, Rebellion, Rescue, Re-Creation (or Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation as it’s also known; this is my own re-framing) is Platonic.
According to Brian, this narrative framing mirrors the story line of Platonism: we start with a “Platonic Ideal,” which is a perfect Platonic paradise; from there we fall into darkness, which mirrors Plato’s famous parable, the Cave of Illusion; now our being has been transformed and the Greek blood-god Theos is furious because his perfect world is “spoiled and now decaying;” salvation occurs when the god of this Greco-Roman version of the biblical story finds a way to forgive this fallen, pathetic, detestable creation through justification, atonement, and redemption; those who are forgiven/saved are returned to an “eternal state in which they will be safe forever;” those who are not “are banished to hell-the Greek Hades” and the tainted universe is destroyed. (41-44)

Brian’s real beef with C-F-R [Creation-Fall-Redemption]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.” I have quoted him verbatim so you know I am not making this up.
Obviously however, Brian McLaren is less than adept in actual Jewish second temple literature and even its impact on Christianity. Consider this from Seyoon Kim:
"[I]n order to understand the various motifs in Paul's Adam-Christ typology we need to take into account the Jewish conceptions of Adam and his fall and their expectations of a restoration of the pre-fall state of man and the world with the coming Messiah. Thus the 'Jewish preparation', as sketched by Wedderburn, forms a broad background for Paul's Adam-Christ typology." The Origin of Paul's Gospel, 192.
"Of course, the theological truths that Paul expresses through his Adam-Christ typology must be understood in the light of his conception of God's saving event in Christ and against the background of the Jewish conceptions of Adam and his fall, especially those which, on the one hand, held Adam responsible for bringing sin into the world and death upon all his descendants and which, on the other hand, held each individual responsible for his own sin and death." (The Origin, 186).
Some examples:
1. Qumran expected the glory of Adam restored to their community (1 QS 4.23; CD 3.20; 1QH 17.15;)

2. 4 Ezra 3:4-36. Consider just verses 7: "And you laid upon him [Adam] one commandment of yours; but he transgressed it, and immediately you appointed death for him and for his descendants."

3. 2 Bar. 17.2-3 "For what did it profit Adam that he lived nine hundred and thirty years and transgressed that which he was commanded? Therefore, the multitude of time that he lived did not profit him, but it brought death and cut off the years of those who were born from him." Or consider 2 Baruch 54:15 "For, although Adam sinned first and has brought death upon all who were not in his time, yet each of them who has been born from him has prepared for himself the coming torment..."

4. "One strand of Rabbinic thought envisages that six things which Adam lost --his lustre, his immortality, his height, the fruit of the earth and the fruit of the trees, and the luminaries--would be restored in the Messianic age." (Kim, Origins, 189).

Kim sites other evidence and discussion as part of a larger thesis. We have also not teased out the difference or the variation in the lines of thought in Judaism. Second Temple Judaism believed in a fall from Adam in Genesis 3 [or in places Eve is blamed (Sir. 25:24). 

We draw two conclusions: 
(1) Creation-Fall-Redemption is something that we see as the Biblical pattern and more to the point it was a first century Jewish reading on the basic story line. It was hardly Greco-Roman or 'Platonic'. The Jewish/Christian hope is hardly heaven as disembodied existence--but this does not negate the basic C-F-R.

(2) A number within the emerging church consistently construct their meta-narratives concerning theology, history and the history of theology with scant attention to the evidence, or utter dismissal of any and all that stands in direct contradiction to it. 

It is true that the basic plot line of C-F-R can be used wrongly but that hardly makes it in itself wrong or the product of Platonism. Once more we see old bug-a-boo rolled out for the purpose of flagrant demonization. This whole process lacks simple integrity and examination of sources.

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