Thursday, 17 May 2007

Saturday theology and the Tree of Life

The Saturday School of Theology is the latest offering from Christian Heritage. One morning a month, interactive lectures on historical theology from Chad VanDixhoorn, a British Academy fellow at Cambridge who wears fine bowties. Quite simply the best theology course I have been on in terms of its balance between academic rigour, ease of understanding, openness to discussion and freshness of material (most evangelicals don't know the first thing about church history, more's the pity). Of course we could go deeper, but as an introduction for the average Christian it is outstanding.

One of the topics that returns in the questions as well as in the lectures is the relationship between Adam and Christ. We have considered this in the early Fathers' approach to Christology, in the Ecumenical Councils, in the Augustinian-Pelagian debate, and I expect we'll look at it again this week when we turn to Aquinas and Roman Catholic understandings of fallenness. The crucial text is Romans 5.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

What has lightly vexed us is the nature of the humanity assumed by Christ. Was is 'fallen' humanity? Does this mean 'susceptible to death, decay, etc.' but not inherently 'sinful'? What did happen to human biology at the fall? Many of the questions have been prompted by a scientific thinker who is concerned about what temptation means. Was Christ really tempted in every way, just as we are (Heb 4:15) if he had a body that was like Adam's pre-fall body, not like our fallen body? Chad has been working with a distinction between two biologies, as it were.

I wonder, however, whether there is any need to posit two biologies. The two biologies model troubles those who believe in theistic evolution, especially those who also deny a literal reading even of Genesis 3 - but it causes other problems, too. Instead (and I am assuming at least a literal Genesis 3, if not the whole Young Earth creationism for the sake of argument, here), imagine that in the garden, Adam and Eve had mutable bodies, just like ours, bodies 'naturally' subject to decay and even death. What prevented decay and death was access to the tree of life.
Total reliance on God's word and his physical provision. Once they had sinned, access to the tree of life (via access to the garden itself) is one of the major sanctions. ...lest they eat from the tree and live forever... On this reading dependence on God characterised unfallen humanity just as it characterises redeemed humanity (and at a metaphysical, ontological level it characterises unrepentant humanity, too, if only they would realise it!). Thus we have no need of a two-biologies model to explain death post-fall. And Christ takes on human flesh in its mutability and (potential) subjection to decay/death - for without the tree of life (which was the channel of covenant blessing to those who obeyed God and relied completely on him, in other words Adam and Eve before the fall) we would/do all die. And of course the tree returns at the end of Revelation for the healing of the nations. Maybe for their feeding, too!?

Not a very clear exposition of my thoughts, but I do think there's something there.

While musing on this I came across this very thought-provoking blog. The posts on creation/evolution are very interesting. A wonderfully moderate tone! And he agrees with what I have been thinking about the tree of life! So I must be right... ;-)