Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Adam soteriology

Christ is an antitype of Adam — "the last Adam", according to St. Paul:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1Co. 15:22,45)1
Theologians commonly speak of Adam christology. But I want to propose that this construct (Christ as a second Adam) should be regarded as an alternative atonement theory. Hence the title of the post, Adam soteriology.2

There are three classical theories of atonement. None of them is free of difficulties, although evangelical Christians tend to subscribe to third theory, penal substitution.

Here's the way I look at it. Each atonement theory begins by identifying a specific problem, then proposes that Christ's death is the solution to that problem.

theory assumed problem solution
(Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great; dominant theory in the 2nd-10th centuries)
Reflects a culture that was familiar with the institution of slavery. Proposes that we are Satan's property (his slaves, or perhaps his captives) because of our sins. Christ's death is God's payment to Satan to purchase our freedom. (Ultimately Satan is tricked because death cannot hold Christ, who rises from the dead.)
(Anselm; dominant theory in the 11th-15th centuries)
Reflects the honour/shame culture of feudal society. God is our Lord; by sinning, we insult God's honour; the insult must be requited or God would be shamed. Christ's death requites the insult of our sin, upholding God's honour.
Penal Substitution:
(Luther, Calvin; dominant from the 16th century onwards)
The model is judicial, reflecting a culture where legal justice is the preeminent value. As a just judge, God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Christ dies as our substitute to pay the lawful penalty (death) owed by us.

I am proposing the addition of a fourth model:

theory assumed problem solution
Adam soteriology: The problem is not a matter of our slavery, or of God's honour or his justice. It is a matter of history. Adam's historical act of disobedience corrupted the entire human race and, indeed, the whole of creation. Jesus recapitulated Adam’s history; except, where Adam was disobedient (resulting in death — not for Adam alone), Jesus was obedient (resulting in life — not for Jesus alone).

This theory proposes that humankind's problem is historical in nature:  and the solution is correspondingly historical.

How did Jesus' death set things right again? By reversing the history of Adam’s fall from grace. Jesus' obedience (unto death, even death on a cross) set creation on a new historical foundation. Adam blazed a trail to death; Jesus blazed a new trail through death to life.

I realize that this answer is only partially satisfactory. But one might just as well ask, How did Adam's sin result in the corruption of the whole of creation? If Adam's historic sin could have such far-reaching consequences, then Christ's historic act of ultimate obedience could, too.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

(Ro. 5:12-19)
None of these insights are original to me. It's just that the construct is usually described as a christological doctrine; whereas I think it makes equally good sense as soteriology.

The proposed theory appeals to me because it emphasizes historical deeds, and the notion of salvation history is common to both Judaism and Christianity.

The theory also appeals to me because penal substitution, the dominant model among evangelicals, has significant drawbacks:
  • The old theological term, propitiation, tends to represent God as savage or bloodthirsty; his wrath can only be turned aside by means of a blood sacrifice.
  • The traditional emphasis on legal justice tends to imply that God is subordinate to the law; that God is under an obligation to satisfy the requirements of the law.
  • The notion of God punishing Jesus tends to cast God in the role of the abusive father; the more graphically we depict Christ's suffering, the worse this problem becomes.
  • One must also ask whether the substitution of an innocent victim for the guilty party can be characterized as a "just" resolution of the problem:  is it not rather a miscarriage of justice when the innocent one suffers while the guilty one goes free?
This is not to deny that the New Testament teaches penal substitution, because I am persuaded that it does. However, particularly in our interactions with non-Christians (for the purposes of evangelism or apologetics), I think we would do better to emphasize Adam soteriology rather than the traditional alternatives.

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1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

2James Dunn occasionally uses the phrase "Adam soteriology" in Christology In the Making: An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, 2nd ed., 1989. For example, he expounds one element of Paul's theology as follows:
Salvation consists in the believer being transformed into the image of God (2Co. 3:18), consists in a progressive renewal in knowledge according to the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). So there is something of an Adam soteriology here — salvation as a restoration of man to that image in which Adam had been created. (p. 105)
3The ransom theory (or at least, a modified form of it) is sometimes referred to as Christus Victor.


Andrew Compton said...

Is Adam soteriology much different than Irenaeus' recapitulation view of the atonement? If so, I'm wondering how you differentiate it from him.


Stephen (aka Q) said...

Here's a convenient summary of recapitulation theory from the ever-useful Wikipedia:

"Irenaeus sees Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did: thus, where Adam was disobedient concerning God's edict concerning the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. … In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as "recapitulating" or "summing up" human life. This means that Christ goes through every stage of human life, from infancy to old age, and simply by living it, sanctifies it with his divinity. …

"Irenaeus conceives of our salvation as essentially coming about through the incarnation of God as a man. He characterises the penalty for sin as death and corruption. God, however, is immortal and incorruptible, and simply by becoming united to human nature in Christ he conveys those qualities to us: they spread, as it were, like a benign infection. Irenaeus therefore understands the atonement of Christ as happening through his incarnation rather than his crucifixion, although the latter event is an integral part of the former."

So I would say the main difference is Irenaeus's emphasis on the incarnation rather than the crucifixion as the saving mechanism. Christ invested our human nature with immortality by uniting it with his divine nature. This shifts the emphasis away from Adam's act of disobedience, and Christ's corresponding act of obedience, even though Irenaeus does make reference to those events within a more comprehensive scheme.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I should probably qualify the above by pointing out that Irenaeus also adhered to the first of the atonement theories outlined in my post, the ransom theory.

Gustaf Aulén disputes the interpretation given above, that Irenaeus emphasized incarnation over atonement. And Aulén makes it clear that Irenaeus did place considerable emphasis on Christ as second Adam:

"It is remarkable what great weight [Irenaeus] attaches to the Obedience of Christ throughout His life on earth. He shows how the disobedience of the one man, which inaugurated the reign of sin, is answered by the obedience of the One Man who brought life. By His obedience Christ 'recapitulated' and annulled the disobedience." (Christus Victor, p. 46)

Here Irenaeus is obviously very close to the argument I outlined in my post: I particularly appreciate his use of the word "recapitulation".

But Aulén categorizes Irenaeus with those who teach a ransom theory of atonement:

"Here and there [Irenaeus] uses the formula that Christ has redeemed us 'by His blood'; but he has a special liking for the image of ransom. … The ransom is always regarded as paid to the powers of evil, to death, or to the devil; by its means they are overcome, and their power over men is brought to an end. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that when this has been done, atonement has taken place." (ibid., pp. 46-47)

In sum: Irenaeus was certainly aware of the significance of Christ as second Adam. But in terms of an atonement theory, he emphasized the incarnation (at some points) and the notion of ransom (at other points). Irenaeus wrote so early in Church history, I think we can say, without slandering him, that he didn't pull these three ideas together in a coherent system.

Cliff Martin said...

One thing I like about the soteriology you are suggesting is that the resurrection fits into it as more than just a footnote. The other three models, in so far as they describe the mechanics of salvation, all do quite well without the resurrection. This makes them suspect in my mind, as the New Testament places the resurrection at the center of everything, including our personal salvation. (Romans 6, 1 Peter 1:3 and 3:21, etc.) Peter goes so far as to say that our salvation is through (dia, by means of) the resurrection of Christ.

In Adam soteriology, the resurrection is more than just a nice, incidental, epilogue. It is one vital step in the reenactment of Adam’s history. Thus, Adam soteriology includes the resurrection in a more integral way.

I suspect that when we get the full picture, we will see how ransom, substitution, and recapitulation all describe elements of our salvation. Each of these models plays into my understanding of salvation. But I do not believe we can get a full orbed picture of what happened 2000 years ago without the inclusion of the concepts you are espousing.

Thank you for the mental stimulation.

James Pate said...

Thanks for the post.

Personally, I think that the judicial view works. God is judge throughout the Old Testament, as he punishes the wicked. And Paul discusses the wrath of God extensively in Romans. That seems to be the starting point of his Gospel.

But that shouldn't dismiss other features of Christ's work. Paul says in Romans 8 that Christ condemned sin in the flesh, which may be like Iranaeus' view on the incarnation.

Like Cliff Martin, I've often wondered where the resurrection fits into atonement. Because, obviously, it does. Paul says in I Corinthians 15 that, if Christ is not raised, we are still in our sins. The answer has something to do with Romans 6, since we are risen with Christ, and Christ had to rise for us to rise. But I can't get more specific than that, at the moment.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Cliff:

Thanks for your input. You make a great point about the resurrection. Here's another verse, in addition to those you and James have suggested:

… who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Ro. 4:25)

I also agree that each of the theories captures a significant element of the truth. I'm not sure that the theories cohere in their entirety. But if we accept them as metaphors or analogies that look at the atonement from a specific point of view, the essential truths of each of them presumably can be reconciled.

• James:

I agree, the Bible depicts God as a Judge who is implacably hostile to sin. I don't reject the penal substitution model, but it has to be presented with extraordinary sensitivity, or it begins to imply things about God's character that are contrary to the biblical witness. The question is, as often, to what extent the model is to be taken literally.

Leon Morris (to cite an unimpeachably evangelical scholar) stresses that God himself provides the propitiation. That of course sets the biblical teaching apart from pagan variations on propitiation. But it also doesn't fit the way things actually work in a court of law. ("I hereby fine you $15,000 — but don't sweat it, I plan to pay the fine on your behalf.")

The point is, the theory isn't an exact fit at the level of detail. Therefore we should regard it as an analogy that conveys key truths, but isn't to be pressed beyond a certain point.

To say that God is our Judge is to anthropomorphize God: to fit God into the pattern of a human institution. He's like a judge, but he's also unlike a judge. That's what we have to keep in mind, thereby recognizing that no single metaphor captures the whole significance of the atonement.

Jamie said...

I find your view of Adam soteriology interesting, but I have three questions/comments:

1. In this model, are the results of Christ's life/death/resurrection objective, or subjective?

2. Cliff's comment about the fact that Adam soteriology appropriately recognizes the importance of the resurrection is interesting; what I'm wondering, though, is why Christ's death is important in your model. His obedience would obviously be very important, but why would it be necessary for him to die?

3. I think your response to James on the substitutionary model was excellent (i.e. you are hesitant about it but still see some value in it). I think I have probably been a little too hard on that model, and I'm realizing I need to temper myself a little. Yes, the model needs to be presented with a great deal of sensitivity, but there are some ways in which juridical analogies makes sense.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

1. In this model, are the results of Christ's life/death/resurrection objective, or subjective?

Objective. I think the clearest way to see this is to think first about the objective impact of Adam's sin. Not only did Adam's sin change something in human nature; it also corrupted creation as a whole (e.g., the ground doesn't automatically bear bountiful crops anymore).

In the same way, Christ's act of obedience would have objective effects. Obviously we don't yet see a reversal of the "fall". But we have the promise that God will reverse the effects of the fall, and God will do so on the basis of Christ's saving work.

2. I'm wondering … why Christ's death is important in your model.

A very perceptive question! You're going to drive your professors nuts (in a good way, I'm sure)!

First, a comment on the word atonement. It is a rare instance of a theological term that was coined in English. Atonement = "at one"-ment.

Thus any theory that explains how God and man are reconciled would be a theory of atonement, without necessarily referring to Jesus' death. In this case, I think Paul clearly indicates that Jesus' act of obedience effectively reverses the fall. Hence, a reconciliation of God and humankind; hence, atonement.

But I think it's customary to assume that any Christian atonement theory must incorporate Christ's death. Hence Origen's incarnation-based explanation isn't typically regarded as an atonement theory. Also, subjective models of atonement strike most of us as unsatisfactory.

Here, my response would be to bring Christ's death into relation with his act of obedience. Jesus had to obey to the furthest depths of his being. Where Adam sought to exalt himself, Christ had to abase himself to the ultimate extent. A willingness not merely to die, but to suffer torture and public humiliation — and even a season of alienation from God — to obey such a destiny is surely the ultimate act of obedience.

"Adam soteriology" doesn't directly relate to the verse in Hebrews, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." That text belongs to the penal substitution model. But Christ's death can be incorporated as a significant element of the model I propose, which is intended to supplement, not supplant, the other models.

3. I think I have probably been a little too hard on that [penal substitution] model, and I'm realizing I need to temper myself a little.

I think that's the right decision. It's more than a little ironic that I'm the one encouraging you in a conservative direction!

Jamie said...

Christ's act of obedience would have objective effects. Obviously we don't yet see a reversal of the "fall". But we have the promise that God will reverse the effects of the fall, and God will do so on the basis of Christ's saving work.

You say it the effects are objective, but then you say God will reverse the effects of the fall on the basis of Christ's saving work. That later statement implies that there is no intrinsic/automatic connection between Christ's work and the restoration of the creation. There are instead two separate actions: Christ does his (preparatory?) work, and then God (in a separate action) effects restoration.

In other words, the parallel you're drawing between Adam's life and Christ's recapitulation of Adam's life is not totally smooth. Christ's life does not save us in the same way that Adam's sin damned us: the latter was an automatic effect, but the former is not automatic.

What I tend to resist in this idea of Adam soteriology is that seemingly artificial element. The parallels between the first and last Adam are interesting, to be sure, but if Christ's obedience does not inherently effect restoration, then can Adam soteriology really be the key to understanding atonement?

Stephen (aka Q) said...

If those are your standards, is any theory of atonement objective? We're still sinners, we're still dying, we still struggle to stay in communion with God. Christ died and the world goes on just as before. His death didn't effect salvation, no matter what theory of atonement you subscribe to.

The only answer to that challenge (as far as I know) is the one I stated above: God promises to reverse the effects of the fall, at the eschaton, on the basis of Christ's saving work. It's the same answer, whether you subscribe to the ransom theory, the penal substitution theory, or Adam christology.

Therefore they're all equally non-objective, aren't they? I'm not sure I understand your objection correctly; this is my way of trying to clarify the thrust of your argument.

Steve Martin said...

Completely off topic, but do you have an easy way to create the tables you use in your posts (eg. this one?). Or do you manually edit them with html? Bloggers editing tools are horrible.