I have long argued that traditional Augustinian theology, which assumes an original perfect rather than a ‘good’ creation including Adam and Eve, is seriously mistaken. With perfection as a premise theology really had nowhere to go. However, the plain facts of history, life and experience demanded an explanation. Thus, ideas of original righteousness and holiness were assumed to have been followed by original sin and fall and a cosmic curse on creation. This necessitated its redemption and restoration but involved a serious distortion of Genesis 1-3 and Romans 8:18-25 in particular. Regrettably, such ideas as these continue to dominate ecclesiastical and even evangelical thinking in third millennium leading to the promotion of a wildly false worldview. The problem is that if the Bible is to be believed perfection or maturity is our goal, and to confuse it with our beginning inevitably results in a topsy-turvy theology in general.
So far as we personally are concerned, we begin at the beginning. We start in complete immaturity and develop slowly to maturity (perfection). The truth of this on the physical level is so obvious as barely to require justification. We are conceived, gestate, are born as babies, pass through infancy, childhood, adolescence and eventually reach adulthood. And the same is true on the intellectual and spiritual levels. In the realm of education, for example, we begin in kindergarten, graduate to primary, then secondary and finally achieve a college education. To attempt to reverse this process would expose us to ridicule, yet theologically this is precisely what tradition has us do. Instead of appreciating that mankind (Adam) as a race is epitomized in the individual (also Adam, especially the second Adam) and recognizing the individual and general maturation process, we somehow dissociate the two. The consequence of this is that recapitulation which in the early church was quite widely recognized especially in the writings of Irenaeus is almost totally ignored today. As a result there is catastrophic confusion, and Christians become the butt of ridicule by atheistic scientists who believe that what the church teaches the Bible also teaches – a profoundly dubious proposition.
The first thing to notice is that according to Scripture our first parents Adam and Eve are flesh created from the earth like the rest of the animals. As such they are ‘born’ innocent and at the start they know neither good nor evil (cf. Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). It is only when the commandment impinges on their developing minds that they break it and become sinners by nature (cf. John 8:34). As such they are cast out of the Garden, the womb or cradle of the race. The same pattern of innocence followed by transgression characterizes babies, even modern ones. There is a noticeable difference, however. Adam and Eve are presented to us as physical adults. The inference from this must be that their mental development occurred late by our standards. This sometimes occurs in modern times and we freely refer to retarded individuals.
But the point to note is that development from immaturity to maturity is basic to the nature of man as created (and indeed to the animal world in general). To begin with maturity or perfection is a certain way of torpedoing the Christian ship and causing it to keel over. (1* The Augustinian worldview is founded on false assumption and silence. The false assumption is that God in one fell swoop made every thing perfect (both sinless and mature) as opposed to ‘good’ or useful from the start. The literal interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 virtually guaranteed that the idea of (evolutionary) development remained almost completely absent until the nineteenth century. But the idea that Adam did not develop as babies in general develop devoid of conscious experience and hence history is an inference from silence. After all, if he had no self-consciousness, he had no history. Paul states that we are first flesh, then spirit, 1 Cor. 15:46, and this was doubtless true of Adam. In other words, Adam was not in fact created full-grown but developed from immaturity as we all do, first in animal ignorance knowing neither good nor evil, cf. Dt. 1:39, then in the light God grants all human beings as those made in his image, cf. Gen. 2:16f.; John 1:9. The mere fact that Jesus was the second Adam, the antitype, indicates that the first Adam, the type, Rom. 5:14, followed the human pattern we all know so well. How else could he be our first parent? Clearly since like begets like, cf. John 3:6, we follow the pattern established by Adam as his offspring, cf. 1 Cor. 15:48f. This is virtually proved by Jesus who is presented to us as the second Adam, the son of the first, cf. Luke 3:23-38.) Furthermore, the assumption of initial perfection or maturity makes nonsense of the quite extensive teaching in the Bible which presents it (perfection, that is) as a goal to be reached, not as something we have lost (cf. Heb. 6:1; Phil. 3:12-14, etc.).
If it is true that there is no such thing as original perfection and righteousness, it is also true that there is no such thing as original sin. The Bible itself teaches beyond cavil that sin (like righteousness) cannot be transferred from parent to child, from the guilty to the innocent except by faith (see e.g. Ezek. 18). As has already been asserted we all begin at the beginning. Despite certain differences we all as babies follow the pattern established by Adam and Eve (pace Art. 9 of the C of E). We too are born innocent before the commandment dawns on our minds (Dt. 1:39, etc.). We too in our turn break it (Ps. 106:6; Rom. 3:12, etc.) when it eventually registers and prove incapable like every one else, with the exception of the Lord Jesus himself, of keeping the law (Gal. 2:16, etc.). In other words, like Adam, we become sinners when we sin (John 8:34; Rom. 3:19f.) and definitely not because we are born such. This is not of course to deny the impact made on us by parents including Adam. Just as the children in the wilderness suffered as a result of their parents’ sins (Num. 14:33), so do we (cf. Ex. 20:5f.; Rom. 5:12-21). But neither they nor we are blamed and punished for sins we have not personally committed (Dt. 24:16).
It is generally agreed that the traditional ecclesiastical dogma of original sin has been a major contributor to infant baptism which on the face of it suggests a topsy-turvy theology. By contrast, before Jesus himself was baptized he had experienced like his ancestors a period in heathen Egypt and had then done his stint under the law (cf. Luke 2:41-52). And it was as a result of his achievement under the law which he kept to perfection (cf. Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22) that he proved himself to be and was acknowledged as God’s true Son. By uniquely keeping the commandments, he proclaimed his pedigree, pleased his Father and was granted the eternal life originally promised to Adam on condition of perfect obedience (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). The problem with the rest of us is that we cannot keep the law which promises life (cf. Rom. 7:9f.), so in our case we have to believe in order to be accounted righteous by faith in Christ the Son who becomes our elder brother when we in our turn are born of the Father (John 1:12f.).
The progression or maturation process in our spiritual lives clearly involves initial immaturity followed by covenantal development and growth which is punctuated and highlighted by ceremony including, but not initially, baptism. As individuals we follow the pattern from babyhood to adulthood etched by Jesus who in recapitulating the history of the race was first to all intents and purposes heathen (cf. Mt. 2:15) like his forefather Abraham before he was regarded as a true Jew under the law after his bar mitzvah (cf. Luke 2:41-52). (2* It may be pointed out that Jesus like all Jews was circumcised as a baby. This is true but initially circumcision was merely a national marker, cf. Gen. 17:12, not a sign of personal moral obligation under the law, Gal. 5:3.) In this way he became a son of the commandment and took personal responsibility for keeping the law. And it was only after he had successfully completed his training under the law that he was enabled by his reception of the Spirit granted to him by his Father at his baptism to embark on the regenerate life to which we are all called (John 3:7). As Paul indicates in Galatians 4:4f., he, though the Son and heir, was thus shown to be first a slave under Noah (cf. Mt. 2:15), a servant under the law of Moses, then a son, the Son, as led by the Spirit of his Father. While it may be true that we Gentiles are never strictly under the law of Moses as the Jews were (cf. Gal. 3:24f., KJV), we nonetheless like uncircumcised Jewish women are born again through faith in Jesus and recapitulate his pattern of life.
If this is true, infant baptism reflects basic misunderstanding. It repeats the mistake referred to above of beginning with the end, of starting with perfection or salvation and then looking for a means of gaining it – a topsy-turvy world indeed (cf. Gal. 3:1-30)! If we accept with the Roman Catholic church that baptism confers regeneration even in infancy, we have nowhere to go. We have arrived before we have set off. Little wonder that the (evolutionary) ascent of man causes problems with Christians, fundamentalists in particular. (See further below.)
Having begun with perfection, however, the church has devised a non-biblical worldview. First, it has failed to understand the transient and destructible nature of the material creation. The Bible tells us that it was created in time (Gen. 1:1, cf. Eccl. 3:2) and that it will eventually, when its purpose has been fulfilled, have an end and be dispensed with (Mt. 24:35, etc.). In other words, it is temporal not eternal by divine intention. This would appear to be what Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 and the author of Hebrews in 1:10-12. Failing to recognize this, the church has invented a completely different scenario. For it, the originally perfect world has suffered calamity. It has succumbed to a cosmic curse following the sin of Adam and now labours in anticipation of redemption and restoration. It is true that certain sections of the Bible depending on their interpretation appear to provide grist for the church’s mill, but apart from anything else this scenario is ludicrous. For how could the child-like sin or peccadillo of one man have such cosmic implications? While acknowledging the exacerbating effect of sin, it is vital to recognize that the obvious reason why this world is difficult to navigate is because God himself made it that way, as surely Genesis 1:26-28 imply. And the mere fact that he made us flesh complete with all its temptations, weakness and vulnerability testifies to this. Clearly, his intention has always been that we should be tested in the body (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10) before escaping into the world (age) to come (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; Gal. 1:4). This age or world, far from being perfection gone wrong is, in other words, only the threshold of or the prelude to heaven or the eternal world which we access by right conduct (Luke 20:35; Rom. 2:7,10; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6f.; Rev. 2:9f.), in the event by the grace we are shown in Christ. For only Jesus by express divine intention proved capable of meeting the condition of eternal life in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.) and thus ensured that all the rest of us should rely totally on him (Heb. 2:9, cf. Acts 4:12).
The Redemption of Creation
Whereas the Bible teaches the eventual annihilation of the visible created world, the present temporary age (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18), traditional Augustinian theology, given its presuppositions, virtually demands its redemption. One of the arguments presently (2014) used to support this contention is the resurrection of the body. It is contended that when Jesus rose again from the dead he had a glorified body. If this is so, then it would seem to follow that since he was still flesh and blood which derived from the earth in the first place, the earth likewise could be glorified. The problem here is that Paul specifically tells us on the one hand that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God and on the other that we must all be changed at ascension (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Luke 24:39 (cf. John 20:26-29) leaves us in no doubt that when Jesus rose again he was still flesh and blood, the same as he was when he died. This being the case he was clearly not glorified and had not ascended (John 20:17). Indeed, the very idea that earthly flesh and blood can be glorified is contrary to the essence of biblical teaching which draws a radical distinction and makes a profound disjunction between earth and heaven, between the present and the age to come.
I conclude then that the inference in favour of the redemption of creation based on the resurrection of Jesus is invalid, indeed radically mistaken. Furthermore, it is nowhere supported by Scripture. The truth is that the material world is headed by divine decree to dissolution as texts like Hebrews 12:27 and 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 indicate. (3* See further my The Destruction of the Material Creation, The Transience of Creation.)
Despite the strange quirks and superstitious vagaries that characterize ecclesiastical thought, most of us think in terms of going to heaven when we die. But along with the notion of a redeemed creation also goes the idea that we human beings go not to heaven and the eternal world when we die but to the redeemed new heavens and the new earth. While this denotation appears only twice in the NT suggesting that it is but an OT way of referring to heaven where righteousness dwells, as 2 Peter 3:13 in particular implies, it is given an essentially earthly meaning which appears to be out of kilter with its intended designation. If however it is accepted, we end up living our eternal lives on a temporal earth instead of in an eternal heaven. This is either naked contradiction or an attempt to eternalise the naturally perishable which Paul says is impossible (1 Cor. 15:50b). But topsy-turvy theology is bound to lead to such confusion.
The Order of Salvation
What has been written above makes it clear that the traditional order of salvation is out of kilter with what the Bible teaches. Once original sin is assumed, salvation for those who do not become Christian is out of the question. Augustine himself believed that all unbaptized and hence all unregenerate babies went to hell. This ghastly conclusion arose out of failure to understand biblical covenant theology and its implied diminished responsibility on the one hand and the view that faith follows regeneration, not vice versa, on the other. But in the Bible both sin and faith are based on knowledge. While Paul says that where there is no law (or knowledge) there is no sin (Rom. 4:15), he implies that there is also no possibility of faith for the simple reason that without law or knowledge there is no promise either (cf. Rom. 7:9f.). However, once the commandment comes, both sin and faith become possibilities (cf. Adam, Gen. 2:17). In the event only Jesus avoided sin, and by uniquely exercising unbroken faith went on as man to inherit eternal life. But though the rest of his fellows sinned one and all, under the prompting of the non-regenerating influence of the Spirit many of them nonetheless exercised faith, not least Abraham who was regarded as the father of the faithful. In clarification of this I would point out that the very fact that they sinned proved beyond all reasonable doubt that they were not born again, for when they sinned they thereby failed to meet the condition of life which was keeping the law to perfection (Lev. 18:5). Paul sums up the situation in Romans 7:9f. where he indicates that when the commandment came to him personally as it had done to Adam long before, though it promised life it led to sin. But this by no means eliminated faith as the rest of his career amply demonstrates. Had it done so, no one in the OT would have been justified, let alone born again. The truth is that regeneration remains a promise throughout the OT (e.g. Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34) which is not fulfilled until Jesus meets its condition of total obedience.
Jesus and Christians
This brings us to a comparison between Jesus as the first and paradigmatic Christian and modern Christians as they have been usually been conceived by the (traditional) churches.
First, Jesus like his forebears was:
(1) Flesh, born of woman and as such an innocent son of Adam (Luke 3:38);
(2) Heathen, as a child under the covenant with Noah (cf. Mt. 2:15);
(3) Jewish son of the commandment (Luke 2:40-52).
Since he kept the law to perfection and pleased his Father (Mt. 3:17; Luke 3:22) Jesus met the condition of eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Mt. 19:17) and so
(4) was baptized with the Spirit and became the first or model Christian. As such he
(5) pioneered the regenerate life as he was led by the Spirit (John 1:32; 3:34, cf. Mt. 5-7; Acts 10:38).
(6) Gave his life for his sheep and was raised from the dead.
(7) Was glorified at his ascension and seated at his Father’s side.
In strictly baptismal terms he recapitulated the baptism of (1) Noah (1 Pet. 3:20f.), (2) of Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), and (3) inaugurated the baptism of the Spirit (Mark 1:8) after being baptized himself (John 1:32).
By contrast ecclesiastical Christians vary according to denomination but are:
(1) Born sinful of woman.
(2) Baptized and usually regenerated by water as babies apart from repentance and faith.
(3) Confirmed as members of their church.
Conversion may or may not be required as an act of God dependent on church affiliation.
(Baptists of course accept believer’s baptism on the basis of a credible profession. For all that, many call themselves Reformed Baptists since they accept the essence of Reformed theology and its false (Augustinian) worldview. See for example S.E.Waldron’s A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Darlington, 1989. They thus end up confused like the rest of the churches.)
Perhaps more obviously than anything else baptism highlights topsy-turvy theology.