death in evolution

Last week I heard a professor from MIT say on television, “Three billion years ago, when we were reptiles….” The sentence struck me as very strange, stranger still because neither the host nor the audience batted an eye. Look at that sentence again, and then ponder John Collins’ remark that we must remember “how hard it is to get a human being” (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, p. 126). You can have all the time in the world, but it’s still difficult to pull a Newt Gingrich out of a reptile. Okay, I concede the point.

My last post asked how someone who believes in macro-evolution, whether theistic or Darwin’s unguided system, can account for the problem of death, especially human death. Here are what I think are the two most promising solutions, though each comes with a very high price tag.

1. Physical death is natural, only spiritual death is a result of the Fall.

In his Romans commentary, N. T. Wright floats this theory:  “One potentially helpful way of understanding the entry of death into the world through the first human sin is to see ‘death’ here as more than simply the natural decay and corruption of all the created order. The good creation was nevertheless transient:  evening and morning, the decay and new life of autumn and spring, pointed on to a future, a purpose, which Genesis implies it was the job of the human race to bring about. All that lived in God’s original world would decay and perish, but ‘death’ in that sense carried no sting. The primal pair were, however, threatened with a different sort of thing altogether: a ‘death’ that would result from sin, and involve expulsion from the garden. This death is a darker force, opposed to creation itself, unmaking that which was good, always threatening to drag the world back to chaos. Thus, when humans turned away in sin from the creator as the one whose image they were called to bear, what might have been a natural sleep acquired a sense of shame and threat” (p. 526).

I think this solution, if carried through to its logical end, will destroy the Christian faith. If physical death is normal and only spiritual death is the enemy, then it seems likely that Jesus only spiritually rose from the dead. And if that is the case, as Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:17), then we are still in our sins.

The New Testament does not separate spiritual from physical death, so it did not read the Genesis narrative in this way. And what should pastors say to those who are dying—your physical demise is natural, the way things are supposed to be? Does anyone really believe this in their moment of death?

Also note Wright’s sleight of hand. He says that death in Genesis 2-3 may mean “more than” physical death, when really he means “less than.”

2. Death became unnatural when hominids became human.  

This theory says there was a moment when homo sapiens received the imago Dei and became homo divinus, and from that point on this new, human species would not die (unless they disobeyed God and ate from the tree).

The strength of this view is that technically death is unnatural for humans, but it still took out a lot of innocent hominids, who had the same intellects and emotions and bodies as humans but had not yet been pronounced as such. The difference between them may very well be semantic—one was declared to represent God on this earth and the other had not.

The price of accepting this view is that you must believe that God is pleased with a lot of hominid death. Neal Plantinga’s words about animal death apply here:  “Is carnivorousness a part of God’s original design? Judging by the fossil record and by the incisors of carnivores, it seems so. Judging by the scriptural prophecies of shalom and by our own hearts and minds, it seems not so….If you watch one of those National Geographic specials on television in which young lions chase down a deer, leap at its throat or claw their way onto its back, and then start sinking their incisors into the deer’s flesh, it all looks more painful than anything we imagine God to delight in” (Engaging God’s World, p. 65).

A variation of this view says that God intervened in the evolutionary process and directly created humans as fresh, de novo creations. I like this better than saying we evolved from hominids, but you still have the problem of God taking delight in hominid destruction. Is it probable that this scenario is what God considered to be very good?







48 responses to “death in evolution”

  1. Great thoughts… enjoy reading your posts.

  2. mikewittmer

    Hi Trenton! I haven’t seen you and Dana since your wedding, the evening of graduation. Are you back home in Virginia? I see Derek from time to time, but have lost track of the other Lawlor guys. Whatever happened to Brent?

  3. I think that, “I think this solution, if carried through to its logical end, will destroy the Christian faith. If physical death is normal and only spiritual death is the enemy, then it seems likely that Jesus only spiritually rose from the dead,” (under “1”) is a disingenuous and underhanded attack on the view being examined. I believe you have created a Red Herring and are no longer discussing the actual view of those who hold this understanding.

    I think it is very important and critical to honesty and integrity to state the view as it’s strongest form rather than in a weak and false representation.

  4. mikewittmer


    I think your post is an ad hominem attack that ignores the logical case in my argument. Please stick to the actual argument, which is this: if we separate physical death from spiritual death, on what grounds will we retain the essential connection between physical and spiritual life? There may be an answer, but I would like to hear it, without accusing me of dishonesty, please.

  5. Mike, in order to have this discussion we will leave the confines of Young Earth Creationism and enter the world of “Old Earth Creationism.” You will have to grant to me the exclusivity of OEC and Evolutionism. (I have found that most people cannot, or find it very difficulty to, delink OEC from evolution.) If we can’t go there with charity, no discussion is possible.

  6. mikewittmer

    No problem, Jody. I don’t think the Bible tells us how old the world is, so that’s not an issue for me.

  7. I read the post in my reader, and apparently, I skipped over the title when I did. “death in evolution.” Well, that makes everything I have to say on the topic quite moot since I believe that scripture reveals that evolution is invalid and science demonstrates that evolution is invalid.

    I honestly did not realize that I had not read the title — the very thing that defines the contents of the post. I realize now that I do that quite often.

    I’m feeling a bit foolish right now. I would like to continue this discussion under a different context lest my arguments be misconstrued as defending Theological Evolution.

  8. Jonathan Shelley


    Did the prof really say “three hundred billion years”? I thought the universe was only around 13 billion years old. I’m not that good at math, but something doesn’t quite add up.

  9. mikewittmer

    Good point. It was probably just 3 billion years, but what’s a couple hundred billion years among friends? I’ll change it in the post–nice catch.

  10. Chris O

    I love this topic. I’ve been trying to work it out for years. Here’s how I’m trying to reconcile things:

    I think the key is understanding physical death as being a form of chaos.

    Chaos is a lack of order. More order = greater complexity. Order and complexity are theoretically infinite because one can always add more order.

    Death is a form of chaos. Life is a form of order: non-living things are less orderly and complex than living things. Chaos and order are amoral, thus physical death has nothing to do with morality.

    In the beginning God brings order from chaos.
    God does not eliminate chaos, but brings it under control (e.g. creates systems or cycles like the seasons, the food chain etc.).

    Evolution is a process where living things become more and more complex through the process of natural selection.

    Evolution is how God brings order from chaos, or brings chaos under control.

    God’s creation eventually evolves till it is capable of relationship and representing God on earth.
    The intent of humans is to join with God in carrying out his work in bringing order from chaos.
    Humans come out of the evolutionary process, and are equipped to bring a higher level of order to creation– one of love and forgiveness rather than survival of the fittest.

    The Garden of Eden is the picture of humans living out this vocation in relationship and submission to God.

    This is the spiritual life Wright discusses that humans lose in the fall. The fall is the choice to be autonomous and leave this relationship with God and go it alone.

    Jesus inaugurates a new creation. He is the second Adam. He defeats death or chaos. I think this is what stories of Jesus calming the storm and walking on water are about. I think they could be the author’s nod to the creation story where God’s spirit hovers over the deep chaotic waters.

    Thus death is the final enemy in that God brings chaos under control, humans are supposed to join God in continuing to bring chaos under control, humans desert that purpose, and Christ finishes the job by defeating death which will ultimately lead to a chaosless creation.
    Also, I think that death is portrayed as the enemy because in other ancient near eastern creation stories chaos is defeated by the hero god (e.g. Marduk and Taimat), and Christ defeats chaos (in the form of death).

    I hope that wasn’t too hard to follow. This is my first attempt to put these thoughts into written word.

  11. Rev. Z. Bartels

    Hard to follow? No. Hard to swallow? Uh, yeah. Unsupported presuppositions everywhere, but not flashing brightly enough to hide the fact that the question of death in evolution and whether God could delight in it remains unanswered.

  12. sarahmidz

    Actually Zach I find Chris’s comment a cogent and lovely summation of thoughts I’ve had on this topic as well. I find your attitude snarky and disappointing and I don’t think God delights in that either. Can we find a way to really talk about these things in an attempt to find meaning rather than sound smart?

  13. Wow, Chris, that is so messed up on so many levels.

    Most importantly, in the beginning, God did not “bring order from chaos.” In the beginning, God created everything that is from nothing. If God brought order from chaos it would necessarily follow that the chaos preceded God’s act of ordering it, and the chaos would then be greater than the ordering.

    Also, you are confusing “disorder” with “chaos.” Disorder (entropy) is simply disorder… like a shattered vase — you can tell it was vase and that it was shattered. Chaos is *highly complex* disorder.

    I’m just going to let the rest of your commentary lie in the disorder (not chaos) that it is.

  14. Chris O

    I am at work so I don’t have time for a thorough response. I will say that I find the notion that chaos and disorder/entropy are two totally different things kind of hilarious. You even used the word disorder to define chaos. You really make no sense.

  15. Rev. Z. Bartels

    Since I don’t know you from Adam (see what I did there? topical…), I really don’t care how you “find my attitude,” or how you “find” the comments in question, which were full of unsupported presuppositions and didn’t answer the question of whether God could delight in death before the fall. Your self-righteous little hissy fit is a red herring. Purely for rhetorical purpose, I’ll go ahead and concede your point: I’m a snarky jerk and my words make baby Jesus sad. Now that that’s out of the way, how about you deal with the CONTENT of my critique. Since you’ve had these thoughts yourself, explain how Plantinga was off-base and how the “Spiritual death” cop-out doesn’t set the stage for the cheapening of the resurrection. Can we find a way to really talk about these things in an attempt to find meaning rather than sound holier-than-thou?

  16. Chris O

    What presuppositions were unsupported?

  17. Rev. Z. Bartels

    Where to begin? A sampling:
    1. “Chaos and order are amoral.” If God is a God of order, not chaos, then it is one of his perfections, which makes order very much moral. You yourself say that “[Christ]is the second Adam. He defeats death or chaos.” So Jesus came to defeat death, and yet death is basically defined as chaos. And yet chaos is amoral.

    2. “God’s creation eventually evolves till it is capable of relationship and representing God on earth.” “The intent of humans is to join with God in carrying out his work in bringing order from chaos.humans are supposed to join God in continuing to bring chaos under control,” These statements are not only unsupported from Scripture, but counter to the plainest way of reading the text.

    I guess the problem is not so much unsupported presuppositions as much as an argument without support that free-style re-invents the Christian meta-narrative in a way that submits it to Darwin’s theories and removes its most essential elements.

  18. Chris O

    Fair enough. In an effort to be concise I left out a lot of detail and explanation. I will respond later.

  19. Chris O

    I’ll try to address your first point.

    1. “Chaos and order are amoral.” If God is a God of order, not chaos, then it is one of his perfections, which makes order very much moral. You yourself say that “[Christ]is the second Adam. He defeats death or chaos.” So Jesus came to defeat death, and yet death is basically defined as chaos. And yet chaos is amoral.

    I think you are getting the idea that God is a God of order from this verse So it looks as though order is being compared with peace, and according to commentaries, the context is about how those who follow God will promote peace and not disorder or confusion. This doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said.
    When I say order and chaos are amoral what I mean is this: order, in and of itself, is not always a good thing, and chaos, in and of itself, is not always a bad thing. The Nazis created very orderly, creative systems for exterminating a lot of Jews. Physical death, while a form of chaos, is essential for life on earth because, well, without death we all would starve. Death is essential for life.

    The purpose and will of God is what makes something moral or immoral. When we are in harmony with God we will successfully bring about order that is moral or good (i.e. in line with God’s purposes). I think that when God brings order from chaos, that the order God brings is good. This is why the fall is crucial, because we are endowed with this same ability and rather than staying in relationship with God and working with him, we do what we want. Sometimes the order we create is good and in line with God’s purposes and sometimes not (like the Nazis).

    Sorry, I don’t have time to touch on the Jesus defeating death statement.

  20. Rev. Z. Bartels

    “According to commentaries . . . ” Did you really just say that? Ugh…

    Anyway, yes, order (a good thing–good being a moral category) can be co-opted and twisted, as by the Nazis. Then again, every sin is a twisting of something good that should be a gift of God, whether sex, food, joy, rest, whatever.. So that really doesn’t alleviate the problem.

  21. Jonathan Shelley

    Z – I thought you knew better than to feed the trolls! Glad to see you’re back on the Intertubes, though.

  22. Rev. Z. Bartels

    Jonathan, when have I ever been able to resist? XD

    BTW, did you see that I even blogged on my old, tired, mostly-dead space on the Web?

  23. Jonathan Shelley

    Z – I saw on Facebook that you were blogging again so I tweeted my peeps to subscribe. I’ve missed your blogs, because I can feel your heart behind your Jesus-like posts. And the sarcasm.

    Also, is there any place local where I can get my hands on your Elijah book?

  24. Rev. Z. Bartels

    It’s on Amazon. I’m currently shopping a new one involving botched exorcisms, Vatican operatives, and a televangelist with really white teeth. I could use a couple of fresh eyes to proof it; lemme know if you want to have a look.

  25. Chris O

    The commentaries I was referring to are on the page I linked to.

    Obviously I don’t agree that God created from absolutely nothing, and I don’t think the Genesis creation account states that. From my understanding, the idea that God created from nothing comes from Maccabees, not Genesis. The first day of creation begins with formlessness, emptiness and God’s spirit hovering above the waters. This is the chaos from which God brings order. I’m interested in the topic of order and chaos because I think it most succinctly describes the reality we live in. Everything is in essence a dance between order and chaos. The question of how order comes from chaos is also what other ancient near eastern creation stories were concerned with as well, and it is to those stories the Genesis account is in response to. For more, see: As many scholars note, there are many similarities between Genesis and other ANE creation stories, but also many important differences. This is because the ancient Hebrews describe creation using the language and knowledge common to their historical context.

    So what is our the modern explanation of how order comes from chaos? Answer: Darwinian evolution. I think the task for us, just like our Hebrew forbearers, is to respond to this with our own narrative which is grounded in what we currently know about the universe and earth (what modern science tells us), but also in our belief about who God is and what God has done in history. This is why I come to the conclusions I make in previous comments.

    It is virtually impossible to conceive of the current creation without physical death, not because it is how it’s been for thousands of years, but because death is necessary for this creation to work. Once again: the food chain, the life cycle, eating in general! And other than a talking snake, pains in childbirth, and some thorns and weeds, the pre-fall creation isn’t much different than the post-fall creation. The creation described in Genesis prior to the fall is a dance of order and chaos just it is now. Thus, it is logical to assume physical death was a part of the pre-fall creation. So does God delight in death? No, because death is a form of chaos and God is the source of endless order and complexity. Did God create death? No, because death isn’t a something, it is a lack of something. The creation God made was not finished on the 6th day– chaos was brought under control– and it was left for humans to continue to develop and create more order. But God did pronounce what work he had done thus forth, “very good.”

    I think the original plan, so to speak, was for humans to continue to develop (continue bringing more order from chaos) God’s creation with God, and eventually some how, some way, God would continue to dwell more fully with humans here and eventually there would be a new creation where God would bring about an earth or place where physical death no longer existed. Basically, what we believe now minus the fall and redemption part.

    So why is physical death, if it is just a normal part of creation and spiritual death was the consequence of the fall, viewed as an enemy Christ defeated? I think this goes back to what Wright and others say about how physical death becomes a source of anxiety about meaninglessness or the world falling back into chaos. Thus, because of the physical/historical resurrection we can know that God will not give up on us and that we can have a restored relationship with him and there will some day be a new creation. The resurrection is a sign pointing toward the reality that chaos has been defeated (as was intended from the beginning), but not yet. So we see in the early church physical death being referred to “falling asleep.” Christ’s physical resurrection lets us cognitively reframe death.

    In sum, this does not decouple spiritual death and physical death. The intent all along was for chaos to be totally defeated through humans continuing in partnership with God in bring order from chaos. Thus, with the first image bearers there was no anxiety about physical death because there was assurance God was in control. It was sleep. BUT when humans depart from this relationship and choose autonomy, there is no longer that assurance and death a source of anxiety and threat. The resurrection then is a physical sign that we can join God once again in bringing order from chaos and that he is in control and will create anew. Hence death is cognitively reframed and has lost its sting.

  26. Rev. Z. Bartels

    My education is pushing me to respond to the logical and exegetical chasms in your thesis above, but I’m just going to let them sit and point this out: if that’s really all the Gospel offers, it offers pretty much nothing. If that’s what Jesus died on the cross to accomplish, it wasn’t worth it. Not even close. What an empty re-invention of the metanarrative.

  27. Chris O

    You really have a massive ego, don’t you? I was really hoping to have a fruitful and engaging dialogue with someone about this on this blog, but all I get is snarkiness and insults. It’s really upsetting, and more so knowing that you claim to be a “pastor.” Your behavior is hardly pastoral.

    I’m working on a second Masters degree, and I read about everything from theology to quantum physics to history to psychology for fun. My job also consists of doing research and mental health program evaluation with a former Calvin Prof who is probably one of the most brilliant people living in the area. So your education which was done in the insular, echo chamber of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary where everyone mostly agrees with you and your fancy words hardly wow me. Why don’t you actually write something of substance rather than accusing me of making illogical arguments and poking little holes? I guarantee you, you will not say anything I haven’t already heard from a scholar way more educated than yourself. I think your bark is bigger than your bite.

  28. Rev. Z. Bartels

    No, no, you misread the heck out of me. My reference to my education was not some boast or attempt to “wow you.” Read a little more carefully. I said that, because of the nature and context of my education (i.e. BA in philosophy and an evangelical seminary, where everything was analyzed and parsed out exegetically), my first instinct was to start poking holes in your argument–but that instead, I would override that instinct and come to the point of the matter, which is this: what you’re arguing FOR is completely empty. It’s a cross without any power and a world that was never good to begin with and has even less hope of ever being good in the future. It’s a Christian faith that requires no faith, because it wraps itself around whatever the world accepts at present, even if that means re-defining and re-interpreting the heart right out of the Scriptures. And, buddy, likewise, you haven’t said anything that I haven’t already heard and read, a lot more cogently put, a number of times. It’s the same old line, actually.

    And after your last comment, you accusing someone–anyone–else of having a “massive ego” is laughable. (Notice that I didn’t run through my CV for you in order to impress you, nor did I take cheap shots at your background.) As far as whether I’m being “pastoral” enough for you, I’ll go ahead and get my cues instead from the pastoral epistles, and what you’re selling here is capital-H heresy–another Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. I’m no Ken Hamm 6-day creationist, either. The issue is what Jesus died to accomplish, why he had to die, and what happened on the third day.

  29. Jonathan Shelley

    Z – I’d love to get my eyes on your lastest work. Do you still have my email address?

  30. mikewittmer

    Z and Chris. I’m still buried beneath piles of grading, so haven’t had a chance to join the conversation. I think that you two probably should disengage at this point, as you’ve probably taken it as far as you can together.

    Chris: I thank you for responding to my question, and I appreciate your concern to have a Christian faith that does not require one to shut out what we learn from science. I don’t know why you describe GRTS as you did, but I think our scholarship is more credible than you perceive. I am a big fan of all the Plantingas, and a Calvin grad myself, so I think I value what you value.

    You have obviously put a lot of thought into reconciling science and Scripture. One question which comes to mind, which I would like to hear you reflect upon, is “what did the Jesus accomplish by his death and resurrection?” In your view, how would we or the world be different if Jesus had not come? Does Jesus only help us epistemologically, or does his salvific work also change us ethically and ultimately ontologically? And if so, how?

  31. Chris O

    I only have time to quick answer a couple of your questions Dr. Wittmer, and I thank you for respectfully asking me questions rather than just making accusations.

    First, I shouldn’t have given into my frustration with Zach. I had made the decision to just stay on topic and ignore what I felt was condescension and dismissiveness, and I should have stuck to that. I really have no opinion on GRTS’s scholarship, but as someone who has studied at both Christian and public universities, I do feel Christian education institutions can become echo chambers where everyone agrees, and the only attempt to understand “the other side” is reading their works and attacking them. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen at public universities also, but I haven’t experienced it. My point is that I think this sort of learning environment fosters people like Zach who are trained to “defend the faith” rather than engage in civil, fruitful dialogue.

    To answer your question about Christ’s work. Absolutely, to be concise, without God’s intervention through his people which is the context for Christ’s work we’d be screwed. I find Andrew Perriman’s work in the historical narrative hermetic is most convincing in describing Christ’s salvific work. I’d love to comment on the ethical and ontological dimensions, but I really need to go. Maybe I will later.

  32. mike wittmer

    Thanks, Chris. I think that we haven’t emphasized enough the importance of Israel in God’s redemptive plan, but I worry that your answer, though admittedly brief, leaves me wondering if Jesus did anything on the cross and resurrection that Israel didn’t do and indeed could not do to save itself or the world. And now I’m extrapolating from your previous comments, so forgive me if I misrepresent your view, but if Jesus is the true Israelite who taught us how to control the primordial chaos, then why was the cross necessary? Couldn’t he have done this without the cross? Without being God even?
    I suspect that your solution requires a different logic to the biblical story of sin, death, and atonement (at least as the church has historically understood this), and I’m trying to decipher if your solution fits within the bounds of orthodoxy. I know that last phrase sounds off-putting, but it only describes what we’re all trying to do here. There is an orthodox teaching of science and an orthodox teaching of Scripture, and we’re trying to see if there is a view that can satisfy both or if we have to give up one or the other, or at least radically modify its standard view.

  33. Rev. Z. Bartels

    In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts, “As you wish.” Also, you’re probably right.

  34. Chris O

    I’ve been writing all day and night, and I really don’t want to do more, but I wanted to say this. I’m not arguing that Christ or Israel was to merely teach us to rise above chaos. But I first want to ask, if Israel would have come out of Egypt and fell in love with God and been the people he desired, never worshiped idols, never wanted a king and so on and so forth, would the messiah have had to die? I ask because, and correct me if you think I’m wrong, Jesus has to die for Israel’s sins. Jesus, the true Israel, has to take on the very judgement God will inflict upon the nation of Israel (i.e. destruction by the Romans) to pay Israel’s debt. Jesus then is the remnant of the true Israel, and has also opened the door for all humanity to join the people of God. So Jesus indirectly dies for everyone’s sin, but specifically dies for the sins of Israel. Yet it seems he wouldn’t have had to if Israel would have remained faithful to God. This makes sense considering Christ’s pleading with God to avoid God’s wrath. That scenario makes less sense if the messiah had to die from the beginning.

  35. mike wittmer

    Chris: it’s not wise to answer a hypothetical, but I would say that Israel’s perfect obedience was never possible, because the Israelites were born guilty and corrupted with Adam’s sin (see Romans 5 or Neal Plantinga’s “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be”). But even if they could, they could never do enough righteousness to offset some of their sins and they certainly wouldn’t have been able to make atonement for non-Israelites.

    I suspect that you and I have different estimations of original sin/total depravity. How bad are we? Do we need a substitutionary atonement, or are we able to become righteous enough through hard work (and the power of the Spirit)? We probably also disagree on the role of Israel. I agree with your statement that Jesus was the true Israelite who came to do perfectly what they failed at miserably, but I would not make Israel the main thing. For instance, I wouldn’t say that Jesus died directly for Israel and only indirectly for us, or that Israel had the power (with God’s help) to redeem the world without the true Israelite coming to die on her and our behalf.

    I believe that God made his covenant with Israel knowing full well that she would break it. But her failure was part of the preparation for God’s ultimate solution, without which no one could ever be saved. I think Hebrews speaks to all this–it was never possible for the Israelite sacrifices to take away sin, but only the sacrifice of the Lamb of God could do this.

  36. Jody

    Chris, don’t forget to read and understand Revelations. The Lamb was slain *before* the foundations of the world. Before Adam’s fall, before Lucifer’s rebellion in the heavens, the purpose of God was known to be fulfilled in the perfect life of and death of Jesus on the Cross — to be the True Adam, the True Israel. Before the beginning of creation, the plan was set in place by the Triune God.

  37. Chris O

    Can’t comment much now except to say, I do think we are broken inside and out, but not in an evil curse sort of way. I think the tension that lies between your view and mine is that I am not just content to say that all humans have a “curse” on us which makes us unrighteous and therefore we need a blood offering to break the curse, and God knew this would have to happen before he chose to create this place. I think to an ancient jewish/pagan person that would be much easier to swallow, but we just don’t understand the world that way anymore. So I guess I am interested in updating the language and story, but preserving the core truths. Thus rather than saying we are cursed or guilty, I would say that humans are intrinsically relational-cultural beings, and our relationships and culture not only affects learned behavior, but literally wires our brains (, probably even in the womb.

    So yes, “sin” is passed down extrinsically and intrinsically. And I would also say that it is because of our fractured relationship with God who created us to live in a loving and dependent relationship with him and in loving relationships with one another and creation that we are this way.

    Also, I am an open theist a la Gred Boyd. So there is that too.

    That was way more longer than intended. 🙂

  38. Jody

    Chris, I am so glad you clarified. All this time I had been talking to you on the assumption that you were a Christian. I apologize for my mistake.

  39. mike wittmer

    Jody: Please consider what you just did. If Chris is as you believe him to be, then why would he ever listen to you now? And if Jesus agrees with you about Chris’ condition, what do you think he’s thinking about what you wrote? I know we’re on a blog, but please mix in some grace with your truth.

  40. Chris O

    I believe God is triune.

    I believe God created everything.

    I believed humans were created to live in loving relationship with God, other humans, and creation.

    I believe humans were put here to represent God and develop and better his creation.

    I believe humans rebelled against God and chose autonomy.

    I believe the consequences of this is death meaning not partaking the life God has planned for his people now and in the future new heavens and earth.

    I believe God used the Jewish people for his redemptive purposes.

    I believe in the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth and that his death atones for our sin when we believe in Christ’s death and resurrection and join the community of the redeemed.

    I believe in the physical and historical resurrection.

    I believe God will one day renew or create anew and those who are redeemed will dwell in resurrection bodies on the new earth.

    Why is this not enough? And shouldn’t we always be gracious, even on blogs?

  41. mike wittmer

    Chris: My last sentence was saying that we should always be gracious, even on blogs. I did not mean what you seem to think I meant. Just the opposite, I was sticking up for you.

    I think that your definition of death (not partaking the life God has planned for his people) is too shallow to represent what the church or Scripture has ever meant by that. And judging by what you said before, your meaning Jesus’ atoning death for our sins is probably different too. So to answer your question, it’s not enough to use the right words, if in fact you mean something different by those words. It’s the meaning that counts after all, not the terms as such.

  42. Chris O

    Sorry Dr. Wittmer, I didn’t mean to sound like I was jumping down your throat. Thanks for defending me.

    I’m sure you are right that the majority of the time throughout history the church held to more of a literal, physical view of death. However, I just don’t think that is A. very convincing that people at one time were going to live forever on this earth and B. that scripture clearly and unambiguously teaches that. I think it is in Surprised by Hope where Wright gives a pretty good analysis of death and the fall and I think he describes it as an exile. I find this having more explanatory power too, because God says that if they eat the fruit that on that day, they will surely die. It works much better than having to say, “Well, God didn’t literally mean they’d die on that day, just that they’d eventually die.”

    Concerning the atonement, let me try to put it another way. Christ atones for the sins of a group of people (the Jews). However, anyone can join this group and when they do their sins are atoned for as well.

    Got to get back to work. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me. I really appreciate and enjoy it.

  43. mike wittmer

    Thanks, Chris. I like a lot of what Wright does, but I think he significantly overplays the theme of exile. If you don’t find it “convincing that people were at one time going to live forever on this earth,” then what is your view of the eschaton? Will we live forever, and where? And if you answer rightly, that we will live as embodied people forever on this earth, then why wouldn’t God have made it that way at the beginning? And if he didn’t then, why do you think he will later? Does the good world of Genesis 1 include the inevitability of human death? If so, is God still good? What does goodness even mean?

    Regarding the atonement, I think you said that Jesus died merely because Israel failed, and that if they had obeyed completely then Jesus would not have needed to make his sacrifice. This is a Pelagian understanding of human nature, which would also be a problem.

    I respect your attempt to rethink the faith in new categories, but you also need to clearly specify how your new understanding fits in the old categories. Do they stretch enough to include your view, or must they be replaced? And if the latter, do you lose continuity with the Christian faith? Are you merely updating the faith, or are you supplanting it? These are interesting questions.

  44. Chris O

    Hope this leads to clarity and not confusion. I have no desire to supplant the Christian faith, so I love getting someone like yourself to think this through with me. I’ll write more about the atonement at another time.

    what is your view of the eschaton? Will we live forever, and where?
    We will live either on a new earth or this one only resurrected like Christ. In others words there will be remnants of the old earth, but it will have, using Wright’s lingo, a new physicality. I really don’t know which though I opt for the latter. We will live forever.

    And if you answer rightly, that we will live as embodied people forever on this earth, then why wouldn’t God have made it that way at the beginning? And if he didn’t then, why do you think he will later?
    I could ask you a similar question. If God was going to make a new heavens and earth and give people resurrection bodies and there would be no sin etc. then why didn’t God just do that initially? Put another way, why didn’t God just get things right the first time?
    For me, this really gets back to the issue of order and chaos. When I talk about order and chaos you need to know that I have very specific ideas in mind. Everything that exists is a whole, but is also a part. Atoms are things, but parts of other things– molecules. Molecules make up cells. Cells make up tissue. Tissue makes up organs. Organs make up organ systems. Organ systems make up us. So there is this hierarchy of order and as you move up the hierarchy you get more complexity which requires more order and so on. You can potentially move up the order hierarchy forever and as you do you, you get transcendence– whole other levels of being (e.g. living things transcend non-living things).
    To get you inside my head, I view God as the endless source of all order (which encompasses complexity, structure, aesthetic, peace, love, shalom etc.) sculpting and massaging order from the formless void. As God continues pulling order from his creation he makes humans who finally have the ability to have a personal relationship. He then charges humans with the task of bringing order from chaos. So God doesn’t eliminate chaos, he brings order from it. Thus, chaos—which encompasses physical death—still exists. Humans are to represent God here and continue his work. I think, and I don’t see the Bible plainly contradicts me on this, a new heavens and earth (which are similar to this place, only way higher up the order hierarchy), was always part of the plan. This is how thinks work. Things happen in cycles. It’s a process. The old gives way to new, different, and better.
    Does the good world of Genesis 1 include the inevitability of human death? If so, is God still good? What does goodness even mean?
    I think my answer above answers your first question. God is still good. Why wouldn’t he be? Genesis clearly states that the earth was chaotic (formless and void), and Genesis states God creates seed-bearing fruit (seeds imply a life (and death) cycle) and then says God creates livestock and wild animals. I’m pretty sure wild animals are carnivores and livestock are farm animals. This implies there were animals hunting other animals and animals ate (and killed) plants. So God tames the chaos by creating orderly systems (food chains, life cycles) and calls it good. It’s an unfinished work. It’s like the artist stepping back from a day’s worth of painting and proclaiming it good. Goodness here means it’s what God intended.

  45. mike wittmer

    Chris, to answer your question, “I could easily ask the same question to you,” I believe that God made the world right the first time, for he made an entirely good creation, without human death, that was cataclysmically destroyed at the Fall. I think this is a very important difference between the tradition and your reconceptualizing of the faith. Even if you think that death is natural and God’s intent, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to think that Paul means this in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. So if you’re right, then Paul wrongly interpreted Genesis, and on a fundamental point, which opens up an even worse problem of biblical authority.

    Also, on a side note, Gen. 1:30 says that animals were eating plants, so I’m not inclined to think God created them as carnivores. But even so, animal death is still a far cry, and less problematic theologically and biblically, than human death (because we are image bearers of God).

  46. Chris O

    I was putting in some thought before I replied, and was over on the biologos website which I love and always find new (to me, at least) insights. I was reading a discussion thread and a person remarked that they thought the tree of life might symbolize the potential for the unfallen humans to gain immortality. I found this intriguing because I began imagining how quickly technology and progress could increase if we humans simply got a long and worked together, let alone were in a pre-fallen state. Anyways, I think it’s something to consider.

  47. Look squad, let’s face the math and biology. If there were no physical death, even for only humans, unchecked population growth would mean that the earth would be over a trillion people in about fifty generations (assuming only 2 kids per couple), and keep expanding exponentially–soon making the earth a living hell, and then an ecological impossibility and absurdity. Certainly this would not have been a part of the creation design. For many other reasons why the “death” in the Fall was spiritual and not physical, and why physical death is a natural and necessary part of creation, please see my article “No Physical Death Before the Fall?” at:

  48. mikewittmer

    What’s with the “squad”?

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