by Robert C. Brow
Original Sin and Creative Love Theism
This chapter illustrates the fact that Christians who are equally committed to Jesus Christ can come to very different conclusions because they look at the Bible through different models.
The idea of original sin is part of a model to explain what happened to Eve and Adam in Genesis 3. Their sin is viewed as a law court transgression that demands that all humans suffer eternal damnation. In one model of original sin only baptism in the name of the Trinity can save us from damnation. All the unbaptized go into eternal damnation.
In the Reformation a model of justification by faith was offered as God's means of removing original sin. A further refinement was a nineteenth century evangelical model in which a decision of faith is needed to save us from the eternal consequences of original sin. When the proper decision is made the believer is forgiven and born again.
In a model of Creative Love Theism we do not begin with the doctrine of original sin. The Bible does not say that by sinning Adam was sent to eternal damnation. He was excluded temporarily from the garden till God clothed him with new garments. And the garden is in this world where the Son of God wanted to walk and talk with him. Nor does the Bible tell us that all the billions of people who are Adam's offspring are condemned to eternal punishment unless they hear and make a decision to believe certain things. That can only be deduced from some Bible texts hanging together in a certain kind of model.
In an Original Sin model God's wrath is usually defined as our just condemnation to eternal damnation. Creative Love Theism explains wrath in the Old Testament sense of bad consequences in this world. There is not one verse that explains wrath as sending people to an eternal hell. That means wrath is part of the love of God. It is one of the many means God uses to bring many children to glory.
The two models will also yield very different interpretations of NT texts about the sin of Adam. For example "Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for all die in Adam so all will be made alive in Christ" (1 Cor. 15:20-22). In a model that begins with Original Sin dying in Adam means being condemned to eternal damnation. In a model of Creative Love Theism death is hiding like Adam and Eve from the love of God. Christ not only makes us alive to the love of God in this life but takes right through physical death into the fulness of God's love in heaven.
A key passage is Paul's explanation in the Epistle to the Romans. "If the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemmnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification" (Romans 5:15-16) Here the two models will use different meanings of the words translated "condemnation" and "justification."
Those who prefer a model of Original Sin tend to give a Roman lawcourt meaning to these words. Condemnation is the sentence to eternal damnation. Justification is being counted righteous because Christ paid the penalty of due to our sin when he died on the cross. In a model of Creative Love Theism condemnation is the sense of guilt and shame that makes us hide, as Adam and Eve did, from the Son of God instead of walking joyfully with him. There are then two ways of living one's life in the world either in Christ or hiding from him.
In Romans 5:16 the KJV and NRSV use the English word "justification" which comes from the Latin law court word for vindication or justification. This is a translation of the Greek word dikaioma from the verb dikaioo which can have the sense of a law court vindication. The other meaning is "to make free or pure or upright." Similarly the adjective dikaios means "upright, just, or righteous" and it can be taken in the sense of a tzaddiq or righteous person in the OT or in the sense of someone acquitted in a Roman law court.
We cannot tell from the Greek words alone what they mean. It is the larger model of the love of God that will govern how we translate them. It is significant that the Greek Orthodox theologians, who still use the language of the New Testament, tend to interpret Paul's language in the light of God's purposes to perfect us in love. They do not picture Paul as using law court substitutionary language.
A model of Creative Love Theism is worked out by Clark Pinnock & Robert Brow in Unbounded Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st Century, (Downers Grove : InterVarsity 1994). The book offers a family model of God instead of the forensic model which came into western theology when Jerome's Vulgate used Latin law court language to translate the Greek terms connected with dikaioo and dikaiosune.
The point of this chapter is that the interpretation of the Greek New Testament is not obvious and value neutral. How we translate and explain will be influenced by the overarching model of God's purposes that we have in mind. And most disagreements among Christians occur because we do not know that our interpretation is embedded in one model, and we have never attempted to understand the other's person's model.