Pastor John, in the last podcast, you talked about the importance of the historicity of Adam in the local church, especially. In this episode, I want to follow up with you and ask you about Adam in relationship to global missions. Why does the historicity of Adam matter for missionaries?
When I was preaching through Romans over ten years ago, I got to chapter five, and I had never thought before that time how amazingly relevant Romans 5:12-21 is missiologically. It begins, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And then he goes on to compare Adam and Christ as the heads of two different humanities. All of us are in Adam because he is our head. And those of us who receive the grace that is in Christ Jesus are in Christ Jesus, and thus he is our new head, creating a new humanity.
If you refuse to believe in a historical Adam, you are surrendering a precious and powerful tool for world missions.
What that said to me was: every single tribe, every people group in the world — thousands of them — if you go in to any one of them and learn their language and their culture and find a way to communicate with them, you never have to fear that the message you bring is somehow irrelevant for them in their culture. Because you can preach this to them: there was an original human being from which we all came. That’s the way Paul goes about it in Acts 17. And your problem is exactly the same as my problem because your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather rebelled against the Creator God, and he fell in sin and has been bent against this God ever since. And God sent his son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that this disobedience could be remedied through his perfect obedience and through the death by which he covers all the sins.
A Bridge for Missions in a Common Father
This structure of thinking — condemnation through Adam and justification through Christ — is not culturally conditioned. You may have to find words to say it, but the reality itself is universal. That’s why this teaching is so amazingly relevant for missions, because missions is dealing with, “How can we present good news to people who know nothing?” They don’t know anything about the story of Christianity, but we can root that story in their original father and our original father and in the Son of God coming into the world and bearing the guilt of our common father. So it crosses cultures in a remarkable way.
All of this means that when missionaries prepare for wherever they are going, their focus should not be merely on linguistics and anthropology and culture. There is so much emphasis today on believing that our success is going to hang on whether we are savvy enough in all of those missiological dimensions. Those are important. I do not want to minimize them, but theology and understanding the Scriptures — in particular Romans 5, like we just talked about — is really crucial.
Piper: “The historical Adam prevents any fear that the gospel is somehow irrelevant for other cultures.”
So missionaries should be people who really care about this kind of biblical theology. When they grasp what the Bible really says, they will find themselves amazingly able to tap into the very nature of the people they are talking about, because the Bible is so profoundly rooted in what is real and what is true. And this applies not only to the issue of Adam and justification but to many issues. It’s never going to be irrelevant to devote yourselves to the study of the Scriptures as well as all the cultural dimensions of preparation.
For more on this topic, read or listen to Pastor John’s sermon, “Adam, Christ, and Justification.”