By Dale Smelser
Man in Adam and in Christ is an attempt by anthropologist Arthur Custance to offer an alternative to the explanation of man and his environment advocated by. the philosophers influenced by evolution. It is also a new approach to Calvinism, an anthropological apology for inherited depravity, particular election, the impossibility of apostasy, and limited atonement.
Concerning man’s nature, Custance poses the dilemma as. being between the evolutionary concepts of Huxley and Simpson who optimistically view man’s progression as ever upward (“an angel in the making”), and the other horn being that man is a helplessly fallen creature, and that by genetic inheritance. Custance says cleverly and accurately enought that, ‘The fall was down.” But he holds that each man is thus born fallen, rather than viewing man as a creature born into a fallen cosmos that propagates itself by affecting and corrupting man’s nature. The ubiquity of sin which destroys each individual is what I believe David was talking about when he said he had been brought forth and conceived in iniquity and sin.
But the author does contend effectively that such as human barbarity is not a throwback to animal heritage, contrasting animal behavior which has to do with preservation, and the purposeful supra-necessary barbarity and cruelty of men. That is good. But he explains that in Adam the very root of man was defiled, a sickness which we inherit. He says, “If virtually every impulse receives part of its drive from this fearful root, then every action is to some extent infected, and man is in this sense totally depraved” (pp. 32-33).
Concerning escape from this state, he later says, “A will that is so diseased cannot will its own perfection (you see her thesis for the essentiality of an effectual miraculous calling, D.S.), far such a high aspiration does not spring from such a low source” (p. 163). Actually, his material would have had him state that ability does not so spring, for the aspiration to perfection is there, even in evolutionary philosophy. But if such aspiration exists, his doctrine is wrong and man is not really totally depraved. While holding objections to his Calvinistic views to explain the nature of man, I found interesting his arguments indicating a non-animal parentage for man, emphasizing profound contrasts between men and animals in aggression, speech, skin, and instinct versus rationality.
In denying the materiality of man, an evolutionary inference, Custance supplies interesting information indicating that memory survives brain mutilation. This existence of mind apart from brain, and differentiating between the two,, signifies existence of the mind after death of the brain, and shows that man is not merely a system of sticks and strings. He cites experiments where even though the brain is stimulated to perform a movement, the doing of it is overruled by the will. His conclusion from experiments with Alpha brain waves is that some force exists in man besides a bio-chemical brain mechanism.
The author reveals a curious attitude toward what can be scientifically supported about the scriptural conclusions concerning man’s nature and intellect. He says children of God are not sufficiently enjoying the wonderful sense of forgiveness which comes through faith, because science has provided evidence which makes such faith rationally allowable. “But such evidence does leave men with less excuse than they formerly had for rejecting the divine offer of forgiveness” (p. 281). In this he seems to indicate that one can intellectually respond to truth and has the responsibility to do so. Yet he will say the body of Christ is made of those “specifically chosen” out of the world, each “cell” therein “a deliberately chosen one.” That is particular selection and man’s “depraved” will can have nothing to do with his being in the body, or accepting any offer of forgiveness. Such is by the determination of God. Which leads to the question: If scientific evidence of faith, only robs the believer of joy in his total dependancy upon God, and it would do no one good to be convinced by his scientific evidence of the faith of the scriptures unless he was already one of the elect, why did he bother to write these books? The only purpose their evidence serves is detrimental.
But leaving that, Custance does present material on consciousness that has to be a problem for the materialist and physicalist, contending that there is more difference between man and animal than the frontal lobe of man’s brain. Men, he says, have experienced amputation of the frontal lobe, that which most distinguishes his brain from the chimpanzee’s, and continued to think, reason, talk and have self consciousness. The unique consciousness of man must exist elsewhere than the brain then. He thus argues against the bio-chemical determination of men. But as he argues the mindedness of all of creation, with even cells exercising volition, each knowing its individual destiny, whether to become a part of an eye, leg, or chicken feather, the physicalist would probably seize the latter, citing the DNA code, and hold to his chemical determination. Also, there have been experiments where chemical material from the brains of mice educated to respond to stimuli, has been introduced into the brains of uneducated mice rind produced reaction to the stimuli without education. I do not believe this invalidates his material showing that mind is not an epiphenomenon of matter that the material brain is not the originator of consciousness), but I think he may overstate his case in some instances, disregarding chemical influence. However his presuppositions would allow chemical influence, as long as the whole is at its various stages subject to the sovereignty of mind.
But his thesis is that the basis of reality is spiritual, with mindedness the fundamental element. Since everything down to the smallest cell has an ordered function, which it fulfills according to a prearranged plan, his concept of mindedness results in a philosophy of determinism which the theologian would call predestination.
Custance extrapolates from the apparent consciousness of cell function to the idea that mankind, or society, is simply an organism, one single colossal body rather than a numerical total of distinct individual persons. He finds support for this from such secular sources as Spencer, Compte, Hobbes, and Montague, with Eric Sauer making the theological application that this organism simply sets forth Adam. Custance is more specific about what entity is constituted by men. Sin destroyed what man was originally and a new kind of man emerged, propagated by heredity. He believes that sin affected man in a physical way and that such effect is passed through the sperm of man (thus Jesus was born without this corrupting sin because he had no human father).
Some of the members of this defiled entity are worse than others due only to circumstance. None are righteous. Some, only for one fortuitous reason or another, are less unrighteous. This makes a man’s circumstances responsible for his actions. However, Paul contradicts this concept of total depravity by noting that the ancient Gentiles had the ability in their natures to do the things of the law, manifesting the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15).
Nevertheless, Custance conceives of humanity as a collection of cells constituting the defiled Adam. But God has come along with a new creature, the men who as cells compose the body of Christ. One is born anew into this body, being “specifically chosen” out of Adam. The body of Christ is not an individually willed collection of cells, “but a deliberately chosen one.” It is always complete in the world; the number of individual body cells so fixed that when one dies it is replaced by another one, just as in the human body. The new cell (saved person) is chosen by God “for some inscrutable reason.”
Now, since the spiritual aspect is more important than the material, though men may be materially alike, they really compose two separate and distinct species. One species is hereditarily defiled man in and as Adam. The other is man in and as Christ. And once a person is reborn, there is no going back. He is rid of that which made him a part of Adam. He is now part of a new species; he belongs to a new body with a different head. Hence the theoretical scientific explanation of the impossibility of apostasy.
Custance is a winsome apologist. He admits the problems of his positions and tries to face them rather than ignore them. He strikes one as a kindly man and one is not naturally inclined to deal severely with his material. But, it must be said that his conclusions are destructive of human responsibility and pervert the scriptures. Man in Adam and in Christ is a clever, and for the Calvinist, an appealing presentation of Calvinism, trying to harmonize the scriptures, and science. It takes some careful sifting to produce its grains of truth.
Truth Magazine XXII: 28, pp. 456-457
July 20, 1978