Denis Alexander, of the Faraday Institute, the Templeton funded “interdisciplinary research enterprise based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge,” whose purpose is to show that Christianity and science are compatible, has a piece in the Guardian this morning (24th December), just in time for Father Christmas, entitled “Evolution, Christmas and the Atonement.” Of course, the problem that he is addressing is a real one, to solve which Alexander is prepared to throw Augustine to the ravening wolves of unbelief.
The problem, to put it simply, is this. The birth of Jesus, which Christians in the West celebrate on 25th December, and Christians in the East (even if they live in the West) celebrate on 6th of January (when Christians in the West celebrate the Epiphany) — it all gets easier after this — is thought to serve a purpose for the whole of humankind. According to the story, we are — all of us — so sunk in evil and sin that only something like the sacrifice of a god can save us. This is outlined in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, long thought to have been written by St. Paul, but now known to have been written by Anonymous. According to Hebrews, Jesus’ sacrifice, unlike the sacrifices of the Jews, is alone sufficient to atone for the sin and evil in which humankind is so deeply sunk. Jesus entered into the holy place (viz., before the throne of God) with his own blood (Hebrews 9.12), and thereby saved those who believe.
St. Paul put it quite simply in the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, where he sums up the faith that he had received. First, the heart of that faith:
15:1 Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold firmly the word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …
And then its relationship to the history of humankind:
15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. 15:21 For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
The whole passage, incidentally, is prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer (1549) to be read at funerals, and you can see why.