John Hick's singular gift to our generation in his Evil And The God Of Love (MacMillan 1966) is the fleshing out of an alternative Christian view of The Fall and the environment within which it took place; a view first suggested by St Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the second century, pre-dating Augustine and providing a radically different perspective on the human condition from that of the dominant Augustinian tradition.
The crucial difference between the Irenaean and Augustinian views might be summarised as follows: starting from the words of Genesis 1 telling us that God looked at everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good, while the Augustinian tradition takes that to mean that mankind was created in full moral perfection and fell from perfection into perdition, Irenaeus suggests that very good, rather than signifying morally perfect, instead means perfect for God's purpose, namely, able to grow from innocence into a moral and spiritual maturity that is not ready-made at creation but won from hard choices and the long rough ride of experience, endlessly forgiven and continuously transformed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. Hence the Fall represents the first step out of innocence on the road to maturity, not some unmitigated disaster.
It is perhaps worth noting the fit of the Irenaean view with a universe now thought to be 13.8 billion years old and a world where homo sapiens emerged from the animal kingdom only over many centuries.
Irenaeus contrasts the image of God in man (our starter for ten, if you like) with the likeness of God in man (how God wants us to be as the fullness of His nature is achieved within us). On Page 211 Hick writes:
Irenaeus distinguishes between the image ('icon' or 'imago') of God and the likeness ('homoiosis') of God in man. The 'imago', which resides in man's bodily form, apparently represents his nature as an intelligent creature capable of fellowship with his Maker, whilst the 'likeness' represents man's final perfecting by the Holy Spirit.
On page 212 Hick writes:
In his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching Irenaeus pictures Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden as children; and their sin is accordingly not presented as damnable revolt, but rather as calling forth God's compassion on account of their weakness and vulnerability.
and earlier on the same page:
Irenaeus accordingly thinks of man as originally an immature being upon whom God could not yet profitably bestow His highest gifts: God had power at the beginning to grant perfection to man; but as the latter was only recently created, he could not possibly have received it, or even if he had received it, could not have retained it ... For as it certainly is in the power of a mother to give strong food to her infant, [but she does not do so], as the child is not yet able to receive more substantial nourishment, so also it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this [perfection], being as yet an infant.
On page 214 Hick comments:
Irenaeus suggests that man was created as an imperfect, immature creature who was to undergo moral development and growth and finally be brought to the perfection intended for him by his Maker. Instead of the fall of Adam being presented, as in the Augustinian tradition, as an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God's plan, Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an understandable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt. And instead of the Augustinian view of life's trials as a divine punishment for Adam's sin, Irenaeus sees our world of mingled good and evil as a divinely appointed environment for man's development towards the perfection that represents the fulfilment of God's good purpose for him.