Friday, February 10, 2012
Adam the First Person
I couldn’t resist it any longer. My mind was pregnant with a blog post, and birth has occurred. Here is what generated the pregnancy:
1. A recent Lifeway survey indicated that Protestant Pastors aren’t buying into evolution:
New Research on the Views of Protestant Pastors on Creation and Evolution
Praise God! Right?
2. Well, not according to everyone. Some think this is a very bad trend for the church. I decided to engage some of the folks who were concerned. Our interaction can be seen in the comments on this blog post:
Pastors Unconvinced…Now What?
3. A man named Peter Enns is very vocal (books and articles) about his concerns and very aggressive in his efforts at “re-interpreting” Genesis and other key Scriptures to account for what he sees as unmistakable evidence for evolution. This is not a new effort. Although, of late, it seems to be very popular. The flurry of activity that arises when one conservative voices his defense of an historical Adam is very telling. Just ask Kevin DeYoung. I personally find it interesting that those with a liberal interpretation of the Old Testament (liberal, as in, different from apostolic and church tradition), who accuse a conservative interpretation for its fundamentalism and unnecessary "dying on the hill" of their chosen doctrines, seem to be themselves dying on the hill of a non-historic Adam. I mean they are fiery about it. The word "brainwashed" is even thrown out about those who don't agree with them. Whoa, right? Just as a word of advice: anyone who says it is "crazy" to believe in a literal Adam, or the authority of Scripture over science, etc., etc. - is themselves absolutely crazy. It is one thing to say these things are wrong; to say they are crazy is out of touch with reality.
Anyway, Enns wrote a book called “The Evolution of Adam”, and the review of said book is generating much conversation that I have continued to participate in. He, actually, before this, wrote a book called “Inspiration and Incarnation” that sets the stage for the re-interpretation of Scripture that, as a Biblical scholar, not a scientist, he sees as the only way forward, based not only on scientific evidence, but on evidence of other ancient near-eastern literature.
For the record, I have not read either book. Sorry if that takes away the credibility of my comments. I hope it doesn't. It is what it is. One only has so much time. In general, raising an issue that challenges Christian orthodoxy and then requiring someone to read that full challenge in order to make a comment is not kosher. That's like saying I have a new revelation about how God meant for us to understand eating pork as necessary for salvation, and you have to read my whole argument before you can publicly disagree. And by the way, it is a million pages. Get to it. The Bible is all that's sufficient for the Christian, so if something is said about the Bible, I do not consider it an obligation to read the extent of what has been said, as if it is required knowledge to interpret Scripture accurately. Of course, there is value in understanding the full intention of the content that has been said before responding to the person responsible for it, to prevent misunderstanding, and that is what I have attempted to do. If nothing else, if my credibility has been threatened, consider only that I am responding to Peter Enns article in Huffington Post, as well as his blog summaries of his recent book.
One of his basic premises is that just as Jesus in his incarnation was fully divine and fully man, we have to remember that the "incarnation" of Scripture, as it were, is through God's inspiration and man's words. This is true, of course. But neither incarnation was 50/50. The mystery is that they both are 100/100 - 100% God and 100% man. And when you compare God and man, God is more authoritative. Let's just be serious. He is God. We are not. So we should not all of a sudden over-prioritize the humanity of Scripture and under-prioritize the divine inspiration of it, especially if it confuses God's absolute truth that he has revealed to us. It will always be 100% inspired, even as its 100% written by humans. Enns would say his incarnational analogy for Scripture does not under-prioritize God's inspiration. Maybe not. You can be the judge if you want to read his book. I am currently reading a response to it and other challenges to inerrancy in G.K. Beale's "The Errosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism". You can see further blog conversations that I participated in here (there are lots of comments!):
Testing Scripture on Creation and Fall
Adam in Genesis and Paul
Once More, With Feeling
More are being written all the time, and needless to say, I can’t keep up, so I am turning to the forum of my own blog (finally!). The main premises I am responding to with this blog post are:
1. Evolutionary science is settled (old earth, death before man, Adam as metaphor only, man as result of evolutionary processes, etc.).
2. Evangelical Christians need to get on board with evolutionary science (and ancient near-Eastern literary “evidence” for a different, mythical interpretation of much of the Old Testament) because many are “abandoning the faith” based on our unwillingness to concede what is presumably conclusive scientific (and literary) evidence.
3. To do this, Evangelical Christians need to re-think Genesis and other passages that, presumably, new research on ancient literature genres indicate were never intended to communicate literal scientific and historical truth, but only "myth" (loosely defined).
DON’T FOLD UP YOUR TENT
As a fellow commenter on the blog I have been participating on said, “Simply repeating over and over again, ‘the science is settled’ doesn’t make the objections to the naturalistic consensus go away. Those who find the naturalistic explanations unconvincing are not folding up their tent because Pete Enns gets press at HuffPo, or because a few scholars suggest we should all bow to the pronouncements of the ‘recognized’ experts in a particular field, nor should they. The debate will continue…”
A rebuttal to this comment claimed that there are indeed certain scientific conclusions that are “settled”. I do not believe that the most important scientific conclusions surrounding evolution are settled. If you are a Christian, and have never looked into these issues, this is important for you to know. There are certainly some scientific conclusions that are settled, but mostly they don't have anything to do with evolution, and are not specifically referenced in the Bible anyway. An example is the scientific conclusion that the earth is round. The earth is not flat, but correctly interpreted, nothing in Scripture says it is, and no orthodox theologian would even debate this. Another example would be the ancient thought that the sun revolved around the earth. We know now it is the other way around. Those who would use the flat earth or the earth's orbit as examples of why it is beneficial to sometimes reconsider traditional interpretations of Scripture in light of scientific evidence are buying time and insulting your intelligence. Don’t fall for it! Those "corrections" of ancient thought do not contradict anything explicit in Scripture.
The scientific consensus on the age of the earth based on radioactive dating methods seems to be that the earth is much older than 6000-10,000 years, as a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 would seem to indicate at first glance. But I would not call this settled scientifically or theologically. Scientifically, the complexity of some of these dating methods is so technical that no one without several degrees could even hope to understand it all. The science might never translate to intelligible conclusions for the average person, which makes it hard to take seriously in my opinion.
Theologically, there definitely are other explanations of Genesis 1 to allow an old earth to be perfectly compatible with Scripture (day-age theory, creation with the appearance of age, flood geology, etc.). But you can believe the earth is old based on Scripture, not science, and be just fine. The two pastors who have had the most impact on my theology allow for this (John Piper and Tim Keller). That is a better road than believing the earth is old only based on science, considering the implications of that belief. By that I mean if you consider the earth is old based on science, you likely believe this because of evolutionary processes that also contribute to the evolution of man. This is an implication that has not been settled. If you interpret Genesis 1 as not being 7 literal 24 hour days, that is a rational interpretation, and you can easily celebrate scientific studies of the dating of fossils and what not within that Biblical lens. However, if you look to science first to determine the age of the earth, you are likely also going to look to science first to determine things that can not be accepted within a Biblical lens; and shouldn't be - there is nothing settled about the fact that Adam was not real or evolved from another species (don't let anyone tell you there is). So the key is to look to the special revelation of Scripture first, and then the general revelation of science within that lens. God's Word vs. human discovery. Should be an easy choice of where to start.
Enns says that the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is not about “human origins”. He goes on to say, “Israel's story was written to say something about their place in the world and the God they worshiped. To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive, quasi-scientific, account of human origins is an absurd logic. And to read the story of Adam and Eve as if it were set up to show such a thing is simply wrongheaded.”
Well, I hold that "absurd logic". I am "wrongheaded", it would seem. I, am many others.
It is not a stretch to me that the Israelites would be unique in certain things compared to other ancient peoples. Why, that was their entire purpose. Nor do I consider it a stretch, or the least bit absurd, to believe that the God who created (and sustains!) the universe (everything that exists!) was able to inspire “quasi-scientific”, historical events about Adam and Eve to the normally-unscientific Israelites, namely Moses. Nor do I think it strange that what the world considers absurd might actually be completely true. Enns continues,
“Reading the biblical story against its ancient backdrop is hardly a news flash, and most evangelical biblical scholars easily concede the point. But for some reason this piece of information has not filtered down to where it is needed most: into the mainstream evangelical consciousness. Once it does, evangelicals will see for themselves that dragging the Adam and Eve story into the evolution discussion is as misguided as using the stories of Israel's monarchy to rank the Republican presidential nominees.”
I will tell you the reason that what Enns is saying has not filtered down: it is either already there, because its obvious (flat earth), or its bologna. Reading the Biblical story in an ancient backdrop, as he acknowledges that Biblical scholars do, does not assume that Adam and Eve cannot be real. He is making confusing arguments and ridiculous metaphors to try to explain a point he will never be able to conclusively make. The likes of Enns have more than “mainstream evangelical consciousness” to convince, although even that is not likely to ever happen. There are more than just naïve, ignorant Evangelicals holding the hill of a literal Adam. In many cases he is only talking to the scientists, who happen to be Christians, who already agree with him. Those Christians, who happen to be scientists (there is a difference!), as well as the rest of us, who are not scientists, are not convinced by his approach or his logic. I would advise more respect and understanding of the pulse in the Church to Enns if this conversation is ever going to go anywhere. More helpful is Tim Keller’s pastoral approach to those who are struggling with how to reconcile faith and science. A key point in Keller’s treatment of this issue is that Adam and Eve need to remain real if our integration of science and faith is ever going to remain “Christian” faith, and not something else. His article is here:
Creation, Evolution, and the Christian Layperson
Additionally, the “discovery” that there was death before man is NOT settled, and theologically it is one of the things that is causing a "re-thinking" of Genesis and other passages. There are many explanations to the existence and age of fossils we have found, none of them conclusively proving anything about the timing compared to Adam. It needs to be repeated that this re-thinking is still a work in progress, at best. Anyone who has a problem taking these steps of faith, you would remain in good company with Evangelical Christians if you didn't. There are folks who take science seriously as a means to glorify God, within the framework of creation that He has established for it, as revealed to us in His Word, but do not elevate it beyond what it was meant to reveal.
I say “steps of faith” referring to certain individual scientific theories that many consider off limits to debate because evolution is said to be more about the “interconnectedness of many discoveries and scientific disciplines” - so you can’t just cherry pick individual ones to discount – namely, that natural selection alone can create a new species on a molecular biological level. But if this isn’t observable, scientifically (which it isn’t), forget the interconnectedness, the “discovery” that man evolved from anything is far from settled. And if this isn’t settled, the account of a historical Adam in Genesis still holds up very well, and there is absolutely no reason to “re-think” it. None. Consider this helpful description I received from a friend in the field of molecular biology:
"So you have a patient that needs antibiotic treatment for a strep throat. You give him antibiotics which he takes. Since humans have more bacteria in the gut than cells in the body, there is a possibility that just one or two bacteria of the many trillions will have a positive mutation that confers resistance to the drug. The one DNA mutation changed the amino acid coded for, and the protein shape is changed ever so slightly, so that it still does its function, but the drug cannot bind like it did before. Since the bacterium is invisible to the drug, but all the other bacteria aren’t, the resistant bacterium takes over because of the available resources. Next thing you know, you have an even worse infection that you must use another antibiotic to kill.
"That is natural selection. Why did I explain all that? I did it to show that something like that must happen millions and millions of times over to create the changes necessary to make a new series of traits, let alone a whole new species. That bacteria has so much stacked against it to just have one of those beneficial mutations. Think about needing millions of them. Then think about needing a selection mechanism for each trait, and not only that, but that the beneficially mutated organism will experience selection in its life time. You likely have methicillin resistant bacteria in your gut now, but it doesn’t matter because they will never get selected for (unless you take methicillin). On top of that, you would need gene duplications, translocations, reversions, massive genetic rearrangement, etc. that were evidently necessary to create the complicated genomes we have now. If all that wasn’t enough, this all seems unlikely even in bacteria which has a generation time of 20 minutes. Consider how many years and generations it would take when you have to select from an organism with an 80 year generation time with all the set backs I listed above! The probability that this can occur is astronomically low. And from a scientific and molecular biology standpoint, it is simply not plausible.
"My point is: Natural selection exists. It can shape some environments. It can change animals slightly within their kind by a few genes and to a certain extent. But there is no specific evidence, and it his extremely unlikely that new species can be created through natural selection alone. Really, it’s impossible."
To address the second premise, let’s be clear about what it means to “abandon the faith”. I say this very conscious of the fact that many have had those close to them take this road. Seriously, I pause in humble desperation to God that this would not be the case, and that any who have left would come back!
But to walk away from the faith doesn’t ultimately mean that your intellectual understandings of science and Scripture don’t match up anymore. That could contribute, but these people who are “abandoning the faith” because the Christian church isn’t embracing evolution, is anyone talking to them about Jesus? About the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, or the new earth that we were created for, that no scientific discovery can even begin to foretell? Are they surrounded by a community of the saints, God’s bride? What about godliness and righteousness in light of their personal sin problem? Ravi Zacharias said it well when he said that no one ultimately rejects the faith because of an intellectual stumbling block; they reject the faith because of a moral reluctance to submit to the Lordship of Christ. Are we proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel to them so that the Holy Spirit can work through our lives in their hearts?
Can we at least confirm a moral reluctance (pride, etc.) isn’t what’s going on in these examples, before we re-interpret Scripture so much that we aren’t sure what we have left? Because if this is going on at any level with those who are walking away from the faith, the authority of Scripture is going to be very important as they return (which they can!). It is the Word of God. The Word of God! It pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Acknowledging science is not more important than submitting to the authority of Scripture, ESPECIALLY for those who would consider abandoning the faith. Those who don’t abandon the faith, but embrace evolution at the cost of discounting the authority of Scripture (which I know is not everyone who embraces evolution, but clearly many fall into this category), are they not in worse shape of abandoning the faith later for other non-science, non-intellectual related reasons?
I want to be the rare Evangelical Christian who rejects evolution, but does so in a way that is respectful and attentive to the science, the people, and the discoveries. I really hope I am coming through that way. I desire very much to avoid being guilty of, as Enns says, “all sorts of strained, idiosyncratic or obscurantist tactics: massaging or distorting the data, manipulating the legal system, scaring their constituencies and strong-arming those of their own camp who raise questions.” This does not have to be the approach of a competent Evangelical Christian who rejects evolution.
I don’t hate science. I’m not mad at anybody. I am not naïve, and I know many holding to the premises above aren’t either. My goal is to be very clear, yet very sensitive, about what is at stake here so that we all can make other conversations about the faith easier to get to, aside from whatever scientific aptitude or perspectives a person may have. The Word of God is the link from this life to the life to come. It reveals the mediator who gets us there, in right standing with the Father. Science can’t do this. Ancient Near-Eastern Literature can't do this. It can’t die for our sins and can’t expose us to the wonders of eternal life and everyday grace in Jesus Christ. Let’s still celebrate science! Let’s just be very careful as we “re-think” the most important of revelations: the Word of God. It has to be the higher authority. Has to be.
SO WHAT ABOUT ADAM?
Why is an historical Adam and Eve necessary? What can’t Genesis 1-3 be parable-style storytelling, which many go to great detail to interpret it as, and which seems to match with other similar ancient literature? What essential doctrines of the faith would we really lose? Well, I will again lead you to Tim Keller’s approach to this issue, as he separates Genesis 1 from Genesis 2-3 in a way that is very helpful to sort through the complexity that this discussion can create.
"We may read the order of events as literal in Genesis 2 but not in Genesis 1, or (much, much more unlikely) we may read them as literal in Genesis 1 but not in Genesis 2. But in any case, you can’t read them both as straightforward accounts of historical events. Indeed, if they are both to be read literalistically, why would the author have combined the accounts, since they are (on that reading) incompatible? The best answer is that we are not supposed to understand them that way. In Exodus 14-15 (the Red Sea crossing) and Judges 4-5 (Israel’s defeat of Syria under Sisera) there is an historical account joined to a more poetical ‘song’ that proclaims the meaning of the event. Something like that may be what the author of Genesis has in mind here.
"What, then, were the authors of Genesis 2-3 and of Romans 5, who both speak of Adam, intending to convey? Genesis 2-3 does not show any of signs of ‘exalted prose narrative’ or poetry. It reads as the account of real events; it looks like history. This doesn’t mean that Genesis (or any text of the Bible) is history in the modern, positivistic sense. Ancient writers who were telling about historical events felt free to dischronologize and compress time frames – to omit enormous amounts of information that modern historians would consider essential to give ‘the complete picture.’ However, ancient writers of history still believed that the events they were describing actually happened.
"The evidence is that Near Eastern ‘myths’ did not evolve over time into historical accounts, but rather historical events tended to evolve over time into more mythological stories. Kitchen’s argument is that, if you read Genesis 2-11 in light of how ancient Near Eastern literature worked, you would conclude, if anything, that Genesis 2-11 were ‘high’ accounts, with much compression and figurative language, of events that actually happened. In summary, it looks like a responsible way of reading the text is to interpret Genesis 2-3 as the account of an historical event that really happened.
"If you hold to the view that Adam and Eve were not literal, and you realize the author of Genesis was probably trying to teach us that Adam and Eve were real people who sinned, and that Paul certainly was, then you have to face the implications for how you read Scripture. You may say, "Well, the Biblical authors were ‘men of their time’ and were wrong about something they were trying to teach readers.” The obvious question is, “how will we know which parts of the Bible to trust and which not?”
"I am not arguing something so crude as “if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve, then you don’t believe in the authority of the Bible!” I contended above that we cannot take every text in the Bible literally. But the key for interpretation is the Bible itself. I don’t believe Genesis 1 can be taken literally because I don’t think the author expected us to. But Paul is different. He most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a Biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the Biblical authority. As I said above, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong, vital faith yourself, but I believe such a move can be bad for the church as a whole, and it certainly can lead to confusion on the part of laypeople.
"If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative? You may posit that some human beings began to slowly turn away from God, all exercising their free wills. But then how did sin spread? Was it only by bad example? That has never been the classic teaching of the Christian doctrine of original sin. We do not learn sin from others; we inherit a sin nature. Alan Jacobs’ great book on Original Sin: A Cultural History says that anyone who holds to the classic Augustinian view of original sin must believe that we are ‘hard-wired’ for sin; we didn’t just learn sin from bad examples. The doctrine also teaches that it was not originally in our nature to sin, but that we have fallen from primal innocence. Another problem arises if you deny the historicity of the fall. If some human beings began to turn away from God, why couldn’t some human beings resist so that some groupings would be less sinful than others? Alan Jacobs in his book on original sin insists that the equal sinfulness of the entire human race is foundational to the traditional view."
Further, Mark Driscoll explains the importance of a historical Adam and Even this way:
“When we look at Scripture itself, it’s clear there are numerous biblical reasons why Christians should affirm that Adam was both the first person and the first person—and there is no textual evidence to support a denial of this truth. Rather, to deny this historical teaching of the church undermines the clear teaching of the Bible and fails to make sense of its storyline, as without a historical Adam and Eve, there is no fall and no need for redemption and no need for Jesus. The very basis of Christianity is effectively undermined.
“So, what are we to do in the face of seemingly contradictory truth between science and Scripture? We have two choices: exchange the truths of Scripture for the truths of science and wash our hands clean (Paul is clear in Romans 1:18 and 1:22–23 that many people choose just this option), or we take the truths of science and place them within the context of the truths of Scripture as the highest authority.
“Just as there are many ways to interpret the chronological and methodological ways in which God created and still be in the realm of Christian orthodoxy by affirming the intended truth of those Scriptures—that God created—there are also many ways to internalize the truths of the historicity of Adam and Eve as taught in Scriptures. What one cannot do, however, is deny the existence of Adam and Eve and remain faithful to the Scriptures and their account.
“As C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary writes, ‘The purpose of the stories [in Genesis] is to lay the foundation for a worldview, without being taken in a “literalistic” fashion. We should nevertheless see the story as having what we might call a “historic core”’, namely that Adam and Eve were real persons through whom came the fall and sin and our need for salvation, which can only come through Jesus, his death and resurrection. Any other story or worldview is in contradiction to Scripture and thus to be rejected.”
The very effort of “rethinking” Biblical Christianity, or Biblical interpretation, should raise serious red flags for discerning Christians. It is the main reason why Peter Enns, for example, raises a red flag to me. The subtitle of his blog is "rethinking Biblical Christianity". That is bold. It doesn’t matter how far science, or liberal Biblical scholarship, may take us, it can never take us to a reinvention of orthodox faith. There can't be a new orthodox. So whatever convincing evidence you may sometime run across, remember that it is either compatible with Scripture and the faith as is, and you can celebrate it to the glory of God, or it is on its way to heresy, if not already there. We have come to the point where we have to say that the teachings of fellow Evangelical Christians are on the way to heresy. That should not be surprising, but should seriously humble us. I know it has humbled me.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 --- As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
What is a “different doctrine”? My Pastor Mark Vroegop explains, “The word means it is a departure or a deviation from the apostolic instruction that the church had been taught. Now it is important to note here that not everything 'new' is bad, but part of the appeal of this false teaching was its improvement on what Paul had taught. Most false teachers do not present their teaching as radically different but merely as an improvement. However, Paul saw this as preaching a different gospel (Gal 1:6) or a different Jesus (2 Cor 11:4).”
Paul considered Adam real. Maybe, some would say, he did this based on the information and cultural assumptions of his day, namely, that Genesis and the creation account were mythological interpretations of the true doctrines of God. So he thought they were history, but they were really myth, and when you go back and look at them, this is obvious to us in a way that was not obvious (or relevant) to Paul (or Luke). So Paul was mistaken at some level that is ultimately insignificant to the centrals truths communicated, and we are able to improve upon his teaching clarifying the mythology in it, because of modern evidence. This is not a good idea. Don’t embrace a different doctrine. In fact, if you are a Christian, you should charge certain persons not to teach anything of the sort. A non-literal Adam is a different doctrine. That's the line, like it or not.
The temptation to embrace this different doctrine (because of cultural and scientific pressures) is going to be very difficult to resist, and the lack of doing so is going to be very, very important. As Keller says, “I don’t know that there has ever been a culture in which the job of the pastor has been more challenging.” The same would apply to the faithful Christian sitting in the pew and interacting on the street, so to speak, with those who are confused or hostile to the message of the Christian faith. My prayer is that the indwelling Spirit of God, the imparted grace of God, the interceding Son of God, and the inspired Word of God would make us ready for the task of guarding the good deposit of Scripture that has been entrusted to us and makes us wise for salvation - not just our own!