Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Evolution, Adam & Jesus Christ: My Thoughts on NPR's Intriguing Profile

Today I posted on Facebook and Twitter a story on NPR that profiled the battle between evangelicals on the issue of the historical existence of Adam and Eve. First I want to say that I appreciated the balanced presentation of the story. No side seemed to be favored and a good guys vs. bad guys tone was avoided. Take the time to read/listen to it. Several folk have asked for my response. Below is a smattering of thoughts, a fairly unorganized list of what I think.
  1. Dennis Venema's argues that the historicity of Adam and Eve is dependent upon a "literal" reading of the Bible. He says that, "if you read the Bible as poetry and allegory as well as history, you can see God's hand in nature — and in evolution." He says that other readings allow for a "better understanding" which would lead to a rejection of their existence. Now I think he makes a good point.  I agree that the Bible has different genres. I think the Bible is filled with narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, and in places, allegory. But does that mean those genres aren't also "literal?" Can't one claim that Paul believed in a literal, historical Hagar and Sarah yet also used them develop an "allegory" (see Gal 4:22-33). The Psalms and the prophets rooted many of their poetic words in historical, "literal" situations. So I'm not quite sure what he means by literal. Does he mean holding the Bible as a historical document? His terminology is more combative than helpful.
  2. Venema's point also reveals his interpretive lens. His emphasis on evolution leads him to this conclusion:    
    To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, "You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.
    What this communicates to me is that God is not in control. In fact, from his perspective it seems the possibility of getting down to two ancestors is just as likely as, say, someone raising from the dead (cf. Luke 16:16-30).
  3. I don't think this is a "Galileo Moment" as Karl Gibberson claims. What the Catholic Church did to Galileo is perplexing and is a black mark on the history of the Church, but the entirety of Scripture is not built on the notion that the earth is the center of the universe. The weight of this issue is much greater. The reality of sin and God's answer for that does not rest on the centrality of the earth, but on Jesus Christ.
  4. I agree with Dan Harlow that "This stuff is unavoidable." Developments in science and history have always been unavoidable, though history also tells us that Christianity has tried. The controversy over inerrancy of the Bible in light of the rise of evolution presented the challenge to Christians around the world to either engage or disengage. I do think today we should not look back to Galileo, but to that controversy and others since to see how willing we are as evangelicals to thoughtfully engage culture while also thoughtfully engaging Scripture.
  5. Today science is "fact" and by the standards of many cannot be questioned. Therefore the lens through which we see the Bible has shifted to that of biology, physics, and genetics. It has become for a growing number of evangelicals the first step on the path of getting a better understanding of the Bible. I have to admit that this lens has affected me more deeply than I realize. For example, though I claim theologically that miracles still do occur today, my deep-seated skepticism due to my learning of scientific laws and principles hinders a sincere belief immensely. Now I do not want to downplay science because it has been a great aid in many aspects of life, I merely want to suggest that my reading of the Bible is already colored because of science.
  6. I want to have intellectual integrity, for sure, and this will always keep me exploring, but I also want to submit that more to the worship of the God who exists and redeemed me through Christ. I have to be careful with what I say here because it may come across as if I am willing to "bury my head in the sand" as Harlow puts it for the sake of holding my theological convictions together. But again I turn to the resurrection of Christ. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15 are vital here. He writes:
    For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and  you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 
    But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  7. Paul was no slouch. His letter to the Romans was once taught in law schools around the country. And here all of it ties together. Are Paul's words poetry here? Is this really allegory? Paul brings it all into clear focus. Death in our sins is a result of the Fall of a historical Adam, according to Paul. The answer is the physical death and bodily resurrection of the historical Christ to make us alive in the word's fullest sense. If it is not clear by now, the lens I choose to see the historical reality of Adam and Eve is the historical reality of Jesus Christ. Though there are some caveats and nuances, I believe the Bible calls Christians to begin with Christ. So in a sense, though I want to be aware and engaged in the conversation, I think the approach is flawed.
  8. Finally, from a literary and historical standpoint, there is a framework that holds Christianity together. In short, without a historical Adam and Eve, there is no historical Fall, there is no historical good and sin, there is no historical need for redemption, there is no historical need for God to become man, there is no historical need for Jesus to die, there is no historical resurrection, there is no historical ascension. The Bible and thus history from the Bible's perspective falls apart.
Anything to add or challenge?

By His Grace.