Monday, September 12, 2011

NPR on the Literal Adam and Eve

In the wake of the resignation of John Schneider at Calvin College, NPR has an article on their web site on the latest Christian controversy, the literal Adam and Eve debate. Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes:
[Dennis] Venema is a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. The group was founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and the current head of the National Institutes of Health, who, because of his position, declined an interview.
And Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century. Another one is John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it's time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.
"Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost," Schneider says. "So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings." To many evangelicals, this is heresy.
The evangelical community certainly has its back against the wall on this one. Once upon a time, it was okay to take pot shots at young earth creationism because scientific support for that position is not well-founded. This is different. For many, an acceptance of Christianity does not hinge on how old the earth is or how the creation narratives are interpreted. Whether or not Adam and Eve exist, however, calls into question the very notion of salvation in Christ. That strikes a chord. Schneider resigned and even Daniel Harlow, who also writes in this area stated that he now has a cloud hanging over him:
"Evangelicalism has a tendency to devour its young," says Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, a Christian Reformed school that subscribes to the fall of Adam and Eve as a central part of its faith.
"You get evangelicals who push the envelope, maybe; they get the courage to work in sensitive, difficult areas," Harlow says. "And they get slapped down. They get fired or dismissed or pressured out."
This is the scandal of the evangelical mind of which Mark Noll wrote. As I wrote the other day, this will probably get worse before it gets better and, as the national spotlight shines down on it, it may reveal a cavernous divide in modern Christianity.  I pray that this is not the case.


  1. Dear Jimpethicus,
    How do you think the Evangelicals would react (generally) to a theory that Adam was a whole church of like-worshipping beings in prehistoric time that were together spiritually developed by God? And that Eve, Cain, Abel, et al were subsequent churches that developed from this one (as churches do tend to do!). Would this be a catastrophe for them?
    (I ask, because I am not an evangelical, but would like to probe into the roots of what they believe).
    Such a proposal would get around the genetic bottleneck problem, but (it seems to me) still encompass most of what they want to take as true.

  2. I think that they would view that idea the same way they view EC in general, that once you have rendered a literal Adam non-literal, you're off the rails. It is an interesting thought, though.

  3. Yes, the non-literalism would freak them. But they could still have the Garden of Eden, the temptation, the fall, etc., and everything that needs to be countered by Christ.

  4. I tend to believe many of the accounts in Genesis 1-11 are "based on actual events," even though the narrative may be compressed, dramatized, etc. for the purpose of the storytelling.

    That said, I tend toward the federalist view, as much because of the Scripture itself as for scientific evidence of a larger "initial" population of humans. (Who is Cain afraid of if there weren't other people already? How can incest be okay at one point and sinful at another?)

    It is consistent with God's sovereign election throughout Scripture that He would elect human beings to bear His image, to be endowed with a special ability to relate to Him, the eternal God, and thus became souls with the potential for life eternal, as was/is God's desire for us.

    I think it most likely that Adam/Man was the first to do what the rest of us do—reject obedience to God in favor of doing things our own way. Adam introduced sin and with it, spiritual death. (For those who think Adam brought physical death, I'd say consider the fact the Christians die, and that Paul says "just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people"; unless you're a universalist, you better understand this more as the possibility of "condemnation" and "life" respectively.)

    I guess what I'm trying to say is it's unfortunate that since Schneider realized there was no "Adam & Eve, founders of the Human Race," there could be no fall. That sort of either/or mentality isn't helpful.

  5. Can anyone explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After 6000+ years I think we're all due an intelligent explanation. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs, please--just the facts that we know. But first, do an Internet search: First Scandal.

  6. Passion Fruit, I would think. :) The scriptures don't say and given that I am not entirely convinced the event actually took place, that makes sense.