With about 300 others, I attended the “Creation in Scripture” seminar hosted by Cornerstone University: Talking Points featuring Dr. John Walton, Dr. David Turner, Dr. Michael Wittmer, and Dr. John Hilber. I applaud Dr. Joseph Stowell, Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary for bringing this relevant and controversial topic out into open discussion in this area of the woods (West Michigan). The high caliber of presentations were matched by the irenic and respectful nature of these evangelical scholars on such a volatile subject. The evangelical tent is big enough to include honest disagreements in interpretations of the texts of Genesis 1 – 3 while at the same time affirming that commitment to Christ, deep reverence for the Bible, and the missional efforts of the church are not impeded by different views on creation (the how of it), and on Adam and Eve.
Dr. John Walton presented an abbreviated presentation of his thesis that Genesis 1-2 are the “inauguration of the cosmic temple” in which God will “rest” (7th day), that is, the temple in which and from which God will exercise dominion over His creation through his image-bearers (human beings). Walton’s emphasis on ANE cosmic geography was fascinating and he insisted that “the literal meaning” of the sacred text is what it meant to the original author and to the original audience (readers). While Dr. Walton affirms the existence of a specific Adam and Eve, he believes “the [with definite article] Adam” and Eve of Genesis 1-3 are archetypal of all humanity, a view which, he believes, is affirmed by the Apostle Paul (e.g. Romans 5). Dr. Walton suggests that since Adam was made from “dust” (not clay), “the Adam’s” mortality is declared (dust in Scripture is a metaphor for mortality). A corollary of the dust metaphor is that there could have been human death without the “Fall.” Mortality (dust) was part of the original creation equation. The story suggests that the Adam and Eve would have had to eat from “the tree of life” to become immortal, i.e., not die.
What do you think about the idea of explorer-theologians and guardian-theologians?
What I came away with from the seminar, upon reflection, is that there are at least two types of theologians within evangelicalism. (There may be more.) There are explorer-theologians and there are guardian-theologians. I think both are needed. For me, Dr. John H. Walton is an explorer. With all the resources at his disposal and all the skills that he possesses, he wants to explore the sacred text and let that text take him wherever “the text” wants to go. If it’s into new theological territory or thinking about what’s been “received” in new ways, Walton wants to be submissive to the text. Does that mean that everything new is theologically valid? That question came up in the Q and A time and Dr. Walton strongly said, “No.” Being theologically new does not necessarily mean being theologically true. Yet, explorers, it seems to me, recognize that all theology is a truly human enterprise. Theology will have all the fingerprints, frailty, limitations and lapses that are characteristic of being human. The only inerrant reality (posited as a valid issue) is the sacred text, the Scriptures. Theological conclusions of a brilliant committee of human interpreters are not inerrant. It seems that some in the evangelical camp presume to assign inerrancy to their interpretations of the text and not just to the text itself. As if, “All our theological interpretations are God-breathed and are profitable for…”
Hear me out: the guardian-theologians have a valid and necessary role as well. The guardians insist that explorers do not depart from “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” We need wise scholars who keep watch. Yet (and this may just be me), I think the guardians get real jumpy when explorers offer something new. Explorers carry compasses; guardians carry Tums. All new stuff offered up theologically in the more conservative evangelical world is almost always viewed as a “slippery slope” into theological doom. What is the New Testament Greek word for slippery slope? The idea comes up so often that it must be biblical. It appears that anything that a particular theologian or group doesn’t like or espouse is assigned to the dreaded “slippery slope.” The sense communicated is that explorers are dangerous. It’s as if guardians take on the role of thinking for the rest of the church. To threaten is not valid. I heard that if we don’t get “creation” right (according to whose view?), then the Fall is questionable, redemption is wrecked, and the Bible overall becomes useless. That is nothing but a fear-driven declaration. As a pastor, my hope is that evangelical explorers and guardians will find more common ground in the decades before us. The Talking Points seminar was a great step in the right direction.