In his thought-provoking book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution Denis Lamoureux begins the discussion with an analogy.
The world of ideas is similar to the world of color. We appreciate that many topics are not simple black-and-white issues and that many shades of opinion and understanding exist. Yet in contrast to the world of color, the ability to discern the spectrum of ideas is based more on our education and life experience than on genetic predispositions. Categories are for the most part learned, and once they become part of our mindset, they act like glasses through which we “see” the world. (p. 1)
A new comment popped up on an old post yesterday. The benefit and bane of being a moderator is that these comments show up on my feed, even when the post is “stale.” But this comment helps to highlight some of the problems we have when dealing with the world of ideas.
If there is no historical Adam, then there is no historical Cain or Abel. And if there is no historical Cain and Abel, there is no historical descendants leading to Noah. And if there are no historical descendants to Noah, then everything in the first eleven chapters of Genesis is a lie. Do we then believe in an historical Abram, or are we to deny that as well? And if so, then let’s also deny the whole of Imago Dei. And let’s deny sin in any form, because it’s just myth. And if you are willing to do that, then why bother identifying as a Christian in the first place?
This kind of argument seems to be grounded in a view of the world through a specific set of monochrome glasses. Everything must fit into one or another of a set of learned and accepted categories, cemented together to float or sink as a whole.
Does no historical Adam mean no Imago Dei? Adam as a unique individual isn’t even mentioned in conjunction with the imago Dei. Genesis 1:26 and 27 refers to humanity male and female as species, not to a distinct individual.
Does no historical Adam mean no sin? Does our gut knowledge of sin really depend on the existence of Adam? It seems to me that the reality of sin is easily discerned, both from observation of others and from personal experience. Many people have found the conviction of guilt and the moral law that appears to be intrinsic to human experience convincing arguments for the existence of God and the Christian story without reference to Adam.
Does no historical Adam mean no Abram? No chosen people? No exodus? No kingdom of Israel? No exile and return?
Are the only options for conveying truth history or lie? Is it possible to convey truth in the form of a story or a historically grounded legend?
In the discussion of the issues of origins, especially human origins, there are learned category distinctions that color the conversation. There are also very real issues that underlie some of these categories, and these must be dealt with – not dismissed using superficial category distinctions and labels. For us as Christians many of the most important categories are those involving theology and Scripture.
Consider the concept of concordism, the method of biblical interpretation that looks for correspondence between scripture and reality. Lamoureux suggests dividing this into three realms. (p. 15-16)
Theological concordism … claims that there is an indispensable and non-negotiable correspondence between the theological truths of the Bible and spiritual reality. The central purpose of Scripture is to reveal God, including His character, laws, and acts.
Historical concordism asserts that Scripture is a reliable record of a period in human history. First and foremost, the Bible offers a trustworthy account of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also a history of the nation of Israel and her interaction with neighboring countries and it documents the activities of the early Church.
Scientific concordism states that there is a correspondence between the Bible and the physical world. The most common form of this type of concordism aligns the Genesis creation accounts with modern science. … All scientific concordists agree that since the Bible predates the birth of modern science, any correspondence between the scientific statements of Scripture and science today is proof for divine inspiration. Only an all-knowing Creator who transcends time could reveal future scientific discoveries to ancient biblical writers.
Theological concordism is essential to a Christian understanding of scripture. It is consistent with the universal traditional understanding of scripture within the church, and it is consistent with what scripture teaches about itself. The typical “proof texts” for inerrancy say little, if anything, about historical concordism or scientific concordism, but theological concordism is implicit and explicit.
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:14-17
The purpose of scripture is theological – the purpose is to teach about God, the nature of God, the law of God, the relationship of God with his creation, and to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. The theological purpose of scripture requires historical concordism at some level. It requires truthfulness in telling the story of Israel, of Jesus, and of the Church, but it does not require that the history be told in the form of a transcript of events. It doesn’t require that every passage that “appears” historical is historical – Job, Jonah, Song of Songs, and the first chapters of Genesis may be conveying theological truth using a different literary form. The theological purpose of scripture does not require the kind of historical concordism that demands harmonization of the gospels, of King and Chronicles, of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, or of the conversion and early travels of Paul as related in Acts and the Epistles.
The theological purposes of scripture requires little, if any, scientific concordism in the modern sense of science. In fact, it seems clear that the writers of Scripture expressed theological truth using imagery from an ancient Near Eastern conception of the world. A vault separating waters above and waters below, the sea as chaotic, storehouses for snow and hail, and more.
The story of Adam and Eve carries a key theological truth concerning the fallen nature of humankind – a theological truth that permeates the entire story of the Old Testament and becomes the foundation for redemption in the New. However one views the story – historical or through some other set of categories and glasses – if this theological truth is realized we can be wrong about Adam and it doesn’t much matter.
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