You and I Have a Different God, I Think

I’ve been watching the Adam and evolution debates/discussions on line, in social media, and in print. I think I am beginning to see more clearly what accounts for the deeply held, visceral, differences of opinion about whether Adam was the first man or whether Adam is a story.

The reason for the differences is not simply that people have different theological systems or different ways of reading the Bible. A more fundamental difference lies at the root of these (and other) differences.

I think we have a different God.

Christians are supposed to think about God they way Jesus showed us to think about him.

That God does not hesitate to participate in the human drama, to encounter humanity within the limits of the human experience. That means that biblical writers wrote about the God they encountered as they understood him within their cultural limitations.

True encounter with God, expressed in truly human, cultural, terms.

That’s why I have no problem reading the Adam story as a story of origins like other stories of the ancient world, or understanding Paul’s take on Adam as an outworking of his Jewish world (where biblical texts are molded to fit an argument), and calling this kind of writing “God’s word.”

The Gospel teaches me that this kind of Bible reflects the character of God. This kind of Bible is what I have come to expect.

The Gospel does not teach me that it is a problem for God to enter into the human experience and allow that human experience to shape–from beginning to end–how the Bible behaves. The Gospel teaches me exactly the opposite.

And the Gospel certainly does not teach me that God is up there, at a distance, guiding the production of a diverse and rich biblical canon that nevertheless contains a single finely-tuned system of theology that he expects his people to be obsessed with “getting right” (and lash out at those who don’t agree).

When it comes to things like Adam and I hear how people explain their position, the question I ask myself now is “what kind of God are you presenting to me here when you say X….?” Is it

an incarnating God–Immanuel, God with us, or

a Platonic god–where you have to peel off the obscuring “down here” hindrances to get to the untainted “up there” god, with the Bible as an encoded inerrant guidebook to get you there.

I don’t like the platonic god. I don’t think Jesus did either.

You can tell something about the god people believe in by paying attention to how they talk about controversial issues of the Bible–like Adam.  Do you see a system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance or “God with us”? If you keep your eyes open, my bet is that you will see one or the other coming through loud and clear.

This post first appeared in April, 2012.

 

  • http://www.garriblog.wordpress.com Jason G.

    Do you have any recommended reading on the topic?

  • Steve Meidahl

    I appreciate your point here, and enthusiastically support your writing. I’m wondering, however, if using this sort of “you have a different God” language is ultimately helpful. My concern is that conversations won’t happen that clearly need to happen. It is very difficult to stay in conversations with people when the first thing that they hear is that their God is the wrong God. They just won’t hear much after that. I’m hoping, Peter, that more people “hear” you, and maybe this sort of distinction, although probably on point, is nevertheless going to minimize the influence that I believe is currently necessary. How about, a subtle shift towards “your ‘view’ of God is different than my ‘view’…then sally forth with the exact same points…whether recognized or not, ultimately their God is not a different God, is He?…but, for the record, I’m in your corner on this stuff…

    • James

      Yes, why plunge to the hidden motives of the heart that are mixed for all of us? Is our basic problem with God the chicken or the egg–his revelation or our response to it? Adam may be a touchstone for both.

  • Matthew Miller

    Pete, I agree with you here regarding your position on teh Bible. BUt I dissent in describing the inerrant view as being necessarily platonic. In my experience, many of the folks who hold to inerrancey would argue that the transcendence they describe is not averse to but precisely necessary in order to establish intimacy and incarnational immediacy. To be sure, the overly rigid formulation of the inerrancey doctrine can smack of dualism, and even idealism. But my question is, to what extent are those in the modern context actually reflective of the classical Protestant doctrines of the Bible?

  • Phil Rich

    Book recommendations? You might start with Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.

  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A10ULJVWJGVUYD/ref=cm_cr_dp_auth_rev?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview Paul Bruggink

    Jason G.,

    In addition to Peter Enns’s “The Evolution of Adam,” I would recommend the following as good places to start:

    Robin Collins, “Evolution and Original Sin,” in “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation,” Keith Miller, Editor, William B. Eerdsman Publishing Company, 2003, pp. 475-479]

    Denis Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution,” Wipf & Stock, 2008, p. 324-328)

    R. J. Berry, “Did Darwin Dethrone Humankind?,” in R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble (Eds.), “Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges,” (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009), pp. 63-65.

    They all essentially say that Paul is not trying to inform his hearers that Adam and Eve are literal individuals; but that Paul’s real interest in this passage is about Christ, and that Paul’s theological point in Romans 5 does not depend on Adam being a historical individual or on his disobedience being an historical event as such. Such an implication does not necessarily follow from the fact that a parallel is drawn from Christ’s single act: an act in mythic history can be paralleled to an act in living history without the point of the comparison being lost.

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy In This Journey

    What a sad commentary on pop culture that my first thought reading the phrase “platonic God” was “a God who is ‘just friends’?” I did immediately recognize you were referring to Plato and his idea of a division between spiritual (good) and physical (evil). This doesn’t have anything to do with your post, but it amused me in a sad sorry sort of way.

    More to the point, what you wrote makes a lot of sense when I think about how the reformed folks around me talk about God, theology, humanity, and life in general. It’s all about escaping the now and getting to heaven, and I get the sense they’ve forgotten that God promises to redeem and restore the physical world too.

  • Don Johnson

    Voltaire wrote “Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu.” which translated means “If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.” in his Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750).

    This is a temptation for everyone, to be an idolater for an image of God that we have crafted ourselves. If I like math, I look for things that can be analyzed using math around me, and Creation becomes filled with math wonders and the becomes Creator a mathematician, a super-math geek, with Newton and Einstein thinking God’s thoughts after Him. I do not see this example as harmful, but it becomes harmful with the idea of authority. If I am authoritarian, I see God as the ultimate authoritarian and my theology tells others more about me than about God.

  • peteenns

    All, I appreciate your comments. I take them to heart.

    Phil Rich (or is it R.P.?), I assume by your comment that you feel Machen’s assessment of liberalism is pertinent to the point I am making here. It isn’t. It’s a short blog post, and I think there is little room for such confusion. I am saying that a view of God that has trouble accepting his participation in human particularities is not the God the Bible presents. I know most everyone assents in theory to this, but in practice it tends to be forgotten when it comes to hot button issues.

    • George B

      However a non-historical Adam is no more upholding of a God who participates in human particularities than an historical Adam. What Adam shows us regardless of his historicity is a God who is in intimate relationship with the created. What you are offering, Dr. Enns, is a straw man based on a false premise which produces a faulty and divisive conclusion. But you’re entitled to your opinion.

      • Gary in FL

        I don’t yet see the straw man to which your referring. Help me out here and point it out, and I’m sure Dr. Enns would appreciate it as well. Peace.

  • Bob

    Appreciate your thoughts; it’s often very easy to forget that God is always with us.

  • Robert A

    Hmm…I don’t know man, maybe a step too far.

    I accept a historical Adam. You’re essentially saying (as I read it) that in doing so I am suddenly capitulating to a Platonic (well, neo-platonic) view of God which is in error to the biblical conception you uphold through accepting a theistic evolutionary position. That is deeply offensive and deeply harmful for your argumentation. (I’m not offended, I’ve been called worse…by other Christians too) That argument isn’t going to hold a lot of water in your discourse with people, like me or of the fundamentalist variety (which I am not) as it seems you’re belittling their/our Christianity and essentially calling them/us heterodox for holding to a more biblical picture (I know that’s loaded) of creation.

    Though my speciality isn’t in cosmology or even biology, your line of reasoning here is troubling. I don’t worship a different God than you Dr. Enns. We both worship the Triparite Godhead which is manifest in creation and the incarnation that redeems humanity from our sins by the grace of final atonement through Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. We worship the same God and are given grace by the same God.

    Evolution doesn’t even begin to enter that view of God. Regadless is you think my conception (or another’s conception) of God is dualistic (which mine is not) or laden with Neo-Platonic sympathies (blame Augustine I guess) the reality is many of us who hold to a historical Adam still worship and believe the same God as you and have just as much ground to question your biblical fidelity given your view of the ahistorical Adam. I wouldn’t, and we shouldn’t, because that isn’t what this is about.

    Maybe I’m reading you wrong. If that is so I apologize. However, I challenge your dismissal of my belief in a historical Adam as being centered a weakened, or heterodox, view of God. Grace and peace to you.

    • peteenns

      Robert, I am saying that the incarnation has serious implications for how we address a lot of issues of biblical interpretation, Adam being one of them. When people affirm the necessity of a historical Adam for the existence of the Gospel by asserting that God would not mislead us by allowing ANE conventions to shape that story, I think they are selling the Gospel short. You can certainly believe in a historical Adam if you want to, but I would still challenge you to think why that might be the case, what is motivating you theologically to come to that conclusion. The rhetoric “without a historical Adam we lose the Gospel” is something I hearing far to much of these days, and my view is that behind it is a discomfort with “God with us.”

      • http://www.anotherxoption.com Gregg Monteith

        Hi Robert, Pete,
        I think Pete’s point holds. But I think that the absence of a philosophical perspective overtly in dialogue with theological concerns is perhaps more the cause of the issue. Namely, I disagree that what “motivates you theologically” is key to where one stands on the historicity of Adam, or that the slippery slope rhetoric has discomfort with “God with us” at its base. Here’s how I see it:

        First, the question of how the texts were written (and how we interpret them) is both a human and a divine question. So if God inspired and guided this authorship, then this authorship took place within the context of human capacity, creativity, and conventions. In other words, I think that the human authors / redactors had special information or insights, but not special means and faculties: God remained God and humans remained humans throughout.
        The upshot, contra the inerrantist “dream house” (which I think owes at least as much to Descartes & friends as to any valid use of sola scritura) is that interpretation is involved in both the production and reception of these texts. The texts remain “good” (in the same sense that creation is deemed good), but from a God’s eye perspective they are certainly not perfect or complete in terms of their comprehensiveness—the Bible never claims such for itself!
        As such, it seems to me that as a collaborative effort between an infinite God and finite humans we can say that the biblical text is “good enough” from God’s perspective: it is sufficient for its purposes of reliably and authoritatively telling us true things about God, ourselves, and our world.

        But second, where this text lacks (or better, given the poetics of Mark or Luke-Acts among others, seeks) completion it does so primarily in the life of the reader. If this is so (and hopefully all our agreement on God’s interest and participation in human existence strongly confirms such), then the biblical story likewise seeks completion in the reader’s world. Theologically, as the re-working and renewal of this world (à la N.T. Wright’s insistence on a covenantal contextualization of Paul and the N. T.).
        Yet also philosophically, as the integration of the myriad sources of information, or informers, that bear upon this world. So just as interpreted experience (one’s own and that of others, through testimony) is essential for the text’s completion in one’s life, so the information of the scientific informer is crucial to the proper (i.e., normative and full, and thus truthful) completion of the biblical the world of the reader.
        However, I typically see evangelicals setting the theological hierarchically above the philosophical. We uni-directionally read the world in light of the Bible and prioritize a biblical over a philosophical hermeneutics. Bad move. Or better, untenable move. Or best—and here’s where my argumentation intersects with what I think Pete is generally aiming at—biblically contradictory move.
        Here’s what I mean:
        Amongst other things, the Bible keeps pointing us back to the realities of our humanity as limitations (noetically, morally, etc.) but also as essential instruments whereby to encounter and know God aright (experientially, as we act and suffer within our historical situatedness). Thus we need not escape our limitations—as if we even could—for they are our very means of knowing anything at all. So both ANE conventions and the Human Genome project, in the context of our God-given, limited abilities, are just what we need to understand the Bible (and thereby God through the Bible) aright.

        Third, then, I think that the motivation for holding a historical Adam is primarily more than a “discomfort with ‘God with us’ .” Or if it is not, then I wager that it stems from a deeper discomfort with ourselves. This in two ways:
        On the one hand, from a discomfort with the various tensions inherent in our finitude. So drawing from your earlier post, Pete, the tension between confidence and humility implies the “hard work” of remaining open to revising one’s position. But we often tire of this hard work and effectively collapse the tensions. And doing so requires that we take immodest shortcuts: we reduce our humanity and that of those that such reductions rely upon, such as placing the biblical authors above the conventions of their time.
        On the other hand, from a discomfort with the relationship between knowing and being—between epistemology and ontology. Here, rather than formulating the relationship, Christians again typically collapse it into a hierarchy. So Evangelicals focus on epistemology because the Bible is essentially about t/Truth, thereby disparaging more ontological, existentially-indexed perspectives such as liberation theology. But I believe that doing so misrepresents the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, between the theological and the philosophical, such as reading the world solely in light of the Bible.
        Instead, my money is on a more Ricoeurian formulation: rather than reading the world through the Bible or reading the Bible through the world, we must do both. So the philosophical precedes (and thus determines) one’s biblical perspective, because no one is born a Christian—s/he becomes one. But through its unique nature and the existential weight of an encounter with its God, the biblical has a refigurative power on the philosophical.
        In other words, we come to the biblical text with pre-existing understandings that are both affirmed and critiqued through the explanatory power of the text’s unique world and the God we encounter, which lead to new understandings (of self, world, and God). We then live these new understandings out into the world and likewise receive feedback, both affirmation and critique (because the real world is a valid informer, different from but similar to the Bible). And so on.

        So my bet is that most Christians throw out the Gospel for the sake of Adam because they have not rightly related the external world with the Bible, and have not rightly formulated the process whereby (and the degree to which) each contributes to their own highest goal: rightly knowing and relating with God.

        • http://www.anotherxoption.com Gregg Monteith

          Eesh! Sorry to be so long-winded. But I suppose that there are worse subjects to get carried away on.

          • richard williams

            don’t be sorry for writing this, i found it most useful. thank you.

    • Muff Potter

      Robert A,
      My training is in Mathematics. If it’s any consolation, I am a perennial skeptic with regard to the evolutionary paradigm. Whether it’s the theistic or non-theistic variety I still cannot sign on to either of them.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    I’ve said it before, Pete, but your book Incarnation and Inspiration was huge in helping me to embrace the Bible in a way that I never had before in the Southern Baptist context in which I grew up. The irony is that fundamentalist “inerrantism” is not really conservative; it’s really populist (and even liberal, I would argue). Matthew Miller (above) has a good point in this regard. While there is certainly a strand of fundamentalism that is obsessed with having the “exact right” doctrine, simultaneously fundamentalists want every verse of the Bible to be a completely perspicuous, self-evident proposition that any sixth grader could understand. It doesn’t have to do with the authority of the text; it has to do with the authority of the lay interpreter over against those dadgum hiffaluting German Bible scholars who try to make everything so complicated.

    Only the Catholics and Orthodox can be said to have a conservative Biblical interpretation because they are bound by their tradition. Protestantism itself is inherently liberal in its claim that any Joe Schmoe who can read has the authority to take the text in its plainest translated sense rather than wrestling through the questions of symbolism, context, intertextuality, etc.

    The primary interpretive principle for scripture throughout Christian history has been grounded in what could be called the “rule of love.” Jesus gave us two commandments: to love God and love our neighbor and then said, “All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.” Augustine set the standard for Western Christian Biblical interpretation in his De Doctrina Christiana when he argued that you have not interpreted a scripture passage correctly if it does not contribute to your love of God or neighbor. This principle held sway for centuries until the modernist/fundamentalist controversy of the 19th-20th century. It’s a completely modern phenomenon to interpret scripture according to its literal, plain sense. It’s part of the anti-clerical populism within Protestantism, particularly its lowest church variety.

    • peteenns

      I appreciate your point here, Morgan.

      • Mark Chenoweth

        Morgan,

        You’re going to say all that and remain a United Methodist?

        Is it “tradition-bound” part you don’t like?

        It seems to me that the East is drawing far more from the Capadocian fathers in their view of scripture than the west, which frees them from inerrancy. Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, along with Origen, etc. To say Nyssa or Origen held to a modern view of inerrancy would be quite anachronistic.

        In the Eastern liturgy, the psalm about dashing infants’ heads on rocks is sung as a hymn about smashing our passions when they are small before they become too big and we can’t control them anymore. Babylon/exhile is sin.

        We certainly aren’t “respecting authorial intent” but I’m not sure if that’s the point.

        In certain Anglican churches, I understand that this psalm has simply been taken out of the Psalter. This is highly unfortunate. God obviously wanted it to be there for some reason.

        “It’s a completely modern phenomenon to interpret scripture according to its literal, plain sense.”

        I haven’t yet, but I’m planning on reading Andrew Louth’s (Durham University) essay that defends allegorical interpretation of scripture today.

        http://books.google.com/books/about/Discerning_the_Mystery.html?id=Db5oL4CEWswC

        Sorry, my thoughts sort of wondered around everywhere here.

  • toddh

    I like the post, but I still think “different God” is just another way of saying “different theology.” Despite that little quibble, great insights on the different ways of viewing God.

    • peteenns

      Also, for those with ears to hear, “different God” is just a way of saying “different view of God.”

  • http://jasonbrim.wordpress.com Jason Brim

    Peter,

    Your post is a sad one, but true.

    A life long friend of mine posted a link to your book The Evolution of Adam and commented “Sad to see heresy promoted.” This provoked an unheated exchange between the two of us in which it became sickeningly clear that she is deep in the seedbed of fundamentalism a la BJU. She didn’t come right out and say it but she hinted that she had trouble even understanding how i could be a Christian. This told me that we worship two different gods.

    Yet, i could not bring myself to attack her positions as it appeared to be an unseemly thing to do. I suspect that there really IS no way to gently and kindly ‘get through’ to her or others like her.

    Do you have any suggestions on this front? I’m not interested in mounting a crusade, but any helpful tips to help when talking to her would be appreciated.

    • peteenns

      This is a good illustration. I have heard too long this same accusation. It is wearisome.

  • http://jbyas.com Jared Byas

    Well said though I agree that you might want to pick up a copy of Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism to see that you are simply rehashing old liberal rhetoric (<–sarcastic inside joke). But seriously, I think a follow-up to I&I is in order that more fully addresses the relationship between our view of Jesus, God, & the Bible, and how our view of each seems to necessarily affect our view of the other two.

    Hint hint.

    • peteenns

      Only if I can get someone to help me with this, but no one good comes to mind…..

      • Bev Mitchell

        Do you know Thomas Jay Oord the author of “The Nature of Love: A Theology”? His ‘essential kenosis’ may further than you would want to go. However, I have read both Oord’s book and your I&I very carefully, and with enormous benefit. I think you two together could do a remarkable job with what Jared suggests. Tom is discussing his book on his blog at the moment. See:
        http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/

        • peteenns

          I know Tom. Maybe I will get him to read this comment.

          • Bev Mitchell

            Great! This really is a serious suggestion.
            Bev

  • Kyle

    Can you say false dichotomy ten times fast?

    • peteenns

      Yes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/DailyOffice Alan Herendich

    There are a couple of comments I would like to make, and then a question to pose. Peter, in reading your post and the comments about it, it is obvious to me that everyone here is serious, thoughtful, well informed and articulate. And yet in the fairly simple statement, “You and I have a different god, I think.” there begins to show how difficult it is for even the best intentioned, well read people to agree on the nature of God. Most people, (and here I’m making an assumption,) shape their view of God not on well thought out research and arguement, but on their priest or pastor’s sermon, the headlines of the day, their favorite talk show host’s comments, or the forwarded email that they liked. My point is this: No matter how we each reach our view of the nature of God, as different size groups of people, we can only agree on some broad concepts about God. Each person is a mix of innumerable beliefs and attitudes about God with perhaps only one or two other people on earth having the exact same picture. This is not to say that studying theology is useless, but to recognize the huge diversity that God has created. Clearly, (to me,) once the world population exceeded one, a unified theology was not possible. Indeed, a worldwide unified anything seems impossible! My question is this: How do work as individuals and groups to not only acknowlege the diversity of theology and experience in the world, but to use that diversity and make it a good place for all individuals to prosper in their lives?

    • peteenns

      Alan, I agree with you. My point is actually much more modest, despite the intentional rhetoric I used: a view of the Christian God that has trouble with him allowing culturally conditioned ways of thinking to shape Scripture is not the God of that we read about in the Bible. Within that broad principle, to be sure, we all have various ways of thinking about God, and that is not something that can or should be avoided. I am actually truing to make room for that by shutting out a view that is incompatible with what you are laying out here. My deep concern is with the rhetoric of various public leaders who assert that to believe that Adam is a mythic, metaphorical, symbolic, nonliteral (whatever) figure is to deny Paul and the gospel. My point is that reading Genesis and Paul in their cultural contexts puts to rest that kind of destructive rhetoric. Anyone who has a principial problem with that, because historical context should dictate what we think about the Bible, has it completely backwards.

      • http://www.facebook.com/#!/DailyOffice Alan Herendich

        Thank you for your reply Peter. I do understand the point you are making, I just have this tendency to take a simple point and apply it to the cosmic!

  • Ken

    @Morgan… well said…

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  • Aming Cheng

    pete.
    A question i would like to ask. would you like to explain further on

    “That means that biblical writers wrote about the God they encountered as they understood him within their cultural limitations.”

    do you mean that the biblical writers have their limitation both on understanding God, and writing down God’s word due to their culture background?

    thanks

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Pete, I appreciate your work, thought, and willingness to stand your ground in this intellectual and theological minefield.
    Nevertheless, the paradoxes of abstract particularity seems to push us all toward excesses in dialogical interactions with those we think need either a theological, philosophical, or perceptual upgrade. Pete, you can’t get much more provocative and alienating at the same time by asserting that different perspectives on the interpretation of Adam and genetic history are based in relations with a different god. My experience is that of having been accused of this regarding differing perceptions of biblical representations of “the Godhead.” So, I get it, especially your sense of frustration and impatience with those who don’t get your perspective, and why you used this provocative phraseology.

    As a point of reflection for you Pete, I would suggest that the idea that “the Christian God [allows] culturally conditioned ways of thinking to shape Scripture” just begs the question. Surely you are aware that in many respects contemporary efforts to ground our understanding of the Gospel in their own historical matrix both argue against your contemporizing and push beyond prior historical efforts to do the same. Symbolic or metaphorical interpretations of Adam which to us are necessitated by the realities of our new scientifically influenced understandings of the natural history of humankind are in fact more akin to “platonic” realism than the literalistic fundamentalist understandings of biblical representations of Adamic “history.” Hence, I think your critique and this line of argumentation, including the hyperbolic challenge regarding different camps in this debate having a different god are not particularly productive.

    You can’t, I think, both say that “Christians are supposed to think about God they way Jesus showed us to think about him” and assert that “the Gospel teaches me exactly the opposite.” OK, so I put those two statements together. That is my point by example. You are putting two things together, not the textually canonical Jesus or Paul. As you clarified later: “for those with ears to hear, “different God” is just a way of saying “different view of God.” That would have been a more accurate title for this post.

    You say:
    “My deep concern is with the rhetoric of various public leaders who assert that to believe that Adam is a mythic, metaphorical, symbolic, nonliteral (whatever) figure is to deny Paul and the gospel. My point is that reading Genesis and Paul in their cultural contexts puts to rest that kind of destructive rhetoric.”

    Reading the texts in their cultural context doesn’t actually put anything to rest, since what you (and I) are trying to do is read Genesis, Jesus, and Paul in OUR CULTURAL CONTEXT and bring others into that reading. Jesus’ “if you have ears to hear” is perhaps the most trans-cultural, trans-contextual approach any of us can adopt. Let us do that in loving but limited comprehension of the limited whys and wherefores and understandings of others, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

  • SteveM

    I’m intrigued… Which God did Luke believe in? As a historian presumably he was concerned with reporting accurate facts. And so he records the ancestry of Jesus down through David, Abraham, Noah and finally, ahem, Adam. This strikes me as problematic to your thesis. If Adam was ‘non-historical’ where does the line between real people and ‘mythological’ people get crossed? Or was everyone not real including Jesus? For that is a reasonable logical consequence.

    Or perhaps Luke wasn’t that flash as a historian, which kinda creates greater problems if we’re keen on relying on the rest of his gospel. Given that Luke travelled with Paul and possibly wrote his gospel as part of Paul’s legal defence to Caesar, does it not strike you as disingenous at best or down right deceitful at worst that Luke would record something as history that ran counter to Paul’s supposed understanding (if I’ve understood your general argument)?

    This doesn’t work for me. If we are talking about God’s word and what is truth in the same sentence, the concept of Luke telling porkies or miscontruing history is completely senseless. Not only Paul but Jesus also referenced the early chapters of Genesis as though it was real history. So was Jesus also playing fast and footloose with history? I could be wrong and I apologize in advance if I am, but what I perceive here is nothing but a replay of the first recorded instance of Satan’s modus operandi; the infamous question “Did God really say that?”

    In the beginning was the word and words matter!

    • peteenns

      SteveM, I understand what you are saying, but I think you are missing a big point. Compare Luke’s history with that of Matthew, Mark, and John. Then we can talk about what “good history” in the Bible looks like. Luke, as much as any of the Gospel writers, is nto a historian in the sense you seem to assume.

      • SteveM

        Peter, I may be a simple man but I don’t think I’m missing the bigger picture. 

        This is fundamentally about the veracity and authority of God’s word and to what extent it has meaning and relevance to us today. 

        If the word became flesh and claimed to be Truth, then to reinterpret that word so it meshes with today’s “cultural context” is nothing more than post-modern absurdity. And by cultural context I mean the prevailing view that holds the authority of science (so called) over the unchanging character and revelation of the Creator. What is even more disturbing is that this cultural context has from its very genesis (pun intended) had the sole purpose of destroying the authority of scripture. Charles Lyell, one of the fathers of uniformitarianism and old-age thinking specifically stated that his wish was to “free science from Moses”. This led to a presuppositional belief that if it could be shown that the earth was ancient, then the biblical record would be falsified. Thus it was that scientific ‘data’ was press-ganged into the service of a philosophical presupposition and interpreted to ‘prove’ an age of the earth that contradicted biblical orthodoxy. Thus the necessary foundation was laid for Darwinian evolution to thrive.

        The reality is that there is NO evidence that conclusively proves the earth is millions/billions of years old. Yes there is data that can be interpreted to support that conclusion, albeit based on starting assumptions that can’t be independently verified. But I would argue there is considerably more data that can be interpreted to support a very young earth, in accordance with the biblical record. Carbon-14 in diamonds and DNA found in ‘ancient’ fossils are but two examples of many. 

        That is the problem with today’s “cultural context” – the interpretation of scientific data follows the philosophy, in this case material naturalism. It is most definitely not a case of following the data where it leads. I suspect if this actually happened with an open mind, there would be a lot more scientists very comfortable with a historic Adam (and the entire Genesis record for that matter)!

        Thus it seems to me a fools errand to try and even begin to reconcile today’s “cultural context” with the unchanging message of God’s love,  mercy and forgiveness to humanity (albeit tempered with His requirements for justice and righteousness). These two world-views are completely and absolutely mutually exclusive. 

        And thus also I come back to Luke. Yes his account differs with the other gospels. So what? The various genealogies don’t contradict each other, but give us different perspectives from the various authors. The point that does seemed to be missed, is that if Luke was fundamentally wrong, if he indeed gave us incorrect information about the ancestry of Jesus, why should we trust him about anything else? Either his words faithfully represent the One who claimed to be truth or they don’t. And if they don’t, then why trust any other biblical writers? At this point our faith indeed becomes foolishness. Furthermore, if Luke’s words are that malleable that they can molded to accommodate whatever is fashionable in the realms of fallible human reasoning, then why bother with them at all?

        And yet we have a society that IS crumbling because of its unthinking embrace of this cultural context. A context that offers no purpose and no hope for the future. Our culture desperately needs to hear the true and unchanging words of the Creator who willing died on a cross; beating death so that we might have Life.

        • peteenns

          SteveM, I did not say you were a simple man, but I do think you are missing something. You original comment centered on Luke’s ability as a historian and how that should factor into our assessment of whether Adam was a historical figure. What a study of the 4 Gospels tell is they each tell their own story through a creative use of their sources and a midrashic use of the Old Testament. They each have theological agendas. So, if one lifts Luke’s history writing skills to too high a level, one will have to conclude that the other 3 weren’t quite up to snuff.

          • George B

            Absence of Adam from the other 3 gospels is not evidence of different historical understanding of Adam by the gospel writers. You are reading through your own presupposition. Your response also doesn’t address all that Paul had to say about Adam, such as “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” But I guess Paul was simply being allegorical from your perspective.

          • mark

            Pete is, however, addressing what Jesus is presented as saying in the Gospels–and Jesus, after all, is what “Christianity” is all about. As for Paul, one thing we know for sure is that Paul was careful not to preach a different Gospel than the one that had been handed down, ultimately from Jesus–lest he run in vain. If you look at the core of the Gospel what is striking is that the core of Paul’s teaching is reflected in the early Apostolic preaching but also, to a remarkable extent, in Jesus’ words. It would be a mistake to fail to distinguish Paul’s midrashic theologizing from the core “doctrinal” elements of his preaching. Paul himself is well able to make that distinction.

          • George B

            That’s all well and good but Jesus doesn’t speak to Adam or creation in the Gospels, so if Paul is relying on what Jesus said about Adam, we need to interpret that through what Paul does say, if the canon has any validity on the subject. The Midrash is not conclusive on the nature of Adam so simply because the Midrash is philosophical or allegorical it is a leap of logic to conclude that Paul somehow understand Adam as as simply a story. It is fine to want to understand as best we can the original context of Jesus and Paul, but the Midrash was an oral tradition and the earliest written Midrash, the Aggadic Works, are circa 400-500 CE. Therefore, we don’t really know what Jesus may have thought of the oral tradition concerning Adam because he doesn’t speak to it nor should we impose our bias and presuppositional thinking on the Gospels. Absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary, it does however make the issue a non-essential to the faith, so to declare others to be wrong, and having another God, due to their literal interpretation is not well reasoned at best. Of course, Peter is entitled to worship any god he choses, so perhaps in fact, his god may be different.

          • Andrew Dowling

            You must be joking. Luke and Matthew don’t present substantially different stories (and genealogies) of the Virgin Birth? So Matthew agreed with everything Luke says, but just wanted to present it differently? You’ll dig a pretty big hole with that argument . . .

          • George B

            Actually, I think the jokes on you. Pretty much Luke and Matthew agree on the extent of the Gospel account, with some different nuances they thought were important to communicate.But to say that because Matthew starts with Abraham in his genealogy, and for a very important reason for what he is emphasizing, he had a different understanding of Adam than Luke is logically erroneous. That Matthew is silent on Adam doesn’t conclude a different understanding, it simply means he doesn’t speak to it. Absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. Get a grip.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “with some different nuances they thought were important to communicate”
            Ha. Talk about understatement to hide textual conflicts.
            And if you are trying to propose a hypothesis, you can’t make a positive argument based on silence. The onus is on you to show that Matthew gave two hoots about Adam in his Gospel. You can’t just say “well just because he doesn’t mention him doesn’t mean he doesn’t think he was important.” . . .ummm actually that is usually what omission equates to, If Adam played any major role in the Gospel story of Matthew (or John or Mark) they would have mentioned him,

          • George B

            You obviously have no idea what the heck you are talking about and are making no sense at all. That Adam was not important to the other 3 Gospel writers doesn’t not equate to a conflict with Luke. Obviously, Adam was important to Luke because Adam was important to Paul, and Paul preached only the Gospel Jesus had given him. Go find a clue how to form a logical and Biblical argument.

  • http://dougandrhonda.blogspot.com Douglas E

    Good post and thoughtful discussion. I believe that understanding God is idiotypic and thus there are as many different views of God as there are the number of folks who call themselves Christian. Even here in this limited exchange, Robert A gives some descriptors of the same God that we worship – maybe so, maybe not. Everyone stratifies what it is that is most important to their Christianity, and many groups try to decide who is in and who is out with regards to certain beliefs. I don’t particularly care that Ken Ham would call me a marginalized Christian or that Al Mohler would label me a heretic, but do care about lovingly caring for those less privileged and fortunate than I. When all is said and done, whether or not I am a Christian is between me and my God.

  • Matthew Miller

    following Morgan’s statement above…I think requiring Adam to be a historical figure is more a consequence of thinking about historical problems in purely Enlightenment rationalistic categories. Its the the elephant in teh room that many who tends toward fundamentalism do not realize: their demand for an overtly literalistic reading of Scripture is a product of a particularly empirical epistemology which demands absolute assent. Thus, those who require Adam to be historical are actually conceding on the interpretive level what they deny epistemologically, namely, that we should live by sight and not by faith. Put another way, that material reality is the only vehicle by which we can determine truth. Historical interpreters up to the Enlightenment would never conceded this, and certainly Luther and/or Calvin (and for that matter the Protestant Scholastics)–who are often villified as Moderns but who reflect more the Medieval world are often caricatured for holding to grammatical-historical exegesis as the end all be all. Thus, fundamentalists on this issue are not only caught up in a historical and scientific problem vis a vie evolution, they are caught up in a fundamental hermeneutical problem.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Pete,

    I think you are getting close to the centre of the problem. We, westerners especially perhaps, always seem to come to Scripture with an already quite well-formed understanding (belief, indoctrination) of what God is like. And, being westerners, our view is definitely not that of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus or Paul. Somehow, anyone approaching Scripture to find out what God is like must try to empty the databanks, wipe the drive clean, re-boot and start fresh. This is hard to do, almost seems sacrilegious, but is absolutely necessary. Some people find it too hard to do, at least for now.

    Thank you so much for your work. I think you can rest assured that it is helping many find a much bigger God. And, after all, God is much bigger than any of us can ever imagine.

    Do you know why there will be no theology exam at the Last Judgment? Because we would all flunk.

    Blessings,
    Bev

    • peteenns

      Bev, you got what I was saying. A lot of people didn’t. As for Last Judgment, I tell my students that if pure theology were requisite for getting into heaven, I’d be there alone :-)

  • Bev Mitchell

    Morgan and some others,

    “Augustine set the standard for Western Christian Biblical interpretation in his De Doctrina Christiana when he argued that you have not interpreted a scripture passage correctly if it does not contribute to your love of God or neighbor.” Amen! But, the good Saint said many other things about God that gets us into trouble if we approach scripture believing them. 

    A great summary of Augustinian views is provided by John Sanders (The God Who Risks? Chapter 5.3). Regardless of one’s position re Sanders’ open theology, his summary of Augustinian thought is excellent. As Sanders summarizes, “Augustine made God’s immunity to time, change and responsiveness to his creatures axiomatic for much of Western theology.” or “….. Augustine applied divine immutability pervasively in his theology, and this made any responsiveness (to creaturely actions) by God problematic.”

    Holding this view of God puts us at a great disadvantage when we encounter Biblical characters contending (often successfully) with God – even wrestling with God. In Gethsemane, even Jesus asked if there was some other way. Relations like this between God and people were/are either real (therefore  demand a rethinking of Augustinian, Calvinistic, Classical views of God) or, unreal, necessitating some sort of allegorization of these events. If they are unreal and only allegorical, then we don’t have to give up on this part of Augustine. 

    As an added bonus, we don’t have to be as concerned about a real two-way relationship with God. It can be much more cut and dried, and, because of our needy condition, we have a strong tendency to like it like that!

  • Matt

    Sorry, Pete….still not buying your either/or. You make it sound like *all* conservative views of the Bible inevitably leave God stuck up in a Kantian-like ‘noumena’….but that’s far too simplistic misjudgment at best or a purposeful misreading at worst.

    But even if you do have a valid point against certain people that want to hold onto divine-not-human view of the Bible, how does dragging God out of the ‘noumena’ into the ‘phenomena’ via your own version of ‘historicism’ not commit the equally opposite view of turning (in the immortal words of Feuerbach) all “theology into anthropology”? Isn’t 19th-century Germany (generally speaking) one attempt after another to “…allow that HUMAN experience to shape…how the Bible behaves”?

    I don’t understand how revolting against the likes of Al Mohler improves things if it drops us right back into the shoes of Adolf Von Harnack. How does your ‘project’ not lead us right squarely back into the ‘history of religions’ approach to the OT?

    • peteenns

      Matt, no need to be sorry because I’m not selling anything. Note that I am not raising the specter of Kant. One can read this issue through those lenses, but I am not. But as for theology/anthropology, one of the risks of the incarnation, so to speak, is that Israelite religion can certainly be explained in anthropological and history of religions categories. That is what happens when we are dealing with a mystery of “wholly God, wholly man.”

      • Matt

        Pete,

        But are you really trying to hold up a balanced view of a ‘wholly God, wholly man’ view of Scripture? The whole tenor of your project from I&I to the present seems bent on not simply finding a balanced view of transcendence and immanence. Rather, your revolt against the idea of a ‘God’ that swallows up humanity by his Divinity is thrusting the pendulum back towards an equally unbalanced ‘God’ of humanity that completely swallows up any notion of divinity. That’s exactly where the anthropological and ‘history of religions’ methodology drives the theological wagon. Feuerbach will win that battle every time!

        I’m sure W. Robertson Smith 130 years ago thought he was doing the Free Church of Scotland a big favor by reclaiming the ‘humanity’ of the Bible from those nasty ‘Platonic’ dogmaticians. But where did his ‘Religion of the Semites’ take us? Toward a better understanding of God’s Word? Even Muilenberg admitted in the late 60′s that virtually nobody holds to Smith’s thesis any longer because it’s been revised so many times. So how did that really do any great service that I’m sure he thought he was doing?

        You repeatedly berate and belittle conservatives for not dealing with the ‘human’ data of Scripture, and how it denies them any sure foundation to defend against critics against the Bible. But how does adopting your ‘comparative method’ get us any further along, when 15 years from now someone else is going to come along and say your ANE cosmology accounts are ‘outdated’ and don’t work any more?

        Ironically, Karl Barth’s critique of 19th century German Protestantism sees right through this fallacy of trying to explain the Bible in “anthropological and history of religions categories”! Sorry, but this whole ‘human’ project has been tried before. Didn’t work then, and it isn’t going to work now! The ‘notoriously foul air’ (as Barth said) took over the foundation and dominated the landscape; repackaging a few tweaks here and there doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. “[When] the theologians had their eyes fixed on the world,…their thinking was necessarily conditioned by this outlook.”

        Please abandon this stuff, Pete, before you confuse any more people who think there really is pot of gold at the end of the anthropological tunnel. In the words of Martin Kahler, it’s a ‘blind alley’…..with no one waiting there except Feuerbach!

        • peteenns

          Matt, I have some serious disagreements with how you present the dialogue over the last 100 years or so, but rather than go down that trail, let me ask two questions: (1) Why do you think we keep coming back to the same critical issues? (2) What do you think is the proper place of historical content for understanding the nature of Scripture?

        • Andrew Dowling

          You said “You repeatedly berate and belittle conservatives for not dealing with
          the ‘human’ data of Scripture, and how it denies them any sure
          foundation to defend against critics against the Bible. But how does
          adopting your ‘comparative method’ get us any further along”

          Further along to what? Certainty?

  • Pingback: how are some more certain of everything than i am of anything?…. » Blog Archive

  • http://www.greensoylent.blogspot.com Sharad Yadav

    Pete, I’m anticipating your post following up on Jamie Smith’s review so that you can juxtapose your own anwers to those 2 questions with concerns about theological interpretation of Scriptire/divine discourse!

    • peteenns

      That will come soon enough in the form of a dialogue with Jamie. I need to get of the other side of my semester first!

  • http://luke.breuer.com Luke Breuer

    Pete, have you thought much about the beginning of Philippians 2, especially v6? The author of [1] claims that the word often translated ‘grasped’ should really be translated ‘exploited’. Jesus did not consider his god-powers something to be exploited. Instead he became a servant, obedient to God. (How many people would abstain from using power to control and form, in lieu of serving?) But somehow God is also a servant, given that Jesus was ‘in the form of God’ according to v6, or the ‘exact imprint of his nature’ (Heb. 1:3). And yet, I get the idea that many Christians would treat me as a heretic for suggesting such a thing of Yahweh. A.W. Tozer’s ‘Knowledge of the Holy’ does not _once_ mention that God has a servant-nature. That’s a book which ostensibly talks about ‘who God is’, and it completely omitted a fundamental aspect of God’s nature!

    The stakes are upped when we are told to be perfect as our God in heaven is perfect. I think this is really where the rubber hits the road and would like to see you comment on this (perhaps in a new blog post?). If we are taught that God isn’t really “God with us” (noting that people can claim this and then preach other things which are contrary and more persuasive), then we will be less likely to live in close, personal community with other humans. At the very least, if God is “over there, far away from me, a sinner”, will this be mirrored in church hierarchies? I’m not even thirty years old, though, so I would like confirmation/disconfirmation from someone with more experience in life. :-|

    [1] http://exegeticalnotes.blogspot.com/2010/03/is-god-proud.html

    • Bev Mitchell

      Luke,

      You hypothesize “If we are taught that God isn’t really “God with us”
      (noting that people can claim this and then preach other things which
      are contrary and more persuasive), then we will be less likely to live
      in close, personal community with other humans.” This is very
      perceptive. You may have the limited experience of a 20 something, but
      take it from a sixty something, your hypothesis is easily testable and
      essentially spot on.

      • labreuer

        Thanks for the verification. :-) I had forgotten that I’ve already commented on this post; I just posted a few others today.

        One role I see for theologians today is to do the analysis I parenthesized and you quoted: look at the sum total of what is taught at a church, and see whether there are truths that the pastor(s) know need affirming, but which don’t actually mesh well with the rest of what is being taught and manifested in action. This would be a categorical rejection of “permanent paradox”: it would be a claim that while we “see through a glass, darkly”, we can continually strive to see more and more clearly, in this life. God’s ways may not be our ways and his thoughts may be higher than ours, but I claim he wants to bring our thoughts and ways in ever-better alignment with his! This is not possible with a God who is “other”.

  • david carlson

    Why can’t the story about adam be both? Everything has a beginning. There was at the start, a man and a woman. We don’t believe that the gospels contain every word or teaching or activity that Jesus did. They contain this story’s the author penned to his audience, stories that were accurate, but just as certainly not precise in every detail

  • mark

    I think I understand this:

    The reason for the differences is not simply that people have different theological systems or different ways of reading the Bible. A more fundamental difference lies at the root of these (and other) differences.

    I think we have a different God.

    I don’t like the platonic god. I don’t think Jesus did either.

    So, if the Christian God is the God of Jesus and the God of Peter Enns, then those who believe in a different God–a Platonic god, for example–aren’t Christians. Not really–no matter what they may call themselves. Peter Enns is. The others aren’t. Either that or these labels mean nothing at all.

    I have no problem with that.

    Last week I had to explain why I distinguished between Christians and Protestants. Same principle. I also used the example of Benedict XVI’s address at Regensburg, in which he drew a strong parallel between orthodox Islamic theology and the thought of John Duns Scotus–the Medieval theologian who remains more or less the patron theologian of the Franciscan order. Since the Islamic God isn’t the Christian God–and Benedict said as much by comparing that view of God to the one espoused by a “learned Byzantine emperor”–then Scotus’ voluntarist God isn’t the Christian God either. No matter that Scotus was and remains a highly regarded Catholic theologian by many Catholics.

    It’s high time that we spoke in a principled way about these matters of religious experience. I congratulate Pete for speaking clearly about this.

  • mark

    I’d like to try to gather a couple of points that have come up in this discussion, all into one comment. I was struck by this comment that Pete made, which to me summarizes well what he’s trying to say, perhaps somewhat better than the actual post:

    My deep concern is with the rhetoric of various public leaders who assert that to believe that Adam is a mythic, metaphorical, symbolic, nonliteral (whatever) figure is to deny Paul and the gospel. My point is that reading Genesis and Paul in their cultural contexts puts to rest that kind of destructive rhetoric. Anyone who has a principial [sic: principled?] problem with that, because historical context should dictate what we think about the Bible, has it completely backwards.

    I think Pete is deeply correct about the primacy of historical existence as the basis for our understanding of God and God’s revelation to us.

    Bev Mitchell hits on a central problem, which I think is very important to keep in mind:

    As Sanders summarizes, “Augustine made God’s immunity to time, change and responsiveness to his creatures axiomatic for much of Western theology.” or “….. Augustine applied divine immutability pervasively in his theology, and this made any responsiveness (to creaturely actions) by God problematic.”

    Holding this view of God puts us at a great disadvantage when we encounter Biblical characters contending (often successfully) with God – even wrestling with God.

    Of course, Augustine’s doctrine re God is, in philosophical terms, explicitly Platonic. What this means is that God–identified by all Christian thinkers as Being–is viewed through the Greek doctrine of being. While all Christian thinkers do hold God to be creator, they nevertheless tend strongly to superimpose this Greek view of being onto the “Christian” God, and the Greek view of being is of a concept–eternal and immutable. This, of course, is why valid human knowledge in an ever changing material world is such a conundrum for any Platonist, and so was for Augustine.

    Pete, I think, had the views that Bev wrote and quoted very much in mind when he wrote:

    The Gospel does not teach me that it is a problem for God to enter into the human experience and allow that human experience to shape–from beginning to end–how the Bible behaves.

    and goes on to rail against the “Platonic God.” Pete, I think, is expressing the classic Platonic/Augustinian problem (from a philosophical standpoint): how does an eternal an immutable God–viewed very much as an abstract concept, as “being,” which seems to be such a barren concept, the emptiest of all–how does that square with such an active God as revealed to us in Jesus and as the God of our faith?

    There’s no space here to go into great detail, but I think a big aid can be found in the thought of Thomas Aquinas who, alone among Western thinkers and perhaps of any thinker, sees God differently than the Greek way. For Aquinas, God is being, but being is not an abstract essence or concept for Aquinas. Instead, it is ACT. God is infinitely active, which is why he can creator. This concept of being as Act and of God as infinite act breaks the bounds of Platonic thought, in which Western thought has been ensnared for so long.

    • mark

      I should add that the Christian God, understood as Aquinas’ infinitely active God, is therefore also completely open to historical existence. This is undoubtedly why Aquinas asserted the primacy of the “literal” meaning of scripture, which in Catholic thought means that the text must be taken in its total historical context to determine what it meant for the human authors. Taking printed text on a page is emphatically not a “literal” approach in the sense of Catholic theology uses that term, but a “literalist” approach:

      The literal sense is not to be confused with the “literalist” sense to which fundamentalists are attached. It is not sufficient to translate a text word for word in order to obtain its literal sense. One must understand the text according to the literary conventions of the time. When a text is metaphorical, its literal sense is not that which flows immediately from a word-to-word translation (e.g. “Let your loins be girt”: Lk. 12:35), but that which corresponds to the metaphorical use of these terms (“Be ready for action”). When it is a question of a story, the literal sense does not necessarily imply belief that the facts recounted actually took place, for a story need not belong to the genre of history but be instead a work of imaginative fiction.

      The literal sense of Scripture is that which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors. Since it is the fruit of inspiration, this sense is also intended by God, as principal author. One arrives at this sense by means of a careful analysis of the text, within its literary and historical context. The principal task of exegesis is to carry out this analysis, making use of all the resources of literary and historical research, with a view to defining the literal sense of the biblical texts with the greatest possible accuracy (cf “Divino Afflante Spiritu: Ench. Bibl.,” 550). To this end, the study of ancient literary genres is particularly necessary (ibid. 560).

      From: THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH

    • labreuer

      I know the tiniest bit about Aquinas. I know that he talks about three ways that we can use the same word to talk about God and humans:

      The Golden Key to Thomas Aquinas: Analogy
      Univocal=same
      Equivocal=different
      Analogical=similar

      Your statement about “being = ACT” seems a bit orthogonal to the assertion that we should think about the terms describing God as being analogical instead of equivocal (and thus ‘other’), but perhaps it isn’t? Or perhaps you have something insightful to say about Aquinas, here?

  • paconservative

    I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. To believe in a literal Adam does not predispose the believer to “a Platonic god–where you have to peel off the obscuring “down here” hindrances to get to the untainted “up there” god, with the Bible as an encoded inerrant guidebook to get you there.”

    Unless the systematic approach of those who do not believe in literalism forces them to such a bias.

    • Gary in FL

      No, no, no! I think the point here was meant to be understood the other way around. Believing in a literal Adam does not predispose one toward a Platonic god, but rather, assumptions about the nature of God (and I would add, His self-revelation) that are inherently–but perhaps unknowingly–Platonic, predispose one to read the Bible in a way which can only be sustained by both glossing over inconvenient characteristics of the Bible and not taking seriously God’s responsiveness to human agency.

      • mark

        bingo!

      • paconservative

        The perspective you state makes a huge and entirely biased assumption about the nature of God and those who are literalists. Most believers I know neither gloss over inconvenient characteristics, nor do they take God’s responsiveness lightly.

        On the other hand, I think there is a tendency among many who deny literalism to shape God into their own paradigm.

        My point is that Peter is painting with too broad a brush. The biases are distributed on both sides, lines drawn in the sand. I find the characterization here biased by emotion and experience.

        • George B

          Well said.

        • labreuer

          Most believers I know neither gloss over inconvenient characteristics, nor do they take God’s responsiveness lightly.

          Au contraire, AW Tozer in his Knowledge of the Holy never talks about God having a servant-nature or being mankind’s ‘help-mate’. This is common to people who read the OT badly—as Yahweh intentionally distancing him from Israel, vs. Israel intentionally distancing herself from Yahweh and whoring after other gods. Jesus can be seen throughout the OT, but not if you have a bad conception of Yawheh.

          If you want a specific verse, I’d say many Christians gloss over Colossians 1:24. It doesn’t even fit into many theologies out there, at least without herculean contortion.

        • Gary in FL

          “I think there is a tendency among many who deny literalism to shape God into their own paradigm.”

          Perhaps, but in my estimation, no stronger than the same tendency displayed by literalists. In other words, all of us–left, right, and center–run just exactly the risk you’ve described. Furthermore, I see the inherent risk as unavoidable. We may very well recast God in our own image, but it won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. The best we can do is try to recognize it when it’s happening and then critique our own theologizing. But the literalists are just as bad as anyone while often appearing to be more in denial.

          • labreuer

            Well said. I would add some scripture:

            In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

            (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 ESV)

            The last verse is widely translated; the NIV says “avoid all extremes”.

      • Straw Man

        That’s certainly my experience. It wasn’t so long ago that I wrestled with the dilemma that (1) the evidence for an old earth is conclusive, but (2) if Genesis 1, coupled with the chronology based in part on Genesis 5, were less than literal, then God must be a liar.

        The dichotomy–that Genesis is literal OR God is a liar–flowed from the belief that God is truth, and therefore would only write truth, and in particular that He could only write history in the sense that I understand the term.

        God as I understood Him CAN’T accommodate false beliefs, such as a solid sky dome, or a primordial watery chaos. He simply CAN’T. Because He IS truth, and He HATES lies, and scientific inaccuracies are a kind of lie… He might condescend to over-simplify, or gloss over subjects to complicated for the readers to grasp, but only within sharp limits.

        God as I understood Him was nothing like the father who tells his child, “It’s OK, son. I’ve checked the closet and under the bed, and there are no monsters there. I’ve also scattered monster repellant, and spread the word in the monster community that any monster who bothers my son will answer to ME.”

  • George B

    So Peter Enns is not a Biblical literalist? Okay that’s fine. But I think Peter has crafted here a straw man argument, that if you don’t understand the story the way Peter does, and hold to a non-literal view of Adam, then you don’t worship the same God, as if God could not have created one-man and woman, because doing so doesn’t align with Pete’s non-literal view and therefore you are not a Christian but rather in fact an idol worshiper. How audacious of Peter Enns to think so. Such dogmatic certainty of a non-literalist understanding is as erroneous as a literalist view. How about we just say that this is what the Bible says and leave it that for as the Apostle Paul says we see through a glass dimly. But why put up barriers between believers based on something no one can be certain of? My Jesus prays for unity of those who put their faith in him – not the divisiveness that Peter Enns puts forward here.

    • Straw Man

      Pete’s statement was provocative, and you got provoked, so to that extent I guess he brought your comment on himself. Nevertheless, I don’t think your comment is fair.

      Overall, your reaction *appears* to reflect fundamentalist (or similar) assumptions. If someone in my church says, “You have a different God,” he’s as good as damning me to hell, calling me a false Christian and an idolater, etc., etc., just exactly as you interpret Peter’s remarks above. In my church it’s completely impossible to say such things tongue-in-cheek–these are serious accusations, on par with threatening to murder someone’s wife or molest someone’s children.

      Peter isn’t a fundamentalist, though. As far as I can tell, he accepts others’ Christianity at face value, including those who would reject him, such as many fundamentalists. Unlike my church or yours, his doesn’t bandy around accusations of apostasy, so his comments here would be received as provocative but not as damning or nakedly hostile. The folks in his church are more likely to reply, “Oh? Interesting. In what way?” rather than, “WHAT? I’M NOT A CHRISTIAN, HUH? WELL, MR., MAYBE YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S NOT A CHRISTIAN!”

      I apologize for speaking for Peter, who can speak for himself. I don’t know him, so I’m speculating a bit, and could be completely wrong.

      • George B

        Yes, you’re completely wrong and very assumptive but I accept your apology. As Christ followers the only thing we are to provoke others to is love. I don’t see Peter doing that in this post, rather being divisive over a non-essential of the faith. And, please do not presume you know anything about my church – doing so is quite arrogant actually.

        • Straw Man

          In any case, this post does not convey “dogmatic certainty of a non-literalist understanding.”

          It says that:

          1) IF you believe that Adam MUST BE literal…
          2) and IF you believe #1 because Gen. 1-3 MUST be literal…
          3) and IF you believe #2 because God would never dream of catering to the Israelites’ primitive understanding of science and religion, or writing in a literary genre common to Israel’s neighbors…
          4) THEN, THEN you must believe that God doesn’t relate to people on their own terms, precisely as they are.

          That’s a very different perspective than the one in (ironically!) Genesis 3, who likes to stroll around in Adam and Eve’s garden on a lovely cool evening.

          None of this has anything to do with you if you happen to believe that Adam was literal, and even that Genesis 1-3 are literal–as long as you believe it for some reason OTHER THAN a refusal to accept that God relates to people on their own level.

          • George B

            Point 4 is a faulty conclusion based on a faulty premise. If Genesis 3 shows us anything it shows us that God does relate to people on their own terms, be it allegorical or literal. What Peter does here is set up a straw man, to knock it down with an appeal to God who relates to people at their level, but only according to Peter if its a non-literal interpretation. There is no reasonable basis to assert that “Christians are supposed to think about God the way Jesus showed us to think about him” based on the premise that if we’re not thinking about Genesis 3 as allegorical, we’re not thinking Christianly.

          • Straw Man

            No. You don’t have to think Genesis 3 is allegorical. You are free to think it literal.

            The problem Peter raises would only apply to you if your REASON for regarding it as literal is a specific belief that God must write a historical, or journalistic, account, or else be found a liar. Anyone who believes THAT, is forbidding God to interact with ancient Israelites on their level, by requiring him to adhere to the standards of 21st-Century western culture.

            There are lots of other reasons you might have for believing Genesis 1-3 to be literal. Those other reasons, however, don’t involve denying that God would interact through the medium of myth or even superstition with people whose thinking was suffused with myth and superstition. The objection applies only to those who deny that God would meet those ancient people on their own terms.

          • George B

            First, please stop presupposing what you think I think with respect to Adam, and telling me what I can believe. Thanks. That’s no manner of appropriate discourse. Second, you miss the point of the reason Peter’s argument is a straw man. What you write is your understanding of Peter’s post, which is all well and good, but not exactly his premise and conclusion which is “Do you see a system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance or “God with us”?” Peter is making the assertion that a literal view of Adam necessitates a “system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance.” I don’t know a Christian who thinks in such deistic terms as Peter implies, do you? Maybe Peter simply needs to do a better job with his polemics.

          • labreuer

            I don’t know a Christian who thinks in such deistic terms as Peter implies, do you?

            I don’t know of any Christians who would admit to thinking in such deistic terms and indeed, they would make some statements which would contradict it. But many people have theologies which contain contradictions. If we look at the theology holistically and try and “enforce consistency”, by throwing out the contradictory statements which would alter the theological system the least, what would be the result? I think for some extant Christians, the result would be “a system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance”.

          • George B

            And what contradictory statements would that be exactly?

          • Straw Man

            “And what contradictory statements would that be exactly?”

            For starters, we have a six-day creation in Genesis 1, and a one-day creation in Genesis 2. We have animals created before man in Genesis 1, and after Adam in Genesis 2. And so on.

            I’m familiar with all the hermeneutical back-bends done to reconcile those two chapters, because I’ve used them myself in the past. But the fact is that a plain, literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 finds them contradictory. (Which isn’t a problem, if they’re something other than a journalistic account of actual events.)

          • George B

            If you’re referring to Genesis 2:4, and the word “day” you might want to brush up on your Hebrew. There is no contradiction when we understand ‘yowm’ as referring to a period of time, and can refer to yesterday, which makes sense since verses 1-3 refer to the 7th day. But that doesn’t make it conclusive for a literal or allegorical reading. You’ll need to do much better than that to reach Peter’s conclusion in context of the previous post.

          • Straw Man

            I suggest you brush up on the waw-consecutive. Genesis 2 is a sequential narrative, just like Genesis 1, but the sequence is completely different.

          • George B

            The waw-consecutive is disputed among linguistics so unless your one, I suggest you reread it again beginning with, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”

          • Straw Man

            What “dispute” are you referring to? I hope you didn’t just quote-mine Wikipedia–that would be a double fault. One for using Wiki as a reference, and one for misunderstanding what it says.

          • George B

            You do have a habit of presupposing much in a conversation which displays a level of arrogance that is simply obnoxious. Goodbye.

          • Straw Man

            Once again, what dispute are you referring to? You need to back up your statements. Unsubstantiated statements are worthless.

            Meanwhile, a quick look at the Wiki article on waw-consecutive offers an extremely plausible hypothesis as to where you got the notion to say it’s “disputed among linguists”: the third sentence there says, “There is still dispute among linguists over to what extent the different verb forms in Classical Hebrew and Koranic Arabic should be viewed as past vs. non-past tense, as perfect vs. imperfect aspect, or as a combination of the two.”

            Now, please substantiate your assertion that linguists “dispute” the waw-consecutive–and specifically, substantiate any reason to doubt that it narrates sequential action.

            As an aside, you’ve tossed around accusations of arrogance a few times now, in a way that suggests your irony meter is broken.

          • George B

            You certainly draw a lot of faulty conclusions, which is either ignorance or arrogance, because you aren’t really understanding the subject matter as well as you think you are. Instead of actually doing some research of the subject, you offer trite comments and presuppose much. What is ironic is the approach you take, which demonstrates Peters hypothesis in this post really applies to you. There is much written on the subject so what is also ironic is your reference to wikipedia to support your presupposition. This is what psychologists call projection. Now go do some research and may I suggest you start with Josh McDowell’s “Answering Tough Questions” since it is approachable but you can also see “Williams Hebrew Syntax” by John Beckman for the answers you seek. This is not some new debate but a long standing one with skeptics and cynics who don’t reason well, but too arrogant to understand they don’t have a clue. Please go find one. Thanks.

          • Straw Man

            too arrogant to understand they don’t have a clue. Please go find one. Thanks.

            I’ve tried to be pretty consistent about overlooking your behavior, but I do think your irony meter is busted.

            Now go do some research…

            That’s shifting the burden of proof, which is never acceptable. I’ll give you some credit for mentioning two references–that’s much better than nothing–but it’s still an invalid debate tactic and bad manners.

            The burden remains on you to demonstrate that the wayyiqtol in Genesis 2 denotes something other than sequential action. I’m well aware of the ongoing scholarly debates about the Hebrew verb system, but little or none of that bears directly on the question of its usage in Genesis 2.

            The sources you cite both admit that the wayyiqtol “usually” denotes sequential narrative. McDowell, for one, shifts from linguistics to apologetics when he argues that, since the construction may sometimes denote something other than sequential narrative, therefore we are free to suppose this to be the case in Genesis 2 in order to avoid the appearance of contradiction.

            Which, needless to say, presupposes that there’s any problem with Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradicting each other in the first place. I.e., the entire apologetical argument rests on the assumption that these two accounts are journalistic reports of the same, actual, event. Which is precisely the question under debate. As is not uncommon, apologists engaging in circular reasoning again.

            If any speaker of biblical Hebrew read Genesis 2, without any prior knowledge of the existence of Genesis 1, he would conclude that God made man, then animals, then woman. There is nothing in Genesis 2 to support any reading other than the plain reading, of sequential narrative.

            Now please shoulder the burden of proof, and please do it without all those ad hominem assessments of my level of arrogance or my cluelessness. Thanks.

          • George B

            Yes, you have been consistently arrogant and obnoxious from the get go, making assumptions and presupposing which is offensive. I’ve warned you about this several time but you don’t seem to get it, why is that? Now as to the “dispute” with waw-consecutive, my statement is a simple statement of fact that you can go and google. This long standing dispute being between the literalist/creation proponents and non-literalists/evolutionists. Now, I have wasted enough time with you.

          • Straw Man

            Yes, you have been consistently arrogant and obnoxious from the get go…

            So your response to a request to stop with the ad hominems is to unleash a fresh torrent of ad hominems? Please, enough of that.

            my statement is a simple statement of fact that you can go and google.

            It is considered the height of bad manners to shift the burden of proof by ordering the other person to “go look it up.” Refusing to shoulder the burden of proof is as good as conceding the point under discussion.

            Earlier you claimed that this is a subject of debate among linguists. Since then you’ve refused to add much to the discussion except, “Go look it up,” but no evidence has been offered to show that linguists argue on linguistic grounds for a pluperfect in Genesis 2. You can find apologists arguing for it, but that’s not what you claimed. You claimed that this is debated among linguists.

            So once again, please provide evidence for your claim, and please do it without the ad hominem attacks.

          • labreuer

            I didn’t mean what rvs said; instead, an example would be statements about God loving us combined with statements of God being ‘other’. Scripturally, we have people who interpret verses like Is 46:9 to mean that there will forever be a kind of ‘wall’ between us and God (see also Is 55:9), versus that God wants to be with us, making us perfect as he is perfect. Wrong interpretation of Is 6:1-7 also sets up a wall between us and God, a wall which has allegedly been torn down, as Eph 2:11-16 articulates.

            Differing emphases like I lay out above may seem at first to merely be different, equally valid, ‘takes’ on God. That’s fine, until we have more data. We get ‘more data’ when we see how various people’s views of God play out in how they interact with themselves, others, God, and nature. We are to judge a tree by its fruit. After a while, one finds that certain emphases tend to lead to certain fruit, which builds up confidence that there is a cause and effect relationship going on.

            If you want ‘contradictory statements’ more solid than the above, I’m afraid I might not be able to provide them. Humans are awfully good at hiding contradictions, burying them below appearances. This is why we must judge with spiritual judgment and not via appearances—like Adam and Eve erroneously did when the fruit of the Tree “was a delight to the eyes”. The parable of the wheat and the tares tells us that sometimes we have to let plants grow before we can see their true natures.

          • George B

            labreuer, your answer will find no disagreement from me with respect to a lack of scriptural understanding and Biblical literacy on the part of many Christians. However a lack of knowledge is not necessarily a contradiction and a lack of Biblical exegesis is not what is in question here. There is no question that people hold a lot of differing views on the Bible, some better informed than others. That is not my contention and you are right that we are called to spiritual discernment and to be fruit inspectors. But I know a lot of fruitful Christians who uphold a literal view of Adam, which is the topic in play here.

          • labreuer

            I wasn’t talking about lack of knowledge, I was talking about wrong emphases which I think lead to bad fruit (a hypothesis which can be tested). In terms of your other contention, I think it is better taken up in response to this comment of mine. To emphasize something from it:

            I’m sure there are people who believe in 6-day creation whose presuppositions Enns does not attack in his post. I’ll bet he knows some such people.

          • George B

            Lack of knowledge produces wrong emphasis and bad fruit – Psalm 1. People do get stuck in their dogma based on a lack of knowledge. That still doesn’t produce the deistic position Peter implies here. But I’m sure Peter is a fine upstanding and faithful Christian. My contention is against the straw man he presents here.

          • labreuer

            My contention is against the straw man he presents here.

            I’ve questioned whether Pete is really attacking a straw man; would you respond to that comment? You appear to be conflating “how they talk about” with “what stances they hold”; Enns discussed the former, not the latter.

          • George B

            You can refer to my other comments for your answer. I’m done here. Shalom.

          • Straw Man

            “Peter is making the assertion that a literal view of Adam necessitates a ‘system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance.’ ”

            That’s simply not true. Whether you happen to think that Adam happens to have really existed, or not, has no bearing on whether you think God is one “who keeps His distance.”

            Everything hinges critically on WHY you believe Adam is literal, if in fact that’s what you believe. If you believe it BECAUSE you believe God can’t write a good old-fashioned creation myth, calibrated for the understanding of people familiar with many other creation myths from other nations, that’s a problem. If you believe God must either be a historian, as 21st Century westerners conceive of historians, or else be a liar, that’s a problem. If you doubt that God can join those ancients around their campfire and tell the kind of stories they’re accustomed to hearing around campfires–if you don’t think God is the sort of God who delights to do exactly that–then there’s a problem.

            But it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether you think Genesis 1 happens to BE such a “campfire story” or “creation myth.” It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether you believe that Genesis 1-3 is a journalistic accounting of actual events.

            What MATTERS, is WHY you believe what you do about Genesis 1-3.

          • George B

            Yes, of course it matters why you believe what you believe about Genesis 1-3, however, I quoted Peters conclusion of the matter, so you are again arguing beyond his argument. But who is doubting that God can join the Israelites around the campfire? That God accommodated the Israelites understanding of creation does not necessitate a dichotomy of a “system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance” or “God with us,” with respect to the historicity of Adam. Even denying the Campfire scenario has no bearing on Peter’s stated conclusion and a different God. You are making cultural accommodation based on presuppositions that are irrelevant to a personal God. By the way, CAPs are rude.

          • Straw Man

            Respectfully, it appears to me that there’s a misunderstanding at work here. As you say, look at Peter’s conclusion: “You can tell something about the god people believe in by paying attention to how they talk about controversial issues of the Bible–like Adam.”

            Notice he didn’t say “what they believe” about Adam’s historicity. He said, “how they talk about” subjects like Adam. “How they talk about” Adam reveals something about what they believe about God. Exactly as I’ve been saying all along. What you think about Adam doesn’t really matter all that much. WHY you think it, though, says a lot about what you believe about God.

            “By the way, CAPs are rude.”

            No. Using all caps is rude. Capitalizing individual words is a stand-in for bold or italics, which (as far as I know) I’m unable to use in these comments.

          • George B

            Peter is contrasting Immanuel with a Platonic understanding of God, based on his premise which he states as: “I think we have a different God.” He then concludes as I have previously quoted twice. And, I would certainly hope that an understanding of Adam would inform, at least in part, our understanding of God. It is however false to conclude that because one has a different view of Adam they have a deistic understanding of God as Peter implies, both by reference to an Platonic god and a god who “keeps his distance.” Unless he can demonstrate how a literal view of Adam produces this “distant god” the argument is a straw man. But Peter does not even attempt to to offer an explanation of what he finds so troubling. He simply concludes they have a “distant god,” different than his, which I find divisive so I need to question his understanding of Jesus thinking as well. If you are going to offer such a polemic, you might want to think about the glass house you’re living in.

          • labreuer

            It is however false to conclude that because one has a different view of Adam they have a deistic understanding of God as Peter implies, both by reference to an Platonic god and a god who “keeps his distance.”

            I think it would be useful to examine the full last paragraph of Enns’ post:

            You can tell something about the god people believe in by paying attention to how they talk about controversial issues of the Bible–like Adam. Do you see a system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance or “God with us”? If you keep your eyes open, my bet is that you will see one or the other coming through loud and clear.

            Straw Man, I believe, is pointing you to the ‘how’, which I have put in bold. It is not a ‘that’, and it is not “if 6-day creation then deism”. When one discusses the ‘how’, one exposes one’s presuppositions. It is some of these presuppositions that Enns is critiquing. I’m sure there are people who believe in 6-day creation whose presuppositions Enns does not attack in his post. I’ll bet he knows some such people.

          • Bryan

            Pete is contrasting a God who meets humanity on their level vs. a Platonic version in which god is deistic. The mode of communication in the former may vary while the latter is subject to some sort of hyper-realism that the former mode is inconceivable.

          • labreuer

            Capitalizing individual words is a stand-in for bold or italics, which (as far as I know) I’m unable to use in these comments.

            allowed HTML tags :-)

          • peteenns

            George B., if your interest here is discussing what I wrote, listen to what Straw Man is saying here. He understood my intention.

          • peteenns

            Straw Man, you understood my post correctly–and seem to be one of only a few people on this thread who do.

      • Straw Man

        “Yes, you’re completely wrong and very assumptive but I accept your apology.”

        That sentence sort of tells me everything I need to know. Nevertheless, I apologize for any imputation of “fundamentalism.” The fact is that of course I have no idea what prompted your reaction to this blog post.

        Nevertheless, your judgment is unfair: Peter never said anything about himself being Christian, and others not. He never called other people idolaters. To say that he said those things would be a false accusation.

        The interesting irony is that reading those things into this blog post reflects a difference of perspective just exactly like this blog post is describing! He is emphatically not calling anyone a non-Christian. From one perspective, there’s no way to read this post as making that accusation. But… from another perspective, the accusation is undeniable.

        From that other perspective, saying “We have two different Gods” can only mean that one of us is an unchristian idolater. And the statement can only be made in earnest, because you DO NOT JOKE AROUND about being an unchristian idolater…

    • labreuer

      Pete’s strongest emphasis is not on whether Adam existed and was crafted from dust vs. the result of evolution. Instead, this issue of Adam is a bellwether for one’s conception of God and scriptural hermeneutic. The same attitudes and behavioral patterns used by those who insist on a historical, from-dust Adam tend to prop up ideas of God which are very different from Pete’s—and mine. It is not entirely clear whether there is a cause and effect relationship here or just correlation, but I’m inclined to infer cause and effect, given my own in-depth experience of the creation-evolution debate.

  • aj

    I like this perspective, but I don’t like the term “different God”. I suppose that if it was said to be provocative or witty, then thats fine. But, the reality is, we have the same God – the 90 year old lady who is a fundamental biblical literalist, grieving over the loss of her grandchild, can receive the same comfort from our ever present God as the 90 year old Princeton Theological Seminary grad looking for comfort over the loss of his grandchild.

    God makes no distinction to say: “well, you don’t have the Adam story right, now do you – NO COMFORT FOR YOU!!!”. No, the honest seeking educated pharisee and the harlot are both received by God with open arms. If having the “correct theology” was a prerequisite for access to God’s grace, comfort, and healing, then we worship a very small God.

    How amazing it is that our God accommodates ALL of us, where we are, even when our interpretation is wrong. I think in many ways this is a profound truth of Christianity – “come all you who are weary”, not “come all you who have the right theology”.

    That is not to say that good theology can’t take us far, and provide us with a strong foundation – it is important. But, the entrance to God’s grace and comfort does not have a sign that says “please take this test, only those with 70% or above are admitted”. The basic formula I see is “you cry out to God, he listens”.

    • labreuer

      It might be worth revisiting the beginning of the Decalogue: Ex 20:1-6. Note the word ‘likeness’ in v4: this likely means mental representation. While I don’t like the fact that A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy excludes the servant-nature (or help-mate nature) of God, I do agree with him when he says that our conception of God is the most important thing about us. When people have a “God is supremely other” concept, this most definitely manifests in how they treat others. I haven’t worked out all the consequences, but one of them is definitely that leaders in the church tend to be ‘separated’ from the flock; John MacArthur assumes this is normal in his 2006 book, The Book on Leadership.

      With respect to the rest of your post, my simulation of Enns says that the key here isn’t a pass/fail doctrine test, but a constant endeavoring to get better and better ideas of God into our heads, instead of settling on one and never questioning whether there might be incorrect elements in it.

  • Brian P.

    Yup. Given what we know of how we all got here, there would be Christological problems with not accepting evolution. Is Christology a more centering doctrine, or is Biblicism? Whether or not it’s different G/gods, it is clearly different centers of understandings of G/god(s). Most Christians that I personally know know the major contours of Biblicism and inerrancy and emphases of their century, their continent, their denomination but don’t really either know much science or Christian theology either.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Various commenters and conversations here,

    Can a Canadian moderate a bit here? There is revealing irony in the way some folks are taking Pete’s title and overall approach. His exact words (different God) means “different view/concept/understanding/ of God or different emphasis on attributes, behavior and nature of God (that’s my bet). If he had wanted to insult someone, he could have said “different god” which seems to be the way some insist on hearing him.

    A big issue being addressed here is how we read/interpret fairly complex text written between 2000 and 3000 years ago – and we have trouble with two words written by someone from our own culture, in our own language one year ago! There is such a thing as a sympathetic or benefit of the doubt reading. If, after doing that, you think Pete is saying you can’t be a Christian unless you have his view of God, just ask him.

    When the benefit of the doubt route is not taken by someone who reads a serious, highly qualified writer on his own subject area, the reader can immediately reveal something about himself or herself that suggests there is fear, an agenda, an argumentative spirit or something else driving things.

    It’s reasonable to think that we all have at least slightly different things in mind when we really think about God and his attributes. The differences are usually a matter of emphasis, sometimes to the extreme that something very important is left out. We can learn by rote a list of godly attributes from someone’s confessional statement or philosophy, or, as Christians, we can wrestle with the real issues of what it all means for us to be in Christ and what that says about God (for starters). This (it seems to me) is fundamentally what Pete is asking us to do in this post. As a corollary, he is asking us to avoid entangling primary and secondary issues. Specifically, he suggests that what Paul meant in his reference to Adam is secondary to what it means for us to be in Christ.

    If we think that this is wrong, that we cannot be properly in Christ unless we believe there was a literal Adam, then we should clearly explain why this is so. But, given what scholars have shown us in the last hundred years or so, we pretty much have to do this without waving the flags of inerrancy, verbal inspiration etc.

    • peteenns

      Thank you, Bev. You get what I am saying.

  • rvs

    “Do you see a system-dispensing administrator who keeps his distance or ‘God with us’”? Nicely put, and perhaps you are also making an indirect comment upon competing notions and models of Christian higher education.

  • labreuer

    Could this difference in perception of God be crystallized in terms of what we think holy means?

    My first attempt to define ‘holy’ would be: “set apart”. But wait a second, that could easily lead to thinking in terms of “wholly apart”, and get us to Yahweh being ‘other’”. If we think about Israel, we might be tempted to think she would have benefited by having impenetrable walls placed on her borders. But I think this conflicts with much scripture—for example, Isaiah 56 would be nonsense. Instead, the phrase “in the world but not of the world” seems closer to the truth.

    The most succinct way to describe the “not of the world” bit is to indicate obedience to the first two of the Ten Commandments: no other gods, and no idols (including ‘likenesses’—mental representations). Disobedience of these commandments always precedes disobedience of the others; therefore God often focuses on them because they are causal factors. I often encounter atheists who mock God for being mad that the Israelites ‘merely’ started worshipping another God—not realizing that the God or gods one worships shapes one’s entire life.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Bev’s point that “Augustine made God’s immunity to time, change and responsiveness to his
    creatures axiomatic for much of Western theology” is well stated, but I think we can go further. What was Augustine (and religious people the world over) looking for? The classic question of theodicy . . why evil? Why death? Augustine devised his solution; it was just punishment for the revolt of Adam and Eve; original sin. That is why we die, according to Augustine and his successors. And that has been the major Christian answer in centuries since to that major question. You take away Adam, and in the eyes of many you take away the clear answer to that most troubling question.

    Which then leads us to even bigger questions, like the very nature and substance of God. I think the Church has pretty much ran away with the Platonic notion of God ever since it became dominated by Gentiles in the 2nd century (and even some Jewish believers hold to a similar God concept). That of God as a being ‘out there’ who occasionally intervenes ‘here.’ It’s found across centuries of Christian art, in modern depictions of God across all forms of entertainment , . .the bearded old man sitting on a cloud, maybe decked out in Medieval regalia. It continues with how we describe God . . .personalizing “Him” like he is akin to a human king, albeit an omnipotent, omnipresent king. It manifests in how we pray . . praying to God as if God was a kingly being who jumps to and fro from the divine and natural realms. We use it because that’s our frame of reference . . the most powerful people in history have been kings (or in modern parlance dictators) and thus the creator of life would be akin to a king. Reformed theology takes this to a rather disturbing extreme.

    But God may be different then that conception (I think the God Jesus illuminates is far different from it), and as such not be faced with the accusation of being a ‘tyrannical innkeeper’ in the absence of an original sin.

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lothars Sohn

    Hello Peter, I have a very similar approach to the Biblical texts,

    I view the Bible in the same way I see non-canonical books: as the “human faces of God”, to use the wonderful expression of Thom Stark.

    You wrote:

    “That God does not hesitate to participate in the human drama, to encounter humanity within the limits of the human experience. That means that biblical writers wrote about the God they encountered as they understood him within their cultural limitations.

    True encounter with God, expressed in truly human, cultural, terms.”

    I struggle to the idea that God allowed people to have morally wrong beliefs about him,. like he would demand a genocide.

    I show on my blog we have a similar problem if one considers the life of Martin Luther:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/on-luther-hitler-and-religious-confusion/

    Keep blessing us with your valuable thoughts!

    Lovely greetings from Germany.
    Liebe Grüsse aus Deutschland.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • dangjin

    If you take Adam’s story as only a story then you must take salvation as only a story. You cannot cherry pick what you want to be from God and what you want to be from humans. Then if you take parts of the Bible as human authored then you have no divine guidance and anybody can do what they want for there is no such thing as sin or right and wrong.

    Again you cannot cherry pick the verses you want to accept and the the ones you want to reject for there is no biblical or divine guidance on which ones to follow and which ones to ignore. You are making the cherry picking totally subjective and the Bible totally human. In other words you have removed the divine and made it a human slave subject to human authority instead of humbling yourself and being subject to God’s authority

    • labreuer

      You might want to look into why Logical Positivism is false. You’re bringing a logical positivist philosophy to bear in how you interpret the Bible. If you think you don’t see the Bible through a grid of presuppositions (just like everyone else), you’re deluded. We ought to always strive to make our presuppositions better and better, but we don’t escape them.

  • Guest

    I don’t see why we need to assume God actually exists. It seems possible that humans could have made the story of Genesis up by themselves without any input from a supreme being. They managed to make all the other myths, after all. Why assume the bible is divine when other holy books and creation myths aren’t?

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