A Search for Acceptance? (RJS)

A Search for Acceptance? (RJS) August 11, 2011

NPR had a story on Morning Edition this last Tuesday entitled Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve. You can download, listen, read a transcript of read the story at the link.  The short piece – 7:44 – involves commentary and snippets of interviews with a number of people, many of whom have come up in various posts on the blog as we’ve looked at the question of Adam.

Among those questioning the historicity of Adam and Eve are  John Schneider, until recently a professor of Religion at Calvin College (he took early retirement in the wake of the controversy surrounding his article in PSCF). Dennis Venema, an associate professor of Biology at Trinity Western University in British Columbia who posts regularly at BioLogos, Karl Giberson, and Daniel Harlow, a professor of Religion at Calvin College and author of another controversial article in PSCF (discussed here in two posts: 1, 2).

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, provide the counterpoint defending the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as essential to the Christian faith.

The NPR story is fairly predictable. It emphasizes two widely separated extremes in evangelical thinking, but doesn’t have the time to really dig into the complexities of the discussions or the range of possible views. This is interesting, but not particularly informative. In the post today I don’t want to focus on the question of Adam – instead I would rather pose a related question for discussion.

Why do so many Christian scholars stick their neck out on this issue?

What is the motivation?

The end of the NPR story is what really caught my attention – and it is the aspect that I would like to highlight.

This debate over a historical Adam and Eve is not just another heady squabble. It’s ripping apart the evangelical intelligentsia.

“Evangelicalism has a tendency to devour its young,” says Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, a Christian Reformed school that subscribes to the fall of Adam and Eve as a central part of its faith.

“You get evangelicals who push the envelope, maybe; they get the courage to work in sensitive, difficult areas,” Harlow says. “And they get slapped down. They get fired or dismissed or pressured out.”

Evangelicalism is not content to devour the young – the middle-aged and elder statesmen are also fair game. I don’t think I could work at an evangelical school – not because I expect my faith to unravel, but because I would not be comfortable if required to conform my understanding of the faith by a statement and commitment that goes beyond the ancient creeds and a general appreciation for the authority of scripture. While theology certainly helps to inform my interpretation of creation, life, and purpose, we err when we declare for some reason or other that a fact can not be a fact because of its theological consequence. This was true in the day of Galileo and is true today.

“This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”

“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels.

But is the problem really accommodation and a desire for acceptance? Did Pete Enns, Richard Colling, Dan Harlow, John Schneider, Darrel Falk, Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, and more, put their jobs on the line, in many cases losing them, because they valued the acceptance of the world, the intellectual and academic world, above all else?  This suggestion, often repeated, is excessively cynical and damaging to both individuals and to dialog. It is method used to disparage individuals and remove the need for real conversation.

I agree with Dr. Mohler that if we say we have to abandon theology to have the respect of the world we will have neither. But that is not really the issue. The full context and intent of Dr. Harlow’s comment and this ongoing discussion is not to retain respect for the sake of respect, but to remain engaged in a sincere search for truth – God’s truth. If the evidence for evolution and a non-traditional view of Adam and Eve really is overwhelming – and I believe that it is – we have no choice but to go with the data. This isn’t a search for the acceptance of the world but a profound need to retain personal intellectual integrity. I am convinced that science, specifically evolution, and faith are compatible because I am convinced that both are true – we can and will work out the details.

The conversation is important, and worth taking a stand on, not to achieve personal acceptance and respect – but because the issue has caused so many to struggle with faith, lose faith, or refuse to consider faith. Here we can quote St. Augustine.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (The Literal Meaning of Genesis Ch. 18)

God is the God of truth and we should not fear to seek truth wherever it is found, and this includes scripture and it includes our pursuit of a scientific explanation and understanding of the workings of God’s creation. St. Augustine’s reflections in the passage from which the quote above was taken are particularly relevant – when more than one interpretation of scripture is possible, and more than one intent can be ascribed to the author, we should leave room for the ambiguity and let future study either confirm both or determine the truth.

Above all let us be governed by love. We need to avoid cynicism and the appearance of cynicism. Those who question the traditional view of Adam are not sacrificing all to seek the approval and respect of the world. Those who feel that the traditional view is a lynchpin of our faith are not out to win the approval of men, secure power, or appease donors. We won’t get anywhere if we disparage and distrust the motivations of others. Nor will we witness effectively to those outside of the faith or struggling with faith. This is a family discussion we need to have. It would be nice if we could model the discussion of a healthy and loving family as we move forward.

What do you think? What drives this discussion?

Can we agree to disagree and take our time working through the issues? Or is it essential to take a strong stand here and now, either for or against?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • DRT

    What a clear headed post rjs, thanks for doing that thinking.

    In 1 Cor 6 Paul is admonishing people for taking their matters to court instead of working it out in the family. This too is in the court of public opinion and it is a shame.

    I hate to be this disparaging after saying what I did and reading what you said, but I really believe it is an authority and in-group behavior type of issue. The need for control outweighs the truth. It regularly happens in individual churches by pastors who do not waves, and is modeled by the higher ups to set the example. Is that cynical?

  • rjs


    We are all fallen and at times motivated by inappropriate factors. We don’t need to be naive here. But it does no good to assume that those who disagree with you do so out of selfish motivations of any sort. Even when there are selfish motivations they are often mixed with motivations that arise from a desire to follow God.

    If we were to approach our disagreements assuming the best of each other we would get further faster. This includes unmasking inappropriate motivation when it occurs. A good deal of self-reflection is always appropriate as well.

  • Jim L.

    “Can we agree to disagree and take our time working through the issues? Or is it essential to take a strong stand here and now, either for or against?”
    We better agree to disagree and work together in resolving our differences. Someone else said “a divide house will not stand”. Thank you for your posts and fair handling of this subject.

  • Fred

    It’s hard to say what their motivations are without actually hearing from the Christian scholars. It is the easiest thing in the world to arm-chair quarterback someone elses motives. We all do it.

    I have been told that I have a “critical spirit.” I look at myself, though, as having pure motives, but then I know myself too well. It can lead to schizophrenia….or repentance.

    I wonder if we could get some of these people to come aboard and express their motives.

  • DanS

    I think it unfair to assume a motive for anyone’s views. I get quite offended here when I read posts and comments that suggest those who retain more conservative views on this issue are motivated by “fear” or a concern over a loss of power, etc. On the other hand, there is no denying that to question Darwin at secular universities and at many erstwhile Christian institutions can come at a great cost and can be a motivation for shutting up or towing the party line.

    As for the search for truth, I do wish the oft repeated quote from Augustine would get a rest. Augustine insisted on an historical Adam and a direct link between sin and physical death. In addition, two additional quotes get at what he really meant.

    ““But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. Turning away in disgust from the unattractive wheat field, they long for the blossoms on the thorn.”

    Might this describe the plight of so many young Christians in secular universities and Christian colleges who turn away from the account of Genesis after being exposed to a one-sided and virulently dogmatic naturalism! Might this also describe so many students at ostensibly Christian colleges who are taught what is essentially a baptized naturalism by Christian professors!

    In fact, Augustine is rather staunch in his defense of the reliability of the scriptures in the face of scientific theories, stating: “When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that it is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt.”

    Again, where scripture and science conflict, Augustine does not assume we should accept secular science uncritically, but that we should hold to scripture.

    You can disagree with Augustine on that point, but I think it a misrepresentation to use the prior quote to imply Augustine would look at Darwinism and become an Evolutionary Creationist or encourage others to do so.

    He did, on textual grounds, wonder whether “light” in Genesis 1 was literal or figurative and whether the length of a day was 24 hours, but he was absolutely clear about Adam, sin and death.

  • Very well written and thought out. Thanks for the insight.

    I wouldn’t limit the issue to only Adam and Eve. There are certainly other aspects of Scripture that professors, theologians, and authors have questioned the traditional views, such as: Rob Bell, Miroslav Volf, Brian McLaren, and N.T. Wright. And, I don’t believe it has anything to do with placating the world’s views rather simply challenging and stretching our own views. I have learned so much from these authors, and although I may not agree with them in full, it has caused me to pause and reflect on what I truly believe. Furthermore, it has driven me to dive deeper into Scripture and realizing that fundamentalists, foundationalists, and conservative Evangelicals don’t necessarily have it right.

  • Joe Canner

    I am not a “Christian scholar”, but my reason for moving away from YEC and investigating the scientific evidence was because I was concerned that we Christians (as per Augustine) were making fools of ourselves by insisting on a position that was neither scientifically tenable nor theologically necessary. I am quite happy, however, to agree to disagree, or–better yet–to agree to be publicly silent on this issue since it is not an issue worth being divisive about. Unfortunately, there are organizations who have invested millions of dollars in *not* being publicly silent.

  • Joe Canner

    DanS #5: Augustine’s advice is still good for us today, despite the fact that he did not entirely follow it himself.

  • rjs


    Exactly what Augustine thought about specific issues for which he had no evidence is not determining for our belief. He too was finite and fallible. I also think his view of what it means for scripture to be true needs more work. But his general philosophy of engagement also has much from which we could learn.

    But your comment that begins “might this describe” is a symptom of the problem that I am trying to discuss here. Most of those Christian professors are not trying to baptize naturalism, but are trying to integrate what they know from, of, and by, faith with what they know from direct and indirect scientific investigation.

  • Matt

    At an AIG presentation, I was told personally by someone the YEC crowd considers one of its ringers (i.e., a British scientist with a PhD), that Christians who believe in evolution are either losing a spiritual battle or succumbing to peer pressure (!?) I realize that the ID and theistic evolution crowd is far from perfect with its tone, but with such rhetoric/scare tactics, how much dialogue can we have?

  • RJS, Thanks again for another helpful post. This one especially is worth framing for me, though I can’t do so at the moment for the reasons you describe here, I’m afraid.

    I think others may think the motives are not all wrong, but that the serpent is in this. That Genesis is being undermined so that the faith of many will be destroyed. They consider it a war for the truth. Nothing less than that.

    And we run into “the perfect storm.” You have them coming bent on saving the faith especially of the young through something like Creation Science. And you have the other side trying to save the faith of the young within an acceptance of evolution which sees the biblical account of Genesis differently. And no matter what is said, the war is on, and there will be no compromise.

    How can we get past that? How can we respect differences, acknowledge that some won’t change? I don’t know.

    I think we have to move on in love, questing for the truth as you say. And let God work out the details. It will require some loss along the way. Much work to do. Those who defend the acceptance of evolution have to fight as hard perhaps in attacking philosophical naturalism.

  • DRT

    Wild thought here. In reading Ted’s post#11 I was reminded of the poster that all the girls had in their room in college, if you love something set it free, if it comes back it was yours and if it doesn’t it never was. It seems that the loose hold on things you love and care deeply about is not always intuitive and easy for many people. For many, the natural reaction is to hold tighter when you have a lot at stake. I am thinking that is part of the issue with the strong hold to literal untenable theories in the face of something that could take it away. They love the bible and they don’t want to lose it.

    In a conversation I had with a evangelical biblicist this week I asked him to hold less tightly to his perspective that the bible had to be 100% literally right on everything and his response was that it is dangerous to do that. He said that his mother went down that road and now she is into some sort of new age thing.

  • Amos Paul


    Augustine is not the only church father around. He did a lot of good things, but I honestly think (among many others) that *so* many of his words were influential that they have since been adopted into Christianity whole cloth that really don’t make a lot of sense outside his specific framework.

    That issue is tangential, however. Let’s just say that the Catholic church considers both him and Aquinas ‘orthodox’, despite the fact that Aquinas (subtley) disagreed with Augustine on so many things. This was one of them. Aquinas called philosophy (or science) and our interpretation of revelation (or theology) two forms of reasoning that sort of ‘double check’ one another.

    God did not give us reason to not find the truth, he said. But we’re still fallible. So when theology and science/philosophy so clearly disagree, it’s a good clue that one (or both) is wrong. Just like in math when you do a particular equation two different ways to double check your answer. If they both *agree*, it’s a fair clue they *might* be right.

    Of course, Aquinas was yet another man who said similarly ‘out there’ things as Augustine. Nevertheless, I think when it comes to faith and reason that Aquinas was absolutely right.

  • Rich S.


    How do we decide where theology or the Bible and science “clearly” disagree? Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds. Science tells us that the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds. Is this one of those clear disagreements where we simply have to trust Jesus, or was Jesus “clearly” not giving a science lesson at all, but rather using language in one of many ways that language can be used to talk about something else entirely — the kingdom of God? What about the rest of the Bible? When is the Bible giving us a science lesson, and when is it actually talking about something else altogether? If we have to make this decision with words that Jesus spoke, it shouldn’t be surprising that we have to go through the same discernment process with all the other words in the Bible.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#12) – Your biblicist-friend’s belief that it is dangerous to question, and Matt’s (#10) experience at the AIG conference are good examples of why, for some, this discussion is an impossible one to have. Changing one’s mind, even when presented with new information (scientific) is seen to be a weakness in faith — “compromising” one’s faith. I’ve been immersed in this world for the past decade, as exposed to the vast Christian homeschooling marketplace. It takes a little distance, and a healthy dose of cynicism (is that an oxymoron?), to have the ability to think and see clearly. I’m sorry to be a persistent cynic, and be perhaps offensively blunt, but there is a boatload of money to be made in this venue. A “culture of fear” definitely is at work in the marketing strategies. I have no idea if this is a conscious thing, or if truly well-intentioned people are caught up in this and become unwitting accomplices in perpetuating an unhealthy situation. Probably a little of both. At this stage, cynicism is to my advantage.

    Sure, we should try to be loving and civilized to promote constructive dialogue. I always appreciate not being labeled a heretic or an ignoramus when expressing my thoughts or discussing difficult topics.

    I do not think that taking a strong stand, with an attitude of certainty and superiority, in matters of faith and science, has ever or will ever lead to peace and unity. We can prove ourselves right, at all costs, or care more about people than being right. I’m beginning to think that it doesn’t even matter so much that all my beliefs line up neatly in a row. Just that I live the best I can as I feel Jesus would want. Some are going to approve of me, and some people are not. Press on, nonetheless.

  • Amos Paul


    If the scenario you proposed were in effect, that would likely be a case (as you pointed out yourself) in which someone’s *interpretation* of revelation, or theology, was incorrect–and the fact that science disagreed with the theological interpretation highlighted that fact.

    It’s actually a good example. If I believe that Jesus said X statement with Y scientific import which clearly disagrees with Z natural facts about the world we’ve discovered via science–then either my interpretation of what Jesus said was wrong (maybe the words *don’t* have the scientific import I thought they did), or the science is actually wrong, or both might be incorrect.

    The ‘theology and science double check things’ ideology is not a statement about how theology and science ought to each be practiced. They should obviously both be different and, ideally, reasonable. God gave us reason as a truth-discovering mechanism… even if it’s only partial and incomplete truths we discover.

  • Ryan

    As someone who is very conservative theologically I am conflicted with the issue of Adam and Eve.

    I want to follow truth and listen to what evidence says about Adam and Eve. I don’t ever want to be so naive as to think that the truths of the Bible rise and fall with them.

    At the same time I think there are some concerns, or motivations as RJS put it, in holding onto their existence. Most of them are theological and not about “control” as DRT put it. Those theological questions have already been covered here so I will not cover well worn ground.

    I will say that while Adam and Eve’s actual existence may be in doubt, I am inclined to side with GK Chesterton in proclaiming that the one Christian doctrine that is empirical and obvious to all even in our daily lives is our depravity, or brokenness if you will. We are not the way we are supposed to be. Something has gone terribly wrong that has corrupted us and leaves us in need of new life and a Savior.

    So while Adam and Eve may be in question, I find a major part of their story to be as true as gravity, and anything else I know.

  • Thanks RJS, great post – I don’t agree with all your conclusions on this issue, but I thought the tone of both the piece and your response to comments was excellent.

    I’d be interested, if you haven’t already, to see you do a verse by verse exposition of Genesis 2 as you now understand it (I can’t remember who did this with Genesis 1, but it was very helpful). Any chance? ;o)

  • DRT

    Thank you Amos and Ryan, I am trying to understand you both and appreciate you telling us the way you are thinking about this.

    Since Susan brought up the F word, I will continue with it a bit more since we, as humans, can be strongly motivated by Fear. One of my biggest fears is that I am totally delusional and wrong and missed the boat. For instance, what if I spent my whole life worshiping Jesus and being a Christian only to find out the “right answer” is actually Mormonism?

    [If you have not seen the South Park episode about this you are missing great fun, it goes like this:

    Speaker: Hello, newcomers, and welcome. Can everybody hear me? [taps the mic a few times] Hello? Can everyb–? Okay. [the crowd quiets down] Uh, I’m the hell director. Uh, it looks like we have about 8,615 of you newbies today, and for those of you who are a little confused, uh, you are dead, and this is hell, so, abandon all hope and uh yada yada yada. Uh, we are now going to start the orientation process, which will last about–
    Man 4: Hey, wait a minute, I shouldn’t be here. I was a totally strict and devout Protestant! I thought we went to heaven!
    Hell Director: Yes, well I’m afraid you were wrong.
    Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.
    Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
    Man 5: Well, who was right? Who gets into heaven?
    Hell Director: I’m afraid it was the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons were the correct answer.
    Crowd: [disappointed] Awww.

    Now clearly I am using fear and it is not really the right word. Concern may be a better word. One of the primary ways that I determine whether I should be following a religion is by determining whether it is even rational for me to do it. So when I have things within Christianity that make no sense to me it causes me to question whether or not it is the right religion.

    Ryan and Amos, it seems to me that you start out with the basic assumption that Christianity, and more specifically your particular brand, is correct and you would not even bother to question it. Is that right? Is that why it does not bother you?

    I hope this is not offensive, I do want to understand.

  • Rich S.


    Sorry. I read your post too quickly and realize that we’re saying the same thing. Thanks.

  • John W Frye

    You are wise in this: “While theology certainly helps to inform my interpretation of creation, life, and purpose, we err when we declare for some reason or other that a fact can not be a fact because of its theological consequence.” But to get to where you are for some who are trapped by their view of the Bible and their epistemology is frightening. I imagine they cannot process your comments about being deeply in love with Jesus Christ and a devoted evangelical and yet question the historicity of Adam and Eve and espouse an evolutionary model for human origins. That is why questionable motivations are assigned to you and others. It just does *not* compute for them. What you and others are offering as a healthy family conversation feels to them as “the rug being jerked out from under their feet.” To offer a relational epistemology grounded in the Trinitarian God as a replacement for the prevailing view of the Bible’s accuracy on all things scientific is gobbledy-gook to those holding a foundationalist epistemology (whether they know they hold it or not). It literally takes a leap of faith. To suggest “Hold things loosely and enter a friendly dialogue” sounds to them like “Walk the plank to your doom.” To jump off the platform of one’s view of the Bible feels like jumping to the death. But only until they jump will they find the ‘everlasting arms of the Triune God’ there for them. We are talking not just about science and theology, we are talking about the way people process reality. Where will we find our “certainty”?

  • Ryan

    The only thing with your Mormon story DRT is that Mormons don’t believe in Hell:)

    They have a three-tiered Heaven and an “outer darkness” that is only for Mormons who denounce their faith, and murders.

    just sayin…

  • Ryan


    Also really good questions on your part.

    I actually do not come anywhere close to starting with Christianity.

    I grew up in a very secular liberal home and wanted nothing to do with God. Growing up though and then during my first year of college I saw tons of abuse, evil first hand, and hated even the person I had become. I searched out and studied pretty much everything I could that was metaphysical. During this period I actually had an incredible bias against Christianity and thought is was the least likely to be true.

    I had always been fascinated with history though, and eventually I had a friend give me some Lee Strobel and NT Wright books that spoke directly to this historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. I just could not escape the conclusions I was reading even though I ardently tried.

    So I really don’t take any offense in what your saying, rather I have always found myself to be a truth-seeker above all else. In fact nothing has encouraged me more than Jesus saying he is “the truth” (Jn. 14) because I believe it frees me to follow truth wherever it may lead.

    As I said before, I am not firm on Adam and Eve, but the principle of human brokenness that comes from the story is absolutely undeniable.

  • Albion

    #21 John W. Frye


  • DRT

    Thank you Ryan,

    John Frye, your post reminds me of something I read though I no longer remember who said it. They went through the criteria for salvation in each branch of Christianity and showed how the eschatalogical believe drove behavior. For the Catholics they need to not sin and ensure they are not in a state of sin (which can be fixed via confession), for the foundationalists they would need to make sure that their “belief” is rock solid or else they will not get salvation. Therefore, questioning the “belief” is inherently suicidal. Thoughts?

  • rjs

    John Frye,

    Yes, but… there are two related issues here. I think we need to have a deep and fruitful conversation rather than a shouting match – and even the admission that there might be call for discussion of the issue disturbs many.

    But there is another issue as well. I don’t really mind too much that Dr. Mohler (to take an example) thinks that my position is misguided, underestimates the theological significance, and promotes a serious error. Here we (generic we – I’ve never met or interacted with Dr. Mohler) can talk – even if the conclusion is that I am treading dangerously close to heresy. I doubt if anyone could ever convince me of the necessity of a young earth view, but Adam, Eve, and the Fall are a different matter.

    I mind greatly, however, that some seem to think (or at least makes statements indicating) that the major reason for taking this position is to secure the approval of the world. This sets it up as pure and faithful on one side and the duplicitous, sinful, and self-focused on the other. Here there is no room for conversation – the only appropriate response is repentance, sack cloth and ashes, and a burying of the questions and concerns.

  • John W Frye

    DRT @ 25,
    I agree. Everyone wants bombproof beliefs, rock solid. To find that certainty in a book, howbeit a sacred one, or in a salvation tenet seems wrong-headed. The Triune God (One in Three Persons) is our Rock.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#19) – You are so funny! I’m less and less afraid that my wrong ideas (heresies) will land me in hell. Love trumps fear 🙂 Romans 8?!

  • John W Frye

    RJS @ 26,
    I appreciate your response. And I agree we must keep attempting to have the healthy family dialogue all the while thinking the best about one another on both sides of the topic at hand. I still think that those who claim that you and others only hold your position in order “to secure the approval of the world” really *cannot process* how and why you do hold your position. (Unless, of course, they’re just mean.) It cannot be based on a real love for God and respect for the Bible. You must have some defect of faith and/or character. At some point, I think a work of the Spirit must intervene in them (and in all of us). We will not argue or reason an opponent into changing their minds. As you can see, I am trying to frame this pastorally. BTW, I do not mean by my comment #21 that YEC folk or Mohler, etc. do not ever experience the ‘everlasting arms of God’.

  • Joe Canner

    rjs #26: I agree with you, but I’m also not sure there’s anything wrong with gaining the respect of the world if in so doing we draw them to Christ without compromising the basic truths of the faith.

    You quote Mohler as saying “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

    We can (and do) discuss here whether biblical orthodoxy is threatened, but he is quite wrong about losing the respect of the world. Non-Christian evolutionists (for the most part) are quite fond of Christians like Ken Miller and Frances Collins who can deliver the message to other Christians in a credible way. Granted, their fondness is self-serving, but there is little, if any, evidence of lack of respect. At worst, they wonder how theistic evolutionists can stomach Christianity given their respect for the scientific method.

  • Fish

    “… we err when we declare for some reason or other that a fact can not be a fact because of its theological consequence.”

    That is very well put. Thank you.

  • Patrick

    I think there is enough evidence to support the possibility we are making fools of ourselves, not over disagreeing with science though.

    It just seems to me that even BioLogos is reacting to a false hermeneutic of the literalists as IF it were really what the Bible says.

    The reality is the Bible has nothing to say about ages of man or the universe.

    This is a debate between science and bs hermeneutics, not Biblical info.

  • R Hampton

    #21 John W Frye

    I agree entirely — I suspect it’s especially true for those who were “Born Again” after leading very destructive lives. Their faith is the only thing saving them from drowning. It’s understandable that such individuals would be protective of it and sometimes overprotective. Ironically, this can lead one to reject anything that would cause uncertainty, for uncertainty (as they see it) begets doubt which begets disbelief and certain drowning.

  • What a great discussion on how “fact” and “faith” can often find themselves strange bedfellows. I really enjoy how RJS frames an issue.

    Recently I’ve been working through a series of blog posts on the Trinity and Jesus as God. The intent is not to assault the validity of the Trinity or impugn the ultimate divinity of Jesus. The intent is to look at what seem to be the facts of Scripture and balance that with what many call orthodox faith. It is indeed a challenge.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    I think the main reason so many Christian scholars stcik their necks out on this issue is that the sciecne is so well established. If we beieve that each of us has certian God-given talents or vocations to various scientific disciplines, then we should expect those people to use those gifts.

    The Christian scholars identified above ahd done so and cocnldued that curent scientific understanding eliminates the possibility that all of the humans alive today descended from a single couple.

    Pointing that particular scientific fact out is not curryign favor in any way. It is a scientifically neutral fact. If it causes theological issues, those should certainly be discussed. I belive that that religious and theologians really do not understand what the status of the science is today and should be very wary of imputing ulterior motives to those Christians who are simply using their God-given talents.

  • I think it is appropriate for Christian scholars to stick their necks out on this one…. We need to talk about Adam and Eve because everyone else is doing so. Whether in science classes or literature, from the perspective of gender studies or studies of ancient cultures, Adam and Eve are ubiquitous. Why should we speak less intelligently and less well about that story than those who don’t count it as central to the human story? It will always remain important, but what kind of story is it, really? I want to know.

    Yesterday, I landed on an essay on the Internet written by an art historian. It was about Adam and Eve (the expanded story of creation, with Eve taken from Adam’s rib, and the fall). I learned more about the sources of that story than I have in 40 years of growing up in the church. But I can’t talk about it with anyone I know face to face. I don’t even know how to begin approaching the essay’s claims and sorting through them because I’ve never heard a hint of what was said (and it seemed based on good scholarship) in any church from any pastor … I’ve only heard about connections with ANE mythologies on the Internet, and now I learn about connections with Baal worship, specifically the serpent as a symbol of Baal. I can’t even begin to interrogate the claims of this art historian, to see what is fact and what is conjecture, if I have zero knowledge of what he is talking about. Why should the story of Adam and Eve be so central to my beliefs and yet I have zero knowledge of the discussions surrounding it? The only discussions I’m privvy to are the ones comparing Eve’s desire of her husband to the devil’s desire to possess Cain, because the same word for desire is used in both verses, and well, that’s “good hermeneutics,” and I’m telling you, these “Christian” discussions of the Adam and Eve story, where Christians are satisfied to literally demonize women, makes me ill. I’d be happy for a different discussion for a change. When I can see where the stories have come from, or if you prefer, what they stand in contrast to, then I can see how they are different. I can better see what kind of statement they really make. And I can wonder, why would anyone make such a statement unless they really had encountered such a God….

    I think somewhere in there, there’s dishonesty, because surely knowledgeable Christians have come across much of this scholarship before, and the fact that there is silence about it leads me to think the dishonesty is on the part of the Church…… There are specific, particular connections between the story of Adam and Eve and contemporary religious myths that the church is silent on. Why is that? (For that matter, why would any pastor come to a verse about “women being saved through childbearing” and just shrug it off, saying he didn’t understand it, when there is so much scholarship on the cultural context behind that statement available online? It’s wilfull ignorance, and if I haven’t made it clear yet, it’s the wilfull silence of pastors that is causing spiritual damage, not the questions themselves. They go to seminary and get advanced degrees. Why are they hoarding their treasure? What are the years of study and the degree for?)

    We lose out, whether we refuse to study ancient cultures as backdrop to the story of Adam and Eve or refuse to seriously explore human origins through science and anthropology. The most profound insights I’ve gotten into matters of faith recently came to me through Bruce Feiler and Garry Wills …. Bruce Feiler, because he tried so hard to understand the desert culture surrounding the Pentateuch texts, and Garry Wills, because he’s the first I’ve read who says unashamedly, this is Pauline, this is pseudo-Pauline and lots of Acts is questionable, but who manages in the process to show me the high Christology present in christianity from the beginning, and the radical nature of early Christianity, and in the meantime restores my confidence in Paul as someone “legit.” Maybe there are evangelicals writing the same way. I need to find them. (I’d be quite happy to keep reading Wills but I’ve already read several of his books now, about the Gospels, Jesus, and Paul. I’d love to hear him on the Pentateuch….)

    So, I do not know what might motivate an individual to risk so much to answer such a question about how “real” Adam and Eve are, but the church’s refusal collectively to really explore this question and allow it to be explored is short-sighted.

    In the meantime, Christopher Whitcombe leaves me fascinated but with lots of questions. (Having named the art historian, I now prepare to be told, oh don’t listen to him. He’s the “antichrist.”)

    I’m not a college student. I’m a 40-year-old SAHM. I have an Internet connection. I explore and read, and read, and read. And church, you’re losing me. With a BA and MA in literature, I’m trained to read and interrogate the text. Give me something to read that acknowledges the validity of the questions….. I’m not trained in theology, but you are, and I need more from you (in the many pulpits I have sat “under.”)

  • rjs


    I don’t think that there is much dishonesty – but pastors in general deal with a broad range of people with many different kinds of questions and concerns and with a host of practical issues besides. The kinds of questions you are posing (and that I pose) are not of great significance for the majority of the people.

    Exploring the questions and then turning around and figuring out how to present them to a broad audience in a way that builds people up is a herculean task. It isn’t something most pastors have the time or inclination to do.

    We need a forum, though, where it is possible to ask questions and discuss all of the issues. The questions are valid and they need to be taken seriously. I wish it was possible to do this in the context of face-to-face interactions with people rather than the semi-anonymity and imposed distance of internet interactions.

  • MDM

    I have a B.S. in biology and a M.S. in microbiology and have been attending evangelical church since 9 months before I was born. It irritates me when people ascribe metaphysical claims to the ideas that science presents as the explanation for the origins of life on earth and the diversity therein. I also find fallacy in the idea that God created the world as it is stated in Genesis (which I hold to be true) but because we have discovered what we have about evolution that somehow the two things are mutually exclusive.

    I believe that God is Lord over all of existence, and I also accept that we as humans have an imperfect understanding of not only God but also of the physical world around us. It turns out that our scientific understanding of evolution allows us to predict many phenomena, and react in appropriate ways (antibiotic resistance, flu vaccines, HAART treatment for HIV infection are a few topics that come to mind). I don’t think any scientist would ever claim to have a perfect model explaining how evolution works, but it occurs to me that God does and is Lord over it and understands it perfectly.

    I guess my point is that it’s ok to me that there may on the surface seem to be some irreconcilable differences between the Genesis account and Neo-Darwinian evolution. I can’t imagine that any theologian would claim to have perfect understanding of the metaphysics regarding the eternal nature of God… and I don’t think it matters. It does matter that we believe John when he said “In the beginning was the Word…”, I think some things we have to take at face value and put our trust in God that he knows how it can all be logically reconciled.

  • Patrick


    If you have time, check out “The Lost world or Genesis 1”.

    If it is accurate, there is no debate between science and the Bible on things like origins because the text lends itself to evolution at least within the homo genus. The debate is a false dichotomy if this view is valid.

    The age of the earth and such are not remotely discussed in Genesis if Professor Walton’s view is valid.

  • AHH

    I think Harlow’s word choice of intellectual currency or respectability is unfortunate, leading to unhelpful things like Mohler’s framing it as seeking the respect of the world.

    Better word choice more accurately describing it for me (and I suspect for Harlow, RJS, and others) would be intellectual integrity. Not thinking of integrity mainly in the sense of honesty, but in the sense of integrating one’s whole life and world with one’s faith.
    If every Sunday I say that the Earth is flat, while seeing its roundness the rest of the week, that isn’t sustainable in terms of living a life of integrity. I think many have reached that point of not being able to maintain the cognitive dissonance with the traditional doctrine of Adam & Eve, and feel a need to explore theological options that depart from some traditional views (while, we hope, not straying from orthodoxy unless one defines orthodoxy narrowly like Mohler does).

    I think this is increasingly becoming an issue not because of any desire for acceptance (especially since exploring other options often leads to rejection of Christian scholars by their Evangelical peers). Instead, I think it is the natural area that comes up because it is the only area right now where the scientific evidence (as opposed to metaphysical meanings some attach to science) is in significant tension with traditional orthodox Christian doctrine (as opposed to fundamentalist doctrine which brings myriad tensions).

  • rjs


    I agree that Harlow’s word choice was unfortunate – this is a place were we need to be careful to give the right nuance.

    It is, for me, a matter of personal intellectual integrity. I can no longer bracket my view and approach to accommodate different contexts.

  • To RJS, your comment #37, thank you for your comment that recognized the degree to which these questions press upon me and the need for a place for me to turn, as well as the balanced statement you formulated about pastors’ realities to correct some of my misplaced frustrations. Much appreciated. I was afraid to “come back” to the conversation.

  • DRT

    Mohler finally said something about the NPR article today. And he gets the conclusion right, but not in the way he thinks. He says “If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.” His literalist interpretation of Genesis sets up a biblicist reading of scripture and that leads to getting it wrong and insisting on things like ECT

  • John Schneider

    All arguments aside, I am extremely encouraged and duly flattered by Harlow’s statement that “evangelicals devour their ‘young.'”