Al Mohler, Adam, and Evolution on NPR

Al Mohler, Adam, and Evolution on NPR October 19, 2011

In my last three posts (the first is here), we looked at Al Mohler’s understanding of the relationship between science and Christianity.

The heart of the matter is Mohler’s notion of “apparent age”—that the universe looks billions of years old but is in fact only about 6000 years old, as the Bible says.

Today, we begin to look at Mohler’s views as expressed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” interview that aired on September 22, 2011. The audio and entire manuscript can be found here.

For those interested, I have edited that NPR manuscript by including only those portions where Al Mohler and Dan Harlow (Professor of Biblical and Early Jewish Studies, Calvin College) speak.

As we continue here, I want to remind you that my purpose in these posts is not to refute Mohler, but to give his unsettled followers a sense that there is much more to be said on these matters than Mohler lets on, and that there is a vibrant, exciting, and above all necessary conversation happening in the Christian and evangelical worlds.

Here the first two of five summary statements of Mohler’s assertions in the interview, with some brief comments of my own in response. I address most of these points in greater detail in my upcoming book, The Evolution of Adam (due out in January).

1. Adam is central to the biblical storyline.

If Adam is central to the biblical storyline, why is Adam mentioned nowhere after Genesis 5:5 apart from 1 Chronicles 1:1 (the first name in the nine-chapter long genealogy that traces Israel’s heritage from Adam to the postexilic Israelites)?

Similarly, if Adam’s disobedience plunged humanity into moral helplessness, why is that central fact of the storyline not mentioned in the Old Testament? Why, by contrast, does God command and expect Israel to obey God’s law fully, even punishing them if they do not?

If Adam is central to the biblical storyline, why is Adam’s role in that storyline only mentioned–almost in passing–in two of Paul’s letters, Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15? Why do Jesus and the New Testament writers not share Mohler’s conviction that Adam is central?

Would it not be better to say that Adam is an important figure in the biblical drama, though clearly not central, but that nevertheless careful attention must be paid to his role in God’s story?

2. Paul’s understanding of Adam determines how we should understand the Adam story in Genesis.

This assertion may sound attractive or even compelling at first blush: “Who would know better than Paul what Genesis means?” And since Paul sees Adam as the first human, evolution is therefore out of the question. This seems like an over-the-defense-break-the-glass-slam dunk.

The problem, however, is that Paul habitually transposes the meaning of Old Testament passages in light of the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul regularly engages in creative, Christ-centered interpretation, of the Old Testament that clearly moves in directions not intended by the Old Testament authors. (For some examples, see Romans 10:5-9; 11:26-27; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Galatians 4:21-26.)

For Paul, reading his Bible (our Old Testament) meant reading it with fresh eyes. Paul’s Christ-centered use of the Old Testament is driven by his conviction that the resurrected Christ is climax of Israel’s story. Israel’s story is placed under the authority of the risen Christ, and is therefore read with that conviction in mind.

Another issue that affected Paul’s creative use of the Old Testament was the Judaism in which Paul himself was schooled. Creative engagement of the ancient text to speak to current circumstances was the norm. As unconventional as Paul’s interpretations of the Old Testament may be for modern readers, they fit very comfortably in his world.

All Christians must take with utmost seriousness how Paul understands Adam in light of Christ, and entire books are written on the subject.

But we must not think that Paul ends the current discussion on human origins, which is where Mohler is leading. It is at best premature, if not off the mark, to suggest that Paul ends the discussion of human origins or prevents Christians from adopting scientific models.

We will continue this discussion in my next post.



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