This isn’t a tempest in a tea pot; there’s a real issue with hominid theism. Here, one can make the claim that one believes in a kind of historical Adam with the unexamined implication that one means the Adam of scripture, the Adam described in the narrative of Genesis, while one believes almost nothing of that record. Wright’s Adam and Eve, perhaps a chosen pair, aren’t related to the Adam and Eve of scripture.
If Christianity loses Adam we lose Jesus as well. The dream of keeping Jesus in the absence of an historical Adam is a hopeful monster. There is no historical Jesus without an Adam of history. An Adam of faith or myth or “spiritual language” that isn’t the Adam of history undercuts the intent of the Bible so deeply as to leave no Jesus worthy of divine prerogatives – much less one that can save his people from their sins.
The stakes are high. Last year at Bryan College, notable for being named after William Jennings Bryan, the attorney that successfully argued the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial“, the Trustees adopted a rule that professors must hold to the immediate creation of a literal Adam and Eve as a condition of employment. The reaction from the local and national press, the religious community and particularly from the scientific community was thunderous. The move struck at the heart of a division deep in the heart of the Evangelical conscience that most hadn’t known was there.
When theologies, careers and the fate of institutions are on the line these things get very serious:
Last month, a chapel talk at Bryan featured a discussion with Wood and well-known evolutionary creationist Darrel Falk. At the end of their conversation, Livesay said he wanted to make a statement about Bryan College’s stance on origins. He said he did not agree with the views of “BioLogos” [a think tank that promotes evolution to specifically Christian audiences].
“Scripture always rises above anything else. Scripture rises above science. … Science at some point will catch up with the scripture,” Livesay said, according to an online podcast of the event.
Haynes, the trustee, said Livesay has brought up the need for clarification several times to the board. Christians have increasingly begun to question traditional interpretations of Genesis, though he believes the Bible is clear on the matter.
“When you review these things, the first thing you must do is go back to the scripture and make sure what you’re saying is compatible with scripture,” he said. “Scripture judges you.”
To those who see the board’s clarification as a substantive change, Haynes again pointed to scripture.
“That’s the question I have to ask them: Who moved?” he said. “Did scripture move or did you move?”1
Four professors at historically conservative Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia have been retired in relation to teaching views of human origins or hermeneutical approaches (hermeneutics is the study of what the Bible is supposed to be and how it should be read) thought irreconcilable with historic orthodoxy: including Peter Enns, Douglas Green, Christopher Fantuzzo and Tremper Longman III. This school had an especially important place in the American conversation between “liberal” vs. “conservative” theologies being the house of Gresham Machen and the presumed home of American Presbyterianism after the fall of Princeton. Ongoing conversations are also live at Wheaton, BIOLA, Yale, Harvard, Duke, Trinity (TEDS, TGS), Fuller and many others.
We might agree that if one is going to affirm the evolution of the human species and deny the historicity of Adam it will require a new way of reading the Bible. Whatever hints to the contrary through the history of the church, no one has ever done origins quite like this and no one has ever read scripture quite this way. There is a new thing happening and it’s impossible to predict how it will all turn out.
The denial of Adam has always been an important doctrine of Christian Liberalism. Here, we need to distinguish between political, social, economic and theological liberalism. A person that is a social conservative can be a theological liberal (Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh,) but one could also be a theological conservative and a social or economic liberal. It depends on how much one feels the need for ideological consistency.
But here, we’re talking about Theological Liberalism which is an identifiable theological tradition growing along side and in competition with theologically conservative views. This kind of liberalism is usually identified with esoteric or mythic readings of scripture, holding the Bible as spiritually or ethically “true” but not true (or at least with various errors) as to persons, events and descriptions of the world, that the study of the sciences and other religions is necessary to the proper reading of the Bible, and that the scriptures are best interpreted as human works about the spiritual experiences of the authors – and not as a message from God communicated through human writers.
Roger Olson, Professor of Christian Theology at Baylor and self described liberal explains:
“…liberal theology makes modern thought in general a norming norm for theology–alongside if not above Scripture. If we do not stick to this historical-theological definition of liberal theology (along with prototypes such as Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Harnack, et al.) we end up filling the category so full it becomes empty.” 2
In this, the Bible is a source about God (perhaps even unique in some sense) but incomplete and given to the errors of its authors. Some would say that though the Bible itself is not immediately the word of God we do receive the word of God through the Bible (Barth). There are many different ways that theological liberalism can come to self expression but the main traits are myth, errancy and mysticism.
Some are more careful with the wording and so say that the Bible is true in all that intends to teach supposing that we might preserve the spirit of a Bible without errors (inerrancy) in the presence of a Bible of doubtful content.
With the rise of “myth” as a genre for reading the Bible and the advent oftheistic evolution within Roman Catholicism and Liberal Protestantism it might have been inevitable that certain questions would be asked within areas of traditionally conservative Christian thought.
The questions might be, “What if the writers of the Bible never intended for the first three chapters to be read literally?” Or, “What if when we read Ancient Near East literature we find similarities between the stories in the Bible and those works that we already consider “myth” – not themselves “true” in historical, scientific or even religious reference?” Or perhaps, “Now that we are men of science more than men of superstition can we read the Bible in a way that preserves its value – now that we know its claims about the world are indeed false?” This is another way of asking has Christianity outgrown the Bible.