The Bible is messy, troubling, and weird. And that’s OK.


Someone shared this quote with me from Peter Enns’ preview of his forthcoming book The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, September 2014):

What if God is actually fine with the Bible just as it is? Not the well-behaved version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have? Maybe this Bible has something to show us about our own sacred journey of faith. Sweating bullets to line up the Bible with our exhausting expectations, to make the Bible something it’s not meant to be, isn’t a pious act of faith, even if it looks that way on the surface. It’s actually thinly masked fear of losing control and certainty, a mirror of our inner disquiet, a warning signal of a deep distrust in God. A Bible like that isn’t a sure foundation of faith; it’s a barrier to true faith. Creating a Bible that behaves itself doesn’t support the spiritual journey; it cripples it. The Bible’s raw messiness isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s an invitation to a deeper faith.

What if the battle for the Bible is really just a battle for control? Is it really such a “high view” of Scripture if it means making the Bible something it’s not and never meant to be? Isn’t it a higher view to accept and embrace the Bible we have than the one we might wish we had?

Needless to say, I will be buying Enns’ new book when it comes out. (Unless I can wrangle myself an advance review copy…)

For more, see “Quick preview of my next book (or, respecting the Bible enough not to defend it)” on Peter Enns’ blog.

The Bible is not “scientifically accurate”: why that’s good news for Christians

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still by Joshua Martin (courtesy of Google Art Project)
Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still by Joshua Martin (courtesy of Google Art Project)

In a previous post, I mentioned Joshua 10 and 1 Chronicles 16:30 as “problem passages” for those whose view of inspiration depends on the Bible being accurate in everything it says (or seems to say) about astronomy, geology, biology, etc.

Joshua 10 claims the sun temporarily stood still during a battle between the Israelites and the Canaanites, while 1 Chronicles 16 describes an immovable earth. On my blog the other day, I wrote that it’s obvious these texts “should be viewed as metaphor, not literal assertion.”

Actually, I got it wrong, as a friend pointed out later.

These texts are not simply metaphor. They’re not merely “the language of appearance,” as sometimes claimed. They’re not the equivalent of modern-day people saying “sunrise” and “sunset” when we know full well the sun doesn’t literally rise and set.

Joshua 10 and 1 Chronicles 16 reflect how people in the ancient Near East understood the cosmos.

They really DID think the sun moved and the earth didn’t. “Sunrise” and “sunset” weren’t metaphors to them; that’s what they thought the sun did.

This drawing depicts the cosmology of the ancient Near Eastern world.


The earth was conceived of as a flat disc, surrounded by a primeval ocean. Above the earth was the firmament, a solid dome which held the sun, moon, and stars. Above that, a heavenly ocean.

This is how pretty much everyone, including the writers of the Bible, understood the universe. That’s why the authors of Joshua 10 and 1 Chronicles 16 wrote what they did.

It shouldn’t come as surprise that we also find this view of the cosmos in the creation story of Genesis 1.

The primeval ocean shows up as the watery depth over which God’s spirit hovers in Genesis 1:2. A solid “firmament” or “vault” is depicted a few lines later (1:6), holding back the “waters above,” a.k.a. the heavenly ocean (1:7).

In other words, Genesis 1 reflects an ancient cosmology which we all know to be scientifically inaccurate. The earth is not a flat disc surrounded by a primeval ocean. There is no solid dome above us, and there is no heavenly ocean above that.

For young-earth creationists like Ken Ham, to question the scientific accuracy of Genesis 1 is to undermine confidence in the whole Bible. For me, accepting that Genesis reflects an ancient (and scientifically inaccurate) cosmology causes me to love these ancient texts even more.

Why? Because it means God meets us where we are, limitations and all. Speaking in and through the scriptures, he met people of the ancient Near Eastern world where they were. He didn’t let their limited understanding of the universe stop him from revealing himself. He doesn’t let our limited understanding stop him from doing he same for us today.

So, for example, when God revealed himself as creator, he did so in the language of a prescientific world, within the framework of ancient Near Eastern cosmology — flat earth, solid firmament, moving stars, and all. That’s the only way that would have made sense to an ancient Near Eastern person, so that’s how God spoke.

This is sometimes called the incarnational view of scripture. Just as God took on flesh in the form of Jesus — a reality people could see, touch and understand — so God revealed himself in scripture in ways the very first to encounter his revelation could understand.

He doesn’t demand we overcome our limitations first. He did not wait for ancient people to shed their ancient cosmology before he said something about why he made the world.

We’re not so different from the people of the ancient Near East. We have our limitations, our blind spots. We may know the sun doesn’t move across a solid dome of firmament, but we do not know everything there is to know. Not by a long shot.

That doesn’t stop God from revealing himself to us.

Genesis is not a scientifically accurate record of how the universe came into being. It was never meant to be. But that didn’t stop God from telling us something about why the universe came into being.

For me, the latter is a story worth reading.


*A great book on the incarnational view of Scripture is Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.

Debating Adam

If you want to get caught up on the historical Adam debate, which has been prompted in part by Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adamhere are some good places to start…

Christianity Today published a balanced summary last year in their feature article “The Search for the Historical Adam.”

Over on the Jesus Creed blog, RJS is going through Enns’ book chapter by chapter, starting here.

While he doesn’t mention Enns by name, Kevin DeYoung has weighed in with “10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam.” Which, in turn, has generated responses from New Testament scholar James McGrath (“Ten Really Bad Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam”) and Oxford don Timothy Law (“Kevin DeYoung’s Misunderstandings”). Enns has also weighed in here.

(Still waiting for the promised review by Albert Mohler.)

Putting the “fun” in dysfunctional: Joseph and his brothers

[This year, my wife and I are reading the Covenant History books of the Old Testament during Lent. We started a bit early because, well, they’re really long.]

After Isaac dies and Esau moves on, the spotlight comes to rest on Jacob’s family. Which is to say it rests (mostly) on Jacob’s upstart son Joseph.

Joseph is the first of two children born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. No surprise, then: he’s Jacob’s favorite son. And he knows it.

Joseph is a mixed bag. There are flashes of remarkable integrity and breathtaking impudence, all from the same guy. (You have to admire the writers/editors of Genesis for allowing their heroes to come across very un-heroic at times.)

On the one hand, while in Egypt, Joseph refuses to violate his master’s trust when the boss’s desperate housewife makes a pass him. (Several passes, actually.) On the other hand, Joseph is a schemer just like his father. He’s a tattletale. And as he proves to his brothers early on, he doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

Carted off by the Ishmaelites Midianites Ishmaelites

Fed up, Joseph’s brothers toss him into a well. As they’re deciding what to do with him, a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants come along.

Or were they Midianites?

The text refers to them as both. So which is it?

Apologists who see Genesis as a literal/historical composition, authored by Moses from beginning to end, argue the terms are interchangeable. But that’s not very convincing, because according to Genesis itself, the two groups descended from different branches of Abraham’s family tree.

Some see this as proof Genesis was cobbled together from a variety of disparate sources. In which case, the final editor was either profoundly stupid for not smoothing out the apparent discrepancy before going to press (not likely) or he wasn’t bothered by it to begin with because the story he’s trying to tell wasn’t meant to be read as exact, literal history — not in the way we understand history, anyway. (That’s just not how they did history in the ancient Near East.)

The other possibility is that the dueling references are a literary anachronism — the author taking something from his own time and importing it into a much older story. This makes more sense, assuming that Genesis in its final form came together relatively late in Israel’s history — say, sometime in the first millennium BC. There is reason to believe the Ishmaelites had assimilated into other groups, including the Midianites by then. Plus, it would go a long way toward explaining how this story can depict both groups as well-established tribes, presumably only a few generations after their ancestral namesakes were alive.

It helps to remember that Israel is telling these stories in order to make sense of its own story. As Peter Enns would argue, they’re a “theological response to Israel’s national crisis of exile.” They’re the product of a Jewish nation, either in danger of collapse or having just recently collapsed, asking itself, “How did we get here? And what do we do now?”

Mandated polygamy and the inspiration of scripture 

The account of Jacob’s family also features the bizarre tale of Judah and Tamar.

It starts with Judah, fourth son of Jacob, finding a wife for his oldest son, Er. When Er dies, Judah orders his second son Onan to get busy making babies with Er’s widow, Tamar. Onan doesn’t want to, because any son they have will be reckoned as Er’s, not his. So Onan dies too.

By this time, Judah’s only got one son left, and he’s not about to risk losing him, too. So he sends Tamar back to her family and forgets about her — until she disguises herself as a religious prostitute and tricks Judah into sleeping with her. (You might’ve gathered by now that Genesis is not for the underage.) Thus Tamar is able to shame Judah into taking her under his protection.

There are a few interesting things about this story. For starters, Tamar is a Canaanite. Which means, according to tradition, a sizable portion of the Jewish nation — including the Davidic line of kings, was part-Canaanite. Keep this in mind when you come to the conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua.

This story also prefigures the Hebrew custom of levirate marriage. This custom, which was later enshrined in Jewish law, obligated the brother of a deceased man to marry his brother’s widow.

Levirate marriage would pose a fascinating dilemma for modern society, since the passage in Deuteronomy doesn’t make an exception for brothers who were already married. In other words, to the already married brother of a deceased man, the Hebrew scriptures didn’t merely tolerate polygamy; they mandated it.

Now, there are plenty of reasons why polygamy is BAD idea. And the concept of levirate marriage has to be read against its cultural backdrop. Back then, it was the only way of providing some marginal protection for widows in a patriarchal world. We can be thankful that’s not the world we live in — and that there are better, more humane ways to look after widows today.

But this apparent endorsement of polygamy should give us something to think about before we weigh into some of the present-day debates involving sexual ethics with simplistic, “Bible-based” answers.

Finally, the original audience would have immediately detected the custom of levirate marriage in the Genesis story — even though from Judah and Tamar’s perspective, Jewish law (including levirate marriage) didn’t exist yet. It’s possible that levirate marriage was a much older custom that came to be absorbed into Jewish law.

This is yet another reminder that the Bible was not written in a vacuum. From its story of creation to its legal code, the ancient writers freely interacted with — and, at times, borrowed from — surrounding cultures.

For some, this may come as a blow to the inspiration of Scripture. But not for me. I see it as proof of inspiration. If we know anything about God from the Bible, it’s that he’s in the business of incarnating himself — coming down from lofty heights to enter into our story.

Incarnation is an act of divine self-limitation. If God doesn’t accommodate his self-revelation to the linguistic, cultural, or scientific limitations of the day, then no one would have any chance of understanding him. Just like none of us would be able to see God if he hadn’t incarnated himself into a human body.

I’ve shared this quote from Peter Enns before, but it’s worth repeating:

There is a reason why Scripture looks the way it does, so human, so much a part of this world: it looks this way to exalt God’s power, not our power.

The ‘creaturelines’ of Scripture is not an obstacle to be overcome so that God can finally be seen. Rather, we can only see God truly because of the limited, human form he has chosen as a means of revelation, and if we try to look past it, we will miss everything.

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns, a review (part 2 of 2)

So what are we to make of The Evolution of Adam?

There’s no question Enns’ proposals concerning Adam (and Paul’s use of Adam) are controversial for many Christians. They’re not something we should embrace or reject quickly. Books like these often elicit knee-jerk reactions (from both sides) when something more thoughtful is called for.

Like James Dobson did 20 years ago, I’m going to pass on rendering a final verdict. It’s not for me to say what we should make of Adam. Instead, I want to share three takeaways — two positive and one (mildly) critical.

1. Inspiration as incarnation

Some have accused Enns of demonstrating a low view of Scripture and a near-total disregard for its divine inspiration. If Genesis is “wrong” about creation, (I would argue it’s not a matter of Genesis being right or wrong because Genesis doesn’t seek to address scientific reality), and if Paul was “wrong” in some of his assumptions concerning Adam (though not in the point he was using Adam to make, Enns would say), then we are left with an unreliable, uninspired Bible.

But Enns himself never goes there. He repeatedly talks about the Bible’s divine inspiration in ways that should give responsible critics pause before lobbing these rhetorical grenades.

Rather, what Enns does is connect scriptural inspiration to divine incarnation — which, I gather, is the point of his previous book, Inspiration and Incarnation (though I haven’t read it).

God revealing himself in the written word, the logos, is fundamentally an act of incarnation. And incarnation — whether it’s God finding a way to contain infinite divinity within finite humanity or finding a way to reveal infinite truth through finite language — is an act of divine self-limitation. Or divine condescension, if you like.

As Enns writes in the final section of The Evolution of Adam:

Even the expression of deep and ultimate truth does not escape the limitations of the cultures in which that truth is expressed. [God accommodates] himself to the views of the time.

There is a reason why Scripture looks the way it does, so human, so much a part of this world: it looks this way to exalt God’s power, not our power…

The ‘creaturelines’ of Scripture is not an obstacle to be overcome so that God can finally be seen. Rather… we can only see God truly because of the limited, human form he has chosen as a means of revelation, and if we try to look past it, we will miss everything.

According to Enns, the biblical writers’ knowledge of the universe was limited by the time and culture in which they lived. (No doubt our knowledge is similarly limited in ways we don’t fully realize.) Evidently, when God chose to speak into THAT time and culture, he didn’t feel the need to correct every false assumption about cosmology, origins, etc., because he had a much more important story to tell.

The fact that the Bible reflects the cosmological assumptions of its day isn’t a problem for inspiration — unless you attribute to God a compulsion to correct every false assumption people have, much like the overzealous parent who nitpicks a child’s pronunciation just as she’s learning to talk.

Disagree with Enns about Adam if you like, but to accuse him of holding a low view of scripture is, in my opinion, a red herring.

2. Creation as cosmic temple (and a few other things)

Using Genesis 1-2 to wage a scientific battle is like using Van Gogh’s Starry Night to make a point about astronomy. There is little to be gained — and a good deal that will be missed.

For example, when we lay Genesis 1 next to other ancient creation stories like the Enuma Elish, we see more clearly the polemical punch our story packs. Genesis 1 effectively neuters the gods of the ancient pantheon. Sun, moon, and stars are no longer gods themselves, but merely created objects, stripped of their supposed divinity. Genesis 1 rather ingeniously suggests that God doesn’t even need the sun to provide light — he’s more than capable of that himself! Genesis 1 is, at its core, a profoundly subversive text.

Genesis 1 also reveals the true purpose of the cosmos: to serve as God’s dwelling place. We’re so used to thinking of God existing outside of time and space that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around this one.

Enns observes that Genesis 1 follows the pattern of a seven-day liturgical week, which for its original Jewish audience would have brought to mind Sabbath and sanctuary. Enns notes the many parallels between Genesis 1 and the creation of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31. And he draws an important contrast between Genesis and the Baal creation myth:

There is no temple in Genesis 1 constructed after creation to celebrate God’s victory over chaos; the created world is his temple.

Which connects nicely to the resolution of the biblical drama in Revelation, where God returns to his cosmic temple once more, this time to dwell among his people forever.

Meanwhile, in Genesis 2, we see a striking parallel to Israel’s story. Both Adam and Israel are “hand-made” by God. Both are given a piece of land to tend on God’s behalf. Both are given a law to govern their relationship to God. Both fail to keep their end of the bargain, and consequently both are subjected to exile — exile and death being nearly synonymous in the Old Testament.

There is so much good stuff to be explored in Genesis 1-2 once we get over our scientific hang-ups. There is deep truth to be found here, if we’d stop trying to make scripture answer questions it has no interest in answering.

If nothing else, the fact that these stories were carefully arranged to make specific theological points should serve as a clue that their writers were not particularly interested in providing a literal, scientific, or purely historical description of events. They would give us so much more — if we would just let them.

3. Death as the last enemy

I do have one criticism of The Evolution of Adam that I’ll share here. On the next-to-last page, Enns writes, “Death is not the enemy to be defeated.” His point is that some of the things we think of as bad (such as death) need to be revisited in light of evolution.

I agree… up to a point. Death in some form seems to be a vital element of creation and not just a foreign entity. Call it “the circle of life.” Or as Rob Bell once said, “Death is the engine of life.” In the plant world, for example, death and decomposition are vital to creating and sustaining new life.

There’s nothing in Genesis to suggest that humans were immortal by nature prior to the fall. In fact, they needed to eat from the tree of life precisely because they weren’t immortal. Death was woven into our DNA from the beginning.

And it’s a good thing too, given the reality of sin. I mean, to live forever in a progressively decaying body, now cursed by sin and sickness — who in their right mind would want that? (Unless, of course, you’d like to end up as Lady Cassandra from Doctor Who.)

Still, in a more ultimate sense, death is an enemy to be defeated. Or as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We’re all made to die. The question is whether death will have the last word. And the whole point of the redemptive story — of Christ’s death and resurrection — is so this question can be answered with a definitive, resounding no.

I don’t think Enns would disagree, which is why I characterized this as a mild criticism. In any case, whatever you make of Adam, Enns’ book is one that deserves to be read and considered carefully.

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns, a review (part 1 of 2)

When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of James Dobson broadcasts. Now, Dobson isn’t known for expressing his views with a great deal of ambiguity. He tends to see most issues in black and white, and he expresses himself clearly.

But I remember one broadcast 20 years ago, where he moderated a debate between a theistic evolutionist and a young-earth creationist. At the end, Dobson declined to render a verdict. He said we ought to leave room for both views.

At the time, I was convinced that creation had taken place over six literal days, roughly 6,000 years ago. For some reason, though, I was glad to hear someone say that how you interpret Genesis shouldn’t be a litmus test for orthodoxy. To this day, I’m still grateful to Dobson for that broadcast.

Since then, I’ve met a number of people whose scientific credentials are far more impressive than mine (which is to say they have some), who accept the theory of evolution, and who are every bit as devoted to Christ as I am.

Like Peter Enns, author of The Evolution of Adam, I’m no scientist. I’ll let others debate the scientific particulars of the universe. I’m more interested the theological or biblical merits of young-earth, six-day creationism. And I’ve come to opinion that there aren’t that many.

Peter Enns approaches the issue of human origins — specifically, the question of Adam’s historicity — from a biblical/theological point of view, rather than a scientific one. Along the way, he questions many widely held assumptions.

Summing up Enns

The Evolution of Adam highlights some of the major problems with a literal reading of Genesis. For example, the fact that it contains two creation accounts which aren’t easily harmonized. Or the fact that Genesis 1 speaks of “days” well before the sun and moon are created on day 4 — which should be a strong hint that the writer is making a theological point rather than a scientific one. And the list goes on.

Again and again, Enns takes us back to the issue of context. Most Christians today accept the Bible has to be read in context, even if we’re not always very good at doing this. But Enns raises the stakes. He wants us to revisit the theological and cultural context of Genesis 1-2. He wants us to think about how these stories came into being — and why.

Enns notes the many parallels between Genesis 1-2 and other creation stories, like the Enuma Elish (Assyrian) and Atrahasis (Babylonian). He argues that these myths predate the Genesis narrative, though the relationship between them is complex — not a simple matter of drawing a causal line from one to the other.  If he’s right, this has profound implications for how we understand the theologicalpurpose of Genesis 1-2. The biblical creation stories may be, in part, a polemical response to Israel’s conquerors (Assyria and Babylon). In their final form, they are Israel’s attempt to make sense of its own story, in light of the exile. Enns writes:

The Genesis creation narrative we have in our Bibles today, although surely rooted in much older material, was shaped as a theological response to Israel’s national crisis of exile. These stories were not written to speak of ‘origins’ as we might think of them today (in a natural-science sense). They were written to say something of God and Israel’s place in the world as God’s chosen people.

But Enns has bigger primordial fish to fry. Namely, what do we do about Adam? This might not be much of an issue, if it weren’t for Paul. After Genesis 1-4, Adam disappears from the Old Testament record almost entirely. The idea of Adam as the originator of universal sin and death is nowhere to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So why does Paul say in Romans 5, “Just as sin entered through one man [Adam], and death through sin”? Enns devotes the entire second half of The Evolution of Adam to this question.

Enns’ argument rests, in part, on Paul’s use of the Old Testament — which is creative to say the least. If you have a reference Bible, try looking up some of the Old Testament passages mentioned in the New Testament. You’ll notice how time and again, Paul radically reinterprets the Old Testament to suit his purpose.

It’s often argued this was Paul’s prerogative, since he was writing inspired scripture. But this doesn’t take into account the fact that Paul wasn’t the only one to use the Old Testament this way. He is part of a much larger rabbinic tradition that did this sort of thing all the time.

According to Enns, Paul’s just doing what his people have always done: “reworking the past to speak to the present.” This is what the authors/editors/compilers of 1-2 Chronicles did, for example, retelling Israel’s story from a post-exilic vantage point. It’s what rabbinic scholars started doing with the rest of the Old Testament in the period leading up to Christ.

What makes Paul unique is that he reinterprets everything in light of Jesus’ resurrection — which (unlike Adam) was recent history for Paul, having occurred just 25 years before he wrote Romans.

For Enns, the loss of a historical Adam doesn’t in any way diminish the truth of Paul’s main point in Romans 5:

Even without a first man, death and sin are still the universal realities that mark the human condition… The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.

Enns also warns that by getting hung up on one detail of Paul’s argument (Adam), we risk losing sight of Paul’s larger purpose for writing his letter to the Romans:

Paul’s goal is to show that what binds these two utterly distinct groups [Jew and Gentile] together is their equal participation in a universal humanity marked by sin and death and their shared need of the same universally offered redemption.

For Enns, then, the fact that we are in this plight of universal sin and death is more important than how we got there. And Jesus as the answer to our plight is far more important than the idea of Adam as the literal, historical originator of our plight. Jesus and Adam, Enns writes, are not “characters of equal historical standing.” Christ is the one through whom all of history must be reinterpreted and reimagined.

Or as C.S. Lewis once wrote, Christ is the one through whom “this great myth became Fact.”

A line in the sand?

I’ve been sharing a number of preliminary thoughts before I get around to reviewing Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam, partly to buy some time so I can actually finish reading it. (One more chapter to go.)

In the meantime, here are some good reviews by Kurt Willems and Rachel Held Evans.

I said in an earlier post that The Evolution of Adam is not so much a book about creation vs. evolution as it is about big, foundational questions like: What kind of book do we think the Bible is?

But there’s another “question behind the question,” the importance of which can’t be overstated: What do you have to believe in order to be a “Christian”?

Ken Ham, president of the young-earth advocacy group Answers in Genesis, threw down the gauntlet, charging Enns with heresy and willful disbelief. Elsewhere he called The Evolution of Adam a “heretical book” and accused Enns’ publisher (a respected evangelical book company) of sowing “the seeds of doubt leading to unbelief.”

For Ham (and others), it’s quite simple. If you believe in evolution and/or if you believe the account of Adam and Eve is something other than exact, literal history, then you cannot be a Christian.

Now, I’ve long been uneasy with efforts to equate Christianity with a set of propositional statements which must be affirmed or denied, as if faith is best expressed in the form of a doctrinal checklist. This is reductionist Christianity. It bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the gospels or of James or of, well, pretty much the whole New Testament.

Emerging church types have been deconstructing this form of Christianity for several years, and they are right to do so.

At the same time, Christianity still involves believing something about something. Several years ago, Mike Wittmer wrote a book called Don’t Stop Believing, which is largely a critique of the “how you live matters more than what you believe” point of view. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but I affirm the basic premise: it matters that we believe something about Jesus.

Emergent types rightly ask what good it is to believe in the resurrection, for example, if it doesn’t compel you to bring new life wherever you can. But it’s equally fair to ask: what good is bringing new life wherever you can if you don’t believe in the resurrection?

I would say that what has to be believed is the core Christian story. That is, what Paul defined as the “gospel” in passages like 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. It’s story of Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s story — which, it turns out, is God’s plan for rescuing the whole of humanity from sin and death.

This is the story that churches like mine affirm every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist with these words:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

It’s the story the church fathers sought to encapsulate in our earliest creeds, such as the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.

If someone believes and seeks to put these words into practice, they have the right to call themselves a Christian. It doesn’t matter how they vote. It doesn’t matter what they believe about evolution or Genesis or Adam.

“But what about the slippery slope?” some will ask.

Answers in Genesis argues that even the slightest tolerance of any view of creation other than theirs will open “a door of compromise that will inevitably be pushed open further.”

If we reinterpret Genesis, they argue (without acknowledging that many of us would dispute the term reinterpret), we will inevitably reinterpret other teachings of Scripture, “such as the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ.”

To those who question the validity of the slippery-slope argument, they say, in effect, “I told you so”:

Well, that door of compromise has now been opened to such an extent that the gospel itself is under attack.

It’s fine to worry about a slippery slope. It’s always a good idea to check ourselves, to ask if we’re just trying to be clever or if we’re sincerely trying to understand the Bible as best we can.

But remember, as Pete Enns and N.T. Wright reminds us in this video: the slippery slope runs both ways.

Innovation for its own sake has a slippery slope that, if not guarded against, can lead farther away from authentic Christianity — without even realizing it.

But I would argue that Ham and others are headed down a slippery slope in the other direction — one that leads to a reductionist Christianity. One that misses the real point of Genesis and the story that follows.

Theirs is a belief system that emphasizes the how of creation more than the who or the why of creation (the latter two being what Genesis 1 and 2 are actually trying to tell us).

The draw a line around questions the Bible doesn’t even seek to answer.* And they go careening down a slippery slope of their own making, further and further away from the real gospel story.


*It’s worth noting there are many young-earth, six-day creationists who don’t draw a nonnegotiable line around this issue. They may feel strongly (and argue strongly) that Genesis 1-2 demands to be read literally, but to their credit, they don’t reject other Christians who see it differently.

Rethinking Adam? (part 2)

I’m sure Pete Enns knew what he was getting into when he published The Evolution of Adam last month. As Scot McKnight said in his endorsement, this is a guy who’s earned his “battle scars.” (Enns was let go from Westminster Theological Seminary for his previous book, Inspiration and Incarnation.) 

Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler has already promised a response to Enns’ book. (I gather there’s not much chance of him endorsing it.) Ken Ham, president of the young-earth advocacy group Answers in Genesis, beat Mohler to the punch with a scathing review in which he accuses Enns (and his publisher) of heresy. Citing 2 Peter 3:5, Ham charges that Enns is “willfully ignorant.” (Though speaking of willful ignorance, it should be noted that 2 Peter 3:5 is a rebuke to those who deny the second coming of Christ, not those who question how God brought the universe into being. Context matters.)

There’s a reason The Evolution of Adam is generating a lot of heat. It’s not so much a book about evolution and creation, or science and the Bible, as it is about this foundational question:

What kind of book do we think the Bible is?

For many believers, questioning the “traditional” view of creation (Enns will argue it’s not as traditional as we think) is to question our view of the whole Bible, its divine inspiration, and its very reliability.

A friend of mine framed the discussion like this: do we let the “science story” drive our reading of the Bible, or the other way around?

It’s a fair question. But is it the right one?

Most evangelicals accept the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Still, it’s commonly argued that Scripture, to the extent it addresses natural phenomena, is scientifically accurate.

But what if the Bible depicts a flat, motionless earth? What if its human writers held pretty much the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient Near East — namely, that the earth is a flat, circular disc covered by a dome of sky, the whole thing surrounded by water? What if the Bible assumes the sun rotates around the earth?

In fact, this is precisely how the biblical writers understood the cosmos. Exhibit A: two articles by Paul Seely, published in the Westminster Theological Journal (hardly a bastion of liberalism). One is The Geographical Meaning of “Earth” and “Seas” in Genesis 1:10, and the other is The Firmament and the Water Above.

Or you could just read passages like Daniel 4:10, which describe a large tree that is “visible to the ends of the earth.” Even as hyperbole, this statement doesn’t make any sense if the author understood the earth is a sphere. Or how about Psalm 104:5, which speaks of an immovable earth?

Or what about the day “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10?

When science began to question geocentric cosmology in the 16th century, the Church saw it as an assault on the integrity of the Bible. Galileo was put under house arrest. Kepler’s books were banned.

Even today, you can find flat-earthers and fixed-earthers who say they’re just being faithful to the Bible — to a literal reading of the Bible, that is. They maintain we shouldn’t let science (“so-called science,” they might say) shape our reading of holy Scripture.

Following a period of painful adjustment, however, the vast majority of Christians came to accept what science was telling us — namely, the earth is a sphere that rotates around the sun, not the other way around.

Ask a believer today how they reconcile Joshua’s claim that “the sun stood still” with scientific fact, and they might tell you the Bible is speaking idiomatically about God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf. Or that it was simply putting things in language that made sense to an ancient audience. Most would accept that whatever else Joshua 10 means, it’s not trying to make a scientific point.

To which I say: EXACTLY.

Given that the biblical writers held the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient world, if we were to submit their descriptions of the earth to scientific scrutiny, we would be forced to conclude they got some things wrong.

But if they weren’t trying to make a scientific point, then it’s no use judging the merit or the inspiration of what they wrote on the basis of its scientific accuracy.

To ask which story — science or the Bible’s — ought to drive our worldview is asking the wrong question, because they are two different stories about two different things.

So as we turn to the issue of Adam and the origins of the universe, the million-dollar question is this: if we accept that passages like Joshua 10 and Psalm 104 should not be read scientifically (even though it took a couple hundred years for us to get there), why should we insist on a scientific reading of Genesis 1? 

Rethinking Adam? (part 1)

This week I started reading Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam.

Enns, an evangelical biblical scholar, gets down to business on the very first page. (Bonus points to Enns for getting straight to the point.) He writes:

The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, has shown beyond any reasonable scientific doubt that humans and primates share a common ancestry.

To put it another way, here’s how Christianity Today summed up the findings of Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project (and who’s also an evangelical Christian):

Anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago — long before the apparent Genesis time frame — and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals.

What if mapping the genetic code proves the human race didn’t emerge from a single pair of humans — i.e. no literal Adam and Eve?

This is more than just an academic exercise. Enns’ views on the Bible and science cost him his job at Westminster Theological Seminary. Bruce Waltke, one of the most respected Old Testament scholars today, was forced from his post at Reformed Theological Seminary for suggesting that Christianity and evolution are compatible.

For many evangelicals, the very underpinnings of Christian faith are at stake. If we abandon a literal reading of the creation story, it’s feared that we sacrifice an orthodox view of the Bible, our understanding of how sin and death came into being, and the very fabric of redemption in Christ (which Paul connects to Adam).

So does Christianity fall apart without a historical Adam and Eve?