Adam and Eve and Reading the Bible

You may have missed the recent debate that has erupted among some Evangelical Christians. On August 22 by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted “False Start? The Controversy Over Adam and Eve Heats Up.” In it, Dr. Mohler described with some alarm a recent piece on NPR which noted that some Evangelical scholars are questioning the historical basis for Adam and Eve. [Listen to the broadcast.]

According to Mohler,

Ever since the challenge of Darwin and evolutionary theory appeared, some Christians have tried to argue that the opening chapters of the Bible should not be taken “literally.” While no honest reader of the Bible would deny the literary character of Genesis 1-3, the fact remains that significant truth claims are being presented in these chapters. Furthermore, it is clear that the historical character of these chapters is crucial to understanding the Bible’s central message — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If one were to deny the historical Adam and Eve, Mohler fears, “we will have to come up with an entirely new understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.”

Just so, says author and theologian Bruce McLaren,

We do in fact need “an entirely new understanding” – new, that is, compared to the status quo, but actually more ancient and primary than the conventional approach. In the process we’d better learn what a metanarrative actually is and realize that it’s not actually a great label to apply to the gospel … “the Bible’s storyline” is much better.

Mohler replies in Adam and Eve: Clarifying Again What Is at Stake:

Thus, the denial of a historical Adam means that we would have to tell the Bible’s story in a very different way than the church has told it for centuries as the Bible has been read, taught, preached, and believed. If there is no historical Adam, then the Bible’s metanarrative is not Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation, but something very different.

It seems to me that Mohler has certainly grasped what might be at stake in this debate, but has, with much of modern Christianity, forgotten how to read a story. The Church has not, in fact, taught the story in the way he describes “for centuries.” Only in modern times, in a resistance to what was perceived as an attack on the Bible, has a literalist reading become so central for some people.

Perhaps Adam and Eve are not in the Bible to set forth a starting point for a syllogism of salvation, but to invite us to find ourselves in the ongoing human story. That might be a threat to Dr. Mohler’s theology, but it doesn’t bother me much.

– Andy Kille

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