Christians and Controversy

Posted: August 13, 2011 in controversy, creation, science, theology

Scot McKnight offers some helpful thoughts on how Christians should discuss “controversial” matters (such as theories related to creation, evolution, Adam and Eve, etc.):

NPR had a story on Morning Edition this last Tuesday entitled Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

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: 12).

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…

“This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to [evolution] 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.

While I don’t share McKnight’s acceptance of current evolutionary theory (I would describe myself simply as a progressive creationist) and believe that Adam and Eve did exist, I appreciate his attitude concerning this issue and the spirit of love and grace that he is calling for.  I also affirm his caution against quickly disparaging other Christians because they have differing views on relatively peripheral issues.

Check out my recent review of C. John Collins latest book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist.  You can also read my series of posts entitled, “Free to Disagree,” in which I discuss this very issue at length.  Finally, Tim Keller has written an excellent essay entitled, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People” that is well-worth the read.

  1. laurensheil says:

    I shared this with an antiest friend who enjoys a good debate on the primacy of scripture. Personally I think the ambigous we allow scripture to be the more room God has to work in our lives.

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