Polity vs. Politic
In his recent piece “Change, Acquiesce, or Depart Honorably with Conviction”: The Unhappy Politics of Creation, Dr. William Evans provides an intriguing reply to the article “Hermeneutics and Awkward Science”. From his early article criticizing G.I. Williamson’s concerns on the historicity of Adam and Eve to his present reply a trend is becoming clear: Evans is arguing that church courts ought not visit or revisit contemporary interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2, and that there is no need to define the historicity of Adam and Eve. Instead he labels a robust defense of church polity, the liberty and authority of the courts of the church to evaluate and define doctrine, church politic.
Defining “A Literal Adam and Eve”
Evans charges me with wanting to “exclude the questions”; the reality is I am asking the questions on the nature of the historicity of Adam and Eve. Evans demurs from working to answer any of these questions and charges me with advocating “simplicity before complexity.” But rather than engaging these complex questions, he provides nothing beyond the bare simplicity of the statement “I believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve.”
The article states: “the question for them seems to be not so much whether my interpretation of Genesis 1 allows for or is consistent with belief in a literal Adam and Eve, but whether it requires a literal Adam and Eve who were specially created.” Yet, the question is not merely about what interpretive latitude is hermeneutically legitimate, exegetically and theologically defensible, or required (though these are crucial questions, with significant answers), but what is actually believed regarding this “literal Adam and Eve”, and why. It is somewhat akin to the fact that saying I believe in “a historical Jesus” neither entails nor satisfies as a meaningful, articulate, exegetically grounded defense and exposition of the person and work of Christ.
Resting in the simplicity of positing “an historical Adam and Eve” avoids engagement with the surrounding hermeneutical and theological complexities. Instead Evans gives an excursus on the age of the earth, repeats the refrain of the intellectual failure of six-day literalists, presumes we are unaware of the present range of diversity of thought among scientists, and declares six-day science a sham. All of this occurs with little apparent reflection on the reality that in science evidence and interpretation of evidence (even where there is present general agreement in the secular academy) are not identical. Holding closely to the old modernity, this seems to avoid commenting on significant epistemological shifts in the wider academy of both the arts and sciences – a weakness evident in other Christian college circles where much effort is spent gaining credibility in the secular academy, diminishing a robust Christianity.
The implication of Evans’ position seems clear: whether Peter Enns, Biologos contributors, or others posit Adam and Eve as chieftains of a tribe, whether Adam and Eve had human or animal ancestry, whether there was human or animal death prior to the fall, or whether Adam and Eve were specially created, are adiaphorus issues. It should be noted that they have not been deemed adiaphorous across the board in conservative Presbyterianism in America. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church General Assembly of 1996, while allowing a certain latitude of interpretive approaches to Genesis 1 and 2, decisively ruled out evolutionary origins for Adam and Eve in the judicial case of Terry Gray, a former ruling elder and professor at Calvin College. A present, somewhat similar effort is seeing an early beginning in an overture from the Northwoods Presbyterian Church to the Rocky Mountain Presbytery of the PCA, with the intent of reaching the next PCA General Assembly.
Why would it be positively beneficial to engage the complex questions raised by the non-literal approaches to Genesis 1 and 2 in relation to the historicity of Adam and Eve? Why would it be positively beneficial for denominations to engage, creating positive statements and formulating clear boundaries? Certainly in part because a failure to work towards further development or definition on the special creation of Adam and Eve has significant theological implications:
(1) A hermeneutic range allowing for, and giving credence to macro-evolutionary origins of man is tacitly approved without parameters. When harmonization of the alternative hermeneutics in engagement with currently dominant interpretations of scientific evidence is consistently pursued the biblical teaching of a special creation of Adam and Eve as the first human pair, apart from any animal ancestry, is rapidly undermined. This is well-attested in the work of the Biologos Foundation, Peter Enns, and others in recent years.
(2) As a result, the new point of the now moving line of “orthodoxy” is no longer the historic Adam and Eve of special creation, but has now effectively moved to “an historical Adam and Eve” experiencing the garden and the fall. Theologians like C. John Collins exposit a theology of “an historical Adam and Eve” (SBJT 15:1, Spring 2011) who are at the “head” of the human race, but remain remarkably unwilling to provide detail or definition of their origins or context. Why the failure to engage on these questions? Certainly in part because many proponents of framework, analogical, and other non-literal approaches, like Evans, accept as legitimate the denial of the special creation of Adam and Eve.
(3) With the allowance of the current hermeneutic range, and the necessary latitude of interpretation of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms in accommodating it, there is little reason to believe that further adjustment of scriptural and confessional understanding will not occur.
(4) Apart from special, immediate creation, the nature of man as created in the image of God suffers the loss of a significant exegetical foundation. The nature of man, and his role over creation, as created, yet distinct from the rest of creation, becomes obscured.
(5) The nature of the relationship between Adam’s federal headship, the fall, and sin, in the case of pre and co-hominids, no longer bears any connection to natural generation, or seed, and is no longer by necessity co-extensive with the human race.
These are but five. God’s special creation of Adam and Eve does matter. The whole of Scripture entails their historicity, not in the sense of mere existence, but as the first human pair, without ancestry. Stances to the contrary remain a significant failure among proponents of framework, analogical, and other views. Significant questions need to be answered; they both include and go beyond the legitimacy and implications of hermeneutic approaches. They are the legitimate purview of the church; unaddressed they will (at the least) lead to conflict in ordination examinations and further fracturing within the church. Evading them will not do more to promote the peace, prosperity, and purity of the church than engaging them – as difficult as it may be. I say with Albert Mohler, let’s engage the complexity, seeking unity in Christ.