What Are We Holding Onto?

I’m still filing away old emails from after transferring from a PC to a Mac and from the Mozilla Thunderbird email program to Mac’s "Mail."

In the process, I ran across a June 9 email from Christianity Today that focused solely on evolution, and more specifically on the historicity of Adam and Eve. That newsletter sent me to this article, titled "The Search for the Historical Adam."

The issue I want to discuss today is not whether Adam was a historical figure, though I imagine most of you know I consider the garden story an obvious allegory, even less likely to be an actual historical story than "The Prodigal Son" or "The Good Samaritan" because those don’t involve talking snakes and trees that can make you live forever (even if God doesn’t want you to!).

What I want to discuss is where we’re going to stand if we come to agreement, as I’m sure we will eventually will, that man evolved. In the 1600’s, we came to agreement that the earth moves around the sun against the literalist (and Lutheran and Calvinist) interpretation of Psalm 93:1. Eventually, and probably soon, denying evolution is going to look so foolish that Christians in general will no longer take that stand.

Sorry for the term "foolish," but it is the concern about looking foolish, not truth or evidence, that is going to turn the evolution deniers. We might as well be honest about our human nature. You can forcefully overcome it and pursue objective truth, but the huge majority of us don’t.

Anyway, an evangelicalism "expert" (an expert on evangelicalism???) at a policy center in Washington "call[ed] the new thinking the new thinking an ‘urgent’ and ‘potentially paradigm-shifting’ development with ‘huge theological implications.’"

It does have huge theological implications, but they are implications we are going to face whether we like it or not. As Francis Collins and Karl Giberson put it, "unfortunately" the concepts of Adam and Eve as the literal first couple and ancestors of all humans simply "do not fit the evidence" (The Language of Science and Faith as cited by the referenced and linked Christianity Today article).

So What Are Those Implications?

If we have to admit that Adam and Eve were not literal people and that the Garden story is the allegory that it seems to be, then where do we stand? What do we have left?

What I’m afraid of is that most Christians have nothing more than a religion they’ve been talked into with a book that they honor for reasons they do not understand. Those Christians will be left with nothing at all. For them, Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, is correct. Their whole religion will crumble.

I used the word "honor" in the preceding paragraph advisedly. I do not agree that such Christians believe the Bible. They only reverence it. Try sometime to get two "Bible-believing" Christians to agree on what the Bible says about some point of difference. It doesn’t take much effort to see that neither cares what the Bible actually says; they care only about what their particular tradition has taught them.

Today, most traditions which include people who reject evolution have taught their adherents to reverence the Bible in a way that borders on worship. They have also taught their followers to equate their traditions with accurate Bible interpretation. Anyone who disagrees with them is wrong by definition and is thus at least somewhat separated from God.

Embracing evolution for Christians from those traditions looks like leaving the faith. They have to face the following horrifying consequences, all of which violate their tradition, and each of which represents one step away from following God.

  • There was death before Adam
  • Our sin nature is not the consequence of the fall but the natural consequence of evolution
  • The Bible is not historically literal throughout
  • The Bible is errant when it comes to science

There are probably others, but we don’t need to mention them because these are enough to ensure ostracization from their denomination or tradition.

Finally, one of the worse fears these Christians have is that the only alternative to their strict literalism is a liberal Christianity that embraces homosexual pastors and exchanges holiness for social programs that are not even personal but run by governments and large organizations.

A Purely Intellectual Christianity

I want to point out here that all four of those bullet points above are nothing but statements that can be written down in a doctrinal statement. Not a single one of them is an action, nor can any of them be transformed into an action at all.

I assert that the majority of evangelical Christianity is primarily an intellectual theory. Yes, many Christians live a life that is "holy" by New Testament standards that evangelical Christians agree on: no sex outside of marriage, respect for others, kindness, regular prayer, etc.

However, this is not primary to evangelical Christianity because evangelical Christianity has a powerful emphasis on Paul’s phrase, "not of works." Living a life of obedience to the teachings of Christ has to take a back seat to acknowledging all the purely intellectual assertions of the evangelical traditions.

And those purely intellectual assertions are threatened by evolution.

Evolution and a Practical, Spiritual Christianity

I’m not afraid to see those intellectual assertions crash. They don’t belong to apostolic Christianity anyway.

Sometimes I wonder how the Bible could say things so clearly, yet so many of us miss it. Of course, I know the answer to that. Most Christians are not Bible believers; they are holders of tradition.

For example, Paul says very clear what is at the foundation of Christianity in 2 Timothy 2:19:

God’s foundation stands firm, and inscribed on it is this:
The Lord knows those who are his
And let him who names the name of Christ withdraw from unrighteousness

Now there is action, and it was primary to Paul. In fact, he said it is what is inscribed on God’s foundation, rather than all those “I believe’s” that are inscribed on denominational foundations.

I don’t know how many times evangelicals have responded to this with, "Well, Paul said sound doctrine is important."

This is sound doctrine!!

There’s only one passage that specifically defines sound doctrine. It’s the entire chapter of Titus 2. Go read it. There isn’t anything remotely similar to "no death before Adam."

In fact, it ends by saying that Jesus died "to purify a unique people for himself, zealous for good works."

Right before that, it tells us that the purpose of grace is not to convince us that we can go to heaven no matter how we live but to teach us to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age."

In Romans 6:14—so that we can move out of the so-called "pastoral epistles" into the so-called "faith epistles"—Paul tells us that grace is what breaks sin’s power over us, so that we can stop being slaves of sin. There again, in Romans 8:3-4, Paul tells us that is the reason Jesus died. He says something similar in Romans 14:9, telling us that Jesus died so that he could be Lord of both the living and the dead.

This sort of theology, which as you can see I’m merely quoting from the Bible, is not intellectual. It is powerful, difficult, and puts us in a daily struggle against sin which Jesus’ death has empowered us to win.

Paul describes that struggle in Galatians 5:16-18 and again in Galatians 6:7-9. It is described very similarly in Romans 8:5-14, but my favorite description is in 2 Peter 1:3-11.

What is Christianity? It is the death of Christ to deliver us from the power of sin so that our lives can be so utterly transformed that we can be described as "born again" and "a new creation." It is the resurrection of Christ who lives in us by the Spirit of God so that our lives are noticeably divine.

That Christianity is not threatened by evolution. Who cares whether Adam evolved when we are no longer sons of Adam but sons of God? (I love the fact that 1 Corinthians 15 calls Jesus the second man, but the last Adam. He is the last Adam, whose death and resurrection creates a new race of men, the children of God.)

Since I have put myself in conflict with a proclamation from strict literalists—by whom I mean people who strictly believe that their interpretations are accurate no matter how much they don’t match the Bible—I want to make an appeal to Jesus’ standard for conflict resolution when it comes to the proclamation of his teachings:

Beware of the false prophets … you shall know them by their fruits. (Matt. 7:15-16)

You decide what message produces truly good fruit.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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