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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Al Mohler, Adam, Evolution, and NPR (final)

The Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

Today, in my final post in this series, we will look at three more problematic assertions in Al Mohler’s NPR interview.

As I mentioned in my last post, my responses are sketches, not complete–although I do get in much more detail in The Evolution of Adam. My last post also supplies links to the audio and transcript of the NPR interview, along with a slightly edited version of the manuscript.

3. Since evolution undermines the gospel, it should be rejected.

As I see it, this view lies behind much of Mohler’s diatribe against evolution. The threat to the gospel story, as Mohler understands it, renders evolution out of bounds for Christian theology.

We must also be ready to say plainly that evolution raises theological problems for the Christian faith—and many competent and gifted people have been and continue to think through them.

But the fact that evolution causes theological problems does not mean that evolution must be rejected. It means we have theological problems–and we best get to work thinking through them rather than retreat to the false comfort Mohler’s literalism provides.

Also, the assertion that evolution undermines the gospel is hardly ground many Christians are willing to concede. Mohler would need to avail himself of the reasoned positions (plural) that are out there. Until he does, his views will continue to remain isolated from broader discussions.

In other words, the question of the compatibility of evolution and the gospel is a matter of deep thought and ongoing deliberation. It is hardly a done deal, as Mohler asserts.

4. As goes Adam, so goes the resurrection.

Mohler made a persistent point in the NPR interview: if we allow science to tell us that Adam cannot be a real person, we are only a stone’s thrown away from letting science tell us that the resurrection of Christ isn’t real.

Although Mohler explicitly denies in the interview appealing to the “slippery slope” argument, here it is as plain as day.

Mohler is wrong for two reasons.

First, science cannot tell us one way or the other about the resurrection or any other miracle: miracles leave no scientifically verifiable evidence. Miracles can only be accepted by faith, not determined by the kinds of evidence relevant to the sciences.

The question of how humans came to be is entirely open to scientific investigation. The resurrection is not. Science cannot verify or discount the resurrection or any other miracle. There is no slippery slope because the questions are not on the same plane.

Second, Mohler does not seem to see that Scripture is made up of different types of literature (genres) written at widely diverging times and for widely diverging reasons.

Genesis and the Gospels are widely different genres of literature—differing in time, place, language, historical context, and purpose.

That is why making a judgment on the historicity of Adam in book of Genesis has no bearing whatsoever on the historicity of what happens in any other portion of the Bible, least of all in the gospels.

Failing to make that distinction will result in fundamental errors in understanding.

5. Genesis tells us not simply who created, but how.

I agree with Mohler here (and disagree with Harlow). I think Genesis tells us not simply that God created the cosmos, but how God created.

What Mohler misses, however, is that Genesis answers the “how” question  from an ancient point of view–and that makes all the difference. That is why we should not expect Genesis–as Mohler does–to answer the question of origins in modern scientific categories.

Curiously, Mohler does not seem to accept the historically orthodox notion that God accommodates to creaturely categories when he speaks: he speaks the way people at the time understand.

Accommodation is a very old idea in Christian discussions about how God speaks in the Bible. We see it, for example, in John Calvin in the 16th century. Calvin said that God speaks to humans as a father would speak to his children–in ways they can understand.

Calvin, as Augustine before him (4th century), had little patience with those who asked the Bible to do things it was never designed to do.

The issue of God accommodating is so commonly discussed and widely accepted, I do not see how Mohler (with a Ph.D. in historical theology, no less) can credibly ignore it.

The how of creation in the ancient view expressed in Genesis does not determine the answers to origins Christians can accept today on the basis of scientific investigation.

To say this is not to place science “over” the Bible. That is Mohler’s rhetoric, and it should be ignored, for it assumes that the ancient text of Genesis is prepared to answer questions Mohler asks of it.

Christians who accept evolution are not “placing science over the Bible.” They are allowing the distinct voices of both to speak to us, confessing by faith that God is behind them both.

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