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Colossian Blog
November 18, 2011 | James K.A. Smith

How (Not) to Have a Conversation about Adam and Eve

Pastor Mark Driscoll has recently weighed in on a growing conversation in the church: “The Biblical Necessity of Adam and Eve.”  As he notes, this has become a pressing issue as Christians grapple with scientific evidences that seem to push back against traditional understandings of human origins.

I’m deeply sympathetic to Driscoll’s concern that the church navigate these waters guided by the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the Christian theological tradition.  And I share his concern that even some devout evangelicals seem a little too quick to defer to “what science says,” unwittingly buying into problematic paradigms and failing to see the theological implications of such deference.

However, I’m equally concerned that the church consider just how to work through our differences and disagreements on these matters.  In other words, even before we start debating the specifics of biblical hermeneutics, theological implications, and relevant scientific evidences, it is crucial that Christians first consider the “rules of engagement” for such contentious conversations.  Is it possible for us to conduct this debate in a way that doesn’t compromise our common witness to Christ?  Is there a way to work through our disagreements and still exhibit the virtues of Christ–compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and above all, love (Col. 3:12-14)?

Driscoll’s argument is not that different from concerns raised by Pastor Tim Keller.  But I still find a significant difference in their tone, and would invite Driscoll to consider formulating his concerns in a way that reflects a stance of charity.  Charity, for example, will not begin by immediately impugning the motives of our brothers and sisters who disagree with us.  Instead, love requires that we take our common confession seriously and thus consider just what Gospel-impetus might be compelling them to arrive at a different conclusion.

Very concretely, that also means that Christians need to resist our temptation to frame false dichotomies.  So, without commenting in any way on Driscoll’s conclusions, let me just point out a concern with how he opens the debate–by mapping a complex issue in terms of a false dichotomy.  Early in his essay, noting that some Christians who accept the authority of Scripture also seem willing to reconsider the picture of one historical couple, Driscoll quickly concludes:

One can conclude only one of two things: either they don’t fully understand what Scripture says about Adam and Eve, or they prefer to base their perceptions of history and reality on science rather than on Scripture.

Well, not so fast.  I’m not sure that’s the “only” thing one could conclude.  And I’m also not convinced that there are only “two” options on the table.  (Just a quick perusal of Christian theology over the centuries would show quite a few more options held by orthodox Christians.)  At the very least, loving my brother requires that I relinquish the too-easy penchant to frame issues in my terms.  In this respect, following Christ–and exhibiting his humility–might require letting go of my cherished dichotomies.  That might be a way to imitate Christ’s kenosis (Phil. 2:5-11).  It is not only our conclusions that should be “captive” to Christ; how we debate such issues should also reflect the “mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:1-5).

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We’re constantly bombarded by divisiveness within our daily news—the right calling the left “fake news,” the left dismissing the “news” of the right through quiet (or not so quiet) condescension. Whatever the case, neither hardly qualifies as news. It’s stale and unimaginative culture war posturing where everyone seems perennially angry. Yet underneath all the anger lays deep fear—fear that our world, our culture, our church, our family—everything—is tearing apart. But God calls his people to bring “Good News” of great joy. We are the euangélion of Jesus Christ—eu means “good” and ángelos means “messenger.” Believers are meant to be like angels bringing good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in the world. We should be the least fearful of all people because we believe in Jesus, who was born to fulfill “the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:73-75) So, we must ask, “Is the story of our life in Christ good news or fake news?” Well, a couple of questions. First, are we doing and saying anything new? Second, does it embody the good? A quick glance at the way churches are mimicking the surrounding culture through bickering and partisanship, belies the notion that their posture in the world is either new or good. The church seems more a cliché of culture than a contrast to it. What makes this even more problematic is our claim to follow the Prince of Peace. If we are divisive and fearful then we’re not only cliché but hypocritically cliché. Doubly boring. Doubly bad. This sort of “gospel” is fake news, hardly worth the bits and bytes it’s communicated over. So, where’s the good news we long for and why are we having such a hard time embodying it in ways that are either new or good? Where is our confidence in our Risen Lord who has conquered division and death? What would it mean for you and I to have a renewed vision of the gospel as truly good news and to become confident messengers of its transforming power? So much of our imagination is now captured by the right or the left that it’s hard to think outside of these culturally prescribed categories. Perhaps that’s why it took a 500-year-old painting to jolt my imagination. I don’t remember where I ran across it, but there I was, confronted with DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper. His masterpiece depicts a microcosm of God’s people past and present. And it struck me that all of the radical political and ideological differences (and inherent conflicts) of our own culture are represented by those gathered around that table. The disciples seated to the right and left of Jesus were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today. A fractious bunch of infighters all vying for a slice of the new kingdom, whatever it might look like. Were the zealots arguing for insurrection against the damnable religious mainstream in cahoots with the deep state? Were the tax collectors and moderates more confident in the goods of compromise and stability in the market? Who knows? But it’s not hard to imagine them all claiming that God was on their side. Hardly news. It’s an old, stale story. So, who did Jesus side with? Right or left? Conservative or Liberal? Moderate or Revolutionary? Or did he opt for something more inclusive like a lowest-common-denominator faith where everyone should just get along? None of these options seem to fit. But when the pressure mounted, Christ died for each disciple while they were fleeing, cowering, or denying him—while they were “yet sinners.” I wonder how long they continued arguing with and blaming each other for the way things went wrong? Jesus doesn’t argue ideology with them. He doesn’t take up one political platform over against another. He interjects his own politics, the politics of the Trinity—a politics characterized by an eternal delightful self-giving love. This love can’t be stopped by any division, fearful darkness, or death. Jesus goes forward, not just telling the truth about God’s love, but embodying it. He does not win arguments. Rather, he lays down his life so the world will know the love of God. He displays the life he has with the Father and invites us into that life. I wonder, might Lent be the place for us to give up our well-reasoned and tightly-held ideologies for the sacrificial love of the other we so disdain? Wouldn’t that be good news?