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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