Proof-Texting the Book of Nature

“Proof-texting” is when you already have your biblical interpretation in mind, and you go hunting for a verse that supports it. You’re not really interested, in that proof-texting moment, in whether or not the Bible as a whole supports your interpretation. (For example, we might think that Christianity means never judging anyone, and so we find the place where Jesus says, “do not judge,” without paying any attention to other places that say we should judge in a loving, constructive way.) Proof-texting by itself is not dishonest (some times we really do need to just go find a verse) as long as we also dedicate other (longer) times to actually investigating the text with honesty and integrity, giving attention to commentators, preachers, and others who have dedicated their lives to learning as much as they can about the Bible. But if we only ever come to the Bible with our interpretations already decided, then we’re just being dishonest readers.

Well, I think that “proof-texting” can happen with science too. If we have our conclusion already in mind, and all we do is run to science to find the one piece of evidence that supports our idea–without ever taking the time to understand the greater body of evidence as a whole (be it regarding evolution, climate change, whether the fetus is human, whether a given substance or lifestyle is harmful, etc.), then we’re not really doing honest science. We’re just “proof-texting nature,” just as someone ignorant of Christian teaching might proof-text the Bible.

A friend pointed out to me that this can go even farther with the ever-present availability of Google searches: one can always find someone out there who agrees with almost any position, but surely this does not count as honest research.

As a general principle that applies to all of these areas of inquiry, good academic research can be summed up as “rigorous, relentless honesty,” in my opinion. That is one reason why I find it aggravating when Christians make much of the idea that “not everyone needs to be a Bible scholar…”: right. Yes. Not everyone. But we nonetheless need Bible scholars in order to understand the Bible–unless we’d rather not understand the Bible as honestly as possible. And the same goes with science.

Dr. David Berlinksi and Evolution

Readers will know that I consider myself to be an “evolutionary creationist.” Not long ago, I was asked about David Berlinski’s (Ph.D Philosophy) thoughts on evolution, as expressed in this short clip:

Evangelicals may remember Berlinski from The Truth Project and Expelled—both of which I once promoted. However, after looking into what actual biologists say about evolution, it became clear that I had been making grandiose claims without ever having looked at the actual evidence. It’s not that any one pastor, speaker, author, etc. intends to be dishonest (neither did I intend this when I was an antievolutionist). But North American evangelicalism, not intending it, has unconsciously arrived at an inherently dishonest approach to evolution: one in which individuals like Berlinski, who are not biologists, are accorded more authority to speak about biology than actual biologists. This is all the more painful for me, as I continue to identify as an evangelical and think that in many other things we are honest and self-examining. This is a call to fearlessly carry that same strength over to the area of evolutionary science. (I am not saying that The Truth Project is entirely without merit. It covers a wide variety of topics, and even if I disagree on some things, I entirely applaud any effort to get evangelicals thinking about deeper things that have not been thought about in the popular sphere for quite some time.)

How do I respond to this video? In a rather oversized nutshell,

Agreed: Evolution is not a theory in the same sense as a physicist’s theory, but it is a reasonable biological theory.

  • It is more like theories in more historical sciences like geology, cosmology, and crime-scene forensics than it is like theories in physics.
  • It is not just a collection of “hunches.”
    • In one sense all science is just “hunches”—depending on how philosophical you want to get, but Berlinski’s statement is just misleading. Yes, there are hunches involved, but those hunches have over 150 years of experimental confirmation, correction, etc. behind them. There were other “hunches” than Darwin’s about how to explain evolution, such as Lamarckism, which have been abandoned–they did not stand up to scrutiny. Every forensic detective works from hunches—what he or she looks for is confirming evidence.
    • Science is self-correcting and always open to new explanations and evidence. There is not one scientific “fact” out there that we can point to in any sort of final, no-more-possible-questions sense. So for Berlinski to point this out about evolutionary theory as if it is uniquely true about evolution is just misleading. It is also true about theories of gravity, electromagnetism, cosmology, chemistry, etc. So he can draw attention to the “hunch-ness” of evolution if he likes, but what he is saying is true about all science, everywhere.
  • Consider theology
    • Even the “science” of theology must always go back to Special Revelation for repeating “testing” (exegesis) and confirmation/disconfirmation of our “theories” (interpretations).
    • While we know that we might possibly be hearing the Bible/Holy Spirit wrongly, we also find ourselves constrained to formulate creeds and statements of faith. We are quick to add that our statements of faith are not the Bible, and yet, at the same time, it would be irresponsible not to have statements of faith.
    • In a similar way, scientists have theories: they are not final, as if we could just stop all experimentation, and yet they are not nothing either. They are in-between: they are what we have decided it is most responsible, for now, to accept as true.
      • It is my experience that we evangelicals want to say that everything is either certain or false. But God simply has not set up things that way. 

Regarding the Fossil Record

  • What he is saying here is just not true. Here are some examples of fossils that show the kind of confirmation of evolution that comes from the fossil record:
  • There are some mysteries in the fossil record. But anyone who expects there to be absolutely no questions or anomalies just doesn’t know how it works. There are also mysteries regarding other scientific theories—such as gravity and electromagnetism. But when 99% of the evidence points one way, and only 1% points the other, it seems reasonable to think that the 1% can be explained in the light of the 99%. (But see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a serious treatment of these things.)
  • This is similar to the “Scripture interprets Scripture” principle: we interpret difficult passages in light of the ones that are more clear. That’s one reason we do not abandon the Bible because of Paul’s words about “baptism for the dead” in 1 Cor 15. What would we say to someone who confidently rejected Christianity because we were not able to thoroughly explain every mysterious passage?

On Examining Natural Selection’s Claims

  • He says we can’t examine the claim that “natural selection and random variation can account for a great deal of complexity.”
    • This is partly untrue, and partly unfair.
      • It is untrue because we have demonstrated that natural selection can generate new information: 
      • It is unfair because while we can demonstrate small instances of natural selection (see above link), we obviously cannot play back the last 3.5 billion years in order to watch. Even if evolution were true, we could never do that, so it is a silly reason to dismiss evolution. It would be like dismissing the evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection just because we can’t go back in time and see the Resurrection. Would that really be a good, honest reason?
  • Berlinksi just doesn’t face up to the fact that biology should not and never could operate just like physics.
    • He inappropriately compares Natural Selection to Newton’s inverse square law.
      • What would we say to a man who asked us to prove from mathematical laws that a defendant was guilty? By Berlinski’s logic, we should not accept anything we know about viruses, allergies, human anatomy, etc.
      • He repeats the phrase “serious sciences.” Does he think that geology, cosmology, and forensic sciences are not “serious”? What he really refers to are the “hard” or “exact” sciences, as opposed to more historical sciences like geology, cosmology, and even the historical science involved in finding evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection.

Simulating Evolution on a Computer?

  • This seems to be a an example of how Berlinski just doesn’t understand what sort of science evolutionary science is, how it works, or what biologists really think. We cannot simulate a historical science for the same reason we cannot simulate history itself. You could not program a computer to simulate evolution from abstract principles (e.g. Force = Mass X Acceleration) any more than you could do so with the French Revolution. But do we therefore doubt the historicity of the French Revolution? It’s a category error.
  • He thinks that natural selection is so simple that we should be able to program a computer to simulate it. 
    • Could we program a computer to simulate a real crime—right down to the sinful decisions made in the criminal’s mind? No. And yet does that do anything to argue against our forensic re-creations of crime scenes? Not at all.
    • Natural selection always responds to the environment at hand. It is not as though evolution is always “aimed” at more complexity. If the environment favoured organisms with lower complexity, then we would see a decrease. So Berlinski would have to program his computer with exactly the right history of the changing environment in order to properly simulate human evolution as it really occurred (and we know that it might easily not have occurred). He just wouldn’t have the necessary data for his simulation–nobody has that complete of a record of the earth’s environmental history. This is like asking for video evidence of Jesus before we will believe.
  • Another problem is that in order to simulate a genetic algorithm, you’d have to already understand how it works; you’d have to already have the question answered—but that is just what we are trying to find out! The computer can only operate on the basis of our programming, and that initial programming can only ever stem from our own assumptions and data. Even if we had the “perfect genetic algorithms,” we would have to perfectly represent the changing environment on earth for the past 3.5 billion years. Moreover, this raises a serious theological problem:
    • We could never represent God’s providence at work in our simulation. Can we really replace God’s providence with a simulation and expect the same result? This suggests that what Berlinksi really rejects is atheistic evolution; he has not even come close to addressing a robust evolutionary creationism.
  • Because we have
    1. Convincing evidence that evolution did happen, and yet
    2. Evidence that human evolution very easily might not have happened (see fine-tuning arguments), we have
    3. A good reason to think that God’s providence is involved (but not in a way that science can necessarily detect–not any more than we can detect God at work in a sparrow’s death or a king’s decisions).
      • Therefore, I find that evolution actually shows the need for a sovereign Creator who just not just create the world, but sustains and directs it in his providence. (But I of course would not rest my faith in Christ on this argument. My faith rests on an ongoing encounter with him, in which I live life in the presence of God in a way that is behind and before all human reasoning–not unlike the fact that I find myself living in a real, physical world in way that simple pre-exists all reasoning.)

“Dogs stay dogs.”

  • Here Berlinski doesn’t seem to appreciate the very strong evidence we have for one species coming from another. For example, there is surprisingly good evidence that humans and chimpanzees came from a common ancestor: 
  • Berlinski talks about an “inherent species limitation,” but notice that the word “species” is really just a line that humans draw between different beings, and that we can find examples that blur these lines. Also, there are very clear examples of different species that appear not only related, but appear related in a way that can be independently confirmed from both fossils and genetics. 
  • He thinks that we should have more plasticity, etc. than we do have, but what makes his expectation relevant or authoritative? That’s just his hunch. Serious science would say, “well, we have strong evidence for Common Ancestry, and yet we don’t have exactly what Berlinski expects—it seems that Berlinski is just wrong to some extent.” 
    • Einstein was surprised that the universe isn’t eternal after all (it had a beginning); the Jews were surprised that the Messiah did not come as a military conqueror. Sometimes reality surprises us—it isn’t always how we assume it will be.
  • Again, the reason we see such “bounded variability” in the laboratory is that we don’t have billions of years to play with. In order to see large-scale changes, we need more time. We don’t have it, so we look in the only place we can: evidence that these things have or haven’t happened in the past.
    • Again: notice Berlinski’s assumption that the providence of God in evolutionary past can just easily be set aside and replaced with experimentation in the lab. This idea offends my sensibilities an evolutionary creationist. I entirely reject any idea that evolution is some sort of “rogue entity” that acts of its own accord apart from God’s providence; rather, it is his means of creation.

A Common Confusion about Common Descent

  • Berlinski does not explain to his audience (in this clip) the difference between three very separate things:
    • 1. The evidence for (and theory of) Common Ancestry of all life on earth.
    • 2. The evidence for (and theory of) Evolution as the best explanation of Common Ancestry (different evidence/considerations).
    • 3. The evidence for (and theory of) Natural Selection as the best explanation of Evolution (again, different evidence, and this is the part that Darwin contributed).
  • Berlinski plays fast and loose with these separate matters, speaking as if questions about one of them affect questions about another. However, questions about Natural Selection do nothing to overturn the evidence for Common Ancestry. Darwin could be totally wrong and we’d still have to deal with human evolution and explain it another way.
    • It would be like thinking that evidence against the biblical flood, for example, can determine whether or not Jesus existed,
    • Or like thinking that evidence in favour of the Resurrection alone automatically proves that the entire (Protestant? Catholic? Orthodox?) Bible is true in a rigid, literal-historical sense. 
      • As we know, these things just require more homework than that.

Conclusion

Berlinski makes numerous assumptions and speaks in way that sounds authoritative, but he seems unaware of the most relevant facts. He has a Ph.D in Philosophy—not science—and it shows. It is kind of like how Richard Dawkins has the ear of so many people on the topics of philosophy and religion even though his expertise is entirely elsewhere. There is great danger in giving people authority in fields that they (should) have none. No one take electrical advice from a plumber over me, an electrician—and no one should listen more to non-biologists about evolution than they listen to biologists themselves. The people who want to hear what Dawkins says are not troubled over whether he is trained in theology, and the people who want to hear what Berlinski says are not troubled over his lack of training in biology: both groups ought to be troubled. It is just an unacceptable practice to give more attention and authority to non-experts than to experts in a given inquiry. We should not forget to listen to non-experts, sometimes they surprise us, but the men and women who have humbled themselves before a given reality (electricity, the Bible, dentistry, etc.) are always the ones we should listen to first. 

A “Christian” or “Biblical” Worldview?

It’s fairly common in evangelical circles, especially in discussing apologetics, to hear that we really need to have a “Christian worldview.” The idea is that one’s “worldview” is like a lens that we see everything through (a set of values, assumptions, authoritative ideas, etc.) and that we need the right lens: Christianity. Now, I want to say that I agree with this general idea in the following ways:

  • Agreed: We should strive to make Christ Lord of every area of our lives.
  • Agreed: Christianity should be the centre of any Christian’s worldview.
  • Agreed: There is no part of our thinking which should not acknowledge God where applicable.
    • (To those who say “where would God not be applicable?!”, all I mean to say is that there are some thoughts, such as “1+1=2,” or the thoughts involved with cleaning one’s bathroom, etc. that do not need to explicitly acknowledge God in order to be successful.)
  • Agreed: It is an important part of intellectual discipleship to try, as much as possible, to align our approach to life with Scripture.
    • For example, while a Christian might enjoy watching various incarnations of Star Trek, as I do, it should be quite clear the the philosophy of that show is at many points entirely at odds with Christianity: the Prime Directive to not interfere with other cultures is contrary to the Great Commission.
      • (But shouldn’t I also try to find whatever wisdom there might be in the attitude of non-interference? We still need to spread the gospel, but shouldn’t we try to avoid “preaching our culture” alongside it – or worse, instead of it?)

I would caution, however, that there is a danger is saying that one already has achieved a “biblical” or “Christian” worldview: I think it’s pretty clear that an obedient, biblical Christian in Canada is going to have a somewhat different worldview than an obedient, biblical Christian in China.

  • The danger of saying that one has “the” Christian worldview is that we will take the parts of our worldview that are merely cultural and raise them to the level of being “the” Christian view.
  • I think that the lenses of sin, historical contingency, and self are constantly placed before our eyes, so that we see through many lenses at the same time.
    • The result is that sometimes we attribute things we see/think to our having a “Christian worldview,” when in reality, Christians have had many, many worldviews throughout history (compare St. Augustine, a Christian Neo-Platonist, with B. B. Warfield or the Apostle Paul, for example–all Christians, but definitely not exactly the same worldviews).
  • It might seem like splitting hairs, but it would be best to say that what we are seeking for is to have a biblically informed worldview as much as possible, living in a constant awareness that we always fail to see things exactly as God does.
  • I would argue that just as Christianity is expressed differently in each individual Christian (differing spiritual gifts, experiences, talents, personalities, passions, etc.), Christianity is also expressed differently in different cultures.
    • Now, I don’t mean wildly differently – I’m certainly not saying that core matters of doctrine or morality may freely vary between cultures.
    • What I mean is that the Christianity of the Middle Ages certainly had a different worldview than that of North American evangelicals today, and that both of those are certainly different from the worldview(s) in the early Church.
      • So that one’s “worldview” is actually made up of many things that are shared with one’s culture.
        • Any Christian, anywhere, is going to have a worldview that includes certain values and assumptions that are shared even by non-Christians in that culture.
          • For example, I value democracy, freedom of speech, and presently value a specific balance between right- and left-wing economics wherein I think that roads, hospitals, and schools should be publicly funded but that we should promote free trade, keep taxes low, and not penalize the rich just because they’re rich. But should I imagine that my specific balance is the right, or Christian one? Is it not entirely possible to be a Christian who is a little more to the left or right of me–maybe even a lot? Of course! It is simply fanciful for anyone to think that the Bible teaches a one-and-for-all, specific economic policy for every imaginable situation. In fact, it seems entirely reasonable that the best balance for a country (and the concerns of the gospel) might be to have one right-left balance now, and a different one in twenty years, and a different one after that…
    • So it’s just not possible to have a worldview that is entirely “Christian” because one cannot avoid including certain values and assumptions that just didn’t come from Christianity.

So that the best and most accurate thing to say is this:

worldview-goggles

This cartoon from Answers in Genesis rightly points out that atheists have a worldview (something that atheists sometimes deny), but it is just too simplistic. The creationist thinks it is possible to achieve a final “biblical” perspective, so that one can actually be “objectively biblical.” Ironically, the cartoon misses its own point: really, neither person can be wholly objective (neither person can wholly escape their own culture, finitude, and sinful desire to put himself in God’s place; neither can see things as God does). The atheist has very little excuse for not knowing that he has a bias, but the Christian should have even less of an excuse if he really believes that Bible he’s holding!

Christianity should be the most important part, or the “governing part” of our worldview, and that there are less important parts of our worldviews that may vary across Christians in different times and places. Saying that we have “the” Christian worldview is not just inaccurate, but it risks the raising of human, temporary ideas to the level of divine revelation, and that is wrong.

So, as usual, life is just more complicated than we’d like it to be.

10 Popular Re-interpretations of The Great Commission

  1. “Go therefore and make fools of yourselves, building up walls to protect your children from hearing anything that you disagree with; shoe-horn the Ten Commandments in every public school and set up a Nativity scene on every government property.”
    • Because we all know that Jesus’ Kingdom is of this world, right?
  2. “Go therefore and make cheap, unoriginal parodies of popular music and movies, making Christianity look fun in the name of entertainment, teaching people to expect fog machines, light-shows, and emotional ecstasy during worship…”
    • I am not opposing all Christian music here; there are a number of truly original Christian artists – but there are many “baptized” versions of secular artists as well…
  3. “Go therefore and make the world a better place, joining hands with general humanistic morality, teaching people to live more peacefully with one another and to observe the general tenets of secular humanism…”
    • I have nothing against many social causes – I actually think Christians should be doing many of those things! But these are not the Great Commission; we cannot confuse the message with good deeds.
  4. “Go therefore and make friends with non-believers, acting very nice and hoping that one day they will ask you why you are different…”
    • There’s nothing wrong with making friends and doing “relational evangelism” – except that some of your friends may feel that you’re treating them like a project (because you are). Alternatively, it might only be a relationship without any evangelism. I’m all for choosing the right moment and being wise, but let’s face it: it’s difficult to evangelize, and it’s way more easy to just sink back into a comfortable friendship than it is to actually get the message across. We simply don’t get to be off-duty Christians. We are either all about Jesus Christ or we are slacking off.
    • I don’t mean that every single moment is supposed to be some sort of explicit “Jesus teaching moment” – far from it! But I do mean that every single moment is an on-duty moment. If we are truly being transformed by the gospel, then it transforms all of our lives; it means that it should not even be possible for someone to become your friend without it being really obvious that you’re about Jesus Christ. It should drip off you; it should be both implicit and explicit – according to wisdom in the Holy Spirit. We don’t get to pretend that we’re not Christians.
  5. “Go therefore door-to-door and tell people how evil they are, threatening them with the torments of hell in the name of love, teaching them to fear all that I have commanded you…”
    • I’m not against door-to-door ministry (I admire that boldness!); rather, I am against using fear as a primary motivator for bringing people to faith in Christ. Yes, we need to be honest about God’s holiness, justice, and judgment – but that really isn’t the whole message of the Cross, now is it? Jesus talked about hell, but he talked about a lot of other things, too.
  6. “Go therefore and tell people that God is just love (not really holy), making them feel accepted in the name of community, teaching them to ignore all that I have commanded you…”
    • Loving acceptance is a key component of Christian love – but it is not supposed to be motivated by an “I’m okay; you’re okay” mentality. Rather, it should be motivated by the knowledge that neither of us is “okay,” but that because of Jesus we can be redeemed. We accept others because we have been accepted and redeemed.
    • It is possible to be more liberal than Jesus.
  7. “Go therefore into your homes and have nothing to do with the world, protecting yourselves from the evil around you in the name of holiness, teaching outsiders that you are better than them…”
    • It is possible to be more conservative than Jesus.
    • If you think that avoiding all situations with alcohol, for example, is more important than getting out there and interacting with non-believers, then you are more conservative than Jesus. If you think that you cannot be friends with a non-believer, you are more conservative with Jesus. You cannot plant any seeds (much less harvest) if you’re afraid to go to the field.
  8. “Go therefore and make yourselves rich, teaching people that God will bless them in this life in the name of health, wealth, and prosperity…”
    • Frankly, I don’t even know how this one gets off the ground. Just read about Paul’s life in the Bible – he was probably one of the best Christians ever and yet he suffered greatly.
  9. “Go therefore and prove scientifically that God exists, showing that the world is definitely only a few thousand years old and that evolution is false in the name of Enlightenment Rationalism, teaching them about the conspiracy in modern science…”
    • And its corollary:
      • 2 Tim. 3:16 – All Scripture is inspired [verbally dictated] by God [according to modern, twenty-first century, English-speaking, North American standards of rigid exactitude] and profitable for teaching [science and modern historiography], for reproof [of all non-conservative understandings of Scripture], for correction [of historical allegations], for training in righteousness [rationalistic apologetics];”
    • I have nothing against apologetics per se. But the Great Commission is not about asking people for their intellectual permission to preach the gospel. Apologetics should help remove obstacles to hearing, but it can never finally establish the credibility of the gospel – it cannot and must not pretend to provide a rationalistic foundation for belief. (See more on this here.)
  10. “Go therefore to seminary and learn all the theology you can, posting on Facebook everything you’ve learned in the name of truth, teaching people that they need to think critically about what they believe, forgetting to actually invite people to take a positive step of faith beyond the reach of critical thought…”
    • This is mine. This is the one that I struggle with all the time – both online and in person. I am willing to discuss apologetics with everyone, but I am often fearful to actually say to someone, with confidence, “Listen, Jesus is the Creator and Lord of everything; he can forgive you for the wrongs you’ve committed against him – against God – and he will give you new life. He has died for your sins and for my sins! He is the point of this life, and any way of doing life without enshrining him as Lord and following him is a wasted life. He will come back to judge the living and the dead.
      • Please pray that I would move past mere rational appeal into the realm of confident witness. For all of my opposition to the rationalistic approach I described above, I often fall into the same sort of thing (only not in terms of Creation Science). The fact that my method is perhaps more sophisticated (or needlessly complicated) does not excuse me from the basic charge that I do, in fact, try to make an excuse for the Word of God. But we do not need to make an excuse for the Word of God; we need to be silent and heed it.

Matthew 28:19-20 (the real one) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Faith, Reason, and Apologetics

In the early Middle Ages, the role of faith was elevated too high above evidence; people were probably too quick to believe things without any evidence – sometimes against the evidence. In the early modern period, we learned the importance of evidence, but we quickly forgot the value of faith; we began to think that faith had no role at all simply because we realized that it is possible to put your faith in the wrong thing. In the postmodern period, we’ve realized that the role of faith cannot be escaped: all evidence is questionable, we cannot be *as* certain as we thought we could be.

So there is a three-fold choice before us:

(1) Some, like Richard Dawkins, insist that it does not take any faith to accept evidence, so they just deny the postmodern discovery and go on in their rationalism: if the scientific evidence cannot prove God, then there is no God. This is also the position of many Christian fundamentalist groups, who insist that evidence can be a foundation for the Christian faith – for example, Creation Science and the Intelligent Design Movement agree with Dawkins that evidence comes before faith; they simply disagree on what the evidence is (and I believe that they are wrong about the evidence). “I can have Truth,” this group says.

(2) The postmodern skeptics say that neither faith nor evidence gives us truth, and so they live without holding onto anything as true. Because anything could be false, they won’t trust anything. This group says, “If I can’t have Truth, no one can!”

(3) We can realize that faith and evidence go together. We must have faith in our senses and mind before we can receive any evidence; we must also realize that if there is a God, he cannot be established using any outside evidence because there can be no brighter light, no surer foundation than God himself. This means that the only way to interact with God is by faith (sort of like the fact that you cannot get to know a person unless you first believe that there is, in fact, a person inside that human body – not just some biological robot; you interact with a person by faith, and then you receive evidence of personhood on the basis of your initial faith). This coincides with Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” This group says, “Truth has me.” Truth is not their own possession to wield; it is God’s unique possession in which we only participate by his grace.

At the same time, the evidence clearly matters. If all the evidence in the world showed that Christianity had been invented as a hoax in the 19th century, for example, we would have to re-evaluate our faith commitments. That is why I could not be a Mormon, a Muslim, or a Young-Earth Creationist (unless my understanding of the evidence radically changed – and that is always theoretically possible, which is why faith must be included; faith goes past where the evidence can go, but it cannot ignore evidence either). Even Christian faith understands that all Truth is rooted in God; therefore the evidence and true faith cannot ultimately conflict – although our human understanding is always incomplete; always provisional. The eyes of faith see past what reason is able to perceive on its own, then giving to reason things “to chew on,” as it were. This is St. Augustine’s crede, ut intelligas: “believe so that you may understand.”

So I take the third position. This is why I see Creation Science and the Intelligent Design Movement as philosophically and theologically flawed (not only flawed scientifically): they agree with position (1) above instead of the more Christian position (3). They buy into the modern myth that evidence must be a foundation for faith instead of a helper for faith. But this is backwards, as I hope I’ve made clear: faith has to be a foundation for reason. Faith and reason are both human cognitive faculties and we need to use them both responsibly. To the degree that we buy into (1) above instead of receiving our teaching from the Bible, we are worldly in our thinking instead of biblical in our thinking.

(Of course, I agree with “intelligent design” in the sense that I believe the universe was, in fact, designed – but I do not think that design can be scientifically detected [which is what the Intelligent Design Movement teaches]. You cannot even detect that a painting was designed by using *only* the tools of science. You have to *first* believe that agents exist who are able to paint – but that is not a scientific conclusion, it is a philosophical assumption. I will have to do a blog series on Creation Science and Intelligent Design sometime.)

What Should Apologetics Do?

Christian apologetics does its best work when, having listened carefully (Prov. 18:13,17), it uses the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 1:18-31) to silence/demolish pretensions against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5), giving a defence for the faith (1 Pet. 3:15) – In order that it, too, may be silenced (for it does itself rely on the wisdom of man to some extent), so that the Word of God may be heard. It must humbly say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It recognizes that even its own ability to believe in Christ is in some sense a gift (John 6:44) – that it cannot do anything apart from Christ (John 15:5).

Christian apologetics does its worst work when it does not listen carefully, tries to use the wisdom of man to lay a new foundation for the faith (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15), and tries to make an excuse for the Word of God (or worse, to speak instead of God), for fear that Christianity will not be respectable in the eyes of the world unless it rests on the wisdom of man – as if God needed the permission of humanity before he could speak. It then gloats and boasts triumphantly in its own wisdom, speaking disdainfully of *those foolish people* who will not believe; they must be “irrational” or “stupid” it thinks – as if it has accomplished something for itself by “figuring out” God. This distortion is clearly sinful.

Apologetics, then, is not (finally) about proving God – for when he speaks, there is no brighter light against which to test him; rather, it is about dis-proving man’s worldly pretensions against God. Intelligent Design and Creation Science do not go far enough because they perpetuate one of man’s great pretensions; namely, position (1) above. Unless we communicate that repentance includes repenting of our own wisdom – for repentance must go all the way down – we do not preach repentance at all. To repent is to utter the great, final “I am wrong”; to believe is to utter the great, final “He is right”; to trust is to obey. Martin Luther spoke truthfully when he said that the whole Christian life must be one of repentance; the Church must always be in a state of reform.

Book Review: Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ – by Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace

Bock, Darrell L and Daniel B. Wallace. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. 237 pages.

Dethroning

Darrell L. Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. His postdoctoral work in Luke-Acts and in Jesus’ examination before the Jews has earned him international recognition, and he currently serves as corresponding editor at large for Christianity Today. Daniel B. Wallace, also a Professor of New Testament Studies at DTS, has done postdoctoral work in Greek grammar, syntax and textual criticism. Wallace is founder of an organization that works to ensure the digital preservation of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Summary

Dethroning Jesus differentiates two competing stories about the historical Jesus. Christianity maintains that “Jesus was anointed by God to represent both God and humanity in the restoration of a broken relationship existing between the Creator and his creation” (4). “Jesusanity,” in contrast, calls him a prophet or wise religious teacher—a good example to follow; “the key is that Jesus inspires others, but there is no throne for him” (5). Bock and Wallace investigate the competing merits of each view of Jesus by analyzing and responding to six of Jesusanity’s major public claims.

1. The original New Testament has been corrupted by copyists.

World-class New Testament (NT) scholar Bart Ehrman presents three lines of argument in his 2005 best seller, Misquoting Jesus: 1) our copies of the NT are so late that the message of the originals is uncertain. Bock and Wallace reply that both the dating and number of NT manuscripts are much better than all of the other ancient texts that today’s historians accept as trustworthy. 2) There are many differences (errors) between NT manuscripts. However, ninety-nine percent of these involve wording and spelling differences and do not viably affect the meaning; the remainder do not affect any orthodox doctrine—e.g. “We have peace” vs. “Let us have peace” in Romans 5:1. 3) Orthodox scribes changed the NT text, altering its basic message. While Bock and Wallace grant that there were insertions, such as Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and 1 John 5:7-8, they counter that Evangelical scholars have known about these “for more than a century, yet no theological formulations have been altered” (64). They conclude that Ehrman has a penchant for publicly inflating these issues, making them more sensational than they really are.

2. Secret gnostic gospels, such as Judas show the existence of early alternative Christianities.

For Ehrman, this fact “reverses everything we ever thought about the nature of true Christianity (99); “orthodoxy” was merely the winning alternative among many. Bock and Wallace agree that Judas is authentic ancient Gnostic text: it centres on secret knowledge and dualism, in which the spiritual is good and the physical is bad—and so is the inferior god who created the physical realm. Here Jesus is a secretive, disdainful figure who speaks ill of the disciples except Judas—whom he instructs to hand over “the man that clothes [him]” (96) to be crucified. There is certainly an alternative Christianity here, but Bock and Wallace point out that this is a second-century text while the canonical gospels are from the first century. Moreover, the anti-Jewish nature of Judas would have disqualified it because the early Christians accepted Hebrew teaching: the one true God had created the physical world. They conclude that Ehrman’s claim is a “historically false…misleading and anachronistic attempt to write a revisionist history” (103).

3. The Gospel of Thomas radically alters our understanding of the real Jesus.

In her 2003 book, Beyond Belief, Elaine Pagels expresses her dismay that the Gospel of John rejects any “divine spark” within humanity—it rejects the “good news” of Thomas. Bock and Wallace’ contentions are similar as with Judas: 1) as a collection of 114 alleged sayings of Jesus, Thomas lacks any narrative that may have aided in its dating; it is most likely a second-century text—partly because it appears to borrow heavily from the Synoptic Gospels and 1 Corinthians. 2) Early Christians would have disqualified Thomas for its disdain for apocalyptic prophecy and its elevation of knowledge above faith, among other things. This Jesus performs no miracles, appears to teach panentheism, and says things such as “every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven” (125). 3) That scholars would treat Thomas as more trustworthy than the Gospel of John bewilders Bock and Wallace because this Jesus is “virtually untouchable by historical investigation” (128): Thomas himself is explicitly affirmed as “the only one with [secret] reliable information about Jesus” (128)—information that is so cryptic that it cannot be openly communicated. The Gospels, far from being non-falsifiable, were written anonymously and “give us earlier material, written in a way that subjects the narrative to historical inquiry. And what these gospels say about Jesus is not said in a corner: it is the memory of Jesus of the earliest Christian communities” (130).  

4. Jesus’ message was actually (only) political and social.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan make this claim in their 2006 book, The Last Week. They make a number of number of arguments with which Bock and Wallace take exception: 1) Jesus’ central message of economic and political reform incited his crucifixion. Bock and Wallace agree that Jesus’ most basic theme was the kingdom of God, but they insist that he presented himself as king-messiah—not merely as prophet-messiah. Bock and Wallace agree that the details of Jesus’ execution attest to this much, but Borg and Crossan insist on an either-or approach: “Jesus [either] speaks against the leadership, or…about himself” (This is Bock and Wallace’ summary–not a quote from Borg and Crossan. 140). Bock and Wallace point out that the church would not have invited persecution by needlessly emphasizing Christ as king-messiah; Hebrew teachings on the Messiah anticipate a “ruling or transcendent figure” (139). It is also curious that Jesus is not recorded as saying much about Rome at all, or even as visiting the Roman cities nearby—if his mission were purely political. 2) Jesus’ death was not understood as being “for sins” until Anselm popularized the idea in AD 1097. This claim is simply false. Paul taught Jesus’ death for our sins as the teaching he had received (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Here is another either-or: either “one participates with Jesus in the Cross, or one is substituted for by Jesus’ act on the cross” (145)—but the NT actually teaches both. 3) The resurrection is best understood as a parable. A plausible case is made for a mere vision of the risen Christ, but this ignores that many people saw him at once, and that Thomas’ doubt was remedied by physical contact. Bock and Wallace agree with Borg and Crossan that “Jesus is against egoism and injustice and for personal and political transformation…[but they insist that] Jesus is the key to this transformation, not just his teaching” (168).

5. Paul hijacked the Jewish reform movement of Jesus and James, creating one that exalted Jesus and included the Gentiles.

In his 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor teaches that Christianity began with Jesus and John the Baptist’s teachings, in which “Jesus’s person or work wasn’t a central concern” (180); only later did Paul’s teachings, based on his “visionary experiences of a heavenly Christ” (174), become synonymous with Christianity—a very different movement than that of James. Bock and Wallace praise Tabor for some solid historical work, but his key assumptions are flawed: 1) he has an anti-supernatural bias; Tabor decries the virgin birth “dogma” but substitutes his own dogma that “all human beings [including Jesus] have both a biological mother and father” (175). He suggests that Jesus’ real father was likely a Roman soldier named Pantera since Mark does not mention Joseph (among other things). However, this ignores Mark’s literary emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1); to focus on Jesus’ earthly father—apparently dead during the events in Mark—might have undermined this. 2) Bock and Wallace also note that Tabor excessively contrasts Christian texts. It is true that there were differing emphases in early Christianity, but this does not imply different faiths. Bock and Wallace also find this tendency in Ehrman, who accepts report of a “divisive” conflict with Peter in Galatians 2 but not the affirmations of unity in the same letter. Moreover, Paul speaks teaching that he has received: “When Paul saw the exalted Jesus and was converted, he had to have known the church’s teaching in order to understand the experience” (190).

6. Jesus’ tomb has been found; his resurrection and ascension were not physical.

In March 2007, the Discovery Channel aired “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” documentary, with Tabor as the primary historical advisor. It suggested that the names found in a tomb unearthed at Talpiot, Israel, linked it to Jesus: “Jesus, Mary…Mariamne…Matthew, Jose (a variation of Joseph), and Judas, son of Jesus” (196). Bock and Wallace point out “a series of historical, cultural, and sociological problems…[,] ones most historians could readily spot” (198): 1) Either this is Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, who offered his tomb for Jesus’ burial, or “Jose” is Jesus’ father; the former squares with the gospel accounts, but only the latter supports the documentary’s claim. If the disciples stole the body and put it in this second tomb, as the documentary suggests, then they later knowingly preached a lie to the point of their own martyrdoms. Neither is there any explanation for why Mathew (not related to Jesus) would be in the family tomb, and not Jesus’ other brothers. 2) The documentary argues that Jesus and Mariamne were husband and wife on the basis that their DNA did not match. This simply cannot be proven by a DNA test; one wonders why they did not instead “test Judas, [supposed] son of Jesus, to see if he matched either or both” (206). 3) Bock and Wallace estimate that about 76,000 different Jesuses were alive in the area at the time—1,500 of which could have been the one in this tomb. 4) The documentary depends on the very late, fourth-century Acts of Philip in order to identify Mariamne as Mary Magdalene, but this conflicts with the first-century Gospel of John. Bock and Wallace also decry the documentary’s “naïve handling of the issue of resurrection” (208), which was presented as not being physical in nature—only spiritual. This ignores the Jewish backgrounds of the apostles, specifically of Paul, “a former Pharisee who held to a physical resurrection, as 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 makes clear” (210). Bock and Wallace conclude that when sensations like this come into the public eye, the underwriters should be more scrutinous and the public should let the controversy play out before passing judgment.

Historical investigation leads Bock and Wallace to conclude that Jesusanity misunderstands historical Christianity; it is “unlikely…that the earliest expression of Christianity had a less-than-exalted view of Jesus” (220). But a negative case against Jesusanity alone does not prove Christianity to be true, so they make three positive cases: 1) the early teaching of an exalted Jesus; 2) Paul’s teaching of an exalted Jesus as received from the church; and 3) a link between the root gospel (Mark) and Peter. Thus they end their book, observing that, historically speaking, “the earliest Christianity taught about the spiritual and personal benefits of knowing the exalted Jesus. An enthroned Jesus, not a dethroned one, is most able to lead us into the knowledge of God—and of ourselves” (227).

Critique

Bock and Wallace offer a readable, well-organized, and concise summary and rebuttal of six popular arguments aimed at undermining Christianity’s connection to the historical Jesus. They do so with class by acknowledging the expertise of opposing scholars—even conceding on certain points. Examples of this include agreeing that some passages have been added to the Bible (60-71) and acknowledging that Tabor is likely correct about Jesus having been a follower of John the Baptist before beginning his own ministry (180). They also handle the tension between social and doctrinal concerns quite admirably, given the sensitive nature of the topic.

Some minor concerns include the incongruity of speaking against Jesusanity’s “swallowing up” of the First Great Commandment to love God with all one’s being “by the second…to love one’s neighbour as oneself” (27) while, at the same time, using James’ affirmation of this second commandment as the “royal law” (2:8) as a point against Jesusanity (184); it seems they could have written more to resolve the apparent conflict between (1) denying Jesusanity for its tendency to make the Second Great Commandment the whole show while (2) James seems to do this very thing (on surface). Also, although Bock and Wallace consider the widespread evangelical ignorance of inserted passages as a “bomb waiting to explode” (63), their discussion of Paul and James’ unity (184) may have been a good time to acknowledge and discuss a similar “bomb”: Martin Luther himself considered James to be an “epistle of straw.” But these are minor complaints – the book is aimed at a popular audience, and it is unreasonable to expect them to nail down every possible loose thread.

My primary apprehension with Dethroning Jesus is Bock and Wallace’ apparent contention that Jesusanity is a monolithic movement aimed at dethroning the biblical Jesus. While they are correct that each of these six claims can be used to support Jesusanity, the idea that “Jesusanity” is some sort of driving force behind each of these movements is assumed. If they mean to say that this is the spiritual conspiracy of Satan to present a false Christ, then a brief discussion would have been welcome. But Bock and Wallace claim that “we cannot understand the public discussion about Jesus without understanding that the discussion entails [Christianity and Jesusanity]” (5). Thinking in these terms is a helpful grid for organizing these public claims, but this alone does not prove its reality as a unique movement apart from general sin and spiritual darkness in the world. They may be right, but such is not the case they have made in this book; rather, they seem to have assumed Jesusanity’s existence and interpreted these six claims accordingly. As a result, they may leave the impression that all of these scholars agree with all six claims—but this is surely not the case: if the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” was as bad as they claim, it’s difficult to believe that Borg, Crossan, and Ehrman would take it seriously. If “Jesusanity” is taken to loosely mean “any view that relegates Jesus to a mere teacher” then there is no issue, but Bock and Wallace appear to have taken great pains to establish it as a sociological reality. This runs the risk of having the reader think that there really is some Jesusanity committee somewhere, whose expressed purpose is to spread misinformation about Christ.

Ministry Application

Dethroning Jesus has much to offer in an educational context: its rebuttal of contemporary arguments against the Christian faith in the public square may be useful to both bolster the faith of some and to equip them better to answer questions from outsiders. Apologetics is generally well received by evangelicals, so opposition to this book is unlikely, but there are two related issues to be discussed: 1) a significant portion of evangelicals may be termed “recovering fundamentalists.” For these folks, admitting that certain portions of the NT were added later might as well be heresy; they need to deepen their faith and centre it on Christ rather than on modern ideas about what biblical inerrancy entails, but this book may not be the best way to enter that process: it seems to move on from the issue too soon after raising it. 2) Care must be taken to avoid feeding existing arrogance and triumphalism among evangelicals. Otherwise, those who learn about Thomas’ Jesus being sexist, for example, will simply gain an offensive fact to wave around whenever they speak disdainfully of these other texts. Instead, the goal should be to answer challenges to the Christian faith with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

Lecture Review: “Reflections on the Bible, Evolution, and the Journey of Faith” by Peter Enns

This is a response I wrote to a lecture given by Enns on October 9, 2013 in the Northwest Auditorium at Trinity Western University. I originally wrote this as an assignment for Ministry of Scholarship 803, but, in an effort to blog more, I am reproducing it here, with expanded commentary and greater interaction. It should go without saying that all of my views are my own, and that none of my views necessarily reflects the positions of TWU, ACTS Seminaries, my church, Enns, or anyone else one way or the other — that goes for all my blogs.

Summary

Peter Enns is adamant that the issue of evolution and Christianity is “challenging, vital, and not going away anytime soon.” In response, he urges us to “accept the challenge of evolution and embark on a journey of faith.”

There is a “non-negotiable need” to account for two things:

  1. the current evolutionary model of origins
  2. modern biblical scholarship

Enns calls these “two destabilizing factors” — they do not challenge Christianity, but only our current understanding/interpretation of Christianity. (All quotations are from Enns’s powerpoint.)

For Enns, a literalist approach to Scripture “assumes that the mark of divine inspiration is to isolate itself from cultural context” — Enns doesn’t agree; therefore, we cannot simply “graft” evolution onto evangelicalism — by suggesting that Adam and Eve could have been some early hominid couple chosen by God, etc. The first gene pool was no less than about 10,000 humans, and this must be accounted for (see, for example, Dennis Venema’s article, “Genesis and the Genome.”). But Enns is quick to point out that even on biblical grounds, assuming that Adam and Eve were literal people raises the following “three red flags”:

  • “Even without evolution, biblical scholarship is enough to do away with a naïve literalism.”
  • “We should not superimpose some kind of hominid over Adam” — this is equally unfaithful to Scripture.
  • “The ad hoc ‘it’s possible’ argument” is weak: the fact that it’s possible that God could have picked a pair does not by itself make it true that he has done so.

At the same time, Enns doesn’t see this as “putting science ‘over’ the Bible”: “none of us comes to the Bible with a blank slate […] Outside information can ‘Calibrate’ our expectations for Scripture” — specifically, “Science shows us that science/history cannot be our expectation for the Bible.” Rather than stick to the “theological non-starter” of biblical inerrancy — which requires an ad hoc “constant vigilance” to maintain, Enns recommends an “incarnational model”:  “Just as Jesus bears the full marks of humanity, specifically that of ancient first-century Palestine, the Bible fully bears the mark of the historical trappings in which it was written.”

He quotes C. S. Lewis here:

“[There] is one argument which we should beware of using…: God must have done what is best, [I feel] this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done — especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it” (Reflections on the Psalms, 111-112).

So we must pay attention to historical context, canonical context, and Christian tradition, and remember that “We see things provisionally, not as they really are… History is important — even when it challenges our theology.”

Evaluation/Reflection

Enns makes a compelling case for why evangelicals should be engaged in the discussion about evolution — whatever we are going to do about all this, sticking our heads in the sand is not an option. My only critique is that Enns seemed to just “talk about evolution and Christianity for an hour”; he didn’t clearly delineate a thesis for his talk (I had to decide on one for my assignment). Also, I think he ought to have actually dug into the meat of the issue a little more: it’s one thing to say that we need to revaluate our interpretation, but it’s quite another to actually show what that might mean. I was hoping to actually get into the issues of how we might understand Jesus and Paul’s references to Adam and Eve in the NT. Also, I don’t see why Enns has to set his view up in opposition to biblical inerrancy. For myself, I believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant in what it intends to teach — it simply doesn’t intend to teach science.

In the Q & A, I asked, “Did Jesus and Paul understand — together with their audiences — (unlike us) that Adam was not historical when they talked about him? Did they know that Adam and Eve were not historical; is it only we moderns who misread Genesis 1-11 as history?”

Enns gave an interesting response to this: “Well, I don’t know what they were thinking” (the audience laughed at me here, and I deserved it). But essentially, Paul was an ancient man in an ancient context, and a historical Adam was part of the heritage he had received. (He was reluctant to speak about Jesus). It is “messy,” he said, but “an incarnational view of Scripture is unafraid to see the mess for what it is.” When God reveals infallible truth, he does so by “incarnating” his message in the thought patterns of the time; one author says that “God let his children tell the story.”

I think Enns makes a number of very important points, but “ground zero” for me is whether or not we should think of Jesus as being — ultimately — misinformed/wrong about the historicity of Adam. I would prefer to think that He was actually consciously accommodating His audience when He spoke of Adam. However, I talked with my Exposition of Genesis professor regarding all of this, and he says that he really has no problem with the idea that Jesus and Paul were men of their times, believing and using the categories of their times to express divine truth. He pointed out Philippians 2:3-11, where it says that Jesus “emptied himself” (the Greek word for this is kenosis); the idea is that in the Incarnation, the second person of the Trinity gave up his omniscience  in becoming human. (J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig suggest that Christ possibly “subliminally” suppressed his omniscience into his subconsciousness. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 610-13.)

C. S. Lewis has no problem with this idea:

“it might be argued that when [Christ] emptied Himself of His glory He also humbled Himself to share, as man, the current superstitions of His time. And I certainly think that Christ, in the flesh, was not omniscient — if only because a human brain could not, presumably, be the vehicle of omniscient consciousness, and to say that Our Lord’s thinking was not really conditioned by the size and shape of His brain might be to deny the real incarnation and become a Docetist. Thus, if Our Lord had committed Himself to any scientific or historical statement which we knew to be untrue, this would not disturb my faith in His deity” (The Problem of Pain, chap. 9).

(Docetism was a Gnostic heresy, holding that Jesus only appeared to be a real human. Against this the Council of Chalcedon in 451 argued that Jesus had both a fully human nature and a fully divine nature: one person with two natures. It was held that in order to fully redeem humanity, Jesus had to be fully human, and I agree.)

Now, it might alarm us to think that there are scientific “errors” in the Bible, but ask yourself this: could God have ever written a book of science for all generations of humanity? It seems to me that it would either be hopelessly beyond their understanding, or it would eventually become obsolete. If he had written a book of science for Newton’s time, then Einstein would have made it obsolete; if he wrote it for our own time, no doubt it would be obsolete by the 2200s — if not well before! No book could satisfy all generations, because science progresses. It would be far better just to leave science aside and communicate divine, infallible, inerrant truth in categories that we could understand (and I think he did).

So Jesus thinks that the mustard seed is actually the smallest seed; so the Pentateuch reads as if rabbits chew the cud (they don’t); so Joshua has a geocentric solar system; so Paul thinks that there is an underworld (Denis Lamoureux points out that the Greek word Katachthonios literally refers to the Greco-Roman idea of the underworld. Evolutionary Creation, 106-11.); so what? It is no error at all if God never intended to make scientifically authoritative statements in the Bible; in fact, the error would be with those who assume that God was making statements about science.

We need to understand that even if God had been incarnated in the twenty-first century and spoke in terms of our current understanding of physics, chemistry, botany, astronomy, biology, etc. even that would still be an accommodation: science is never final; there is always more to learn.

I have read Enns’s 2012 book, The Evolution of Adam, and I am currently working through his commentary on Exodus (The NIV Application Commentary, 2000). I find that Enns does not at all compromise on a theologically conservative, Christ-centered, understanding of the Christian gospel. For those concerned that Enns’s evolutionary creationism is a “slippery slope,” I happily quote this bit from Enns’s commentary on Exodus:

“It is often simply stated that if what the Bible says happened did not happen, then the truth claims of the Bible are rendered suspect and we have little reason to trust it. Defense of the Bible’s historicity is, of course, important, but it is not the goal of biblical interpretation. To use an obviously relevant example, you have not understood the book of Exodus when you have successfully defended the historicity of the events of the Exodus. There is more to interpreting the book than demonstrating that this or that happened.
The Old Testament is not a journalistic, dispassionate, objective account of events. Its purpose is not just to tell us ‘what happened’ so that we can ‘look objectively at the data’ and arrive at the proper conclusions. The Old Testament is theological history. It has been written to teach lessons. The primary lesson I would argue is to teach us what God is like and what it means for his people to live with that knowledge” (p. 24).

Now, there is certainly a slippery slope of liberalism, which thinks that the whole Bible is only a human book. We must of course reject theological liberalism. My point is that there is another slippery slope: the slippery slope of thinking that everything in the Bible was written with modern, twenty-first century, Western, English-speaking people in mind and forgetting the central message. To expect that the biblical authors were concerned with our way of seeing the world — with our standards of science and history — is not only to misread the text, but it is just as absurd as if an ancient man were to travel forward through time to our century only to read all of our literature/media through his worldview. How would such a man interpret an episode of Star Trek? His interpretation would probably miss the point entirely. He would have to be educated in our culture before he would be able to understand the message of the show (which, although I enjoy the show, is basically optimistic secular humanism).

This hidden slippery slope of expecting the Bible to be a modern book has dire consequences:

  • Many young people, hearing that Genesis *must* be taken literally, will grow up, attend post secondary, and feel that they must choose between the Bible and honesty (this is a false choice). This is actually the same mistake that theological liberalism often makes: both (some forms of) liberalism and fundamentalism think that if the Bible does not teach science, then it is not from God. This is a false choice.
  • The church laity will believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy in science, and they will appear cultish and backward to the world. This keeps honest, thinking, seeking people from considering Christianity. We often look to them like we believe the earth is flat. (Of course there are necessary, offensive stumbling blocks — such as the Gospel itself — but is this one of them?)
  • Persons who have studied these things historically, theologically, scientifically, and philosophically, will be seen as “liberal” and “deceived,” even though their faith is truly evangelical and they believe in all of the central tenets of the historical Christian faith. They will be kept out of leadership, prevented from serving, and the Body of Christ will suffer that much for it. Enns himself was dismissed from Westminster Theological Seminary.
  • Evangelicals will continue to simply not understand science and nature and miss out on understanding God’s creation to that degree.
  • Even worse, we will read Genesis wrongly to a certain degree, and, to that degree, we will miss out on the gift of God’s self-revelation. Is anything worse?
  • Yes, one thing is worse: putting our faith in “Jesus + the-Bible-is-a-book-of-science” instead of putting our faith in Jesus alone.
    • The modern evangelical impulse to take everything in the Old Testament as absolutely literal “or else” is not the historical Christian position. Instead, it is a product of modern rationalism, which thinks that everything must be understood in modern categories of science and history or else it is not true. Rationalism is just as alien to Christianity as gnosticism or some other heresy. In a word, imposing Enlightenment Rationalism on the Bible is actually a form of worldliness.
    • For myself, I say that everything must be made obedient to Christ or it is not true. I believe that there is a way to have everything that true, historical, traditional Christianity has to offer without looking like we think that the earth is flat — thereby turning thinking people away from Christ. In fact, since both nature and Scripture are from God, they can never finally contradict (when they are each interpreted correctly).
    • If our faith is in Jesus *plus* a modern, scientific interpretation of Genesis (an interpretation that neither Moses nor the Israelites would have even imagined), then we are not just on a slippery slope, but we are building a house on the “sand” of modernity. But I say that faith should be Christ alone.
  • So, this is the slippery slope that the North American evangelical church has already been on for over 100 years, and we are now seeing the fruit of it: young people are leaving the church in droves, and atheists like Richard Dawkins also think that evolution makes the Bible false — we are giving Dawkins ammunition and helping to alienate our own young people when we insist that the Bible must be a book of science in order to be true.

I am not totally settled on how we should understand Adam and Eve. Is there any sense in which Genesis 1-11 is historical? Is it entirely an ancient origins account that God used to reveal himself? How do we understand the NT passages about Adam?

Now, whatever we end up saying, I think Ken Ham goes way too far in says that taking Genesis as anything less than entirely literal history “destroys the gospel” (speaking of even “old earth” creationism). There are options, here, if we are to “accept the challenge of evolution and embark on a journey of faith”:

  • We could say that the Fall in Genesis is a representation of something that really happened in ancient human history — that somehow, our ancestors (all 10,000 or however many) really did fall into sin. This would preserve the doctrine of original sin — everything would be the same; we still need Jesus.
  • We could get rid of original sin (it was Augustine’s invention in the late 300s/early 400s anyway — not explicitly in the Bible), and still be Christians who believe that Jesus saves us from the fact of *universal* sin. This is what the Eastern Orthodox believe, and while I might disagree with them on many things, they still affirm that Jesus’ sacrifice was absolutely necessary for salvation from sin.
  • And, of course, that fact that the Gospels are a totally different genre (Greco-Roman/theological biographies) from Genesis 1-11 (Theological ancient-near-eastern origins account) means that we are in no danger whatsoever of saying that Jesus’ miracles or resurrection did not happen. I believe Jesus really performed miracles, rose from the dead, is active in the church today via the Holy Spirit, and will return to judge the living and the dead.

Undoubtedly there are more options we could hold to and still be orthodox in our understanding of the gospel. For example, Justin Martyr — the second-century Christian apologist — thought that God had created the world using pre-existing matter. I disagree with Justin on that point, but he defended the true gospelThe point is that how we think of Genesis 1-11 does not need to undermine the gospel so long as we believe what Genesis 1-11 is actually teaching: God is the Creator, we are made in his image, we are made for relationship with him, and we are in rebellion against him. Certainly I have more reading and thinking to do, and I could be wrong about any of this; I am only married to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I see everything — including both the Bible and modern science — through that lens (anything less is not a Christian worldview).

I’ll leave you with this C. S. Lewis quote:

“When the author of Genesis says that God made man in His own image, he may have pictured a vaguely corporeal God making a man as a child makes a figure out of plasticine. A modern Christian philosopher may think of a process lasting form the first creation of matter to the final appearance of this planet of an organism fit to receive spiritual as well as biological life. But both mean essentially the same thing. Both are denying the same thing — the doctrine that matter by some blind power inherent in itself has produced spirituality” (“Dogma and the Universe,” God in the Dock).