Saturday, September 03, 2011

Celebrity Christian Food-Fight, Round 2

It's Mohler versus McLaren again, in a Battle Royale!

Now the subject is Adam. Mohler insists that anyone who denies a single, identifiable Adam in history as the beginning of the gospel "metanarrative" (point loss for using that banal neologism) has destroyed the gospel. McLaren says that's goofy, and Mohler should be ashamed of himself for being so narrowly sectarian.

Details here, at Associated Baptist Press.

Now the SWNIDish view.

First, let's note that Mohler's assertion that the gospel depends on a singular, historical Adam is a consequence of his commitment to the Reformed notion that universal human guilt flows from a singular, historical Adam's first sin. That is, all us humans are sinners because we inherited guilt from Adam, plus a tendency to sin to boot.

But if you don't think that Romans 5:12 means what Mohler says, you've got much less at stake theologically in a historical Adam.

So, say our skeptical but still gentle readers, is SWNID indifferent to the theology of Genesis? Hardly! However, note well how the narrative of the first parents works in context. Both "Adam" and "Eve" are names that strongly suggest more than just individuals but archetypes (of course, something can be both at the same time). Their place is at a junction of four rivers of which only two are identifiable, suggesting a lost, greater place than that which is home to a Great Empire. They encounter a creature reminiscent of the pagan, theriomorphic gods of chaos, a snake who speaks, enticing them to an experience that by its very name, eating fruit of knowledge of good and evil, suggests loss of innocence, with an enticement that is nothing short of self-centered rebellion against the Creator. The consequence of their action is that they are responsible for their alienation and suffering in a world which ought to be "very good" for their habitation.

And thereafter in the sacred canon, their story is referred to as the archetype of all such rebellion. So Hosea says that Israel is like Adam in its disobedience to covenant. And, as we noted above, Paul says that death spread to all people because all sinned--as Adam sinned. The point is not that there must be a single human whose sin explains all of our lostness, but that all of us have done what Adam did and so share Adam's guilt and sentence. We don't need guilt plus depravity to be passed along through Adam's line of descent to explain universal human sinfulness. We just need to look around to say, death spread to all people because all sinned--like Adam.

Dare we say it, then? Loath to declare ourselves in a battle between two theological publicity hounds, we grudgingly say that in this round, McLaren is right this time.

But . . .

Presently the whole "historical Adam" controversy largely hangs on a single observation of genetics and paleoanthropology: that the present state of human genetic diversity had to arise from an original population of "modern humans" of about 10,000. Hence, no singular Adam.

However, where did the 10k community come from? Well, they came from earlier homonids of the quasi-human variety, of course.

Take the Neanderthal, so maligned in the human imagination. Seems likely that "modern humans," obviously slumming, mated and procreated with Neanderthals. And the issue of such unions were themselves fertile, not like mules and other animal hybrids.

Meanwhile, our paleoanthropological friends tell us that there's still singular human ancestry in the background. It's just prior to "modern humans."

See the problem, gentle readers? It's the boundary of the category "human." Is that handsome person with his high foreheard, inconspicuous eyebrow ridge, slender chest and lithe limbs someone like me? Of course! What about that brute with the sloping forehead, prominent eyebrow ridge, barrel chest and awkwardly powerful limbs? Ugh. Clearly not a part of my family.

As long as we understand the problem of taxonomy, there's every possibility that behind a larger community of modern humans who comprise our common ancestors, there's an earlier homonid pair, self-conscious in the same way that you and we are, who are our first ancestors.

Which, then, is the SWNIDish view? Either.

What's important is that we see ourselves and our situation--for all of us--as described in the Adam story, whether it is both a story of one person and an archetype or is an archetype alone. It is a true and factual story, describing the factuality and truth of human rebellion against God and its consequences, either way.

Anticipated response plus rejoinder: If Adam is not historical, what about the second Adam? And if the second is historical, isn't the first also? Answer: Maybe, maybe not. The narrative of Christ is different in its nature of historical position and witness. Further, the singular, historical incarnation is vital to everything about the gospel in ways that a singular Adam is not, as we've noted above. There's no reason why the one who comes in space and time to reverse human sinfulness cannot be compared to one who might be an archetype but not a singular, historical individual. Unless he was.

Additional anticipated response plus rejoinder: Adam: historical or not? Direct answer please! Answer: Yes, either historical or not. We refuse to take sides on issues for which we have insufficient warrant to take sides. One ought to know what one doesn't know.

Yet another anticipated response plus a rejoinder: You and your Adam-denying ilk are just pandering to modern, secular views, watering down the biblical message to make it acceptable to people who are sinners and need their minds and hearts changed. Answer: We disagree only with a couple of words. Change "just pandering" to "deliberately addressing," and "watering down" to "trying to focus on" and "acceptable" to "clear and without unnecessary obstacles of our own making" and we're good with all of that. Just a little revision, that's all.

Final anticipated response plus rejoinder: If we don't know, why bother discussing it? Shut up, please! Answer: Making sure that we don't insist on certain beliefs as part of the faith if they aren't really part of the faith is a means of being sure we do believe what is part of the faith--and concentrate on it.


Anthony said...

well freaking done. that was money.

Raymond said...

So..."You and your Adam-denying ilk are deliberately addressing modern, secular views, trying to focus on the biblical message to make it clear, and without unnecessary obstacles of our own making, to people who are sinners and need their minds and hearts changed."

That's what I thought you were doing, I just had to piece it together.

Great post.

J in Japan said...

You're right. You don't have enough information to make a final decision. Neither do I.
In which case, I guess I'll just agree with the inspired writers of the New Testament, one of whom traced Jesus' lineage back to Adam.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

J: correct, but in what sense of "descent"? Family identity is both a matter of biological lineage and social identity. All people are descendants of Adam, whether there was a singular, historical Adam or not. Luke's point in his genealogy is certainly to identify Jesus with humanity and the fulfillment of the protoevangelium. Whether for Luke that must be a matter of physical descent, not least because the genealogy begins with the remarkable remark that Jesus was the son of Joseph "as was thought," is another matter.

Christian said...

One of the major problems with the current discussion is the lack of information, especially in regards to the "single observation of genetics." In fact, that's really what that number of 10,000 is going off of. And that is based on the numbers arrived at for the "genetic Adam" and the "Genetic Eve." Of which there is a 100,000 year difference. Granted, I'm not a geneticist, nor a mathematician, but others who are have come up with strikingly different numbers and time frames. This result is being heralded as observable fact, not observed interpretation.

I suppose this should not surprise me though, as eggs have been bad for me and good for me 4 or 5 times in my lifetime. As has chocolate, coffee, and wine. And Pluto is no longer a planet. And Indigo is not actually in the light spectrum, even though it's still taught in our public schools.

Anonymous said...

Already in my life as a chaplain I'm finding that these topics come up regularly (ie just today while waiting for a pee test "Chaps, did you know that scientists have traced all human DNA back to two ancestors?"). Those of us who aren't in education rarely have the time and means to reeducate (although that rarely stops people from trying). Instead, I find it's better to redirect an individuals (obvious) enthusiasm into something which is more productive for him as well as the people he meets.

Anonymous said...

And then write a blog.

J in Japan said...

The Bible says Adam existed.

It's reasonable that a God who could create everything would be able to create man the way he wanted him right from the start, and that is definitely the picture painted in the Bible. Adam and Eve are portrayed as thinking, moral creations.

Their existence is assumed.

Presumably, Jesus knew whether they existed or not. Also presumably, God knew when he was inspiring Luke to write his gospel whether Adam existed or not. Seems like someone in the know might have let Luke know that he was starting his genealogy off with an "archetype" who didn't really exist, and therefore wasn't really named Adam, and wait, why was Luke writing that genealogy?

To show Jesus' connection to humanity. Although, if Adam is just a fiction (a useful one?) then the connection would also be fictitious?

Wait a second! You aren't one of those people who says that inspiration by God doesn't mean something is true, are you?

In which case, you can ignore everything I've said, because it won't mean anything to you anyway.

KevinAK said...

Will we be getting SWNID'a perspective on the lastest blunder by Pat Robertson?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

J, your comments reflect some of what we've been trying to address.

We are assuredly not a member of the tribe that finds falsehood in what the Bible teaches. We loudly affirm the inspiration of the entire Bible and its consequent truth.

We simply ask whether this particular text is true both as an archetype and a narrative of a distinct couple in history or as an archetype alone.

Some of what you discuss we've discussed elsewhere on this blog. We can't rewrite every time. So if you care to, search the blog for other stuff on Genesis and the like.

We'll just say again that young-earth readings of Genesis create more problems internal to the text than they solve. And we'll say again what we've said here: Adam does function as a true archetype of humanity, whether or not he also existed as a distinct individual in history. We humans are all "in Adam" as rebels against the Creator, regardless of the answer on this question.

We can't make it much clearer than we have. We simply ask that folks read our rants with a degree of care and, dare we ask it, sympathy.