*Posted by Everett Berry. This piece originally appeared at All Things New.
In my previous post, I covered some of the history of the term evangelical as it was originally understood in the 20th century context of the rift with postwar Fundamentalism. Now moving forward in the next few posts, I want to begin opening Pandora’s Box a little bit and elaborate on some of the current theological trends that are making it more challenging to determine what an evangelical should look like theologically.
As we dive in, let me say again that my thoughts are related to recent interviews that I did with Dr. Barry Creamer on the radio show For Christ and Culture. The first issue that we explored pertained to the differences that evangelicals have regarding the relationship between science and the Bible. Or more specifically, we talked about some of the polarization that exists between evangelicals when it comes to hammering out a bare-bones set of convictions which should be upheld when showing any potential continuity between biblical creationism and modern science.
Now to be brutally honest, this goal is a tall order. As Andy Griffith would say about such an endeavor, “That’s a humdinger, that is.” But it is also one that is inescapable. We as evangelicals have to deal with it. We have to talk about how these sources do and do not overlap. Why? Because while we agree that the Bible does not construe the physical world in precise Newtonian terms or with forensic analysts in mind, it still makes claims which trespass on scientific territory because it unequivocally asserts that the universe originated from divine creative activity. So regardless of the fact that the Bible was written in antiquity, it is still talking about things that happened in the past which affect the same world we live in now.
In light of this reality, over the years evangelicals have weighed in on this concern with the result being a diversity of opinions. And upon reflection, it really seems as if much of the disagreement that evangelicals have over the potential harmony between science and Scripture is rooted in disputes over the potential viability of two issues, namely evolution and an old earth. Evangelicals who reject both of these ideas typically espouse assorted versions of Young-Earth creationism, which includes a commitment to the solar-day view of the creation week (i.e., a literal 24-hour period for each creation day). In contrast, there are others who agree with young earthers that evolution is inconclusive scientifically and irreconcilable with Scripture. But at the same time, they think the evidence for an old earth is convincing and likewise conducive with Genesis 1-2. Usually these evangelicals take the route of the Gap Theory or in more recent decades, the view of Progressive Creationism. Finally there are numerous other professing evangelicals who believe the earth is old and are equally convinced that evolution is true as long as it is understood in a theistic context, not a naturalist one. Thus the gate is then opened for assorted types of theistic evolutionists who usually affirm some kind of Day-Age model which allows for large segments of time in which God originally oversaw the various stages of evolutionary development.
Needless to say, this is a broad spectrum. And I would be remiss not to mention that young earthers, gap theorists, and progressive creationists often look at theistic evolutionists as theologically dubious while theistic evolutionists sometimes characterize their evangelical antagonists as simply being unwilling to concede to the evidence for evolution. All of this notwithstanding, in recent years the climate is now expanding even more because of two further developments which are growing in certain evangelical circles.
One academic current surging with new books, articles, and other monographs is dealing with possible parallels between Ancient Near Eastern literature and the creation account of Genesis 1-2. This is not to say that scholarly work has not been produced on this subject before. Of course to a degree, literature on this subject is nothing new. Yet what makes the current take on this subject so magnetic is that some scholars are conjoining this research with recent findings in genetic studies which allegedly disprove the possibility that the human race can be traced back to one couple, or for evangelicals, Adam and Eve.
Because of this proposal, there are new streams of thought among certain guilds that are revisiting whether the creation of Adam is tenable scientifically. Some who have not gone completely over the edge think that while Genesis 1-2 does not require an historical Adam, the comments that Jesus and Paul later make about Adam necessitate that he must have existed. Others who want to straddle the scientific fence a bit more suggest that while there may have been an Adam, the actual biological production of such a person must have occurred in conjunction with a cluster of other beings who formed an initial genetic pool for the human race. And beyond these theories, some have simply concluded that one cannot be honest with current scientific data and believe there was an historical Adam at all. Thus their interpretation of Genesis necessitates that either the author wrongly believed the creation account was historical or it was never intended to be understood as historical in the first place.
All this being said then, right now it would appear that the darkest cloud looming over evangelicals regarding concerns about science is this. What in the world does it mean to be “evangelical” when it comes the doctrine of creation? It used to be that most dialogue about this question pertained to what the word “day” means in Genesis 1, whether a fall of Satan occurred in Genesis 1:1-2, or whether any form of macroevolution is viable.
Now we have to ask if the label “evangelical” can be used to refer to someone who may affirm the resurrection of the second Adam but interprets the Genesis account of creation in a way that excludes the existence of the first. This puts conservative evangelicals on the horns of a real historical dilemma because in times past, the denial of one was necessarily linked to the denial of the other. But apparently not anymore. And if this idea grows, could it be that theistic evolutionists who do believe in an Adam may actually have more solidarity with a young earther because to my knowledge, there is no such thing as a young earther who denies the existence of Adam.
In my next post, I will offer some thoughts on what I think all evangelicals will have to do as we move forward on these questions. And in the meantime, you can listen to my talk with Dr. Creamer at this link.