On two Fridays in June, I listened to two episodes of Scott McKnight's podcast Kingdom Roots. The subject of both of them was a new book, which he co-authored with Dennis Venema, called Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science. The book is an endorsement of theistic evolution (even though I believe I saw a headline somewhere on the internet stating they do not use the term theistic evolution). The first podcast, which I listened to on 6/16, featured Dr. McKnight. The second featured both authors. I listened to the second one on 6/30. That was after a hard day of yard work. One side of the yard is a steep hill overgrown with thick vines, many with thorns. A lawn mower can't be pushed up that hill, and the vines were too thick for a weed eater. So I used a hedge trimmer, being very careful for it is easy to slip down the hill. Why not hire someone to cut it? Because I wouldn't want them to slip and injure themselves. Toward the end of the work, I heard a noise which sounded like a mighty swarm of bees. I thought I had disturbed a bee hive and said to myself, "Now I'm in for it!" I turned my head in different directions to determine where the noise was coming from. In the process, I almost fell backward, with the hedge trimmer in my hand. Turned out to be a drone flying overhead. When I was done, it was too late to fix dinner, so I went to Arby's for a Roast Beef sandwich, onion rings, and what I thought was a caffeine-free diet coke. I'm pretty sure the guy at the drive-thru window gave me a drink with caffeine. Then I went home and listened to the second podcast. Such were my adventures that Friday evening.
Before I record my impressions, two things must be said. First, through ten years of blogging I have taken issue with evolution, theistic or non-theistic. This time, though, I feel that I'm at a disadvantage. I have not read Adam and the Genome, nor have I read some of the writings which have influenced McKnight and Venema's views, such as the works of John Walton. Nor have I read some of the ancient near Eastern writings that McKnight claims has a bearing on how we should read scripture. Therefore, this may not be my most informed discussion of the subject; this will not be a detailed reply. Second, while I am vehemently opposed to both theistic and non-theistic evolution, I don't maintain that one cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ and a believer in some form of evolution. One of my first book reviews was a negative review of Francis Collins' The Language of God. While critical of most of what he wrote, I went out of my way to favorably acknowledge his Christian experience. I wrote a six part highly critical review of Tim Keller's Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People. Yet I also began that series acknowledging his pastoral service in New York City. While I take issue with the theology sometimes expressed by McKnight, his blog, Jesus Creed, is must reading for anyone interested in the state of the Church. I have cited his blog, or articles he links to on his blog, many times. (I have no knowledge of Dr. Venema.)
McKnight's thesis is that discoveries in science, particularly concerning the human genome, must change how the Church reads and interprets scripture. He states that the Young Earth creationist reading of Genesis 1 & 2 is no longer tenable. Neither is the interpretation of Paul that his doctrine of sin presupposes a historical Adam and Eve. The question, who is right, the Bible or science? is a false dichotomy, McKnight contends. On the podcast, he claims that science alerts us to other voices on how scripture should be read. It directs us to the writings of the cultures outside of ancient Israel, in the Ancient Near East, to give us a greater understanding of what scripture actually says. One text he refers to is The Epic of Gilgamesh. McKnight claims that history and archeology are upsetting traditional interpretations of New Testament writings on subjects such as homosexuality. As to Paul's doctrine of sin, McKnight claims that this doctrine as interpreted by the Church for two thousand years cannot be a correct reading of Paul. The Church has taught that Paul believed that sin was passed down through the generations because of the fall of Adam. McKnight claims that Paul never taught such a doctrine Why? Paul couldn't have taught that sin was passed down from generation to generation because that was not the majority Jewish view in ancient Israel. And because McKnight believes the belief in imputed sin is mistaken, the view that we inherited sin from two literal parents, Adam and Eve, is mistaken as well. And that Paul believed in a biological Adam, is also mistaken. Sin is not passed down, but operates in each individual when they are confronted with God's will and they choose to violate His will. McKnight says we must jettison traditional interpretations of scripture because of the crises of faith among those Christians who feel they must choose between their faith and the findings of science. McKnight says he has met many who struggle in this area; he calls them "scientific types" who believe traditional interpretations of scripture cannot bear the scrutiny of scientific evidence.
Why would we base the correctness of scriptural interpretation on the religious mindset prevailing in first century Israel, as McKnight urges us to do? After all, the teachings of Jesus were a refutation of the religious thinking and system which prevailed in Israel at that time. The Sermon on the Mount was a 180 degree departure from the legalism of the Pharisees who attempted to please God in the flesh. Matthew records that the people saw that Jesus taught with authority, in contrast to the scribes. In other words, Jesus didn't appeal to the various and competing rabbinical traditions the scribes appealed to for authority. His healings on the Sabbath violated the very core of the Israelite understanding of the Sabbath. So much so that the religious leaders plotted to kill Him. The ancient Israelites believed that God created man so he could observe the Sabbath in particular and the whole Torah in general. Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath. Jesus teachings on death and resurrection ran counter to the beliefs of the Sadducees, who did not believe in heaven or life after death. Jesus told them that they knew neither the scriptures nor the power of God. Their religious beliefs, along with the beliefs of other religious groups in Israel, ran counter to what the Old Testament really said. Jesus' claim of divinity gave the religious leaders an excuse to charge Him with blasphemy. So why should the we discard two thousand years of consistent Church teaching because of the faulty understanding of God and the Torah which prevailed in Israel at that time of Jesus and Paul?
As for scientific types, why are those Christians who believe in evolution scientific types, while those who do not believe in evolution, are not scientific types? There are many in the scientific community who accept the traditional Christian teaching on creation. "Not as many as who believe in evolution," many would reply. Of course that is true. That is due to unbelief among the majority of persons in general. Also, many refuse to reveal their belief in creation for fear their career in science would be short-lived. Not all those who adhere to some form of Intelligent Design, which Dr. Venema debunks as untenable, are biblical creationists. Some hold to some form of evolution. Even some atheists, such as Thomas Nagle, doubt Darwinian Evolution. Many of those doubters of Darwin which were profiled in Ben Stein's documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, such as Richard Sternberg, are not biblical creationists. McKnight paints with too broad a brush the distinction between scientific types and those who doubt Darwinian evolution. McKnight speaks of the struggles his students have between accepting the Genesis account of creation and evolution. I do not doubt that many have struggled with this issue. I know that many people sincerely wrestle with intellectual doubts concerning the existence of God, the veracity of the Bible, and how man and the universe came to be. But it is also true that people in science wrestle with the issue of Biblical creation for fear that if they publicly accept the Genesis account, their scientific careers would be jeopardized. Even a non-Christian such as Richard Sternberg, who as an editor of a scientific publication approved an article based on Intelligent Design, was target by the evolutionary vanguard within the scientific establishment. This was documented in Ben Stein's Expelled. McKnight's plea to change our reading of scripture for the sake of keeping scientific types in the faith has an element of a guilt trip in it. I'm not susceptible to guilt trips which try to convince me scriptural interpretation must be altered for the sake of scientific types.
Both McKnight and Venema claim that the human race could not have originated from one pair of ancestors. They say that humanity had to evolve from at least 10,000 hominids. What about the discovery 30 years ago which scientists claimed was proof that the human race evolved from a single female from the African continent? Some high profile scientific organizations claim this is the manner in which humans evolved. Some claim that all life evolved from a single cell.
Here is one post from my series taking issue with Tim Keller on the subject of evolution. This post, Adam and Eve: The Extreme Makeover Edition,examines how the Church's view of Adam must be altered if the Church is to accept evolution. It looks like I need to repost these articles again. I have discovered that Keller has a video series with the same name as his article. I wish I had known about it sooner. I will have to watch and respond here in the future.
For background on the persecution of Richard Sternberg, see these two articles, here and here. These articles were published in 2008, so I am not sure the all the links in them are still good.
For an explanation of the title, Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.