I’ve been sharing a number of preliminary thoughts before I get around to reviewing Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam, partly to buy some time so I can actually finish reading it. (One more chapter to go.)
I said in an earlier post that The Evolution of Adam is not so much a book about creation vs. evolution as it is about big, foundational questions like: What kind of book do we think the Bible is?
But there’s another “question behind the question,” the importance of which can’t be overstated: What do you have to believe in order to be a “Christian”?
Ken Ham, president of the young-earth advocacy group Answers in Genesis, threw down the gauntlet, charging Enns with heresy and willful disbelief. Elsewhere he called The Evolution of Adam a “heretical book” and accused Enns’ publisher (a respected evangelical book company) of sowing “the seeds of doubt leading to unbelief.”
For Ham (and others), it’s quite simple. If you believe in evolution and/or if you believe the account of Adam and Eve is something other than exact, literal history, then you cannot be a Christian.
Now, I’ve long been uneasy with efforts to equate Christianity with a set of propositional statements which must be affirmed or denied, as if faith is best expressed in the form of a doctrinal checklist. This is reductionist Christianity. It bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the gospels or of James or of, well, pretty much the whole New Testament.
Emerging church types have been deconstructing this form of Christianity for several years, and they are right to do so.
At the same time, Christianity still involves believing something about something. Several years ago, Mike Wittmer wrote a book called Don’t Stop Believing, which is largely a critique of the “how you live matters more than what you believe” point of view. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but I affirm the basic premise: it matters that we believe something about Jesus.
Emergent types rightly ask what good it is to believe in the resurrection, for example, if it doesn’t compel you to bring new life wherever you can. But it’s equally fair to ask: what good is bringing new life wherever you can if you don’t believe in the resurrection?
I would say that what has to be believed is the core Christian story. That is, what Paul defined as the “gospel” in passages like 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. It’s story of Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s story — which, it turns out, is God’s plan for rescuing the whole of humanity from sin and death.
This is the story that churches like mine affirm every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist with these words:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
It’s the story the church fathers sought to encapsulate in our earliest creeds, such as the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.
If someone believes and seeks to put these words into practice, they have the right to call themselves a Christian. It doesn’t matter how they vote. It doesn’t matter what they believe about evolution or Genesis or Adam.
“But what about the slippery slope?” some will ask.
Answers in Genesis argues that even the slightest tolerance of any view of creation other than theirs will open “a door of compromise that will inevitably be pushed open further.”
If we reinterpret Genesis, they argue (without acknowledging that many of us would dispute the term reinterpret), we will inevitably reinterpret other teachings of Scripture, “such as the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ.”
To those who question the validity of the slippery-slope argument, they say, in effect, “I told you so”:
Well, that door of compromise has now been opened to such an extent that the gospel itself is under attack.
It’s fine to worry about a slippery slope. It’s always a good idea to check ourselves, to ask if we’re just trying to be clever or if we’re sincerely trying to understand the Bible as best we can.
But remember, as Pete Enns and N.T. Wright reminds us in this video: the slippery slope runs both ways.
Innovation for its own sake has a slippery slope that, if not guarded against, can lead farther away from authentic Christianity — without even realizing it.
But I would argue that Ham and others are headed down a slippery slope in the other direction — one that leads to a reductionist Christianity. One that misses the real point of Genesis and the story that follows.
Theirs is a belief system that emphasizes the how of creation more than the who or the why of creation (the latter two being what Genesis 1 and 2 are actually trying to tell us).
The draw a line around questions the Bible doesn’t even seek to answer.* And they go careening down a slippery slope of their own making, further and further away from the real gospel story.
*It’s worth noting there are many young-earth, six-day creationists who don’t draw a nonnegotiable line around this issue. They may feel strongly (and argue strongly) that Genesis 1-2 demands to be read literally, but to their credit, they don’t reject other Christians who see it differently.