We now proceed down the hallway to the second chapter of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised By Scripture. The question posed here concerns whether we really need a historical Adam, and the answer, as far as I can make out, is no, probably not. At the end of his reasoning, Wright says, “I do not know whether this is exactly what Genesis meant or what Paul meant,” but the line of reasoning he suggested “leads me in that direction” (p. 38).
But if he is uncertain about what he is putting forward, the uncertainty vanishes when talking about young earth creationists who differ with him. Wright was surprised by Scripture. I was surprised to find me and my kind numbered among the JWs.
“I wonder whether we are right even to treat the young-earth position as a kind of allowable if regrettable alternative, something we know our cousins down the road get up to but which shouldn’t stop us getting together at Thanksgiving . . . And if, as I suspect, many of us don’t think of young-earthism as an allowable alternative, is this simply for the pragmatic reason that it makes it hard for us to be Christians because the wider world looks at those folks and thinks we must be like that too? Or is it — as I suggest it ought to be — because we have glimpsed a positive point that urgently needs to be made and that the young-earth literalism is simply screening out? That’s the danger of false teaching: it isn’t just that you’re making a mess; you are using that mess to cover up something that ought to be brought urgently to light” (p. 31).
Golly. Crikey. Jeepers. Goodness gracious. Oh dear. Land of Goshen. Yikes. Ugh. Mercy me. Pfft. Humph.
Well, I suppose there is no alternative now but to invite my readers to stand by for a little false teaching.
“I think what has happened is this . . . the capital-E Evolutionism that has produced a metaphysical inflation from a proven hypothesis about the physical world to a naturalistic worldview — this modernist teaching has exposed a flank that perhaps needed exposing” (p. 31).
In other words, one of the things we can learn from Epicureanism is how bad our fundamentalist tendencies are. And one of the reasons fundamentalism is bad, if you harken back to the previous chapter, is that it has unwittingly learned stuff from Epicureanism. If you are not following this, I don’t think it’s you.
I will mention, but not pursue, the blithe assumption that Wright makes about evolution being “a proven hypothesis about the physical world.” This is a striking example of Wright trying to engage with a host of learned adversaries whom he has not read, and will not name. He can run circles around an illiterate hedge preacher of seventy-five years ago, and it is the work of a moment to pretend that young earth creationists today are equally rude and equally unlettered. Too bad it isn’t the case.
One of the problems with deracinated theology, of the kind that Wright is offering us here, is the inverse relationship between the loss of theological robustitude and the rise of exciting adjectives. I call these adjectives the flying buttresses of liberalism. “Urgent,” “fresh searching,” “humble yet powerful,” and “fresh insight” come to mind, having read them just recently.
Wright wants the language of Genesis to represent something high and glorious. “This is where we turn toward Genesis 1, toward a fresh reading of image and temple” (p. 32). The calling of Adam is akin to the calling of Israel, and because Wright really is steeped in the language of Scripture, he can fly pretty high when he is talking about the literary part of it. But what does he think all this glorious temple language is actually talking about?
“And it leads me to my proposal . . . perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding, vocation. This pair (call them Adam and Eve if you like) were to be the representatives of the whole human race, the ones in whom God’s purpose to make the whole world a place of delight and joy and order, eventually colonizing the whole creation, was to be taken forward. God the creator put in their hands the fragile task of being his image bearers. If they fail, they will bring the whole purpose for the wider creation, including all the nonchosen hominids, down with them” (pp. 37-38).
True, Eve is somewhat hairier than the Sunday School coloring books used to represent her, but that’s what we get for relying too much on our memories of Sunday School coloring books.
The glory of the Lord, the shining presence of God, the Edenic Shekinah, descends upon a couple of hominids, whose previous conversation had consisted largely of ook! and ook?, and whose previous activity had included throwing poo out of the trees. What we clearly need around here are some more adjectives. Let’s say that the ancient world was wonderful.
“Basic to his [Paul’s] exposition of Genesis is this point: that God put his wonderful world into human hands; that the human hands messed up the project; and that the human hands of Jesus the Messiah have now picked it up, sorted it out, and got it back on track” (p. 35).
True, the human hands in the first two instances may not have had opposable thumbs yet, but you can’t have everything.
“The root problem we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, antiscience, obscurantist, and so forth” (p. 26).
Great. Assumed to be that way by whom? By the Epicureans running the academy? What Wright wants is a Christian view of the cosmos that topples Epicureanism, and he want to do this to the appreciative applause of the high priests of the Epicureans. Life is hard.
There are two macro problems here — one textual and one theological — and it comes in the form of death. It is the same problem, appearing in two different ways.
First, the apostle Paul identifies death as an enemy to be conquered (1 Cor. 15:54-55; cf. Is. 25:8), and not as God’s central tool for creating mankind. In Paul’s theology, Adam brought in death (Rom. 5:12). In Wright’s thinking a very long chain of millions of deaths brought in Adam. In biblical theology, Adam is the father of death. In Wright’s theology on this point, death is the father of Adam.
“This, perhaps, is a way of reading the warning of Genesis 2: in the day you eat of it you too will die. Not that death, the decay and dissolution of plants, animals, and hominids wasn’t a reality already . . .” (p. 38).
So the textual problem is that Paul tells us how death got into the world. He does not tell us how death managed to get Adam into the world.
The second problem, related to this, is how it impugns the goodness of God. God repeatedly calls the world He created good (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18, you get the point). Death is bad. This appeasement of Epicurean evolutionists at the front door, allows them to drag the problem of evil in through the back door. But God warned Adam about opening the door to death (Gen. 2:17). To deny that death was the consequence of our sin is to maintain that God likes death, and that He used it to torment millions of animals, turning them into stone for paleontologists to dig up later.
But in my theology, animals get turned to stone by the White Witch, not by Aslan.