Apropos of our discussion of the proper interpretation of Genesis, Kelly James Clark, writing at Huffington Post, summarizes the state of play at some Christian Colleges:
Shortly after the 2004 publication of his book, Random Designer, biologist Richard Colling was prohibited from teaching introductory biology courses at Olivet Nazarene College in Illinois and his book was banned from the campus. Peter Enns, who earned his PhD from Harvard University in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, claimed that the first chapters of Genesis are firmly grounded in ancient myth, which he defines as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins in the form of stories”; in 2008, the board of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia forced Enns, a tenured faculty member, to resign after fourteen years. In 2010, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando fired biblical scholar Bruce Waltke for stating that evolution is true. In 2011, Calvin College fired theologian John Schneider and silenced biblical scholar Dan Harlow for challenging the traditional Christian understanding of a literal Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve are the third rail for contemporary evangelical scholars–touch it and you will die (homosexuality is another third rail).
See the original for relevant links.
We should note that all of these institutions aspire to be serious educational establishments. These are not just thinly veiled propaganda mills like Liberty University or Patrick Henry College. Yet, challenging in any way the traditional view of Adam and Eve gets you into serious trouble. It is another rebuke to those who claim that it is only a fringe, uneducated minority who believe that Genesis contains literal history.
Clark’s whole essay is brief and worth reading. After a summary of the various ways in which modern science renders implausible the traditional view of Adam and Eve, he writes:
And while most scientists and some theologians and philosophers teaching at Protestant Christian colleges know this, very few are willing to speak out. The message of the dismissals is clear — speak out and get fired. When dissenting Christian voices are squelched or fired, faculty clam up.
Christian colleges and seminaries desperately fear change. According to Peter Enns, “The theological tradition embraced at Westminster Theological Seminary, stemming from deliberations in England during the seventeenth century, is nevertheless perceived by its adherents to enjoy an unassailable permanence and in need of no serious adjustments, let alone critical reflection, despite many known advances in biblical studies or science since that time.”
How can Christian intellectuals be getting fired, just when Christians need leadership on this and other science-related matters? With such a paucity of intellectual assistance, Christians feel forced to choose between the science of human origins, on the one hand, and an antiquated theology of human origins on the other.
Of course these institutions fear change. The whole point of Christianity, as they see it, is that it doesn’t change. It is a rock that anchors you as you are buffeted by the forces of sin and evil in the culture at large. It defeats the whole purpose if central theological ideas must constantly be reinterpreted every time science makes a bit of progress.
And then there’s this:
Along with their firings, Protestant Christian college and seminary presidents have taken the side of antiquated theology over science (contributing even further to Christian colleges’ climate of fear). For example, in 2010, at a conference chock full of Christian leaders, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (the flagship seminary of the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.), resoundingly declared that the Bible unequivocally teaches six twenty-four-hour days of creation and a young universe (on the order of tens of thousands of years, not billions). He claims:
I would suggest to you that in our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.
In his wooden and historically uninformed interpretation of Genesis, Mohler, armed with no training whatsoever in the relevant sciences or ancient Mesopotamian history, rejected cosmology, geology, and biology. At the end of his sermon, Mohler boldly asserted: “I want to suggest to you that when it comes to the confrontation between evolutionary theory and the Christian gospel we have a head-on collision. In the confrontation between secular science and the scripture we have a head-on collision.”
But it’s easy to see this from Mohler’s perspective. You should not need any training in science or ancient Mesopotamian history to understand the Bible. The Bible, after all, is not just any old ancient text. If you are trying to understand it through literary theory or a study of ancient cultures, then you are just fundamentally using the wrong tools. The Bible is a direct communication from God to humanity, and among its purposes is the transmission of facts about our unfortunate spiritual condition. God would not convey such central truths in a way that only twenty-first century PhD’s can comprehend. The Bible is perspicuous, and its central points are readily comprehended by anyone of normal intelligence reading the text in his native language.
If that is how you see things, then the young Earth view follows naturally.
There are interesting nuggets in Clark’s article, so go have a look and let me know what you think!