My friend Watson and I have been talking a lot lately about human origins. How do we reconcile the first three chapters of Genesis with science? Can systematic theology maintain that death only existed once the fall occurred? How do we make sense of these matters and how does it impact one's exegesis of Romans 5?
There has often been times when Watson, an analytic philosopher, pins me to the wall (figuratively) with questions about how systematic theology responds to scientific findings. And I have to simply reply "you know, I just don't know." And I become concerned. When I, Lord-willing, teach systematic theology someday, what will I say if students ask me questions about evolution, death, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the systematic framework of Jesus as the "second Adam"? My first reaction is to think "who cares" and employ a hermeneutic of fear and suspicion. But if I have Christ, what is there to fear? How can science ultimately be a source of fear and anxiety? What does this reveal about my presuppositions, and my overall posture toward theology? Has theology ceased to be doxology and suddenly become an offensive against the world and culture?
Recently, this issue has surfaced in conversation with other friends of mine. It all started when a professor at a reformed seminary resigned after posting a video that the administration at said seminary interpreted as him denying a historical Adam and Eve. They were fearful that this professor might not hold to their particular views of Adam and Eve. While I found this to be very disheartening, I was mostly curious as to what they believed were the devastating systematic implications of denying a historical Adam and Eve. Obviously if they think such a position is such an issue, they would be able to produce a statement justifying their disapproval of a more figurative interpretation of Genesis 1-3. I didn't see any such explanation given.
As an evangelical, I grow increasingly concerned with the type of fundamentalism that is surfacing within evangelicalism. What is worse, this type of fundamentalism is being disguised as truly "evangelical." I don't know where I stand on the issue of inerrancy. However, I don't consider certain theologians like Barth, who hold a different view of Scripture from traditional evangelicalism, to be heretical or worse, not worthy of my study. I wonder if my views will someday be labeled "liberal" and will be easily dismissed by what claims to be "evangelicalism." The culture of fear and exclusion that has surfaced, especially within popular reformed circles, is disheartening. And please, let's not even begin to discuss issues of gender! Sometimes I grow hesitant of even mentioning to anyone that I might be leaning more egalitarian in my interpretation of biblical texts that reference the genders for fear of being labeled "cliche", "feminist", or "liberal."
Has evangelicalism lost its true identity? Has it lost sight of the essentials? Has it become so overtaken by fear and a lack of true scholarship that it actually supports a lack of critical engagement with ideas and culture? What kind of confession is my generation inheriting? Is this the (true) great deposit of faith that should be guarded? And what is worse, is the only home that I can find in the emergent Church? That is not meant to start a debate about emergent Christianity. But I consider myself to be reformed, evangelical, and Anglican. Where are the reformed evangelicals that are saying this trajectory is not acceptable?
This is why I appreciate Barth. For all his faults, the man understood the essentials. And I think evangelicalism has so much to learn from him. I will say though, beyond Barth, the BioLogos Foundation makes me give a big sigh of relief. Perhaps the conversation really is starting. Perhaps my friends and I have hope for change.
Correction: In the aftermath of the professor's resignation that I mentioned above, he formally stated in an open-letter that he willfully resigned and was not forced to do so by the seminary. His lack of carefulness when discussing this issue supposed led to the backlash that ensued from outside parties. For some reason, the open-letter did not seem convincing. No matter what the explanations, a video of that sort should not require it to be taken down from the website that it was posted nor cause for the professor to feel it was appropriate for him to resign from his position. That is the fruit of a much deeper problem.