LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) – A Southern Baptist seminary president says debate among evangelicals over whether Adam and Eve were real people is not just about different interpretations of a few verses in Genesis but rather a matter of “gospel urgency.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary published a blog Aug. 22 about his recent appearance on National Public Radio where he debated evangelical scholars saying science doesn’t support a literal reading of Genesis.
Appearing with Mohler Aug. 9 on NPR’s “Morning Edition, Dennis Venema, a professor of biology at Trinity Western University, said mapping of the human genome proves that people evolved over a long period of time and cannot be traced back to a single couple within the last few thousand years.
John Schneider, a former professor at Calvin College forced to resign after 25 years for writing an article questioning the historical Adam, said it is time for Christians to “reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.”
Mohler, who has long argued that the most natural reading of Genesis is that God created the world in six 24-hour days, said in his blog that if such arguments hold sway, “we will have to come up with an entirely new understanding of the gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.”
The debate between young- and old-earth creationists spilled into a new audience Aug. 17 when Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert described Mohler as a “real Christian” who understands what is at stake while introducing an excerpt from the NPR broadcast.
“When Adam sinned, he sinned for us, and it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior,” Mohler said. “Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever.”
Colbert, a comedian who parodies conservatives by pretending to agree with them, used an analogy of “how without ‘Happy Days,’ ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ makes no sense” and quipped that if evangelical scientists are right, “I have been helping people and forgiving them for nothing.”
Mohler’s Aug. 22 blog treated the subject as anything but a laughing matter.
“Each generation of Christians faces its own set of theological challenges,” Mohler wrote. “For this generation of evangelicals, the question of beginnings is taking on a new urgency. In fact, this question is now a matter of gospel urgency. How are we to understand the Bible’s story, if we can have no confidence that we know how it even begins?”
Mohler, a graduate of Samford University with a Ph.D. in theology from Southern Seminary, has argued for a literal reading of the three chapters of Genesis. In 2005, Mohler rejected the idea of human “descent” in a Time magazine article. He has declared the theology of evolution “incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ” and argued the “exegetical and theological necessity” of affirming the universe is no more than several thousand years old and was created in six 24-hour days.
“The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the gospel,” Mohler wrote in his blog . “If we do not know how the story of the gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the gospel.”
Christianity Today recently devoted its cover story to “The Search for the Historical Adam” describing several ways conservative Christians have tried to reconcile faith and science.
The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message doesn’t address creation directly, but it describes man as “the special creation of God” who “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.”
The 1987 report of the Southern Baptist Convention Peace Committee -– a failed attempt to repair theological rifts in the nation’s second-largest faith group -- found that most Southern Baptists “believe in direct creation of mankind and therefore they believe Adam and Eve were real persons.”
One recommendation called on Southern Baptist institutions “to recognize the great number of Southern Baptists who believe this interpretation” and “in the future, to build their professional staffs and faculties from those who clearly reflect such dominant convictions and beliefs held by Southern Baptists at large.”
Responding near the end of the NPR program to a panelist who said Christians who reject the evidence of geology and biology “will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have,” Mohler said, “If so, that's simply the price we'll have to pay.”
“The moment you say, we have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world, you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy, nor the respect of the world,” he said.