This week, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will entertain a panel discussion on the historicity of Adam. I came across this tidbit of news recently through a blog post by Jim Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology there. The Southern Baptists aren’t the only ones grappling with this issue either. Another blog post from a PCA pastor (Is Pete Enns Descended from Adam?) shows that the PCA is already in some furor over the issue as well. Both of these articles focus on one man, Peter Enns, but of course the issue is much bigger than him. Some form of evolution, we are told by pollsters, is assumed by most thinking people in our culture. Even Tim Keller has weighed in on the debate at TGC’s website.
Christians who approach this issue often focus on biological or Biblical evidence. Many don’t realize that evolutionary theory permeates the humanities, including the way literature is interpreted in universities as well as the books our kids’ are reading. In fact, I would say that most of my studies in the English department of Ole Miss consisted of digesting, debating, and sorting out evolutionary theories.
I doubt that the SBTS will call any Christian literature professors in their panel discussion. Which is a shame. If Adam is not historical, then we are told by Peter Enns and others that he is merely symbolic. He is either “myth” or a “type” of Israel. And if we want to know the implications of such a view, we ought to ask those folks most familiar with myths and their interpretations–literary critics and Christians working in the humanities.
I don’t mean to oversimplify the debate or to imply that I or other myth-keepers of our culture have all the answers. But we have a perspective that might be helpful. For instance, I suspect that men and women who turn to mythology as a savior in the face of evolutionary evidence really don’t know much about mythology at all. They certainly seem to be unaware of the disastrous affect evolution has had on the study of myth itself in literary circles. They don’t seem to realize that the loss of the Biblical account of history for the humanities has largely meant the loss of history and the concept of Truth en toto for literary people. They don’t seem to take seriously the chaos that the study of literature, and through it life, was thrown into by the loss of an historical Adam. If Adam truly is a myth or a type, then Christians are foolish to claim otherwise, and such a claim does have a cost. But what is the cost on the other side? What has been the impact of evolution on our literature and through it, the pathos of our culture?
Since I’ve got about 10 minutes to wrap this up, here’s one small point that I think we desperately need to grapple with: Mythology and typology without history is meaningless. It is a hall of mirrors with nothing to reflect.
And it isn’t just something your kids will face in religion or biology class, by the way. I believe it’s woven into the warp and woof of modern storytelling. Here is a list of kids’ books that deal directly with evolution and Charles Darwin. The love story Charles and Emma is particularly noteworthy among them. But that’s just the beginning. Beautifully illustrated books like We Gather Together take our cultural focus off of Thanksgiving and give us a laundry list of cultures and how they–with their gods–celebrate harvest time. In this view, the biology of harvest time is real, and cultures all have their own myths about it. Christianity and Thanksgiving is just another in a long line of myths.
On more conservative shelves, we find books like William Bennett’s The Children’s Book of Faith, which sets the story of Jesus’s healing of the paralytic next to The Angel of the Battlefield, Ben Franklin’s wisdom stories, and The Story of Hanukkah. When evolution strips Bible stories of their proper history, then they become just another myth among many.
I’m out of time, but not ideas….What do you think? Can you think of other ways evolution has impacted books for kids?
For more on this topic, see my Behind the Bookcase series or my Christ in Literature series. Or check out Janie’s series on The Abolition of Man. Plus, check back over the next couple of weeks for more on “creative” interpretations of the Bible.