Saturday, October 12, 2013

J. P. Moreland on Adam and Eve: What Consequences for Denying their Historicity?

Evangelical philosopher J. P. Moreland presented a paper at the 2013 Society of Vineyard Scholars entitled Keeping Vineyard Distinctives in the Plausibility Structure.  This is an amazing piece that should be read by all evangelicals regardless of their thoughts on the Vineyard collection of churches.

After discussing the idea of "knowledge" and the function of "plausibility structures" Moreland writes about the current all-encompassing naturalism that forms the background noise of our culture.  He rightly notes the incompatibility of Christian theism with this naturalism.  He writes:
It should be clear that naturalism is not consistent with biblical Christianity. If that’s true, then the church should do all it can to undermine the worldview of naturalism and to promote, among other things, the cognitive, alethic nature of theology, biblical teaching and ethics. This means that when Christians consider adopting certain views widely accepted in the culture, they must factor into their consideration whether or not such adoption would enhance naturalism’s hegemony and help dig the church’s own grave by contributing to a hostile, undermining plausibility structure.
Moreland goes on to mention three areas where he sees potential problems with Christians (especially academics) adopting positions that undermine the Christian plausibility structure: (1) theistic evolution, (2) neuroscience and the soul, and (3) doctrine and ethics.  Moreland's insights on these areas are well worth pondering.  In setting up the discussion he utilizes an example before discussing these three areas.  It is this example I want to quote at length because it addresses the idea of how adopting certain views can unwittingly compromise Christianity and help the cause of naturalism.  Here is Moreland's example regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve.
Consider as an example the abandonment of belief in the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Now if someone does not believe Adam and Eve were real historical individuals, then so be it. However, my present concern is not with the truth or falsity of the historical view. Rather, my concern is the readiness, sometimes eagerness, of some to set aside the traditional view, the ease with which the real estate of historical Christian commitments is abandoned, unintended consequences of jettisoning such a belief. Given the current plausibility structure set by scientific naturalism, rejecting the historical Adam and Eve contributes to the marginalization of Christian teaching in the public square and in the church and thereby those who reject Adam and Eve unintentionally undermine the church. How so? 
First, the rejection reinforces the idea that science and science alone is competent to get at the real truth of reality; theology and biblical teaching are not up to this task. If historically consistent understandings of biblical teaching conflict with what most scientists claim, then so much the worst for those understandings. 
Second, the rejection reinforces the privatized non-cognitive status of biblical doctrine, ethics and practices—especially supernatural ones that need to be construed as knowledge if they are to be passed on to others with integrity and care. Since the church has been mistaken about one of its central teachings for two thousand years, why should we trust the church regarding its teaching about extra-marital sex or the veracity of the gift of prophesy? Admittedly, the history of the church is not infallible in its teachings; still, to the degree that its central teachings through the ages are revised, to that degree the non-revised teachings are undermined in their cognitive and religious authority. The non- revised teachings become more tentative. 
Finally, the rejection reinforces the modernist notion that we are individuals, cut off from out diachronic community, and we are free to adopt our beliefs and practices in disregard of that community and our adoption’s impact on it. 
If I am right about the broader issues, then the rejection of an historical Adam and Eve has far more troubling implications than those that surface in trying to reinterpret certain biblical texts. The very status of biblical, theological and ethical teachings as knowledge is at stake in the current cultural milieu as is the church’s cognitive marginalization to a place outside the culture’s plausibility structure. Those who reject an historical Adam and Eve, inadvertently, harm the church.
I think Moreland's argument here needs to be heeded.  Giving up on the historicity of Adam and Eve may engender short-term "success" and ease ("we can stop having to fight Darwinism") but it may bear ugly and self-defeating fruit latter.