Monday, February 8, 2016

Madueme's staggering challenge

Hans Madueme's review essay in the latest Christian Scholar Review is ... amazing.  That doesn't really do it justice, but I'm at a loss for words.  It's not that it's just a good paper; it's that its shockingly unique view is a remarkable breath of fresh air.

Madueme is a recent grad of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and now he's a professor at Covenant College.  His essay is a review of three different books: Giberson's Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible's First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World, VanDoodewaard's The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, and Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.  (I must preface my comments by confessing that I read an earlier version of this essay and gave Hans some feedback, but I only read the final version in the journal itself.)

Madueme's article is "Adam and Eve: An Evangelical Impasse?" and as of this writing, it's available in CSR's sample issue (PDF) where you can read it for yourself.

What's the big deal?  Long time readers know that I'm not one to surrender to tribalistic loyalties.  I am unfortunately known as the "honest creationist" (implying that all other creationists are liars?) because I'm willing to be critical of everyone on all sides.  In my view, bad thinking is bad thinking, regardless of who is promoting it, and if we are to be better thinkers and scholars, we need to be as aware of our own tribe's shortcomings as we are the shortcomings of the "enemy."

Unfortunately, this appears to be an uncommon opinion.  When it comes to the historical Adam debate, the frustrating trend is to defend your side and attack the other side.  Clarity of thought is only rewarded within your preferred ideology, and treating the "other side" shabbily and shamefully is irrelevant.  After all, the wrong ideology is wrong, and therefore its promoters are morally suspect for promoting it.  Evidently, they deserve being treated poorly and held up to ridicule.  Of course, you'll never see that line of thought explicitly stated, but you can see it in practice just about everywhere you look.

What makes Madueme's essay so starkly different is that he tries very hard not to give into that overly simplistic us-vs-them mentality.  He's willing to praise and critique all three of the books he discusses, even though they represent a wide spectrum of opinions.  For Madueme, Giberson's position is "old-fashioned liberalism," but Madueme praises Giberson's discussion of Adam and racism.  With VanDoodewaard's creationist book, Madueme praises the author's scholarship but questions his ideological reading of history that smooths out some of the more fascinating and inconsistent historical wrinkles.  Madueme sees Walton's book reviving important symbolic and archetypal interpretations of Genesis but at the expense of the historical.  After all, why would we have to choose between the symbolic and historical?  Could they not both have been intended by the Author of Scripture?

Beyond just saying nice things and critical things about each author, Madueme concludes with a striking passage that bears quoting:
This debate over Adam and Eve recalls the importance of pastoral wisdom. In the post-Christian West, seekers and doubters often reject the faith because they perceive our doctrinal disputes as anti-science. We cannot ignore that; while we should not apologize for the offense of the gospel, there is nothing virtuous in adding offense to it. God is sovereign, to be sure, but we are also called to be responsible. For instance, some young-earth creationists should stop demonizing others who interpret Scripture differently. Over time, such habits only foster an unsightly culture of misinformation, hyper-suspicion, and anti-intellectualism. Bring on the disagreement, yes; offer critique, yes - in love! - but always recognize that they too are brothers and sisters in the faith who are striving to follow Jesus faithfully.
Pastoral sensitivity works in the other direction as well. Young-earth creationists are treated very poorly in the evangelical academy. Given that most lay believers in North America embrace some kind of young-earth creationism, the dismissive attitude among many Christian scholars toward such views only aggravates the situation. A wiser approach gives thoughtful young-earth creationists a seat at the table, not as a gesture but on principle. This would significantly reduce the level of suspicion and feelings of persecution; such scholars can now focus on the burden of producing first-rate, substantive work. In the process, we dethrone an academic worldliness, a specious elitism that is rife within the evangelical academy. In the Christian guild where we seek to please the Lord rather than the idols of Babylon, scholars should be judged by the quality of their work, the theological integrity of the arguments, not by unholy prejudice or academic peer pressure. If young-earth creationists are mistaken in their views, then excluding them ideologically only feeds a martyrdom narrative that galvanizes their position, paradoxically. Instead, play fair. The truth will out.
Staggering.  That passage was not in the version I read.  I would have remembered it.  I can hardly believe that I just read a challenge to include creationists in serious, academic conversation in the pages of Christian Scholar's Review.  What could be next?  A Templeton grant for young-age creationism?

Some of you might be surprised to learn that evangelical scholars in Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries mostly think that young-age creationism is an embarrassment to the gospel, but it's true.  Frankly, I never thought I would see anything in Christian Scholar's Review that sympathized with young-age creationism, much less challenged readers to include young-age creationists in the scholarly conversation.  I'm just flabbergasted.

So I have one final question, and it's for the CSR editors: Is Madueme's challenge just another Christian opinion that you published, or will you take him seriously?  Do you actually have the audacity to publish the work of a young-age creationist in your pages and take the inevitable criticism that comes with it?  I'd like to think that Madueme's article is a harbinger of things to come.  I'd like to ignore my cynicism that says otherwise.

I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Madueme.  2016.  "Adam and Eve: An Evangelical Impasse? - A Review Essay"  Christian Scholar's Review 45(2):165-183.

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