An interesting but somewhat confusing editorial by John Wilson of Books and Culture magazine appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Wilson’s topic was the recent controversy at Calvin College over a professor who had been asked to leave his tenured teaching position after publicly stating that science proves impossible a literal reading of the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.
This professor has come to the conclusion that the world’s human population cannot possibly be the descendants of two “first parents.” But that’s not all! According to him, science has proved impossible the whole notion of the Fall as well. Obviously that would have pretty significant consequences for the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement as well.
As far as I can see, it’s impossible to tell what Wilson thinks of all this. He states correctly that there’s not nearly as much consensus in the Church, either historically or today, on how to read Genesis as there is on how to read the Gospels. He states, also correctly, that Young-Earth Creationists are not heads-in-the-sand anti-science rubes; they simply have a theological commitment to interpret the Bible in a way different from some other Christians.
Then he says this:
But an alarm should sound whenever the word “literal” is used in this context, whether as a badge of pride (“I just believe in reading the Bible literally”) or as a hint that low-browed fundamentalists are lurking nearby. No one—no one—reads the Bible literally. But some readers are more attentive, more faithful, more imaginative and more persuasive than others.
End of editorial.
Huh? Care to elaborate, Mr. Wilson? Are you saying that no one interprets every single word of the Bible in a literal fashion? If so, you’re not saying anything that isn’t painfully obvious to anyone. There are a great many passages in the Bible that are so obviously figurative in nature that no one has ever tried to “read them literally” (e.g., John 10:9, where Jesus says, “I am the door”). Why take up space in the Wall Street Journal to proclaim that?
But if that’s not your point, what exactly are you saying? What does it mean to be “attentive, faithful, imaginative, and persuasive” in Biblical interpretation? Are you critiquing the Young Earthers’ reading of Genesis? Are you critiquing Prof. Schneider’s scientism? Both? Neither? Are you striving for ambiguity to be all things to all men and increase subscriptions to Books and Culture? Please enlighten us!