Monday, May 13, 2013

Adam in the doghouse

Last year, NT scholar Michael Pahl was dismissed from Cedarville U. Some commentators, like Michael Bird, Mark Goodacre, Alvin Plantinga, and (predictably) James McGrath expressed their disapproval:

According to Christianity Today (not necessarily the gold standard of impartial reportage):

Pahl affirms the Ohio school's doctrinal statement (recently augmented by trustees via theological white papers) regarding human origins, but his beliefs are based on a literary reading of Genesis 1 and 2.

"I hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though not on exegetical grounds," Pahl wrote in his defense to trustees, which CT obtained. "My reasons are more theological in nature…." Later, when explaining his take on Paul's use of Adam and Genesis, Pahl stated, "Once again we are in an area of academic freedom as the doctrinal statement does not mandate specific exegesis of specific biblical passages."

Let’s stop there for a moment. This raises an interesting question: if, he does, indeed, affirm the historicity of Adam, but for “theological” rather than exegetical reasons (whatever that dichotomy means), is it fair to dismiss him from his post?

If a theology prof. believes the right thing for the wrong reason, then I can see how that might be grounds for dismissal. In particular, if Cedarville is committed to the classic Protestant position on sola Scriptura, and Pahl affirms the historicity of Adam on some other grounds, rather than Scripture, then that’s sub-Protestant.

However, the plot thickens. According to two of his admiring students:

Recent events seem to indicate that Cedarville is drifting away from the discursive end of the spectrum. In August of this year, a few weeks before the beginning of fall classes, the university fired Dr. Michael Pahl for the opinions expressed in his book, The Beginning and The End: Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelation's Visions. In the book, Dr. Pahl argues that the creation stories of Genesis 1-2 are ancient Israelite cosmogonies, narratives written to tell of the origins of the cosmos and explain why things are the way they are. As ancient cosmogonies, they are not to be interpreted as literal historical accounts in the modern sense, but on their own terms, as bold alternatives to all other origin accounts of their day, "describing the one true God, his work in the world, and his purpose for humanity and the created order" (Pahl 2011, 12). It is important to note that Dr. Pahl fully affirms the accuracy of a literal six-day creation and a historical Adam and Eve, based on other references throughout the narrative of Scripture (from genealogies to theological mentions); he simply doesn't think Genesis 1-2 is the place where that doctrine is best supported.

Although the students are defending Pahl, this is rather damning. So his position looks worse than initially reported.

To top it off, Fuller NT prof. Daniel Kirk recently wrote:

My post on Adam and Christ generated the range of predictable responses, from, “Thank God someone is saying what I’ve thought for a long time,” to “How on earth can anyone believe what Paul says about the resurrection of Jesus if he flubbed so badly on the existence of Adam?!”

To the latter question I address this post.

More the point, I address this post to the question of why I acknowledge the errors in the Bible, the ways that ancient cultures influenced the biblical writers to say things that we cannot agree with, and the like.

No, I’ve not quite said it right yet–I want to address how the Bible, precisely as the word of God can be so varied in its witness, and so reflective of both the strengths and shortcomings of its writers.

In response, Pahl left this supportive comment on Kirk’s blog:

Michael Pahl May 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

Yes! I stopped simply referring to  “2 Timothy 3:16” some time ago, and instead reference at least 2 Timothy 3:15-17, if not even 3:14-17, when I speak of  “inspiration.”  Verse 14 also includes a much-needed dimension to this faith-through-Scripture, a faith-through-faithful-people.

This in the context of a post attacking the inerrancy of Scripture generally as well as the historicity of Adam in particular. How can Pahl be so sympathetic to Kirk unless he shares his basic viewpoint?

So it looks to me as if Cedarville was fully justified in firing him.


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