I was trying to comment on Randy’s post regarding Bruce Waltke , but it didn’t let me click the Reply link. I think a new post would be better anyway.
Like others, I think it is a sad situation. But Randy asked several questions, among them: “Should our faith commitment ever be allowed to limit the honest pursuit and discussion of academic research, particularly scientific results? How can we reconcile academic freedom and unrestricted scientific inquiry with our faith? On one hand, if our statement of faith makes no reference to physical reality, then of what relevance is it? On the other hand, if our statement of faith dictates a description of reality, how can we avoid setting up a test of faith through scientific observation?” and, “What do we do when there is honest conflict?”
I have been thinking about the principle of accommodation, which is held by many to be a more appropriate explanation of early Genesis than concordism. That is, God accommodated his truth to the pre-existing knowledge, culture, bias, and worldview of the audience in order to convey spiritual truth; yet the words if taken literally by modern historical and scientific standards may not be strictly true. I agree that there is value in this point of view, but what are the limits of accommodation?
What if some highly respected Biblical scholar had come out with the following: “The historical evidence is overwhelmingly against the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus being actual facts of history. If the church continues to deny this, it will be denying God’s truth that is evident in the world, and runs the risk of becoming an odd cult, believing myth as if it were fact. Rather than a concordist explanation of holding the virgin birth and the resurrection to be facts of history as the text seems to say, a better explanation is accommodation. For many centuries before the alleged birth of Christ, ancient cultures from Babylon to Egypt and elsewhere had beliefs in a divinely born mythological deity, who died and was raised again from the dead. God’s revelation in the Bible used those pre-existing cultural understandings held by first century Jews and their contemporaries in order to teach a theological message of God’s love, His concern for mankind, and the need for mankind to come to God for salvation. The Church can, and should, begin to embrace this as the theological message of the New Testament, without requiring acceptance of a literal, historical Jesus to have been actual fact.”
First, in the context of Waltke’s situation, would Christian theological universities be justified in letting someone go for their willingness to engage in “freedom of academic inquiry” to this level? I think we could probably all agree that they would be justified in letting someone go who doesn’t accept the historical fact of Jesus Christ. If they are justified in this instance but not in the instance of Waltke, where do you draw the line?
I realize there are some good evidences and inferences that can be given for the literal existence of Jesus Christ in the first century, but I’m making the argument by means of suggesting, what if the evidence weren’t compelling? How much evidence does it take to be compelling? Would we still believe what the Bible says about Jesus *literally* regardless of the amount of evidence?
Many Christians in science, particular among the ASA, are quite comfortable accepting accommodation as a true principle when it comes to geology, astronomy, and biology. We are happy to say that the Bible wasn’t meant to teach “how the heavens go”, only “how to go to heaven”. When it comes to Adam, some argue that even Paul’s message about “one man, Adam” doesn’t need to be taken literally, but can be applied to mankind in general, and can be accommodated to include evolutionary development through a group of 1000 hominids instead of a couple. But when it comes to Jesus (unless we’re into extreme process theology) we believe that the Bible must be taken essentially literally as both a historical truth and theological message. If the Bible’s message of man’s sin is predicated on sin coming through a literal man, Adam, how can that be explained away through accommodation (based on scientific fact) as simply theological, not actual; but not in the case of salvation from that sin?
It is easy to see how young-earth creationists and others are concerned about the slippery slope of this type of argument. So what are the limits of the principle of accommodation?