Forms of theistic evolution seem to abound in Christian circles. Theistic evolution is a teaching that says that evolution was used by God to create mankind, even in evolution’s fullest sense of very gradual change through random mutations and natural selection.
To make theistic evolution work, Genesis 1 and 2 must be taken as some sort of figurative language, a theological passage teaching about mankind. The most common form I run into lately is that God picked one of the myriad of gradually-changing species and breathed a soul into it, thus creating Adam. In this sense, so we are told, Adam can be the first man, but there was a prior human-type being, even possibly the same specie, that did not have the image of God breathed into it. Such belief seems hard to visualize, considering the fact that human DNA has about three billion data bits, requiring an almost inconceivable number of gradual specie changes before God picked one to place His image into. On a practical level, it is hard to imagine any visible difference between the specie at 2,349,897,281 and the next one at 2,349,897,282. To the theistic evolutionist, Genesis 1 is more of a theological explanation than a literal first creation of something human-like. Adam is presented as the first man with God’s image, not the first man.
But Genesis is not the only passage in the Bible that mentions creation and Adam. To make his system fit, the theistic evolutionist must fit these other passages into his theological system. Passages such as Romans 5 create a large challenge, requiring the evolutionist to continue Adam as not literally the first man in sentences that compare Adam to Christ, a person the Bible clearly holds as literal in the normal sense. The theistic evolutionist seems to be able to press his theological reading of Genesis into the New Testament.
I recently pointed out to a theistic evolutionist that Adam is mentioned in the New Testament in genealogies in Luke 3 and Jude 14. Adam is also listed in the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 to 9. Undaunted, the response from the theistic evolutionist was that the genealogies are primarily theological teachings, not historical, for the purpose of making truth claims about humans being children of God.
So now we again have the intent of the author determining the meaning that is in the text, not the words themselves being the holders of meaning. As long as we can say that a passage was meant by the author to be teaching such-and-so, we truly have no ground for a text to give an objective meaning to anyone.
Keep in mind that the genealogies of Genesis, 1 Chronicles, and Luke have people in them that we know existed as real humans in the world. So the theistic evolutionist would have to hold that even though the long list of begats in these passages have real people, they are not historical and should not be taken as such.
Think of it . . . if something like a genealogy can be taken as non-historical, what passages are there that would force historical literalness onto the reader? Could we not place a theological framework on any passage, then tell ourselves that God never intended this to be literal, but rather a container of deeper spiritual teachings? If the genealogies are not historical, what passage is left that must be literal?
In reality, genealogies by themselves are merely statements of fact. Jesse begat David, and David begat Solomon. It is difficult to see how such tediously long lists of names throughout nine chapters of 1 Chronicles could be anything but a historical record. Adam is right there in the list, along with everyone else.
Once we start to spiritualize passages of the Bible, we have no clear stopping point. The book of Acts is a long story of the apostles, with dry facts about cities, shipping lanes, and weather mixed in with sermons and miracles, sometimes in the same sentences. We have no clear, objective way of extricating one from the other.
We do not have to guess at what happens when people begin to hold that Bible passages are primarily not historical accounts but spiritual teachings. Theologian Rudolph Bultmann tells us in Rudolph Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era (Fortress Press, 1991) that the teaching that Jesus is the literal son of God is a pagan myth brought into Christianity, but that the ethical teachings of Jesus are valuable. He then explains:
Shall we retain the ethical preaching of Jesus and abandon his eschatological preaching? Shall we reduce his preaching of the kingdom to the so-called social gospel? Or is there a third possibility? We must ask whether the eschatological preaching and the mythological sayings as a whole contain a still deeper meaning which is concealed under the cover of mythology. If that is so, let us abandon the mythological conceptions precisely because we want to retain their deeper meaning. This method of interpretation of the New Testament which tries to recover the deeper meaning behind the mythological conceptions I call de-mythologizing — an unsatisfactory word, to be sure. Its aim is not to eliminate the mythological statements but to interpret them. (292-293)
We readily admit that the theistic evolutionist is not attempting to call Genesis myth. Nevertheless, the method and purpose they are using is the same as that of Bultmann and his followers, or at least is indistinguishable. The purpose was to hold that the normal, historical-grammatical reading of the text is not what is important, and we must dig deeper to find the true meaning behind the words. Such a method gave rise to an entire group of liberal preachers and teachers, men like Harry Emerson Fosdick and John Spong, who held that they believed the Bible, but denied Biblical miracles and most of the historicity of the entire Bible.
In conclusion, theistic evolution is a method that cannot hold up to the normal reading of the text of the Bible. Apart form Genesis, passages such as the genealogies and Romans 5 demand enough literalness so that they are historical texts. The various passages throughout the Bible that mention Adam give us no textual indication that Adam is anything less than a historical figure. Theistic evolution is something that must be read into the passages that speak of Adam, not taken from the passages. When we deny that Adam is the historical first man, we dig a dangerous hole for ourselves and end up wrenching texts of scripture from their moorings. I can only assume that most theistic evolutionists are trying to reconcile scripture with modern secular teachings of biology. I urge caution to all who are doing so, for they are on dangerous ground.
I urge everyone to take their positions slowly and carefully. As a student of church history, several times over the centuries Christians have taken positions that were designed to harmonize Christianity with the current perceptions of the world. They thought they were doing good, thought they were helping to save Christianity. But in the end, they did more damage to the cause of Christ than they ever imagined. People like Kierkegard and Bultmann thought they were helping Christianity, but their cure was worse than the disease they were fighting. Those of us who are apologists will spend the rest of our lives trying to undo what damage was done in theology and philosophy over the last 300 years.