How do we preach to a thoughtful person who believes that Adam and Eve are no different than Sponge Bob Squarepants? How do we preach to this kind of person giving them the room to thoughtfully step toward the Bible and do this without the long-term Jesus follower thinking that we’ve “gone liberal” because we are not “hard enough” on this point in the sermon?
I don’t know exactly. But I’m trying. On Sunday, I preached the account of Adam and Eve from the early chapters of Genesis. For many among my regular listeners, the Bible is an unfamiliar place. Adam and Eve are strangers. To meet them requires an awkwardness little different from what it is like when two couples meet for the first time around our dinner table at home. Knowing each other will invite us into a few pauses in conversation that unsettle us. But also among my regular hearers are thoughtful non-followers of Jesus. My goal with these dear folks is not to convince them in one swoop of the Bible’s integrity. My goal is first to see if they can move from dismissing the bible wholesale and begin to admit that the Bible has something true to say about some things. For once a person admits that the Bible has something to say to them, then they have to wrestle with the question of what that means about the Bible. With that realization the next step toward greater value of the Bible is more likely. Without that realization, a person remains uninterested and we seem clueless about their concerns as we preach. I am saying that a person who believes there is no value to the Bible will generally require a multitude of conversations and sermons to walk toward it and they will need to know that I understand that, in order for them to set aside their opinions long enough to listen to me. So, this is what I prayerfully tried this past Sunday. I asked folks to consider that it is reasonable for them to believe that the Bible has something to say to them, in light of their own beliefs. My hope was that making this case would enable such folks to stay with me and hear the exposition of the Scripture. What do you think? Did I go too far? Or not far enough.
1) To enter Adam and Eve’s story, we have to first determine what kind of story we are reading.
Some say it is fiction, no different than Tom Sawyer, The Curious Life of Benjamin Button, or Sponge Bob Square Pants. Others say it is historical fiction. The names and places are sometimes rooted in the real landscape of the times, but the story itself is made-up out of somone’s imagination. Still others say, it is not fiction or historical fiction, but the story of adam and eve is history—an accurate account of what happened. It is like journalistic reporting—a narrative that states the way it was.
Maybe you are here today, and the only way you can conceive of Adam and Eve’s story is as a fictional tale. Then to you, I ask you to continue listening. For your time will not be wasted. Stephen King, said that fiction is the truth within the lie. Emerson said that fiction reveals the truth that reality obscures. The best fiction in other words, is counted as such because of what it reveals truly about the human condition and the way things are. There is truth to be found here. As for me, in the interest of authentic disclosure with you, I believe Adam and Eve’s story is properly shelved in the non-fiction section of Borders or Barnes and Noble. I take it to belong in the history section. Even more, I take it to be among the stories of history that God wants to tell us. I believe the truth and accuracy and credibility of the bible in general and of this story in particular.
But though we may differ, you and I, about whether this is a fictional story or an historical account, I trust we both have this one thing in common—we believe that there is truth to be found in both fiction and history, and this morning we can stand on this common ground in search of what is true. Therefore, for you to listen, assuming that the story contains the best elements of what you would consider fiction, seems reasonable and can have value for you. Can you agree?
2) The second thing we have to determine then, whether we believe this story is fiction or history, is how we feel about the role of unexplainable or supernatural things in the stories we read. For, to read the story of Adam and Eve is immediately to read a story about God. Included in this story are animals that do not run from humans and humans that walk side by side with animals. And there are non-human beings called angels whose title reveal their work—they are messengers from God. And then there is a fallen non-human being with his own story out to dethrone God, including Adam and Eve. He is the devil, once an angel but now an active terrorist planting road-side bombs in Eden. He is more than a magician. His is no mere slight of hand. He is able to throw his voice, to speak through a snake to Adam and Eve. If you cannot believe that such supernatural beings and things exist in the real world, and you again only consider this a fictional tale, then at least you can recall that some of our best truth-revealing-stories assume what is supernatural and non-human in them, right? Consider the Lord of the Rings or for some of you, Harry Potter or Twighlight. You enter these stories, though they are fiction and though they contain fantastical elements, and yet you believe that you find there some true resonance with what you experience in the world. To read the story is no waste of time to you. As for me, I assume that God and what is natural to Him exists in the real world and in non-fiction. I believe in the supernatural as a follower of Jesus. But again, either way, we have common ground in this one thing don’t we? We both long for truth to be revealed regarding ourselves and the way things are. For both of us, such truth can be found in such a story. Can we agree on that? If you can come no farther with me, can you come this far?
3) Finally by way of introduction, many cannot read the story of Adam and Eve without thinking about evolution and our various questions, debates and quandaries about Darwin and his proponents. Some of you believe Darwin and disbelieve Adam and Eve. Others of you believe Darwin and believe Adam and Eve. Still others of us doubt Darwin and believe this story of Adam and Eve. Wherever you are on that score this morning, with your questions of was their a common ancestor as the Scientific American continues to discuss, and whether or not and when Adam and Eve had a soul as the Biologos forum continues to discuss, I ask you for a moment to set such things aside for another time and a different discussion. For the writer of Adam and Eve’s story, did not write in order to explore Darwin’s theories. The author wrote to tell us about God and people and the world quite apart from and long before Darwin. For the moment, let us take the story on its own and within its own purpose. Not because it has nothing to say about these other questions of our science and our faith, but because in the first place, answering these questions do not form is its primary purpose. At least for this morning, so that we do not miss the first intention of the story.
Here we are then, determining what kind of story you think this is, with how you intend to handle the fantastical elements within the story and content to discuss our questions of evolution at another time. What then does this text reveal to us about what is true? Let’s take a look . . .