Ideas Have Consequences: Is Genesis 1-11 historical?
There is a new movement among evangelicals to discount the historicity of Genesis 1-11. It’s really nothing new, as this was a beginning stage of liberalism well over a century ago. But there seems to be a rise in the number of scholars and lay persons who accept these views, with little thought for their consequences.
There are really two questions we should ask:
1) Should we continue to read Genesis 1-11 as history?
2) If we reject the historicity of Genesis 1-11, what else goes with it?
The answer to 1) seems self-evidently ‘yes’ to some and ‘no’ to others. But answering 2) is where we find the real weakness of the rejection of historicity. Here’s a list of doctrines negatively impacted by the rejection of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 (feel free to add to this list).
4) Resurrection/New Creation
6) Deity of Christ
What is Christianity without these doctrines? Is there even anything left? Is what is left even worth keeping? The first generation usually argues yes, while the second generation and beyond generally follow ideas to their conclusions, seeing no need to continue to embrace the things they don’t believe. We see the results of this born out in many mainline American denominations today.
The picture is sobering, and I’m reminded of the life of Crawford Howell Toy, who was the first professor at my own seminary (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) to move in this direction. Toy’s story is a tragic case of following the conclusions of his own logic. It is a downward spiral from modernism, historical criticism, and the embrace of Darwinism, to liberalism and Unitarianism as a professor at Harvard, finally to a philosophical Pragmatism (You can find Toy’s story in chapter 3 of Gregory Wills’ book on the history of SBTS).
Denying the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 leads to the denial of real doctrines with real consequences. The historicity of Genesis 1-11 may not fit with the current trends of culture or the understanding of modern science, but we cannot so easily reject it without great consequences to our faith. Does it present us with an extremely difficult position to maintain as Christians? Absolutely! Should we expect any less from a race that has declared its hostility toward God?