Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Serpent, Conversation, and the Truth War

A friend from SEBTS asked me how I would respond to the theological challenges Driscoll brought up in his lecture at the Convergent Conference. I told him that if you assume as much as foundational to the Christian Faith as Driscoll does it is hard to respond other than to say, 'you don't speak for all Christians, but you do a great job as a cool beer drinking fundamentalist from the Reformed tradition.' So my goal here is just to point out how one might have a different framework for thinking that can lead to Driscoll-judged 'heretical conclusions' while being a committed Christian and attentive reader of scripture. I had list of different possible entry points but it is hard to pass up on Driscoll borrowing ammo from John MacArthur about the 'danger' of the emergent 'conversation.'

I saw both Driscoll and MacArthur attack the viability of the emergent conversation because it was a dreaded 'conversation' that lead to the fall. Basically they look at the story of Eve and the Serpent (not Satan in Genesis) where she ends up eating the fruit in disobedience to God and sharing it with Adam which results in a bunch of fractured relationships between Eve, Adam, and God. On the surface this looks like a good reason to avoid theological conversation, especially if the theological dialogers are either a women or a reptile, because in this text a conversation leads to the disobedience that has been cursing us ever sense. After making these observations the assumption, at least how I understood it, was that the emergent conversation is similar to the conversation of Eve and the Serpent and should therefore be avoided by all sanctified people. MacArthur went as far to say, (and I am quoting from my napkin when I attended a luncheon with him) "you need to realize we are in a war, the truth war, and it began not with an invasion of an army but with a conversation." The point both Driscoll and MacArthur want to make is having a conversation is a threat, not a fertile ground for truth. If they are right then the emergent conversation is a really big mistake and we should just get our bibles and John Calvin commentaries out and work them until Jesus comes back. I think this idea (not the people) is not only stupid and impractical but actually an impoverished reading of the Genesis text. I think the story of the relational breakdown in Genesis 3 would have benefited from more conversation and not less. In fact, if this story is telling us how we got to be in the situation we are in, namely in a matrix of fractured relationships (God, Self, Others, Creation), then the opposite is true and truth needs conversation.

I don't want to talk forever, so I am going to just point out some conversations that should have happened and then you go read your bible and see if you think I could be on to something.

#1: Adam should have been honest and told Eve the truth about God's command. In Gen. 2:16-17 says to Adam pre-Eve "‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." Then when Eve answers the Serpent's question about God's command she says in Gen 3:3 "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” So what is different in how God gave the command to Adam and how Eve presumably heard it from Adam?
- First, she doesn't know what the tree is but only where it is. The command of God given for a good redemptive purpose is turned into command without a reason though Adam kept the divine threat.
- Second, Eve's rendition includes a command not to touch the fruit. Why would God's command have changed? Did the fruit grow cooties or did Adam punk out from having a real conversation with his partner and instead just built a legalistic shelter around a command of God to avoid having to explain its life giving purpose and God's good intention for the command. Instead of having a real and honest conversation about truth, meaning, God, values, and the world they lived in Adam apparently said, "Don't eat, Don't Touch, or Die."
- Lastly an observation. How did Eve get suckered in by such a stupid question, "Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?" Other than the question was on a topic Adam should have been conversing with her about it doesn't make sense why you would take this question seriously. I imagine Eve, the Bible's first theologian, was looking for a place to have a conversation and wasn't finding it with her partner so she entered into a conversation with the no good crafty serpent at the first sign of open space to actually converse about truth. If Adam had started an emergent cohort or simply told his own faith experience instead of building legalistic ethical bunkers then Eve would have said, "You sneaky serpent we only avoid eating from one tree, for this reason, it serves this purpose, and is a way I honor and connect to my loving God."

#2: Adam should have entered the truth war by conversing with Eve while the serpent was present. In the text you have Eve decide she wants knowledge (something Adam didn't do much talking with her about) and so she first touches the fruit and then eats it. If Adam had said when she touched it, "Eve we need to talk, I didn't tell you the truth about the fruit. We can touch it just not eat it and here is why....insert conversation.....gaining of knowledge.....because God loves and desires the best for us....will you forgive me for not being honest and eliminating conversation about truth in our relationship" then maybe things would have gone differently. Instead Eve disobeys Adam's made up rule and God's without knowing the truth of the situation, all in her search for knowledge. This could have been avoided by a real theological conversation with Adam. See Adam was the one 'in the know' and his desire to avoid a conversation set up the conditions for disobedience. The point here is that while Eve disobeyed the command first, truth was absent because of a lack of conversation not because of conversation.

Well read the bible and let me know what you think.

There is a more detailed discussion about the Genesis 3 text over at The Flaming Heretic? (a super sweet moravian theo-blogger)


Jeff said...

You make a good point. Well put.

Zach Roberts said...

I am surprised you did not address this from the angle of how impoverished a literal reading of the creation story is.

Of course, as you said, there are a multiplicity of impoverished angles to approach this from.

Converse on!

stephen said...

Very interesting points. Here's another point in the story to consider. Why didn't Adam try to stop Eve? Was he tempted all along to eat from the tree, and wanted to see if God's warning of death would come true? In other words, was Eve a guinea pig? And, when she didn't keel over right away, did Adam then figure God's warning was a lie?

Then Adam goes on to blame Eve, and God(!) for all the trouble that follows.

As I see it, Adam was the first pastor, Eve was his flock, and he did a pretty rotten job of it.

I think you are right in your main point. The Fall wasn't caused by conversation, but a lack of it.