“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.

Off Limits

I think just about anyone who reads the Bible regularly or over an extended period of time has had a moment like I had last night…one of those moments when I read something I know I have read numerous times before, but I see something or catch something that somehow never registered or connected in that way before.

I was reading about Joseph, the one with the fancy coat and the brothers who hated him. This is a familiar story, even to many who are not regular readers of Scripture. But as I was reading about the events that resulted in Joseph being thrown into an Egyptian prison a similarity to the circumstances surrounding the very first sin caught my attention.

In Joseph’s case, after being sold into slavery by his brothers, he becomes the head of Potiphar’s house, second only to Potiphar himself in overseeing and administering the various elements of the household. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph, and she tries repeatedly to seduce Joseph. Joseph resisted these efforts, and in so doing he said to Potiphar’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9, ESV).

Now, read these verses from Genesis 3: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely 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 surely die'” (Genesis 3:16-17, ESV).

The similarity I had never before noticed was that Adam and Eve and Joseph were placed in settings in which they had complete, unrestricted access to absolutely everything and anything with one exception. For Adam and Eve they literally lived in paradise. There was no need for them to do any work, they were given an incredibly beautiful place to live, and they had free access to the fruit of every tree but one. Similarly, Joseph had complete control and access to every aspect of Potiphar’s estate, save only his wife.

In both instances, Satan used the one thing that was off limits as a source of temptation. I do not think that this was the only possible source of temptation, either; Adam and Eve could have sinned in ways other than eating of that tree, and Joseph could have been tempted to sin against Potiphar (and God) in other ways than having an affair with Potiphar’s wife. The reality is, we tend to always be attracted to whatever it is that is off limits. Maybe we get bored with what we already have, maybe we just want to know what the forbidden is like, maybe we just have a rebellious streak and don’t like to be told no; whatever the reasons, we have a tendency to forget all that we have, and focus instead on what we don’t have or, in these instances, have been told we cannot have.

There were two different reactions in these situations, too. Eve, after having God’s commands questioned by the serpent, saw that the tree was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” So she ate its fruit, and gave some to Adam. The thing is, I feel confident that only the third of those reasons really motivated Eve. After all, I am sure that the other trees and their fruit were a delight to the eyes, and we know they were good for fruit, so it was really only the ability to become wise “like God” (the serpent said) that enticed her. Joseph, on the other hand, resisted. I suspect that Potiphar’s wife was physically attractive, and the Bible makes it clear that she was making herself available to Joseph. Like the fruit in the garden was to Adam and Eve, Potiphar’s wife was available to Joseph. In both instances there had been instruction against “partaking,” but there was nothing preventing Adam and Eve or Joseph from doing so. Just like with me, and with you, the only check against yielding to temptation was a submission to God and a commitment to doing what was right in the face of overwhelming temptation.

Notice in Joseph’s response to the advances of Potiphar’s wife he said he would be sinning against God. This, no doubt, is what gave Joseph the conviction necessary to resist her. When we are tempted, may we remember that, as with these Old Testament scenarios, we have so much that is not off limits, there is no need to go after that that is, and may we also remember that when we do cross those boundaries and go after that which we have been told we cannot have, we are in fact sinning against God.