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Q & R: Literal Adam, Eve, Talking Snake

Here's the Q:

I greatly appreciate your ministry. And because of my great respect for your views and writings, I constantly find myself asking, "Well, I wonder what Brian McLaren believes about this?" So, this time I figured I would just ask you. :)

I've been trying to read the Bible through a narrative lens rather then a constitutional lens and it has helped greatly. I'm taking courses at a well known Bible college and I just finished my class on the Old Testament. In the class the professor went on and on about why without a historical Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham, that Christianity would completely fall apart.

Believing in a literal Adam and Eve and talking snake and Noah and flood was never an issue with me until I started studying evolution and thinking about how illogical these stories seem.

So I'm just wondering, how do you read the creation story and the flood story and the patriarchs?

Do you believe they all really existed or maybe some but not others?

If you don't believe Adam and Eve and Noah or the creation and flood story are literal historical people and facts then how can they be interpreted and what can we learn from them?


Here's the R:


Thanks for your question. In the fundamentalism of my youth, I would have agreed with your professor. But now I think that any version of Christianity that is so fragile as to fall apart so quickly is not a dependable version.

I studied literature in college and graduate school before becoming a pastor, so I have a high degree of respect for the power of literature to carry meaning, wisdom, and truth. The historicity of an epic poem's storyline or a novel's characters is not terribly important. Its actuality transcends its factuality.

Some might say that history is more "true" than literature - but they forget that even history is a story told from a point of view, and that point of view gives and withholds privileges and requires critical reading and interpretation.

For an idea of how this works out in my thinking, I'd encourage you to read one of my recent books. Each one engages with Scripture in reverent ways that don't depend on a rigid historicity - ways that yield profound guidance and wisdom for our lives today. You could read
The Secret Message of Jesus
Everything Must Change
A New Kind of Christianity
Naked Spirituality

I'd especially recommend A New Kind of Christianity for readings from Genesis ...