I have always loved the above quote by G.K. Chesterton because it bears upon our work as evangelicals. Too often, as fallen human beings, we simply do not perceive truth and justice as we should. Theologians call this the "noetic effects of the fall," (or what C.S. Lewis called "wanting more than our fair share of strawberries") meaning, simply, that our perceptions and judgments are prone to serve self-interest and must continually be evaluated. And, as the abolitionists discovered, arguments used to support slavery, when analyzed carefully, were not only shallow but were also rooted in self-interest. Because slavery went unchallenged for centuries, the abolitionists had to help people see that the the moral teachings of the Bible differed from Bible culture—which included slavery.
As emancipationists and abolitionists pulled back the dusty curtain on the proslavery argument, they not only tackled one illogical argument after another, but they also opposed self-interest. Within a short time, however, years of theological misunderstanding were corrected, and slavery in the United States collapsed. We see the same phenomenon today.
Our summer intern, Allison Young, gave an insightful lecture this week on the "Creation Order Fallacy," the notion that the creation ordering of Adam and Eve implies a certain order of authority. Her biblical research showed that the creation account in Genesis depicts neither hierarchy nor the authority of Adam over Eve, but rather unity of flesh and purpose. The first "not good" declaration by God about creation was that Adam was alone. He was without a suitable partner-helper. The creation of Eve was not intended to show a "creation order" of power, but to reveal God’s intention for intimacy and community. Together, as a one-flesh partnership, Adam and Eve were to share dominion over the rest of creation, and yet sin imparted domination, rather than partnership, to the one-flesh relationship.
Our perceptions and judgments, just as prone to serve self-interest today, require all of us who read and interpret Scripture to be continually evaluating our claims regarding truth and justice. Through the disciplines of both careful analysis and self-scrutiny, we can see the intended message of Scripture—and in the case of Genesis, which is one of oneness and partnership between Adam and Eve, and thus between men and women.
Allison admitted to me earlier in the week that exposing the logical failings of the "creation order" in Genesis was not difficult. And, as she gave her lecture, I had to smile as I thought of Chesterton’s quote—that in pulling back the dusty curtain of self-interest, we are in frightful danger of seeing the light of day. Hallelujah!