DAYTON, Tenn. – Were Adam and Eve historical people, specially created by God? This simple question has created a significant rift in a small Christian college in eastern Tennessee.
Bryan College is an evangelical Christian school in Dayton, Tennessee, with a total enrollment of approximately 1,400 students. According to Bryan College’s website, the school exists “to cultivate in our students a deepening love for God and His Truth.”
As a Christian school, all faculty and staff members must subscribe to Brian College’s 8-point Statement of Belief, which lays out the college’s theological stance and scriptural interpretation. Included in the 80-year-old Statement of Belief is a reference to the creation of man:
“[We believe] 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,” the statement says.
In order to remove any ambiguity with Brian College’s position on the creation of man, the school’s Board of Trustees issued a statement late last month, clarifying the Statement of Belief.
“We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve,” the Board explained. “They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”
According to the statement from the Board of Trustees, this clarification is in keeping with the school’s “strong Creationist position.” At the same time, the Board emphasized their commitment to open discussion about the topic and invited feedback from the Bryan College community.
“Our goal,” Board Chairman John Haynes said in the statement, “is to ensure that the College stays true to its purpose and on course with the Statement of Belief that is the basis of and directs all of us who are charged with fulfilling Bryan’s mission of educating students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world.”
However, following the Statement of Belief clarification, many students and faculty—including the Student Government Association—decried the literal Creationist interpretation of the biblical creation account.
“We believe that the current motion will alienate faculty, our brothers and sisters in Christ, by requiring them to affirm a negative on an ancillary matter of faith,” a petition filed by the Student Government Association states. “We believe that the expertise and opinions of faculty have been largely if not entirely disregarded in the making of this decision.”
The students argued that the literal Creationist position would discourage potential faculty and students from attending Bryan College in the future, saying the measure “sets a precedent of fear and distrust in our community.”
Mark Trail, a member of the Board of Trustees, announced his resignation following the Statement of Belief decision. Trail said he was “unable to ascribe to the recent interpretation, and as a result I had to resign.”
“So what do I believe? I do believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and all those that dwell here, including mankind,” Trail explained in a letter published on the school’s student website. “The problem for me comes when we start to say exactly how God did it, or didn’t do it for that matter. We don’t really know, and it is reasonable to believe that He didn’t tell us everything.”
“It deeply saddens me to think that the rush to clarify the statement of faith offered by the Board could have an adverse effect on our dedicated staff’s continued employment,” Trail added.
David Tromanhauser, former alumni director for Bryan College, suggested the Board’s position will “cut off the conversation.”
“Then it’s not an academic pursuit,” Tromanhauser claimed, according to a report from the Times Free Press. “It’s indoctrination. There are schools that do that. But they’re not involved much in intellectual pursuit.”
Meanwhile, other Christian leaders argued that Bryan College’s stand on the literal interpretation of the biblical creation account is laudable. Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis, stressed that the existence of Adam and Eve is foundational to the rest of the Scriptures.
“Obviously, if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and a literal Fall, then the whole foundation of the gospel is gone, as there would be no original sin,” Ham wrote in a recent blog post. “Also, if there were no literal Adam, then why are all people sinners? Where did sin come from, and what does it mean when the Bible states, ‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’ (Romans 5:12)?”
Dr. Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College, told Christian News Network in an email that the historicity of Adam and Eve is important for two reasons.
“First, if Adam and Eve were not historical people, then the credibility of all scripture is at stake,” Dr. Livesay said. “When the Genesis account of humanity’s first parents is reduced to myth or allegory, how can any portion of the Bible be understood as true in word and meaning?”
“Second,” he continued, “Adam and Eve are foundational to understanding original sin and the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. The need for a second Adam (Jesus Christ) is pointless if our first parents did not sin. Sin affected both the physical world as well as all humanity and required God’s Son’s death and resurrection for sin’s payment and our victory.”
Though Dr. Livesay reaffirmed Bryan College’s commitment to open discussion, he said the authority of the Bible is paramount.
“As part of their college curriculum, students should be well-versed in the various theories of origins through rigorous discussion and debate,” he stated. “For believers to end the discussion as open ended, however, undermines the authority of Scripture. The merits of any theory must be judged by a literal interpretation of creation as recorded in Genesis.”
Bryan College’s Board of Trustees plans to soon publish a “position paper” which will further outline the school’s position on the origin of man. The Board will collect feedback on the matter until this Friday, March 28.