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4 Stars Out Of 5
Solid evangelical discussion of the historical Adam
January 16, 2016
In this book, editors Barrett and Caneday have assembled a diverse group of evangelical scholars and pastors in order to address a particular aspect of the burgeoning debate within Christian evangelical theology concerning the relationship between science and faith. Specifically, this book seeks to explore the question of the historical Adam in light of advances in evolutionary science, especially as it relates to larger evangelical concerns such the reliability of scripture and the integrity of traditional Christian doctrines. The book is divided into three sections: an introduction by the editors to the scope of the debate; the presentation of each of the four views; and a pair of pastoral reflections on how different conclusions drawn from the debate over Adams historicity will potentially affect Christian faith and life. Each of the four main viewpoint essays are followed by a brief set of responses from the other contributors, as well as a final rejoinder from the original essayist.
Following an insightful introduction by the editors, the book begins in Chapter 1 with Denis O. Lamoureux defending the most potentially controversial viewpoint, namely the Evolutionary Creation View. In his essay, Lamoureux distinguishes himself from his fellow contributors by asserting that Adam never existed as a historical figure, and is rather the retrojective conclusion of an ancient taxonomy (p. 58). Lamoureux contends that evolution is a purpose-driven natural process through which humans descended from pre-human ancestors, and is simply the method God employed to create life. The heart of Lamoureuxs argument is his rejection of what he terms scientific concordism, or the assumption that the facts of science align with the Bible (p. 45). While affirming the divine inspiration of scripture, Lamoureux suggests that the Holy Spirit employed the ancient Hebrew understanding of science and human origins to reveal spiritual truths. This interpretive move allows Lamoureux to conclude that although Adam was a result of an ancient conception of origins and therefore did not actually exist, Christians are still able to maintain Adams pivotal role within both the Old and New Testaments as an incidental ancient vessel that delivers numerous inerrant truths (p. 65).
Chapter 2 features John Waltons presentation of the Archetypal Creation View. In his essay, Walton argues that while Adam and Eve were, in fact, real people who existed in a real historical past, the primary intent of the scriptural authors was to use Adam in an archetypal sense. Here, Walton defines an archetype as that which serves as a representative of all members of the group (p. 90). While stating that the mere fact that Adam and Eve are used in this archetypal fashion throughout scripture does not preclude their being historical figures, Walton contends that we miss the mark if we do not see that all biblical authors are more interested in them as archetypes (p. 90). The bulk of Waltons essay is a case for the archetypal usage of Adam and Eve throughout scripture, and he concludes by affirming that although the Genesis creation accounts are not making a claim about material human origins, Adam and Eve are nonetheless important as historical figures with respect to the origin of sin through the fall. For Walton, the theology of sin is built on the archetypal profile (p. 117) of Adam and Eve, who were real, historical people used in an archetypal fashion in scripture.
In Chapter 3, C. John Collins offers his Old-Earth Creation View, which distinguishes itself from Waltons view insofar as not only is Adam a real, historical person, but that the only way to make sense of the Bibles overarching story line (particularly salvation history) is to affirm Adam as a historical figure. Collins asserts that the texts of scripture consistently testify to a unified origin of humankind in Adam and Eve (p. 159). However, while Collins concludes that Genesis 1-11 provides us with the true story of how the world began (p. 167), he allows that the nature of the biblical narratives does not preclude the possibility of intermediate, evolutionary steps leading up to Adam over long periods of time.
The last viewpoint considered is the Young- Earth Creation view, defended in Chapter 4 by William D. Barrick. The distinguishing feature of Barricks essay is that in addition to emphasizing the need for Adam to be a real, historical person, Barrick parts ways with his fellow contributors by rejecting any and all integration of evolutionary science into our understanding of origins. Barrick asserts that the declarations of Genesis bear the stamp of divine truth (p. 200), and as such, Genesis is an objective and literal description of Gods creative activity. For Barrick, the historicity of Adam is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith, and concludes that a denial of Adam as a historical person entails the denial of Christs resurrection and destroys the foundation of the Christian faith (p. 223).
The final section of the book is composed of a pair of pastoral reflections, offered by Gregory A. Boyd and Phillip Ryken. These closing reflections are included by the editors in the interest of achieving their stated goal of applying the debate concerning Adams historicity to the Christian life (p. 34). In his reflection, Boyd defends the position that belief in Adam as a historical person is not essential to the Christian faith, and that the essentials of the Christian faith are able to be affirmed even if the historicity of Adam is denied. In contrast, Rykens pastoral reflection emphasizes the foundational nature of the historical Adam, and he asserts that Adams history and identity help us understand everything from the creation to the consummation (p. 278).
The editors of this book are to be commended for drawing together a group of scholars who hold distinct enough viewpoints on the topic of the historical Adam to have a stimulating and fruitful discussion, while at the same time operating within the desired contours of the book. The strongest and most valuable portions of the book are the lively and substantive exchanges between Lamoureux, Walton, and Collins, particularly in the back-and-forth responses and rejoinders from the contributors which followed each of the main essays. This interaction between the authors elevates the book from a mere set of essays to a genuine discussion and debate between differing viewpoints. The weakest offering was Barricks essay on the Young-Earth Creation view. While Barrick quite ably articulated the commitment to a historical Adam and a rejection of evolutionary science required by a Young-Earth view, his essay was hampered by frequent mischaracterizations of opposing positions. Further, the two pastoral reflections, while nicely drawing together the practical concerns of the debate, did little to advance the discussion, and at times muddied the waters by unnecessarily revisiting issues which had already been discussed at length in the previous chapters.
Those who are familiar with the larger interdisciplinary discussion between science and religion will find little that is new or groundbreaking here. Readers in search of a more in-depth treatment of the challenges to Christian theology offered by human evolution (particularly with respect to theodicy and original sin) are advised to look elsewhere. However, in spite of these potential shortcomings, this book is well worth reading for the purpose of understanding and assessing the increasing influence of evolutionary science within the evangelical Christian community. The fact that a discussion such as this is able to take place within the evangelical community speaks to the continued potential for open dialogue between evangelical scholars who hold widely different viewpoints, yet are united in their deep commitment to the Christian faith. In that way, this book exemplifies the very best features of Christian scholarship.
This newest book in Zondervan's "Conterpoints" series takes look at the role that Adam and Eve play in current theological thinking. Recognizing that much of our understanding of Adam will depend on the role God played in creation, the editors begin by exploring six models of creation - ranging from philosophical naturalism (God was not involved at all) to Young-Earth Creationism (God created the earth in seven day approximately 6000 years ago). Not all of these would be conceived as evangelical opinions - but they cannot be ignored.
Four authors are then asked to address the role Adam had in the creation story. These four views are summed up in the book's "Introduction":
1. There is no historical Adam - creation was a naturalistic process that, when properly understood, can be aligned with the Bible.
2. There is an historical Adam, but in actuality Adam and Eve are seen as "archtypal" representatives of the entire human race.
3. Adam and Eve were real, actual, historical persons - though he may have been the leader of his tribe or family. This view is typical of creationists who hold an Old-Earth historical perspective.
4. Adam and Eve were real, actual, historical persons whose very existence is evidenced by a careful reading of the Old and New Testaments. This view is typical of those who hold a Young-Earth view of creation.
The book, along with examining the arguments for each of these four views, also explores, albeit briefly, the importance of understanding Adam and Eve to Christian faith for all believers. Though each of the authors are careful to document their own writing, I was disappointed to not find suggestions for additional reading for those who may want to dig deeper into specific viewpoints.
Though the book is addressed to the Scholar, it would be readable by the educated lay person with basic training in science and theology. I would recommend it be read by believers seeking to relate science to their faith - it may not provide all the answers, but it will assist the seeker in connecting these two areas of their lives. The book is not an apologetic, but an attempt to educate the student of scripture to how other believes have understood the beginnings of the human race. Upper division or graduate students in the science would be well to add this book to their reading list - perhaps during a summer break or as late night devotional reading. In addition, pastors may find the material of help as they work with a lay community who finds itself regularly confronted with challenges to their own view of creation.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are mine alone.
I love books such as "Four Views on the Historical Adam" which takes a controversial position and brings together solid Christian scholars and shows that you can agree to disagree. No one has a monopoly on the truth which it comes to Adam and it certainly is not as simple as Sunday School tried to make it seem. If you want to look at Adam from every angle you can while remaining faithful to Scripture this book is for you. I should let you know that C. John Collins was my professor in Seminary, so I was partial to his chapter. A great book. A great read. A great resource.