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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Four Views on the Historical Adam" (Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday)

TITLE: Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (288 pages).

Why should anyone bother about Adam as a historical person? If that is not complicated enough, what about four different perspectives of the first created person in the world? If that is not challenging enough, what about having eight intellectuals engaging one another on the various views? For some of us, that is a lot of ivory tower discussion. Unlike the first dispute over worship between Cain and Abel, this discussion is not centered around opposing for the sake of opposing. It is definitely not about murdering one another for their stand! Instead, it is about learning to appreciate the diversity of views with regards to a fundamental theological concern: Truth must be upheld even in the midst of conflicts and controversies. Learning how to agree and disagree lovingly is a mark of a mature Christian community. In any quest for truth, conflicts are inevitable. It is how Christians learn to engage one another constructively and humbly that will lead to greater learning and appreciation of the truth for all. Like any debates, we need moderators to help keep the discussions respectful and within the boundaries of the topic of interest.

One issue is the tussle between creationism and evolution, plus the variants of positions they help spawn. From the title of "The Historical Adam" comes the issues of creation vs evolution; literal versus mythic descriptions of the seven days of creation; the reality of the Flood; Darwinism and its variants; and others. Even the topic of evolution has at least six models of creation-evolution in its variants combinations!  Instead of using all of Gerald Rau's six, the editors of this book decided to stick to four main views and to invite discussion from the four theologians, professors, and scholars.

The four views are titled as follows:
  1. No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View (Denis Lamoureux)
  2. A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View (John Walton)
  3. A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View (C. John Collins)
  4. A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View (William D. Barrick)
All the contributors have to answer three key questions:
  1. What is the biblical case for your viewpoint, and how do you reconcile it with passages and potential interpretations that seem to counter it?
  2. In what ways is your view more theologically consistent and coherent than other views?
  3. What are the implications your view has for the spiritual life and public witness of the church and individual believers, and how is your view a healthier alternative for both?
Kicking off the first view is Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Alberta, Dr Denis Lamoureux. He does not believe there is a historical Adam at all, and says that God uses the way of evolution to create the world as it is today. He states that while a historical Adam does not exist, that does not mean the Scriptures are in error. In fact, he insists that it is entirely compatible, and while Adam is not historical, the second Adam in Jesus Christ is. The rebuttals to Lamoureux come fast and furious. Walton "applauds" Lamoureux's "pastoral mission" but is highly critical of the way Lamoureux treats biblical authority. Collins disagrees with the methods and assumptions used while Barrick takes issue with the "counterintuitive way to read Scripture."

The second view is eloquently argued by Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, Dr John Walton. Walton argues that the key emphasis in Scripture is not about proving a biological existence of Adam and Eve, but to present the two persons as "archetypal representatives" for all mankind. In doing so, he makes the need to prove a historical Adam materially a lesser importance, putting forth function as being more important.  Lamoureux approaches Walton's view as a "friend" and offers three reasons why he disagrees with Walton's archetypal interpretation. Collins is not convinced too. while Barrick makes room for both "archetypal and material" historical Adam.

The third view is that of C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, called "Old-Earth Creation View." Affirming a historical Adam, Collins takes the historical Adam position in putting the first couple as the beginning of the human family. They are supernaturally created and sin came through their disobedience, according to the Scriptures. He is critical of theistic evolution. Lamoureux affirms the big story that Collins mentioned but disagrees with the idea of a supernatural creation due to his stand on evolution. Walton looks at methodological issues, especially on how Ancient Near East literature is used. Barrick is critical of Collins' work due to the "acceptance of an authority outside the Bible."

The fourth view, "New-Earth Creation View," is argued by William D. Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at the Master's Seminary. Barrick takes it farther by saying a whole plethora of doctrines, especially the gospel, are dependent on the historical Adam position. He differs from Collins in at least two ways. First, he sees the days of creation as 24-hour cycles. Second, Adam and Eve are the first couple, while Collins allows the possibility of other couples being created at the same time.  Lamoureux delinks the need for the reality of a historical Adam to accompany the reality of sin, even saying that sin does not necessarily come through Adam! Walton gives ten reasons why he disagrees with Barrick's methods. Collins goes back to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to show the how Barrick had differed in his interpretation of inerrancy.

Gregory Boyd and Philip Ryken help us bring the discussion to a practical Christian living level. This is particularly helpful as the prior discussions among the four scholars can become very technical and scholarly. Boyd highlights four applications that do not depend on making a historical Adam such a big deal. Four considerations are given like:
  1. Finding some reconciliation between creation and evolution
  2. Major creeds are not fully dependent on assertions of a historical Adam
  3. Faith and Science can be reconciled
  4. Understanding Biblical authority needs to be nuanced
While Boyd shows a historical Adam is not necessary for faith, Ryken gives the opposite opinion, that without a historical Adam, we cannot understand the world or our faith.

So What?

This kind of book aims to highlight the differences of views more than any similarities. While laypersons may see this as another project that pits views against one another to the point of confusing arguments and rebuttals, scholars will generally be excited about the animated discussion and the nuanced understanding of such a normative subject. After all, Adam is a real person right? From the standpoint of Lamoureux, Adam is non-existent. For Walton, Adam is more of a functional being rather than a real person. Collins will differ from Barrick in terms of how old the earth is, as each of them try to make sense of science and evolution with faith concerns.

Personally, I find Lamoureux's position highly liberal and stands on shakier ground than the rest. The other three scholars tend to be different in terms of methodology and their various conciliary stance with regards to evolution and science. Thankfully, Boyd and Ryken provide some practical tips for readers with regards to Christian living. Though they differ in their stance, the way they arrive at their conclusions is a lesson in how theology gets put into practice. That is one major advantage of this book. In presenting a scholarly point of view at first, the editors have highlighted some practical concerns so that the discussion can be moved beyond the ivory tower to the masses. On top of that, we can notice how Christians can vehemently disagree on core issues, but able to keep the discussion respectable. This is what the book has presented and readers will generally come away enriched in the variety of something that appears straightforward, but contains diverse interpretations.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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