Four Views on Historical Adam – View 1: No Historical Adam

Today I had to sit at a car repair shop while my car was being checked out. I took along the new Zondervan Four Views on the Historical Adam (ed. Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday).

You might say, “how can there be four views when the Bible says there was a real Adam, and that should do it?” Well, that really did do it in the pre-modern era, but the theory of evolution and recent study of genetics has put into doubt (in the mind of some readers of Scripture) the idea that the human race “began” only several thousand years ago, and that it  happened with the formation of two beings at the start (Adam and Eve). Such concerns are expressed by the first contributor of this book, Denis Lamourex (Evolutionary Creation: No Historical Adam). More on him in a minute.

Now, this book is sorely needed because  the majority of American evangelicals presume Genesis 1-2 recount the origin of humanity historically and scientifically: thus, it is an issue of trusting Scripture over science, or at least doubting the scientific evidence behind certain theories of evolution and human origins. I am personally not in favor of Lamoureux’s view, though I am not against it either. In a 2011 Christianity Today article on this subject, it is reported that Tremper Longman III (one of my favorite American OT scholars) can see it both ways and is undecided on the issue because of its complexity. I am just about in the same place, so I can sympathize with Longman.

Here are the four views presented in the book:

(1) Lamoureux: Evolutionary Creation and No Historical Adam

(2) John Walton: Archetypal Creation View and Historical Adam

(3) C. John Collins: Old-Earth Creation View and Historical Adam

(4) William Barrick: Young-Earth Creation View and Historical Adam

The book continues after these views with “pastoral reflections” by Greg Boyd (who seems sympathetic to Lamoureux, but I haven’t read his essay) and Philip Ryken.

Here, in this first reflection on the book, I want to mention a few things that stood out to me from Lamoureux’s chapter.

Where is the grace and humility towards people like Lamoureux? Lamoureux expresses that he has a genuine Christian faith, he is “born again,” he doesn’t come into this discussion with liberal or pernicious motives, and he believes in a real Israel and a real Jesus who died and rose for our sins. In his essay he apologizes more than once if his perspectives caused anyone doubt or weakness in their faith. I find his humility honest and refreshing, and it pains me that he has been alienated and rejected (along with many, many other scholars) for his beliefs. (Let me restate, again, I do not necessarily agree with him.) I am sure he is hated by bloggers, belittled by many theologians, and demonized by the ignorant and unkind. Folks, he does not deserve that. He comes across as a man of true faith, a man who loves Jesus with all his heart. If he is wrong (and he may be), let’s not skewer him or exile him. If he needs a stern talking to, let’s leave that for St. Peter’s “briefing” at the pearly gates. Now, I am not saying that debate and discussion should not happen. I am just saying civility and humility used to be Christian virtues. Let’s pull those out of the closet again.

Is it enough for us to be armchair scientists? The interesting thing about Lamoureux is that, as far as I know (please correct me), he is the only one among the contributors who has a doctorate in a field of science (specifically “Oral Biology – Dental Development and Evolution”; Univ of Alberta). While other contributors may be “well-informed,” there is a kind of level of experience and knowledge that is peculiar to advanced academic research at the doctoral level. That doesn’t make him “right” and the others “wrong,” but when theologians cast doubt and suspicion on “evolution” based on “personal research,” I am sometimes suspicious that some of those theologians don’t have enough academic training in the sciences to be able to write cogently and with due methodological circumspection. For example, we Biblical scholars get annoyed with bizarre and outlandish archaeological claims, but we do not expect everyday readers of the newspaper to be able to tell a good newspaper discussion on an archaeological find from a bad one.

On the other hand, what if we have a Christian who is a scientist who doesn’t have good training in theology? That sometimes happens and it could be a problem, but Lamoureux is not such an example as he has a Master’s Degree from Regent College and a PhD in theology from Univ of Toronto (St. Michael’s College). He seems to have the education of someone we might want to listen to on just this kind of subject.

Who decides whether Lamoureux is allowed to call himself an “evangelical”? This occurred to me when Lamoureux mentioned that his ideas are not liberal crazy-talk and that the fact that Zondervan (which he calls “the leading evangelical publisher”) included his perspective in the book points in the direction of allowing his “voice” to be heard from the inside of evangelicalism (he doesn’t say this exactly this way, but I think this is what he means; pg. 39). Also, he is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society (so his resume attests) and the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (again, resume). And yet, I could see multitudes of Christians (and many pastors and theologians) say that his perspective on Adam puts into question his understanding of Scripture, which then calls into question his evangelicalism. So, who decides?

Accommodation and Inerrancy? Time and time again, Lamoureux repeats that God could have revealed true scientific reality to the Israelites and the early Christians, but seems to have worked with their own (limited, flawed) scientific perspectives (e.g., flat immovable earth, rising sun) – thus, God “accommodated” to their own cultural viewpoints and used them (however incorrect scientifically) to teach spiritual truth. So, does that put into doubt a doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture? Lamoureux doesn’t think so. In fact he uses both the language of inerrancy and infallibility regarding “truth” in Scripture, but he simply doesn’t think this carries to the extent that every statement regarding matters we think of as “science” in Scripture must be true (such as Paul’s appeal to three layers of the earth in Phil 2:9-11).

This is where a lot of people get stuck and I think Alister McGrath’s words regarding Gen 1-2 and evolutionary creationism have stuck in my head: The issue is not the authority and reliability of Scripture, but rather the interpretation of Scripture. So, Lamoureux is as committed to the inspiration, authority, and complete trustworthiness of Scripture – equal to your Al Mohlers and John MacArthurs – but he simply adheres to a different perspective on the nature of Scripture (what is the nature of its revelation?, what counts as an error?, why is Scripture given? What is the nature of the human+holiness of Scripture?). Whether or not he is right on the historical Adam, I don’t think he suffers from an impoverished view of the authority and nature of Scripture.

The Genre of Genesis. Does Genesis “do” history? Here Lamoureux tries to affirm that he thinks Genesis actually is interested in what we call “history,” but that really picks up in Genesis 12. Prior to that, the author(s) are much less interested in traditional history-telling.

Is sin real? Lamoureux affirms that sin is real, the Bible makes a truth claim to its reality and its seriousness, and that Jesus came in real time and space to offer forgiveness. For him, the difference in his view is that sin did not literally enter through a historical Adam (or historical Eve for that matter).

Is Paul wrong to make a link between historical Adam and historical Jesus? Here’s where it gets interesting. Lamoureux (along with others like Enns) thinks that Paul certainly did presume Adam was a historical figure, and if there was no Adam then Paul was wrong. But, Lamoureux adds, that does not jeopardize the truthfulness of Scripture because Paul’s point is still “true.” Lamoureux believes that the theological truth of Adam’s sinfulness and the redemptive-reparative work of the historical Jesus Christ, the “Last Adam” is valid.

Now, this is where I have a much harder time. I think Lamoureux spent an insufficient amount of time and space on this matter in his essay, and this is unfortunate because this is, perhaps, the most controversial point. If there is no Adam, there is no “fall,” if there is no “fall” what do we do with the alien nature of sin (that God created a world perfect and without sin, and sin came through human disobedience)? If Adam did not introduce sin, who did? If no one, then where did it come from? Even if we can still establish a pan-anthropological doctrine of sin (based on common experience?), this unhistorical Adam approach would make the “pre-fall” situation mythical, which then makes it harder to imagine a world without sin. We could imagine it, perhaps, but did it ever exist?

It seems to me, this needs to be addressed as of primary or essential importance to make sense theologically of Lamoureux’s approach.

If “evolution” is probable, something must be said about Adam. I think one of Lamoureux’s key points (unstated, but clearly presumed) is that, if evolution is likely (this is under debate in the book, but many scholars are moving in this direction, including some conservatives) we must say something about Adam. John Walton would be someone who takes a different approach than Lamoureux to Adam, though they both put stock in evolution (of the “theistic” kind).

Are science and Scripture friends or enemies? Some scholars no doubt think that (1) Scripture is true in all areas including science, so the modern scientific theories which are “incompatible” are wrong [whether they will ever be proven to be by society or not], and thus (2) modern science can be an enemy of Scriptural truth. Others think they are friends – Lamouereux thinks that scientific discovery (even theories, like evolution) can aid us in better reading and understanding Scripture and exploring God’s truth. This is an area of serious contention. Some Christians are so committed to treating texts like Genesis as literal, scientific accounts, that they seem to be willing to do anything to discredit scientific theories. Certainly we cannot be blown by the wind of every scientific theory, but, again, evolution has been around a while (as a theory, I mean!) and there are few full-fledged, credible scientists who are Christians that aim to discredit this theory.

Final Thoughts on Lamoureux’s essay. I think the merits of this essay involve his interesting perspective as both a scientist and theologian (not unlike my friend David Wilkinson). He articulates well (if with tedious repetition) how Scripture demonstrates non-modern scientific ideas (3-layer world, flat immobile earth). However, he has too little argumentative evidence for his view (specifically looking at Genesis or Genesis scholarship) and he spends almost no time engaging in the counter-arguments to his position. His essay, while enticing, cannot stand all by itself in favor of his view. I would propose it is an invitation to read more. And I will.

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10 thoughts on “Four Views on Historical Adam – View 1: No Historical Adam

  1. Good grief. Something else to fight about. Meanwhile 3.5 million children will die from malnutrition in 2014, and 2,700 people in Seattle are sleeping under bridges, in their car, and in the park. Whether they’re direct descendents of a historical Adam or not, we share DNA with them, and we share the divine image with them.

    Was there any reference to the church fathers in this? No mention in the earliest creed of Adam; in my way of thinking, it’s just another interesting debate. Affects neither my orthodoxy or orthopraxy.

  2. Nijay,
    Thank you very much for this review. A good and balanced one.
    Keep up the brilliant work. And have a blessed Christmas.

  3. Thanks so much for this article; I am looking forward to your coverage of the other views, as well as grabbing the book myself.

    Quick question: Where might I find more info on the McGrath quote you alluded to with regards to Genesis 1-2 and evolution?

  4. Thanks for this good review, Nijay. Pedagogically helpful, especially at places like SPU where our biologists (like Cara) deal with this question all the time. Trust you and family are well. Blessed Christmas, Rob.

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