According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Search for the Historical Adam 1

June 2, 2011

The June 2011 cover story in Christianity Today is a summary of the state of the discussion about the understanding of Adam and Eve in our church. The subtitle lays it out – “Some scholars believe genome science casts doubt on the existence of the first man and woman. Others say the integrity of the faith requires it.” This is a topic we’ve discussed a great deal on this blog, and a topic that will continue to come up for the foreseeable future. It will not be resolved in short order. In fact, the significance of the question requires that we revisit it from a number of angles, posing questions and considering the ramifications of the answers. Darrel Falk has posted some comments on this issue of Christianity Today and the question of Adam and Eve on the BioLogos blog - BioLogos and the June 2011 “Christianity Today” Cover Story. I don’t have this issue in hand, and the cover article is not yet available on line. When it is available I will comment on it directly and pose some questions.

In a timely fashion, though, I received from the publisher (through Scot) a book by C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book expands on the discussion in his article in the ASA Journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (v. 62 no. 3 2010) (I posted on it here). Dr. Collins’s goal in writing his book is stated in the introduction (p. 13)
My goal in this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to abandon it. I intend to argue that the traditional position on Adam and Eve, or some variation of it, does the best job of accounting not only for the Biblical materials but also for our everyday experience as human beings – an experience that includes sin as something that must be forgiven (by God and our fellow human beings) and that must be struggled against as defiling and disrupting a good human life.
He is not, he notes a little later, trying to provide the right answers. Rather his goal is to help Christians think through the issues critically and carefully. While he is critical of some positions held by Francis Collins as described in his book The Language of God and by many of those who are affiliated with BioLogos (and no doubt would be critical of some of my positions) he is not criticizing the BioLogos perspective or evolutionary creation in itself. It will be interesting to engage with Dr. C. John (Jack) Collins, working through his book and considering the arguments and reasons. His approach provides a useful entry into some of the key issues and ideas.

One of the first questions Dr. Collins raises in the introduction to his book is that of authorial intent in scripture and most importantly in Genesis 1-3. In the rest of this post I would like to explore this topic a bit.

Does authorial intent determine how we should read the accounts of Gen 1-3?

Does it matter if the author thought these accounts were historically true? If so why?

For some people establishing that the inspired Biblical authors thought that an idea was true, a historical statement was true is enough to establish its veracity. If the author of Genesis 2-3 thought that Adam and Eve were created exactly as described this is enough to establish it as a fact essential for the Christian faith. Dr. Collins places a high value on both authorial intent and the nature of Biblical authority, but finds the situation a bit more complicated than often thought and does not structure his argument on this approach to the text.

Dr. Collins suggests that there are at least four possible ways to look at authorial intent in Genesis 2-3 (p. 16).
  1. The author intended to relay straight history, with a minimum of figurative language.
  2. The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the reader’s attitudes toward those events.
  3. The author intended to recount an imaginary history, using recognizable literary conventions to convey “timeless truths” about God and man.
  4. The author told a story without even caring whether the events were real or imagined; his main goal was to convey various theological and moral truths.
The view argued by Dr. Collins is option 2. There is figurative language in the telling of the story of Adam and Eve, the story uses devices and techniques common to the literature of the day. But the authorial intent was to describe historical events. The use of rhetorical and literary technique is as appropriate to the inspired biblical text as it is to any kind literature. There is no need for wooden literalism. Here he quotes CS Lewis (Mere Christianity, Book 3, CH. 10): “People who take the symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant we were to lay eggs.

It is not true though that if the text uses symbolic language it is merely symbolic. Symbolic language can be used to convey historical reality. Now we have to have a method for making a judgment about the nature of the elements of the story. Dr. Collins uses the following three criteria for this study (p. 19):
  1. How does the person or event impact the basic story line? My study of the Bible has convinced me that the authors were self-consciously interpreting their world in terms of an overarching worldview story. Does making the persons or events “merely symbolic” distort the shape of the story?
  2. How have other writers, especially Biblical ones, taken this person or event? Any notion of Biblical authority requires me to respect what Biblical writers see; common sense requires me to check what I see against what others see, especially those who are closer to the original time and culture than I am. This is one reason I will not confine my conversation partners to people who already agree with me.
  3. How does this person or event relate to ordinary human experience?
This is an intriguing set of criteria. As we consider the arguments in Dr. Collins book it will be interesting to apply them and to explore where they may help to determine the truth and where they may lead us astray. One place where I think that Dr. Collins and I may disagree is in the significance of authorial intent in the context of an overarching ancient near east worldview. The author intended to convey an ancient near east cosmology, with a world on pillars, the vault of the sky holding back the waters. This was an integral part of the worldview or author and original audience. There is no reason for us to assume that this cosmology was inspired by God and therefore correct. Perhaps Adam and Eve are not “merely symbolic” but part of an assumed worldview, not corrected by God, and used to convey his theological message in the same way that ancient cosmology is used rather than corrected. I am not giving this as the answer, but putting the idea up for consideration.

What do you think?

Is authorial intent significant? If so how and when?

What criteria would you use to evaluate the text?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]
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