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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review (RJS) - Four Views on the Historical Adam, Part 3

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Adam and Eve as Special Creation (RJS)

by RJS
July 1, 2014

The next section in Four Views on the Historical Adam centers on the view of Adam put forth by C. John CollinsHe takes an old earth special creation view, but is willing to consider a wide range of scenarios that fit within certain limits. For example, he seems fine with an evolutionary description of the appearance of animal life if this is where the evidence leads. However, he does not think humans can be fit neatly into an evolutionary picture, scientifically or theologically.


C. John (Jack) Collins is a Professor Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis Missouri. He has published a number of books relating to the interpretation of Genesis in general and Adam in particular: Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, and Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. I posted previously on his article in the ASA Journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (How Much History in Gen 1-3) and a long series on his book on Adam: The Search For the Historical Adam One,ThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNine (Two in the series focused on the Christianity Today article on Adam which was not by Collins). His essay in this book draws heavily on these previously published materials and you can find a more detailed interaction with his ideas in the previous posts.

I will say at the outset that Jack Collins is among my favorite writers on the issues of science and faith, Adam, and the interpretation of Genesis 1-4; not because I agree with his position – there are a number of places where I take a significantly different view – but because he deals fairly with those who disagree with him and lays out his argument clearly. His aim is not to provide “right” answers, but to help Christians think through the issues critically and carefully and to explain the reasoning behind his view. This provides the opportunity to start a meaningful conversation on the issues.


Collins begins his essay by discussing the meaning of history and historical as this lays the necessary ground work for approaching Genesis 2-3. He makes three major points (p. 148):

  • “historical” is not the same as “prose,” and certainly does not imply that our account has no figurative or imaginative elements.
  • “historical is not the same as “complete in detail” or “free from ideological bias,” neither is possible or desirable anyhow.
  • “historical” is not necessarily the same as “told in exact chronological sequence” unless the texts claims that for itself.

The presence of figurative and imaginative elements does not mean that there is not a historical core based on events that really happened. Clearly there are figurative and imaginative elements in Genesis 2-3; but the text can, and in Collins’s view does, relate history using these elements.

Genesis 1-11 is a unity

Genesis is an ancient Near Eastern document both similar to, and different from, the contemporary stories and writings that have been uncovered and translated. Collins notes that the overarching pattern of Mesopotamian culture and literature “provides a literary and ideological context into which Genesis 1-11 speaks, and it does so as a whole.” (p. 150)

  • It doesn’t do for us to rip it apart and examine the bits and pieces separately without considering also the whole.
  • It may well have been edited together from different sources, but they were edited together to make a coherent whole on a conceptual, literary and linguistic level. This isn’t an amateur patchwork quilt of texts. Each piece comes together to make the whole.

Genesis 1-11 is a front end to the rest of Genesis and indeed to the whole of scripture that aims to set the stage for the story in the right way, founded in a worldview with God and his action at the center. One key distinction from the Mesopotamian background is that humankind as a whole was created in the image of God and placed in God’s creation. This unity of humankind and the imago Dei are important for the conclusions Collins draws later.

The Biblical Story Line

Collins’s understanding of the overall story line of scripture drives his understanding of Adam and Eve. The Bible has a story line that “tells us who we are, where we came from, what is wrong, and what God is doing about it.” (p. 158) Adam and Eve are essential elements in the story line:

"The Old Testament is thus the story of the one true Creator God who called the family of Abraham to be his remedy for the defilement that came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt in fulfillment of this plan, and established them as a theocracy for the sake of displaying his existence and character to the rest of the world. God sent his blessings and curses upon Israel in order to pursue that purpose. God never desisted from that purpose, even in the face of the most grievous unfaithfulness of Israel."


"The New Testament authors … saw themselves as heirs of the older story and as authorized to describe its proper completion in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Messianic era that this ushered in. … [T]hey saw the Old as constituting the earlier chapters of the story in which Christians are now participating." (p. 158-159)


The unity of humanity, the presence of Adam and Eve at the headwaters of the human line, the reality of their sin and the transmission of this sin to all of humanity is, in Collins view, an essential historical element of this story line. The estrangement from God that we experience is unnatural and out of step with how things ought to be. Sin is an alien intruder that disturbs God’s good creation order.

Revelation 22 portrays the consummation as a Eden come to fruition. The place described in Revelation (using symbolism and figurative language) is a sanctuary, a holy place, as the garden in Genesis 2-3 was a sanctuary, a holy place.

Paul places the human experience in this story line. And his comparison of Adam and Jesus depends on this narrative.

"That is, someone did something (one man trespassed, Rom 5:15), and as a result something happened (sin, death, and condemnation came into the world of human experience), then Jesus came to deal with the consequences of it all (by his obedience to make the many righteous).

"The argument gains its coherence from its sequence of events; it is drastically inadequate to say that Paul is merely making a “comparison” here. Further, consider the notion that people are “in Adam” or “in Christ”: to be in someone is to be a member of that people for whom that someone is the representative. All the evidence we have indicates that only actual persons can function as representatives." (p. 163-164)

An important consequence of this story line is that sin is not inherent in being human with a free will. It is a horrific aberration resulting from someone’s disobedience. If this is not the case it undermines the entire notion of atonement through the blood of Christ as described in scripture. According to Collins if this is not the case “[w]e must say that the Bible writers were wrong” and that “Jesus was wrong” when he described his death as a ransom for many in Mark 10:45.

Adam and Eve and the Origin of Humanity

The story line leads us to expect that humankind is all one family, that “God acted specially (“supernaturally”) to form our first parents, and our first parents at the headwaters of humanity brought sin and dysfunction into the world of human life.

Collins argues that there are factors in our make up that are universally human and uniquely human. These go beyond the powers of natural processes. Our capacity for language is one of these. The difference between human and animal language are not merely differences of degree but differences of kind, that is “human language is discontinuous with animal communication.” (p. 165) This difference is inherent in what we are – a human child is built to acquire sophisticated structured language. A chimpanzee or gorilla simply does not have the capacity to move beyond a rudimentary level. Art is another example.

According to Collins:

"It is simply unreasonable to suppose that one can arrive at human capacities without some “help” from outside; that is good reasoning includes recognizing that God’s creative activity is involved." (p. 170)

Evolutionary intermediate processes may (or may not) have occurred. Collins isn’t dogmatic on this point, and he acknowledges that he isn’t conversant in the biology.

In his view animal death is not a theological problem and is not a consequence of the fall. But there must be an event of special creation in the formation of humans, an event that involves distinction from all other animal life.

He does object to some forms of theistic evolution – and Adam and Eve are at the center of this objection. As he puts it: “I find that the strongest form of theistic evolution is inadequate, both for Bible and for historical science, since it fails to account for human distinctiveness.” (p. 173)

Freedoms and Limitations

There are a range of possible interpretations of Genesis 2-3 that are consistent with the overarching story line of the Bible. Collins provides four criteria that he provide ground rules for thinking about Adam and Eve and the origin of humanity. (Quoted from pp. 171-172)

  • The origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process. This follows from how hard it is to get a human being or, theologically, how distinctive the image of God is.
  • Adam and Eve are at the headwaters of the human race. This follows from the unified experience of humankind.
  • The “fall,” in whatever form it took, was both historical (it happened) and moral (it involved disobeying God), and it occurred at the beginning of the human race. Our universal sense of loss makes no sense without this. Where else could this universality have come from?
  • If someone should become convinced that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these as a single tribe of closely related members. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (produced before the others) and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative.

Collins does agree that there is some support for the existence of a larger group of humans, more than just Adam and Eve and their children in Genesis 4. This is indicated by the concerns and actions of Cain after he kills Abel and with his legacy. And, of course, however we imagine Cain got his wife we have to go beyond the text of Genesis in our inference.

This is, as it is billed in the book, an old-earth creation view, but it is a fairly flexible view of old-earth creation.

In the next post on the book we will look at the responses offered by Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, and William Barrick as well as the rejoinder from Jack Collins and my own thoughts on the subject.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Responses to Adam and Eve as Special Creation (RJS)

by RJS
Jul 8, 2014

In the last post on Four Views on the Historical Adam we looked at the view of Adam put forth by C. John Collins. He takes an old earth special creation view, but is willing to consider a wide range of scenarios that fit within certain limits. For example, an old earth and an evolutionary description of the diversity of animal life poses no theological problems if this is where the scientific evidence leads. However, he does not think humans can be fit neatly into an evolutionary picture, scientifically or theologically. Scientifically he feels that “it is simply unreasonable to suppose that one can arrive at human capacities without some “help” from outside” and theologically that it fails to account for human distinctiveness as the image of God.

DL's Rebuttal

Denis Lamoureux has a great deal of respect for Jack Collins as a fellow Christian but disagrees with his position on four major points.

First, he agrees with Collins on the big story of scripture, but doesn’t feel that this requires a historical Adam. Collins has asserted this as a foundation, but doesn’t really make the case in a convincing manner.

Second, Lamoureux thinks that Collins falls into the trap of scientific concordism. Although Collins is willing to consider figurative and imaginative elements in the text, he feels that the text must relate an account of human origins that is in agreement with the historical events. In Lamoureux’s view this amounts to scientific concordism.

Third, Collins wanders into God-of-the-gaps thinking when he asserts that the complexity of human uniqueness must require divine intervention. Such features as language, art, and a craving for community are not as discontinuous with the other animals as Collins supposes. There is good evidence for roots of some of these in the evolution of mammals and especially primates, and the absence of a complete picture does not mean that there is no “natural” explanation – of God, but not requiring special supernatural intervention.

Finally, Lamoureux feels that Collins is somewhat arbitrary in the passages of Genesis 1-11 that he sees as historical and those he sees as figurative or imaginative.

Walton's Rebuttal

John Walton also has a great deal of respect for Jack Collins. John and Jack are fairly close in their overall interpretation, but disagree on a few points. Walton sees the most significant disagreement as one involving the overall approach to Genesis 1-11. While Collins spends a good deal of effort focused on how people today think about history and science, etc. Walton thinks that the focus needs to be on getting inside the mind of the ancient Near Eastern author and audience. We need to think outside our 21st (…18th, 19th, 20th) century box to understand what they intended to convey in the text we have.

Walton agrees with Collins that the bible conveys a universal impact of sin, but doesn’t think that Collins made the case that this requires a unified origin of humanity descended from Adam and Eve (as unique progenitors or as chief of a smallish group). In Walton’s view Collins makes a strong case for the historicity of the fall, but not for material human origins.

Barrick's Rebuttal

William Barrick takes a young earth view of creation. He feels that Denis, John, and Jack all fail to take scripture as the authority it is meant to be. In Barrick’s view Collins is right to stress the importance of historicity, but fails to realize that accuracy in detail is an important component of this and that lack of accuracy is a weakness that invites counterattack – in the ancient Near East and today. Collins appeals to the readers intuition to distinguish between the intent of Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. Barrick thinks that this is too subjective and “leaves the door open for too many unacceptable options.” (p. 189) He asserts that “the Hebrew's worldview does not give them the freedom to mythologize history the way the ancient Mesopotamians did” (p. 189) and that “Genesis 1-11 set out to record events exactly as they happened.” (p. 190) Barrick sees the formula phrase “and it was so” as intending to convey this precise historicity in the Genesis 1 account of creation. A “very good” creation is not, in his view, consistent with millions of years of death and disease. He concludes:

The old-earth view yields to the opinions of evolutionary scientists about the age of the earth and about the process of evolution – just like the views presented by Lamoureux and Walton. It boils down to the acceptance of an authority outside the Bible – a dominantly secular authority often very antagonistic to the biblical record – to force the account in Genesis 1-11 to conform to that external authority. The young earth view does not accept reinterpreting the Scriptures to force it into an evolutionary mold. (p. 191)

Collin's Rejoinder

Jack Collins offers a rejoinder to the comments by Lamoureux, Walton, and Barrick. He feels that Lamoureux is misinterpreting him when claiming that he is guilty of scientific concordism or God-of-the-gaps reasoning from an absence of knowledge. We expect historical concordance in scripture, not scientific concordance. His view of the special creation of Adam and Eve does not rest on the expectation of scientific concordance with scripture, but on theological and philosophical grounds. He also appeals to the presence of different kinds of gaps in knowledge. As Christians we affirm that the resurrection was supernatural because of the very nature of the event. Collins feels that the path from molecule to mankind is also the kind of event that requires supernatural intervention on philosophical grounds, not on the grounds of an absence of scientific knowledge.

Collins doesn’t have much to say in response to Barrick or Walton. He finds the claim that his view is formed because of the acceptance of external authority (science) to be a dead end. The only way forward is to deal with the substance of arguments. He and Walton agree on most things and their disagreement on Adam and Eve has already been elaborated in each essay and in his response to Walton’s essay.

And some comments of my own. I think that Lamoureux is misinterpreting Collins when he accuses him of scientific concordism. I do think that the assumptions that Collins brings to scripture require more historical concordance than is warranted. This doesn’t come up much in the current essay, but was made more explicit in his book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. The way Collins describes the need for supernatural intervention in the creation of mankind does strike me as God-of-the-gaps reasoning. This was also discussed in my recent post Fairness Tastes Like Ice Cream, where one of the commenters with more expertise than I provided links elaborating the reasons why the difference are more ones of degree than kind.

But ultimately the reasons Collins upholds some form of special creation and a historical and unique pair are more theological than scientific, or even hermeneutical (dependent on the view of scripture). This is where it is most profitable to focus the discussion.

Over the last few years I have to say that I have become less than convinced that the Bible intends, anywhere, to portray the origin of sin. We don’t know why, for example, the snake is in the garden trying to corrupt Eve and thus Adam also. Rebellion began before Adam. That sin enters the human line with an original pair simply doesn’t seem to be the point in either the Old or New Testaments. On the other hand, the Bible clearly portrays the universal impact of sin and the places the blame firmly on mankind as a species, as communities, and as individuals. Rebellion is the point. We are formed to need God, to be in fellowship with God. But this relationship, like our other relationships, is broken. Broken by us, not by God. Broken time and time again.

I am not convinced by Collins’s arguments for a unique historical Adam because I am not convinced that Adam is theologically important in the story line of Scripture.

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