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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review (RJS) - Four Views on the Historical Adam, Part 1

Amazon Link

The Historical Adam (RJS)

by RJS
May 15, 2014

One of the most contentious issues involved in the discussion of the intersection between Christian faith and evolutionary biology is the question of Adam: historical, unique, mythical, archetypal, representative, something else?

The recent clarification of the statement of faith at Bryan College is an example of the depth of feeling this issue can evoke. Lines are drawn in the sand.

According to a story at timesfreepress.comthe statement of faith reads:

"...that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death..."

There is no specified method, and this is a statement with which most of us would agree although we might differ on the idea behind “incurred physical death.” The clarification leaves less room for conversation or for agreement.

"We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."

Many who would, without reservation, sign the statement of faith cannot in good conscience agree with the clarification. One who, for example, agrees with John Stott in his commentary The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World would be fine under the original statement, but now with the “clarification” would be unwelcome on the faculty of Bryan.

For those who are wondering, Stott has a section in his commentary on The historicity and death of Adam (p. 162-166). He finds that “the narrative itself warrants no dogmatism about the six days of creation, since its form and style suggest that it is meant as literary art, not scientific description.” He also finds it likely that the snake and trees are meant to be understood symbolically in Gen 2-3. He holds to the historicity of the original human pair 6000-10,000 years ago largely because of the genealogies (esp. Luke 3) — but not in the sense you might think. He does not deny any of our scientific findings – and will even accede to the possibility (probability) that creation from dust is a Biblical way of saying that God breathed his divine image into an already existing hominoid. But…

"The vital truth we cannot surrender is that, though our bodies are related to the primates, we ourselves in our fundamental identity are related to God.(p. 164)"

With respect to the intent of Paul in Romans 5: 12 – and so death spread to all men, because all sinned – Stott comments:

"There can be only one explanation. All died because all sinned in and through Adam, the representative or federal head of the human race. (p. 152)"

Adam’s “federal” headship extended outwards to his contemporaries and onwards to his descendents and this includes, according to Stott, the consequences of Adam’s original sin.

Digging deeper once again. The question of Adam remains one worth posts and discussion. A recent book, Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), provides us an opportunity to dig into the question of Adam once again.

The contributors to the book include Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, C. John Collins, and William Barrick. The views presented range from:

  • no historical Adam (Lamoureux)
  • young earth creation with Adam as the unique father of the entire human race some 6000 years ago or so (Barrick)
  • John Walton and Jack Collins fall between these two views, with Collins likely closest to the view of Stott described above.

In their essays the contributors were asked to respond to three questions [by the editors]:

1. What is the biblical case for your position, 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 any other view? In particular the contributors were asked to relate their view of Adam to their view of revelation, inerrancy, creation, and redemption in Christ.

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?

Each contributor provides his own view, responds to the views of the other three, and offers a rejoinder to response of the others to his essay.


The final two chapters provide pastoral reflections by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken concerning the implications of our view of Adam in the life of the church.

Over the next few months we will look in more detail at the views offered by Lamoureux, Walton, Collins, and Barrick and the objections they raise in response to the views of the others and finally the pastoral responses. If interested, pick up a copy of the book and join in the conversation.

* * * * * * * * * * *

No Historical Adam? (RJS)

by RJS
May 20, 2014

Last week I introduced a new book from the Zondervan Counterpoints seriesFour Views on the Historical Adam. The contributors to the book include Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, C. John Collins, and William Barrick. The views presented range from no historical Adam (Lamoureux) to young earth creation with Adam as the unique father of the entire human race some 6000 years ago or so (Barrick). John Walton and Jack Collins fall between these two views.

As we work through this book I will first put up a post presenting one of the views. This will be followed by a post that discusses the responses of the other three contributors and the rejoinder by original author along with some of my own observations. The first chapter is by Denis O. Lamoureux and this is where we start.


Dr. Lamoureux is an Associate Professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta (UA) in Edmonton. He received his BS in 1976 from UA, a DDS from UA in 1978 and then changed directions – receiving his MDiv and Master of Christian Studies degrees from Regent College Vancouver in 1987 and his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Theology–Science and Religion, from the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, in 1991.

Returning once again to science he received a Ph.D. from UA in Oral Biology–Dental Development and Evolution. Several years ago I posted on Denis Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation (between November 2010 and January 2011). His chapter in the current book is a condensation of the much more detailed argument put forth in the larger book.

The Message-Incident Principle

Dr. Lamoureux’s position on the relationship between science and scripture centers on the Message-Incident PrincipleThe ancient views of science, including ancient views of origins are incidental to the theological truths conveyed in scripture. This can be expressed as accommodation – God accommodated his message to the understanding of his people. [What this means is that God] did not introduce new science in scripture only to be understood many millenia later. We do not find and, upon reflection, should not expect, concordance between our current science and cosmology and that reflected incidentally in scripture.

There are many examples that can be used to illustrate this principle. One example used by Lamoureux in this chapter is the last portion of the great Christological hymn found in Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

The line “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” reflects the ancient view of a three tiered universe where “under the earth” uses a word καταχθόνιος that refers to those departed souls who dwell in the world below, that is in the underworld. This verse indicates that Paul, along with his contemporaries, accepted the 3-tier universe. According to Lamoureux:

"In the case of Philippians 2:10-11, the Message of Faith reveals the lordship of Jesus over the entire creation, and the incidental ancient science is the 3-tier universe. (p. 50)"

Another example of the presence of ancient science or cosmology in scripture is found in the description of the second and fourth days of creation in Genesis 1. The firmament that God puts in place to separate the waters above from the waters below was viewed by the ancient Israelite audience in common with the other ancient Near Eastern cultures as a solid boundary structure. On day four the greater and lesser lights and the stars were placed in the firmament. The concept of the relationship between earth, sky, stars, sun, moon, was completely different from the understanding we have today.

The sun god tablet or tablet of Shamash dating from the 9th century BC
illustrates the firmament (bottom layer) with the stars, waters, and then
the throne of Shamash in the heavens.

Dr. Lamoureux points out that this structure is also reflected in Psalm 104:2-3.

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent

and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.

According to Lamoureux:

Now what are we to do with these passages in Genesis 1 about the creation of the heavens? The Message-Incident Principle allows us to appreciate that the Holy Spirit accommodated to the level of the ancient Hebrews and used the science-of-the-day in order to reveal the inerrant spiritual truth that God created the visually dominant blue “structure” overhead with the sun, moon, and stars “embedded” in it. The Message of Faith remains steadfast for us today: the Creator made the visual phenomenon of the blue sky and all the heavenly bodies. (p. 53)

These three examples (the 3-tier universe in Philippians 2; the firmament in Genesis 1; a and the upper chambers on the waters in Psalm 104) only scratch the surface. Many (many) more examples of ancient “scientific” understanding expressed in the text of Scripture could be given. Some we hardly notice, assuming them to be figurative when they are not, others are obscured by the word choice of the translators. Taken together they should help us to understand the nature and form of the text of Scripture. The ancient science, when it appears, is not an “error” but the way that God has accommodated his message to the understanding of finite human beings.

What about Adam?

Denis Lamoureux believes that the same principle of accommodation applies to the description of the origin of life and the creation of Adam. The Message of Faith in Genesis 1 is that God is the Creator of life, but the unique creation of kinds and even the words used to express this (the land produces living creatures in v. 24 as it produces vegetation in v. 11 – not exactly the way we think about the creation of animals) are incidental.

The de novo creation of Adam from the dust is another example of ancient “science of origins” in the text. The creation of humans from dust or clay is found in a number of ancient Near Eastern texts. The de novo creation of humans reflects an ancient phenomenological understanding of origins. The Message of Faith is that God formed, loves, and cares for humanity.

Turning to the New Testament references, Lamoureux believes that Paul, with an ancient phenomenological view of origins and immersed in the Scriptures, thought Adam was a unique individual. However, the conferment argument (that Paul’s belief in Adam confers (or requires) a historical Adam) is challenged by the 3-tier universe of Philippians 2 and by the wide-spread occurrence of ancient understandings of “science” throughout scripture. Few would argue that Paul’s understanding of cosmology or geography confers that view on the nature of reality.

The second argument that is often raised is consistency – because Paul compares Adam and Jesus consistency demands that either both, or neither are, historical individuals. The consistency argument fails to distinguish the person of Jesus witnessed by the disciples and many others from the nature of the text of Genesis 2-3 which describes events that predate the written accounts by millenia. Lamoureux also points out that it is the name of Jesus to which every knee in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld should bow. Few would think that consistency requires belief in both Jesus and a 3-tier universe.

So when it comes to Adam, Lamoureux concludes:

"The Divine Book of Words reveals that humans are the only creatures who bear the image of God, and only humans are sinful. I suspect that the manifestation of these spiritual realities coincides with the appearance of behaviorally modern humans about 50,000 years ago. (p. 64)"

To conclude, [says Lamoureux]

"I do not believe that there ever was a historical Adam. Yet he plays a pivotal role in Holy Scripture. Adam functions as the archetype of every man and woman.…"

Adam’s story is our story. … To understand who we truly are, we must place ourselves in the garden of Eden. The non-historical first Adam is you and me. But the Good News is that the historical Second Adam died for our sins and frees us from the chains of sin and death. Amen. (p. 65)

In the next post on the book we will look at the responses offered by John Walton, Jack Collins, and William Barrick to Denis Lamoureux’s view.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Responses to No Historical Adam (RJS)

by RJS
May 27, 2014

Last Tuesday I put up a summary (No Historical Adam?) of Denis Lamoureux’s chapter in the new book from the Zondervan Counterpoints series: Four Views on the Historical AdamDenis presents a view that we should recognize the Adam story as an accommodation to an ancient Near Eastern understanding of human origins.

In today’s post we will look at the responses offered by the other three contributors, John Walton, Jack Collins, and William Barrick, and at the rejoinder offered by Denis Lamoureux.


John Walton's Rebuttal

John Walton’s main points of disagreement come with the rather black-and-white way that Denis constructs his argument. He agrees that there is accommodation in Scripture and that “concordism is hermeneutically suspect.”

Concordism - The attempt to correlate the bible and modern science by considering
the days to be aeons of perhaps millions of years each. It does not work: Light was
created before the sun and even the earth (v 10) and the planets were created before
the sun. (Wimmer p. 68)

He has noted in the past that there is no new science in Scripture (the purpose is not to reveal science). He believes that Denis oversteps when he jumps from ancient Near Eastern ideas about the origin of life and the origin of humans to the conclusion that there was no historical Adam. [In actuality, Denis posits this based upon evolutionary evidence. His reference to the NE view was one of textual parallelism between ancient thought and ancient Hebrew thought, contra Walton's inferences. - re slater]

Because the account of the creation of Adam contains elements that come from an ancient Near Eastern understanding of origins Lamoureux states “And since ancient science does not align with physical reality, it follows that Adam never existed.” On this point Walton replies:

"I disagree that his conclusion follows inevitably from his observation. It does not follow that Adam never existed; only that the forming account does not record the forming of a single unique individual.(p. 68)"

Lamoureux also argues that consistency of interpretation, recognizing ancient views of astronomy in the origin of the heavens suggests that we should recognize ancient science-of-the-day in the origin of Adam. Here Walton responds:

"Even if the “forming” narrative about Adam has some parallels in the ancient Near East, that does not prove that Adam is not a real person in a real past. At most it would indicate that the forming account may be an accommodation – that does not mean that the role of Adam is an accommodation. After all there is no one with the role of Adam in the ancient Near East. (p. 68)"

Walton also disagrees with the way Lamoureux deals with Jesus’s reference to Genesis 1-2 and to Paul’s use of Adam in the New Testament. I think the argument concerning the way Jesus references Genesis 1-2 is a dead end trail in the discussion of the historicity of Adam and I’ve written on this before (Jesus on Adam and Eve). Lamoureux could, perhaps, make the point more clearly but Walton’s criticism is off the main point as well.

Paul’s use of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are more significant sticking points. Lamoureux doesn’t dig deeply into the theological significance of Adam here and Walton challenges him:

“The question is not whether Paul believed that Adam was a real person. Paul believed many things that (in our estimation) were not true about the natural world. The question is whether Paul invested theological significance in his belief.” (p. 69)

C. John Collins' Rebuttal

C. John Collins also agrees with a number of the points made by Lamoureux, but thinks he has followed a style of reasoning that is oversimplified. Lamoureux sees either-or options where Collins would prefer to explore the possibility that there are other alternatives or some middle ground. Collins doesn’t think that talk about “ancient science” is the best way to refer to the kind of language we find in Genesis 1-3 or in many other places in Scripture preferring the category “ordinary language.” He concludes:

"Actually, we cannot tell, one way or the other, simply from the words used, exactly what the writers “believed” about the world. For the most part, it doesn’t even matter: these authors successfully refer to the things they describe – and enable us to picture them – without making any kind of strong claim about the processes. As near as I can tell, the age and shape of the earth play no role in anyone’s communication in the Bible. (p. 75)"

The reason for this is that the age and shape of the earth simply were not questions they thought about at any significant level.

On a theological level, Collins doesn’t think that the truths Lamoureux sees in his application of the Message-Incident principle “do adequate justice to the overarching narrative element in the Bible.” Most importantly:

The Bible as a whole, not just Genesis, portrays sin as something that at some point made an entrance into God’s good world, but does not belong here and will one day be eradicated.” (p. 79)

William Barrick's Rebuttal

William Barrick’s critique of Lamoureux is a little hard to deal with. He takes a young earth view and finds Lamoureux’s account troubling on many levels. He makes the argument that “Questioning the accuracy of one part of scripture always puts the whole of Scripture in doubt.” (p. 80)

He points out that Calvin and Luther held to a young earth and that modern evangelicals holding any form of an old-earth are taking a path contrary to such long-trusted commentators and theologians. He makes the point that it is inconsistent to accept some miracles but not others – for example it is inconsistent to accept water to wine at Cana but not the special creation of Adam.

He is also concerned with the difficulty of establishing “the sinfulness of all mankind without exception” if Adam and Eve are not the unique historical parents of the human race.

These are not surprising points. We must deal with the nature of scripture as trustworthy and “able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and with the long history of biblical interpretation that accepted a young earth.

How Barrick elaborates his concerns is somewhat befuddling to me. I’ll give only a couple of examples here:

Barrick objects to Lamoureux’s use of Psalm 139:13-14 (For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made) as an example that there is no necessary distinction between “natural” processes that take time and the handiwork of God.

According to Barrick:

"Such procreative processes, however, do not appear to offer an equivalent parallel. According to Scripture, God did not form Adam in a preexisting mother’s womb. Genesis depicts an instantaneous special creation of one individual, Adam, from the dust of the earth. God made Eve by an equally instantaneous and special creation."

"I argue that Adam bears no resemblance to the legend of Rip van Winkle, who slept for years and awoke to find a world changed by the passing of time. For Eve to have evolved out of Adam would have taken millions of years. Adam could not have slept for eons of time while God made the woman. It would require the multiplication of many miracles to keep Adam from aging while we waited for a wife to evolve. (p. 81)"

I (RJS) have not got a clue where this last paragraph comes from. It is, quite frankly, incoherent and seems lacking in logical structure unless I am missing something not stated. The male and the female cannot evolve separately.

In his chapter Lamoureux pointed out that Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed calling it the smallest of all seeds (Mark 4:31), used an illustration of the death of a seed before germination (John 12:23-24), and describes stars falling from the sky (Matthew 24:2729). All of these represent ancient misunderstandings of science in some fashion – but Jesus’s point wasn’t to teach science and the illustrations make his point to his hearers quite beautifully. Barrick jumps on this:

"The parables that Jesus used in teaching the multitudes and his disciples could be his own observations of real-life people and their experiences. Lamoureux assumes that they are made up or are like old wives’ tales passed on from ancient times. It is as though Jesus could not observe and think for himself, but merely parroted traditional stories and axioms. In other words, Jesus did not raise the standard of theological consideration, but rather adopted the lower standards of the pagan world around him. (p. 83)"

I (RJS) don’t see how Barrick gets this from Lamoureux’s chapter at all. Lamoureux certainly does think that Jesus could observe and think for himself and that Jesus did raise the standard of theological consideration. The critique simply misses the point and uses what appears to be intentionally inflammatory language without really addressing the issue at hand.

I could pick up a couple of other examples – but this probably gives the picture well enough. Barrick appears convinced that all who hold to evolutionary creation (with or without a historical Adam) base their “conclusions on a full, unquestioning faith in secular evolutionary theory” (p. 84) and are leading young people astray.

DL' s Rejoinder

Denis Lamoureux responds briefly to the points raised by Walton and Collins in his rejoinder to finish this first section of the book. He points out that he and both Walton and Collins have many points of agreement. He finds the questions that Walton raises concerning Jesus’s reference to Adam and marriage somewhat inconsistent and has no objection to the terminology of “ordinary language” that Collins prefers. He is disappointed by Barrick’s response – as, quite frankly, am I.

In Summary

I (RJS) agree with John Walton and Jack Collins that Denis makes the alternatives too stark an "either-or" and that his logic is not always as conclusive as he makes it appear. His position is one valid alternative, but it may or may not be the best alternative.

My current thinking on the question of Adam is closer to the position that Denis describes than to any of the others in the book. However, I think we need to put on the table some of the positions Denis dismisses: "positions that accept evolutionary creation and include a historical Adam of one sort or another."

This whole question needs more hard work in conversation between Christian scholars and thinkers. Although I find much that I agree with in Denis’s discussion of the presence of ancient “science” in the text, I don’t think he has (yet) dealt adequately with the theological questions raised in Paul.

I also think that Denis might push the idea of accommodation a bit too hard and that Jack’s suggestion of “ordinary language” nuances the idea in a useful direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment