The Search for the Historical Adam 2

The June 2011 cover story in Christianity Today, The Search for the Historical Adam, 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.

In addition to the cover story itself, Christianity Today has also posted an introductory piece by Ted Olson, Adam, Where Are You? and an editorial outlining the stance of Christianity Today on these issues: No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel. In his introduction Ted Olson calls for a difficult grace filled family meeting.

Few debates in our world have been as impassioned and emotional as those over creation. But now we’re not just talking about dating rocks and interpreting fossils. We’re talking about family. Nor is the discussion between those who think the Bible’s account of creation, fall, and redemption is important and those who find it irrelevant. This is a family meeting. (p. 9)

This is an important point – this is a family discussion. Quite frankly non-Christians, those not committed to the gospel, don’t care. There is a bemused incredulity that we waste any intellectual effort on the discussion. A corollary here is also important – this is not a quest for external credibility or the approval of secular colleagues. It is an attempt within the family to reconcile what we know from scripture with what we know from science.

What do you think? What motivates this discussion?

Do you think it is important?

The cover story in Christianity Today does a fairly good job of giving a balanced picture of the current state of the debate. There are scientific, biblical, and theological questions to be considered.

The scientific data cannot be brushed under the rug and ignored. I continue the discussion here because I am convinced that the scientific evidence for an old earth, evolution, and common descent is so strong that Christians must adjust – this is a reprise of Copernicus and Galileo.  Some questions raised by proponents of Intelligent Design remain open, questions regarding the sufficiency of natural mechanism alone in bringing about the current state of life. But these open questions do not challenge the observation of an old earth, evolution, and common descent. Old earth progressive creationism is increasingly hard to justify and defend. The theological and scientific questions raised by young earth creationism are overwhelming. While one can take a position of mature creation on the strength of the testimony of scripture, this leaves us with a illusion of evolution, including death and decay, preceding the Fall. Many find that this leaves us with an image of God as intentionally deceptive in creation. I don’t expect everyone (or anyone) to simply take my word for it on the evidence. Thus some of my posts here have dealt specifically with the evidence and the nature of the scientific debate. This will continue.

The biblical questions are more significant than the scientific questions. How do we understand scripture as the inspired Word of God? How are we to read Genesis? What is the form and intent of the text? It is more than merely plausible to suggest that Genesis 1-3 is not a prose recitation of history. The word plays and names, the form and structure, the story elements and the imagery, the presence of different variations on the story, make it clear that the form and intent transcends a mere recitation of fact. John Walton has put forth a proposal for the first chapter of Genesis in The Lost World of Genesis One, but does not delve into the harder questions raised by Genesis 2-3 and the story of Adam and Eve. There are many questions regarding the nature of scripture that remain to be wrestled with.

The most significant questions, however, are the theological questions. This is where the Christianity Today editorial comes into the picture.

Christians have already drawn the line: there must be an original pair of humans endowed with souls—that is, the spiritual capacity to relate to God in the special way Genesis describes. (p. 61)

At stake, it is suggested, is (1) the entire story of what is wrong with the world. This “hinges on the disobedient exercise of the will by the first humans. The problem with the human race is not its dearth of insight but its misshapen will.” and (2) The entire story of salvation, which hinges on the obedience of Christ undoing the disobedience of Adam.

The editorial allows for the possibility that Adam and Eve could be leaders of an original population, rather than the unique biological progenitors of the entire human race. The importance of community in Ancient Near East thought and life and a corporate understanding of the nature of humanity provides an important perspective on the interpretation of the text. They point to the recent book by C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, as providing a possible approach. We began this book last week and will continue to work through his argument. Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible also delves into some relevant issues, including the nature of sin and the corporate view of humanity in scripture.

I am not convinced, though, that the editors at Christianity Today have accurately defined the stakes in the discussion. In particular it seems to me that the description of the gospel as problem (Adam’s sin) and solution (Christ’s life, death, and resurrection) is not a sufficiently complete understanding of the story we have in Scripture. I don’t think the incarnation is a response to a problem, rather it is a part of the plan of God from the very beginning. Whether we have Adam, Eve, a garden and an apple, or some other history represented by this story, rebellion and redemption was, for some reason known to God, part of the plan. Christ was present from the beginning and in Him we live and move and have our being.

Do you think that the editors of CT have accurately described the stakes in this discussion?

Does the entire story of salvation hinge on the disobedience of Adam? If so how?

The editorial ends in the same place that Ted Olson’s introduction started – with a plea for a grace-filled family discussion.

At this juncture, we counsel patience. We don’t need another fundamentalist reaction against science. We need instead a positive interdisciplinary engagement that recognizes the good will of all involved and that creative thinking takes time. In the long run, it may be the humility of our scholars as much as their technical expertise that will bring us to deeper knowledge of the truth. (p. 61)

This is my prayer. May this discussion be characterized by the humility of our scholars, by their technical expertise and their willingness to listen to each other, to understand, and to wrestle with the hard questions. Only in this fashion will we move forward in Christian response and unity.

David Opderbeck has also posted some reflections on the CT editorial on his blog Through a Glass Darkly. As always, his thoughts are well worth consideration.

Darrel Falk at BioLogos has also commented on the editorial: BioLogos and the June 2011 “Christianity Today” Editorial. This is an excellent piece.

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

If you have comments please visit The Search for the Historical Adam 2 at Jesus Creed.

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