Reconciling the book of nature with Scripture

books-historical-adamFour Views on The Historical Adam

Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday, eds.

It is easy to become theologically nostalgic about a time when sermons were uncomplicated. There was clearly a “right” or “biblical” view on most things, and that is the only perspective we were taught. Today we are in a very different place. We have an explosion of evangelical books expounding many views on almost any topic that we can think about. These books imply that well-meaning committed Christians who love Jesus can hold divergent views on many topics we thought were settled.

These books can be very helpful to get us thinking. They can help us become better informed readers of the Bible who are able to articulate a perspective more effectively. These books don’t simply preach but also defend and respond to other voices, sharpening and clarifying ideas.

On the other hand, this whole phenomenon can lead to confusion and a feeling that nothing is certain and the Bible can be used to say almost anything. Just when you might feel confident that a perspective is biblical, someone else argues that you have ignored the appropriate cultural context or ignored the genre of the text, or they pull out the ultimate trump card: love is more important than what the text says, so the verses you thought were significant aren’t really important.

How you feel about the value of providing multiple perspectives will affect how much you will appreciate Four Views on the Historical Adam. This volume follows a fairly typical pattern for the series: each contributor presents a view which the other three critique and then the initial contributor responds.

The one unusual element in this volume involves two final essays by Gregory A. Boyd and Philip G. Ryken on the issue of how important the historicity of Adam is to our faith. (For Boyd, not so much; Ryken strongly disagrees.)

It might seem that the question of whether Adam is historical should have no debate at all. Adam’s story is recorded in Genesis 2–5, referred to in several genealogies (1 Chronicles 1:1, Luke 3:38), mentioned by Paul six times (Romans 5:14 [2x], 1 Corinthians 15:22, 15:45 [2x], 1 Timothy 2:13–14), and included in Jude 14. Although Jesus never specifically mentioned Adam by name, he seems to have alluded to him at several points (Matthew 19:4, 8, Mark 10:6). Almost everyone agrees that Jesus and Paul believed in the historical Adam.

But behind this book lies recent developments in the world of science where committed Christians studying the human genome suggest the idea of a single biological pair from whom every human being originated is contrary to what our own genes are telling us. If “all truth is God’s truth,” then the Book of Nature should not contradict God’s revealed Scripture. This is the conversation that lies in the background of this volume.

The first perspective is that of “evolutionary creationism” articulated by Denis O. Lamoureux (University of Alberta) who holds three doctorate credentials in dentistry, evolutionary biology and theology. He makes what must certainly be a startling claim for many Christians that “Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Lamoureux argues that God accommodated his message of salvation and Jesus in a book that reflects the scientific language of its own day. We simply need to “unwrap” this foundational salvation story from the limited science that surrounds it and realize that our faith is based on Jesus and not on this wrapping.

The second perspective, “Archetypal Adam,” is that of John A. Walton (Wheaton [Ill.] College) who walks down some of the same path as Lamoureux except that he argues that in the midst of God’s guidance of the evolutionary process, there was a real person called Adam who “sort of” lived out the Genesis 3 story as our archetype or representative – even if he was not the only human on earth and not our sole biological ancestor. But the real Adam was not formed from the ground and the real Eve was not taken from his side. This couple did, however, transgress a divine command and as humanity’s representatives, somehow spread “accountability and disorder” to all of us although it was not through our genetic lineage.

The third view is that of Old Earth Creationism as represented by C. John Collins (Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.). He is willing to accept that Adam may not have come directly from the “dust” but was a result of God’s intervention at the end of a long evolutionary process. Adam and Eve were the first human couple although they may have produced offspring and formed a sort of “tribe” before the critical events in the Garden. This whole tribe fell when Adam and Eve fell. In comparison to Walton, Collins is more inclined to make a direct genetic and moral connection between this Adam and Eve and all people today.

The fourth view is almost on a different page from the first three. William D. Barrick (The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, Cal.) represents Young Earth Creationism and stands diametrically opposed to all the “compromises” of the other views. Barrick provides a voice of warning: to surrender a literal reading of Genesis in these chapters threatens everything Christians have been saying about original sin, salvation, the authority of Scripture and much more. He states it clearly: “Denial of the historicity of Adam, like the denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, destroys the foundations of the Christian faith” (emphasis original).

This volume is a helpful one in the overall series. The four main contributors are articulate and well-known representatives. The dialogue is engaging and generally respectful.

But one wonders whether this book – along with all the other multiple views books – really helps our ability to listen and dialogue or whether it encourages a sort of apathy about theological discussion. The dialogue partners express their views, emphasizing how different each is from the others, but no one seems to move even an inch closer to a consensus. While this might be fine for the academic world, it poses challenges for positive theological discussion in the church.

In the church, we have those who might respond with Lamoureux or Boyd and contend that nothing significant is at stake, while others following Barrick believe that at almost every turn one’s salvation could well be lost and thus we should be willing to die on many a theological hill.

How can we in churches dialogue about these sorts of issues and at the same time worship and serve together? Though this book has given us four clear views on the historicity of Adam, it has not provided much help on this bigger and probably more important question.

—Ken Esau is biblical studies program director at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C. He and his wife Karen are members at The Life Centre, Abbotsford, B.C.


See also “Board of faith and life statement on creation”

Updated August 22, 2014

6 Comments on “Reconciling the book of nature with Scripture

  1. Kudos to Denis Lamoureux for his clarifying honesty!

    As the article notes, “Denis O. Lamoureux (University of Alberta) who holds three doctorate credentials in dentistry, evolutionary biology and theology. He makes what must certainly be a startling claim for many Christians that ‘Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.'”

    Denis Lamoureux has made it abundantly clear that evolutionary thinking is incompatible with God’s creation of Adam, as recorded in Scripture. Either God’s Word is true, or Darwinian evolution is — both cannot be true. You cannot logically believe both evolution and the Bible. Thank you, Mr. Lamoureux!

    But more seriously . . . as Ken Esau notes, “Almost everyone agrees that Jesus and Paul believed in the historical Adam.” For Christ-followers, therefore, the choice is clear. We must stay with the views of the Master Teacher, and discount the claims of those who speak otherwise, no matter how many earthly “doctorates” they appear to have accumulated.

  2. In the creation, age of the earth, evolution debate, the question is this; is the Bible’s science and history true or is man’s opinions about creation true? When dealing with the old earth/ young earth debate we must remember 2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. This includes the first two chapters of Genesis which Jesus quotes.

    If we are following big name pastors who are evolutionist, are we really “searching the scriptures daily to see if these things are so”, like the Bereans did in Acts 17:11. Paul calls them noble for doing this. These evolution believing leaders unknowingly practise the “clever trickery of men” see Eph 4:11-16 that “cheat us” of our knowledge of Christ, Col 2:8-9. In 1 Thess 5:21 the Bible says, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” Also in II Cor. 10:5 we are told that, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every though to make it obedient to Christ.”

    I find it interesting that Jesus in Rev. 3:14 is introducing Himself to the Laodicean Church as the Faithful and True Witness. So what is Jesus being a witness to? How He created creation, that’s what. Jesus ties the creation of mankind to the beginning of creation in, Mark 10:6-7, Matt 19:4, Luke 11:49-51, & see Luke 1:68-70 as a prophetic confirmation. In Jesus’ theology there is no room for billions of years or tens of thousands of years. From Adam to Jesus is only about 4,000 years by genealogy.

    More about Jesus in Rev 3:14-15 ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: NKJV. The Grk word used for “Beginning” is the root of our word Architect. Jesus is the Architect of creation, so stop disagreeing with Him, He doesn’t lie. John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. NKJV

    Evolution and billions of years is not true, it is not science. It is just the creation myth of the religion of atheism and deism. We have to remember that the “sciences” are just the various fields of studying different things. Biology is the study of living things, Cosmology is the study of the cosmos, and theology is the study of God and His works and His word. True science is the stuff of lab experiments, which must be testable, repeatable and observable. Creation is a one off happening in the past; it does not fall into the above categories of what is true science. Only God was there in the beginning and He tells us in Genesis the timeframe of His creation and then confirms it elsewhere in scripture.

    The world says that if you want to be viewed as intelligent and informed you must bow down and worship at the alter of naturalistic science, which means no God, no miracles, no Adam and Eve and no original sin, no virgin birth or resurrection of Jesus. In other words, “You Christians must follow our science that says the Bible is not true, then we the world will accept you.” Many in the church are being like Israel of old in learning to follow the false gods of the people of Canaan, thinking that they are just following true science when they are ready following a lie. MB Churches it is time to clean house and toss out the “scientific” idols.

    • Great comment, Steven. But let me take issue with you on one point: I think you’ve distinguished creation from “true science” just a little too strongly.

      According to Scripture, the fact that a powerful God has created is indeed observable (Romans 1:19-20). It’s an empirical fact that leaves people “without excuse” when they try to “suppress” that reality.

      The modern Intelligent Design Movement folks have done a good job of illustrating (using empirical, scientific evidence) how well-designed living creatures are. But even without that kind of detailed up-to-date microscopic data, we are still accountable to God based on what we have always been able to readily observe in the created order.

      Thus creation, although a historical one-off, is also a scientifically accessible truth.

      • Point noted. I should have expand more on what science is, comparing the naturialist model and the super-naturialist model; or what is experimental science and what is the study of the past when no man was there. No matter what one believe, everyone believes in something eternally existent as the source of creation, either mindless energy that must be self-sustaining otherwise it would have expended itself already or a vastly powerful intelligent creator. “True science” should be a testing of things and following the evidence where-ever it leads and the most logicial conclusion is a creator that has revealed Himself to His creation in the works He has done and giving us a written account of His works and what He expects of us. The Bible out of all sacred books tells us the beginning and the end the best, this is why it’s creation account is attacked so much outside and inside the Church.

  3. Always an interesting debate. I recommend Francis Collins’ website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to MB Herald via email

Enter your email address to receive notification of new posts.

%d bloggers like this: