Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Search for the Historical Adam"

The cover story for the June 2011 edition of Christianity Today "The Search for the Historical Adam" by Richard N. Ostling reviews the recent controversy within evangelical circles regarding the issue of the historicity of Adam.  I want to use this post to give a flavor of the article and a number of quotations from individuals cited in it.  In the near future I hope to provide analysis and critique of those who would deny the historicity of Adam as revealed in the Bible.

Ostling begins his article with Francis Collins, the former head of the genome project and the current directer of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who is identified as an evangelical Christian.  Collins and co-author Karl Giberson (physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College) are a part of wave of "theistic evolutionists" to deny the reality of Adam as a historical person.
"In a recent pro-evolution book from InterVarsity Press, The Language of Science and Faith, Collins and co-author Karl W. Giberson escalate matters, announcing that 'unfortunately' the concepts of Adam and Eve as the literal first couple and the ancestors of all humans simply 'do not fit the evidence.'"  (p. 24)
In late 2007 Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation to promote the tenets of theistic evolution among evangelicals.  With his appointment by President Obama to be the NIH's director Collins resigned his position as president of the BioLogos Foundation.  Karl Giberson is the current vice president of the organization.  BioLogos has been the focal point for a number of scholars involved in science and theology coming forward to push a theistic evolutionary agenda.
"BioLogos not only promotes the current scientific consensus on human origins, but ways in which Scripture can be reinterpreted to accord with evolutionary theory.  Its staff biblical expert is Peter Enns, whose interpretation of the Old Testament led to suspension and eventual departure from Westminster Theological Seminary in 2008 (though the Adam-and-Eve question was not at issue in that case).  To Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is 'at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.'  As he reads the early chapters of Genesis, he says, 'The bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel.'  (p. 26)
Westminster is not the only evangelical institution to be effected by BioLogos Foundation related issues.
"In yet another BioLogos article, tremper Longman III of Westmont College  admits, 'I have not resolved this issue in my own mnd except to say that there is nothing that insist on a literal understanding of Adam in a pass [Gen. 1-3] so filled with obvious figurative description.'...After BioLogos promoted Longman's views in a video  last year, Reformed Theological Seminary ended Longman's role as an adjunct faculty member.
"That dismissal was overshadowed at the seminary by a related dustup over noted Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke.  The administration abruptly accepted his offer of resignation due to a BioLogos video in which Waltke remarked that 'if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.'  Waltke began teaching at Knox Theological Seminary this year.
"Though that dispute concerned theistic evolution, not the historical Adam, Waltke is open to the new thinking.  In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'  He sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals.  But if genetics produces the conclusion that 'Scripture has a collectivity represented as an individual, that doesn't bother me,' he said.  'We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.'"  (p. 26)
Calvin College has been no stranger to controversy in regards to issues of science and biblical interpretation.  Biblical exegete Daniel C. Harlow teaches at Calvin and due to recent comments on this issue he is now being investigated by a personnel panel at his school to see whether he has violated the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church which are required of all faculty at Calvin.  Ostling gives a sampling of Harlow's reasoning:
"Harlow proposed that understandings of the Fall may need to be 'reformulated' and the church must be willing to 'decouple original sin from the notion that all humans descended from a single pair.'  In his view, the early chapters of Genesis should probably be regarded as 'imaginative portrayals of an actual epoch.'  Whether or not Adam was historical, he asserted, is 'not central to biblical theology.'  Paul and Luke may have thought Adam was a literal man because they had no reason not to, he explained.  But 'we have many reasons' to interpret Adam as a literary figure."  (p. 26)
Ostling's article does not leave the topic solely in the hands of evangelical theistic evolutionists.  He mentions a new book by Covenant Theological Seminary's C. John Collins Did Adam and Eve Really Exist (Crossway Books).
"In his book-length conservative rejoinder to the new interpretation, John Collins warns against 'pure literalism' in reading Genesis, arguing that the book 'intends to use imaginative description to tell us of actual events.'  This is essentially what J. I. Packer contended in his 1958 classic 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God.  But Collins comments that if Adam and Eve lacked 'an actual existence we nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.'  To him, the pivotal point is that 'however God produced the bodies of the first human beings, it wasn't a purely natural process.''  (p. 27)
Well known New York city pastor, Tim Keller, recently participated in a BioLogos workshop but in his presentation he upheld a conservative stance on the historicity of Adam as understood and taught by the apostle Paul.  Ostling quotes Keller as arguing:
"[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures.  When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority....If Adam doesn't exist, Paul's whole argument--that both sin and grace work 'covenantally'--falls apart.  You can't say that 'Paul was a man of his time' but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam.  If you don't believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul's teaching."  (p. 27)
Toward the end of the article Ostling quotes pastor Richard Phillips, chair of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, as saying:
"Can the Bible's theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based are false?...The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall."  (p. 27) 
Ostling's article is important reading in that alerts the church to an on-going controversy that will call upon evangelicals to look at issues of authority, epistemology, science, hermeneutics, and the inter-relationships between all of these.  In future posts I hope to address a few of these areas as it relates  to the historicity of Adam and the Christian faith.