Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Historical Adam?


The folks over at the Christian Humanist Blog have linked to three recent articles on whether or not Adam was a historical person. The first, by Kevin DeYoung at the Gospel Coalition, gives 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam. DeYoung argues that "Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue."
On the other hand, Dr. James McGrath of Butler University argues that these are actually Ten Really Bad Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam. In fact, belief in a historical person named "Adam" actually hinders the Gospel, because it forces people to choose between what they're told about the Bible and what they're told by scientists, when really Christians have a history of reconciling historical and scientific fact with what is taught as theological truth in the Bible. He charges DeYoung with fundamentalism, and concludes "Fundamentalists, as always, set themselves up as the defenders of the gospel, while in fact their very stance and their claims represent distractions from it in the best of cases, and in the worst and most egregious instances, actually undermine the gospel."
On some kind of freakish third hand, Peter Enns has his own Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung's Restless Comments on the Historical Adam. In what is easily the humblest of these articles, Enns suggests that it is possible to believe that there is historical truth in the Genesis account, without taking it as a beginning-to-end narrative of creation, and that Christian belief should be modified accordingly in the face of scientific discovery. Enns suggests that such debates are too divisive, and perhaps should be left to true specialists: "
Posts like DeYoung’s do not defend the faith as much as they calcify particular doctrinal formulations in the face of very clear data to the contrary–to the harm of all concerned. What is needed in this discussion is not the airing of views by the young and the restless, but more efforts to “come and reason together” by the seasoned and centered."

Man, I don't even know where to start with this business. I certainly don't agree with DeYoung's stance that belief in Adam is a "gospel issue." You can certainly be a Christian and allegorize the first few chapters of Genesis (I think you still have to believe in sin, and that puts you in the awkward position of having to explain where it came from, but frankly that's your problem, not mine). After all, the gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ, who He was, and what He has done for us on the cross. The gospel is not the bad news about Adam and Eve. Neither, however, do I agree with McGrath, who goes too far in gutting Genesis to the point where it only has subjective meaning. I do think is point is a good one about not letting this become what we proclaim as "the gospel", but that's not the same thing as saying that we need to have a completely allegorical view of the creation narrative. The Enns article is interesting, and he likewise makes the perfectly valid point that this kind of discussion is very often a distraction from more important matters. Nevertheless, he goes a step too far in contextualizing -unless I'm misreading him- to the point where "scientific discovery" is replacing "revealed truth."

So where does that leave me? With a problem, I guess. As I understand it now, my options as a Christian are
1) to become a mid-to-late 20th century theological liberal, where I set the Bible in opposition to science and choose science, at least in terms of the creation narrative vs. what I am told (admittedly mostly in the popular media) about evolution;
2) to become an early 20th century Fundamentalist, where I set the Bible in opposition to science and choose the Bible, at least in terms of the creation narrative vs. what I am told about evolution;
3) to become a late 19th century Evangelical, where I attempt to harmonize what the Bible teaches with what science discovers. This would include thinkers like B.B. Warfield, who said "I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution;" and Henry Drummond (not the one from Inherit the Wind) who taught biology and believed that evolution was deeply reflective of Christian belief. He rejoiced that evolution had disproved the old idea of "spontaneous generation", which suggested that life just springs into existence from nothing. By proving that life comes from other life, Drummond wrote, evolution had given absolute proof that living things must spring from another living thing, that is, there must be a living God in order for there to be living beings. Further, evolution teaches us that anything which is not improving is dying (either as an individual or as a species), which reflects the spiritual reality that if we are not growing in Christ we are dying in sin. Above all, we see the hand of God at work in redemption in both science and religion. Science tells us from whence we came, how God raised us out of the mud and filth and set us on the path of the Gospel; while religion teaches us where we are going, and points us toward the heavenly city and eternal life embodied in Christ and prepared for those who believe. Drummond writes:
This is the final triumph of Continuity, the heart secret of Creation, the unspoken prophecy of Christianity. To Science, defining it as a working principle, this mighty process of amelioration is simply Evolution. To Christianity, discerning the end through the means, it is Redemption. These silent and patient processes, elaborating, eliminating, developing all from the first of time, conducting the evolution from millennium to millennium with unaltering purpose and unfaltering power, are the early stages in the redemptive work- the unseen approach of that Kingdom whose strange mark is that it "cometh without observation." And these Kingdoms rising tier above tier in ever increasing sublimity and beauty, their foundations visibly fixed in the past, their progress, and the direction of their progress, being facts in Nature still, are the signs which, since the Magi saw His star in the East, have never been wanting from the firmament of truth, and which in every age with growing clearness to the wise, and with ever-gathering mystery to the uniniated, procleam that "the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Now, Drummond and Warfield (and the other 19th century folks who lean this direction) are out of date in terms of their actual writings. So, as much as I'd love to throw my hat in their ring, their particular form of reconciliation between science and the Bible is no longer an option. (Note that it is NOT a question of submitting the Bible to science, Warfield was, after all, the guy who articulated the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.)

Which leaves me choosing out of the three options... none of the above. Frankly, what I would like is a new Warfield or Drummond to come along and clearly define where contemporary evolution fits in with solid Biblical theology. In other words, I want the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, I'm not the person to find it. Fortunately, I am the person to order others to do so. So, get off your duffs, get out there, and get me a workable worldview that is Biblically accurate and matches what we seem to see evidentially in the world. Let's go people, this stuff ain't gonna find itself!

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