“Four Views on The Historical Adam” Book Review

Zondervan’s Four Views on The Historical Adam brings an ongoing debate amongst Evangelicals to light. The introduction to the book does a fantastic job of bringing the reader up to speed with the disputes discussed. To summarize, the Adam whom Bible readers see introduced in Genesis is being questioned as a historical figure. Contributors Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday take the helm on introducing the origins of Adam controversy. Starting with the release of Darwin’s On the Origins of Species in 1859, they tediously assess the history of the argument. Fast forward 150+ years; Evolutionary theory is no longer a topic solely embraced in secular contexts, but now breaches the evangelical world. The correlation of accepted science with traditional orthodox has evolved (pun intended), and now stands as one of the current “hot buttons” amongst evangelicals. For some, accepting the theory is a threat to doctrine, and for others, a step forward to understanding God’s supernatural process of creation. The four views expressed in the book are as follows:

 

  1. Evolutionary Creation View: Denis O. Lamoureux
  2. Archetypal Creation View: John H. Walton
  3. Old-Earth Creation View: C. John Collins
  4. Young-Earth Creation View: William D. Barrick

 

Denis O. Lamoureux presents his view of evolutionary creation very substantively. It is clear that his argument is richly rooted in scientific discovery. To summarize, “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting process” (37), but Lamoureux emphasizes that this does not mean his view supports the existence of a Historical Adam, and belief in him is essential for the Christian Faith. His argument approaches the Bible with absolute authority, but his approach alleviates it as a book of science. The term Lamoureux uses to define this is “scientific concordism”, meaning science must directly match with scripture. Scientific concordism should be avoided because it does not take into account the phenomenological perspective of the writers at the time. An example Lamoureux uses to explain this is when the biblical writers refer to the sun as rising and setting (i.e. Ps. 113:3). With modern science, we know that the sun doesn’t physically rise or set even though it gives the appearance of such. Ancient science could not have determined that. The believer’s approach to these sorts of passages should not seek to overthrow the science that we have because they were not written to make scientific claims.

Theologically, Lamoureux feels that Adam’s existence should not affect the core doctrines of the Christian faith. However, Adam’s potential non-existence would invite the idea of original sin to be non-existent as well. Some believe this could completely dismiss humanity’s need for Jesus, and dismiss any idea of evolution. Sadly, Lamoureux did not provide explanation for this problem with his view, but did reassure that he does in fact believe that humanity is in desperate need of a savior, and that he believes in sin.

Walton’s heart for scripture is obvious to the reader in his contribution. He believes in Adam and Eve being real historical figures, but shows us that Genesis 1-3 is meant to be read as an archetype, not historical facts describing the mechanical process of the origins of man. He believes the biblical text is more interested in Adam and Eve representing all of humanity, and what remains vertical for us today, rather than a ledger of facts supporting the earth spawning from 2 people 6000 years ago. I found this very compelling, because his view doesn’t prove or disprove any side of Historical Adam. The exegesis, which I found to be very convincing, shows the reader one cannot simply approach this account of Genesis as historical.  No matter what side of the paradigm you fall on for Adam’s historicity, this portion of text needs to be read within its context. Very intriguing, but for the intended purpose of arguing a particular view on Adam, I felt he missed the mark. This should not lead anyone to dismiss his contribution from the book. On the contrary, it’s enticed me to seek out more of his resources to better understand his view.

John Collins presents the Old-Earth Creation View. This argues for a Historical Adam, but accommodates for those swayed by evolution. His argument focuses on “right thinking” for the believer by carving out the parameters for the believer investigating evolution. These parameters are what he claims to be the doctrinal beliefs every believer needs to maintain when tampering with any new science or view of scripture. These beliefs include: (1) humankind is one family with one set of ancestors for us all; (2) God acted specially (supernaturally) to form our first parents; and (3) our first ancestors, at the headwaters of the human race, brought sin and dysfunction into the world (p. 157-161). With this, he claims, “the biblical material should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve, leaving room for an Earth that is not young, but that the biblical material along with good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origins” (p. 143).

The final view is presented by William Barrick, Young-Earth Creation, or as many refer to it, the traditional view. Barrick believes in Adam as the originating head of the human race, and that the account given of him is historical. His view is in support of the literal 6-24 hour day creation narrative presented in Genesis, and that it should be interpreted as a literal historical record. His argument’s foundation is shaped by theological aspects of doctrine he believes would be ruined if interpreted otherwise; specifically, he lists 8 to emphasize the topic’s importance (p. 199). As he makes several assertions about the importance of Adam in Christian Doctrine, he notes the supernatural revelation given as a part of the Genesis account by alluding to the author, Moses. To put it bluntly, if Moses was the author of the creation account in Genesis and that was supernaturally given to him by God, then God would be made a liar if anything written was false. In light of this, he argues the reader does not need any other material to construct an argument for the Young-Earth Creation view. Anything that deviates from this literal historical approach is not a correct interpretation of the text, and jeopardizes every core doctrine of the Christian faith.  In his words, “this denigrates the biblical record and treats it with skepticism rather than as prima facie evidence” (p. 226). Barrick makes abundantly clear that science along with any form of extra biblical literature is not needed to support his claim, his neglect of such makes his argument much weaker than it should’ve been.

Overall, every contributor’s portion of the book was well written. Walton in particular presented the most intriguing of the views. His exegetical focus and rigorous passion for the text has prompted me to seek out more of his work. The arguments presented by Lamoureux and Collins were both cogently delivered as well, with a healthy balance and appreciation for modern science and Biblical authority. Barrick on the other hand, though well written, presented his view very poorly, and that is probably an overstatement. His very apparent confusion of the difference between inerrancy (scripture being viewed as without any error) and interpretation was absolutely maddening. The other contributor’s confessed to believing the inerrancy of scripture declaring it as their main authority, yet Barrick persisted to argue that his interpretation of scripture was the only way the Bible could maintain inerrancy. Basically, if I was to interpret a passage of Revelation as metaphorical and Barrick’s interpretation is prophetically literal, I couldn’t say that I believe in the inerrancy of scripture because of our hermeneutical differences. This sort of dialogue reeks of contempt, and I found his abrasive approach to be incredibly disrespectful. I won’t go any farther with my critique of Barrick. The last thing I would want is for anyone to not read the book because of it.

The density of these arguments could have filled a robust hardcover textbook easily, and provided a possible “ten views” publication instead of four. I found the diversity of the four arguments presented both insightful and entertaining despite the apparent roominess for additional contributors and vaster study.

Along with this book review, I have also written a research paper containing my heuristic position on the topic. I did not want to post it on here due to lengthiness and literary style, but I would be more than happy to send it to you if you would like to read it. I also would encourage those who are interested in this book to seek out other sources which dig deeper into the arguments held. Here are some I’ve found credible on the topic at hand.

 

  1. biologos.com is an evangelical foundation with the mission of accommodating science/evolution with scripture
  2. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate
  3. John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate
  4. C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care
  5. C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
  6. C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary
  7. Karl W. Giberson and Francis Collins, The Language of Science and Faith
  8. Denis Lamoureux, I love Jesus and I Accept Evolution
  9. Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
  10. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins
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