The June issue of Christianity Today has a lead article called "The Search for the Historical Adam" which brings evolutionary theory and recent research in genetics back on the biblical interpretation of Adam as an actual historical person (rather than a representative literary figure). This issue has been around a long time, but the appearance of this issue in this well-read magazine combined with the content of the article itself show that this is likely to be a hot-button issue for evangelical Christians -- and probably for good reason.
I don't think I have a full-formed opinion at this time, but I am pretty curious about it and do have some preliminary reactions.
1) I do not feel like my faith in Jesus or confidence in Scripture is undermined by scientific theories to this effect, but definitely want to give the theological and hermeneutical ramifications much further thought. This issue is certainly going to expose our commitments regarding biblical interpretation isn't it? Seems like every issue does that, but so often we end up talking about the issue but not the hermeneutics. The day needs to come soon, I should think, when evangelicals from academia to local churches come to grips again with what they mean when they say "the Bible says."
2) The theological issues that the article flags as most immediately effected include:
- The reliability/interpretation of the Genesis account of creation,
- the undesrtanding of the image of God,
- the doctrine of original sin and the fall,
- and the New Testament references to Adam as a historical individual.
The texts in question in that regard include Luke 3:23–38; Acts 17:22–31; Romans 5:12–19; and 1 Corinthians 15:20–23. I actually tend to think the most pressing theological question has to do with the issue of when death entered human existence and how/whether it is related to sin, but I suppose that is included in the question of the fall. At a first glance, I don't see the texts referred to here as irreconcilable with the possibility of 150,000 first-humans rather than one or two.
3) The CT article talks about firings related to this issue at major Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Even though I am undecided on all these issues, I want to say that we should not support these actions. There needs to be freedom for real study here, not clamp-downs on what one can consider and inform students about. What kind of schools are these that would just run the party line rather than prepare students for the issues of their time with thoughtfulness and humility?
4) The article links to a Bible study which asserts some "eternal principles", including among them the claim that "God’s Word presents Adam as no less a historical figure than Jesus." Not only do I find the term "eternal principles" tantamount to idolatry, but I find this particular claim unnecessary and untenable. I actually think the Bible's level of investment in Jesus as a historical figure is far higher than in Adam. In other words, my initial thought is to balk at that statement. I mean, take those four passages listed above (with all their interpretive possibilities) and compare them with four whole gospels and a bunch of epistles which stake their claim entirely on the historicity of Jesus.
5) I understand the caution, here, and I will ascribe to a good degree of it myself, but I find the theological bastions being laid down in advance a bit sloppy and the rhetoric being lobbied forward (even by someone as respectable as Tim Keller) a bit heavy-handed. Is it not possible that sometimes we have questions arise which we have to think about for awhile with our presuppositions on the table? Doesn't faith free us to think after the truth which is by us not contained? Doesn't faith in a Creator who could also be Incarnate in creation lead us to promote rather than shut down such rigorous engagement between divine revelation and the findings and theories of scientific discovery? Let's consider this carefully without letting carefulness squash consideration in our attempt to keep consideration from squashing carefulness.
All this I offer in the spirit of preliminary observation intended to aid further thought and to indicate my desire to give it plenty of my own. What about you? Any initial observations? Can you direct me to some better thoughts and deeper issues?
PS. By the way, one of the featured scientists in this article is a friend of mine from elementary school and has commented on this blog in the past. Congrats Dennis Venema for what seems like some important work and may God give you grace, humility, and wisdom as you in faith seek (and promote) understanding among both colleagues and churches.