Tuesday, December 1, 2015

No easy answers in the end, but lots of thinking along the way

It was my hope to have written a couple of more posts as part of my review series of ‘The Historical Adam’. Unfortunately the length and complexity of the book combined with the fact that November seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye has meant that I’ve had to truncate my intentions a little! And so in this final post I offer some brief closing comments about the remainder of the book.

Following Lamoureux’s ‘No Historical Adam’ argument, the editors chose to include three further views (Walton, Collins and Barrick). While these three contributors all affirm a historical Adam, their views are really quite distinct from each other. For example, Walton argues with an ‘old earth’ evolutionary understanding in mind; Collins writes that ‘good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origin’ (Pg 143); Barrick maintains that the earth is ‘young’ and rejects any accommodation to evolutionary science. Walton argues that whilst Adam may have existed in real history and that the Bible is mainly concerned about his role as an ‘archetype’ (or a kind of ‘everyman’) rather than necessarily as the ‘first man’ or ‘father of all men’; Collins prefers to see Adam as being at the ‘headwaters’ of humanity but allows for the possibility that other humans existed contemporaneously with Adam and Eve; Barrick maintains that Adam was the first human man in existence and that all other human beings were descended from he and Eve.  These are just a few of the differences that exist between these contributions.

One of the things that struck me as I was reading these chapters is the way that the contributors’ ‘reading’ of Scripture is integral to the formation and defense of their views. For example, Walton’s approach is exegetical in nature but at times appears prone to over-rationalisation, while Barrick’s reading of Scripture is what some might consider unhelpfully ‘literalistic’ and lacking in nuance. I found myself identifying most with Collins’ contribution and was particularly intrigued by his extensive discussion of what it means that we identify a piece of writing as being ‘historical’. I also appreciated his ‘biblical theological’ approach in which he insisted that we needed to understand the broader topic within the context of the whole storyline of Scripture.

As you would expect, all three remaining views leave the reader with questions, though some more than others. One of the unique strengths of the book as a whole is that each of the contributors has an opportunity to critique and question each of the others’ views, as well as having the opportunity to write a rejoinder to the critiques offered of their view. This ensures that each contribution receives serious engagement and it helps us as readers to be confirmed in our reservations, encouraged in our agreement or challenged to work through some of the issues we hadn’t yet considered.

Finally, as we begin to collect our thoughts and consider the impact that the question of the historical Adam has on our own Christian lives and understanding, the editors offer us two pastoral reflections on the question of Adam’s historicity. Gregory Boyd explains that while he is ‘inclined’ to believe that Adam was historical, he sees the debate as being one ‘among orthodox Christians, not as a debate that determines whether or not one is an orthodox Christian’ (Pg 266). In other words, he does not believe the affirmation of a historical Adam is essential to the Christian faith. On the other hand, Philip G Ryken provides a detailed and (in my opinion) rather compelling argument as to why  ‘defending or denying the historical Adam has a direct bearing on many areas of faith and practice’ (Pg 278) and how, as a result, ‘at many points denying Adam’s existence appears to be inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy’ (Pg 279).

And so ends the book – with no definitive conclusion to the question of whether Adam was indeed a historical figure! If you read this book expecting the ‘correct answer’ to be presented in a nice little gift-wrapped box … well, no doubt you will be disappointed.  While some readers might indeed have found themselves arriving at a firm conclusion, I suspect that most of us will still have questions that we feel compelled to work through. However, as I wrote in my first post in this series the ultimate strength of this book is that ‘we will better for the reading experience because we’ve been compelled to think about it ourselves.’  For my part, the thinking continues (most likely for many, many years to come!) and I have no doubt that I will return to this book as a helpful resource in the future.

Postscript: Earlier in 2015 I attended a fascinating lecture by Rev Dr Andrew Leslie (lecturer in Doctrine at Moore Theological College) entitled “Adam and Eve: Where they historical people and does it matter?”.  (The lecture was part of the Priscilla and Aquila Centre 2015 teaching program.) Those of you who would like to do some further thinking on this topic might like to view the full lecture (plus a Q&A session) online here: https://vimeo.com/129631400

About this month's contributor, Dani TreweekAfter training at Moore Theological College, Dani went on to serve as the Women's Minister at St Matthias Anglican Church for over six years. Recently she has said a sad goodbye to her brothers and sisters at St Matthias in order to (God willing) pursue PhD studies commencing in 2016. She loves reading, and so is constantly perplexed that the pile of unread books waiting next to her bed (or on her kindle) doesn't ever seem to get any smaller. She's also a Les Miserables tragic, would choose Pepsi Max over Coke Zero any day and continues to maintain that her best ever organisational decision was ditching all those misshapen, mismatched wire coat hangers in favour of lovely, matching, consistent and aesthetically pleasing plastic black ones.

No comments: