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Four Views on the Historical Adam: C. John Collins Says "A Historical Adam, Old-Earth Creation"
This week we are engaging what Richard Ostling calls "a groundbreaking science-and-Scripture dispute." This so-called dispute is over the historical Adam. And a new resource is shepherding this important discussion, Four Views on the Historical Adam.
The new timely book offers four leading evangelical scholars to advocate for the dominate positions concerning the historicity of our biblical ancestor. Like every Counterpoints book, these key contributors present their positions, respond to each other’s arguments, and seek to clearly delineate the central biblical and theological issues at stake.
So far we've heard from Denis Lamoureux, who argued for no historical Adam and evolutionary creation, and John Walton, who advocates a historical Adam and archetypal creation. This morning we come to another voice, that of C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary.
Collins believes the best way to understand the biblical presentation of human origins is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the "headwaters of humankind." He also believes that such a presentation "should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve," leaving the door open for an old creation. (143)
By "biblical presentation" Collins refers to Genesis 2 as well as the larger biblical story line, "which deals with God's good creation invaded by sin, for which God has a redemptive plan; of Israel's calling to be a light to the nations; and of the church's prospect of successfully bringing God's light to the whole world." (143) It also accounts for our everyday human experience with sin as something that must be forgiven and struggled against. (146)
Collins taps into something he notes many other theologians of the past decade have come to realize: "the Bible has an overarching story line, which unifies all the different parts." (158) He roots the historicity of Adam and Eve in this Big Story, as he calls it, arguing that for it to be coherent we are led to expect three features:
- humankind is actually one family, with one set of ancestors for us all;
- God acted specifically ("supernaturally") to form our first parents;
- and our ancestors, at the headwaters of the human race, brought sin and dysfunction into the world of human life. (164)
"Bible believers," Collins writes, "have treasured the Adam and Eve story as the true and proper narrative that grounds these expectations." And while they've differed in articulating original sin, "they have been united in beginning with these three affirmations." (164)
And yet...Collins asks the questions that needles this discussion at every turn: "How can we be responsible in believing in that, when the sciences seem to be telling us otherwise?" Good question, one Collins engages head-on by first exploring how Big Stories—including Western ones—shape all of our perceptions of the Big Questions regarding origins. Then he confronts the credibility of science's inferences regarding origins purely on the basis of DNA.
In this latter response Collins suggests science weakens the credibility of its inference by basing its inference entirely on the feature of DNA at the exclusion of other relevant evidence. Instead "we must also include such things as the aspects of human existence that are universally human and that are uniquely human." (165)
Collins includes such aspects as our capacity for language, art, and our craving for a safe and just community. Of course these universally and uniquely human aspects describe the so-called "image of God." And then we have "our experiences that make us feel that things are not the way they ought to be" and our yearning "for some kind of healing of this breach." Again, Collins insists these are as universal and unique to human nature as DNA evidence.
Believing that science alone cannot account for these aspects and experiences of humanity, Collins insists they "point toward a unified origin of human kind, an origin that goes beyond the powers of a purely natural process," while also supporting "the notion of sin as an alien invader." (165) Unlike the Science Story, the Scripture Story does account for these aspects, particularly its story of Adam and Eve as the headwaters of humanity.
Again, this important, irenic discussion is well-treated in the full book, which I would encourage you to order to help you navigate this important discussion that I know your people themselves are having. This afternoon we pick up the discussion with the final view, provided by William Barrick, who argues for a historical Adam and young-earth creation.
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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