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Four Views of the Historical Adam: Denis Lamoureux Says "No Historical Adam, Evolutionary Creation"
For the better part of a decade I have noticed a shift within evangelical origins conversations from merely the temporal and methodological to the ancestral. Rather than the debate pivoting around six literal days or six billion years and evolution vs. creation, the conversation has shifted to the veracity of a historical Adam.
Four Views on the Historical Adam hopes to shepherd what Richard Ostling calls "a groundbreaking science-and-Scripture dispute" by offering four leading evangelical scholars as advocates for the dominate positions. You can view a preview of the positions, here. Throughout this week we will be highlighting interesting and intriguing points from each of the views, beginning with Denis Lamoureux, Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph's College in the University of Alberta.
Lamoureux embraces so-called evolutionary creation, "the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting natural process." (37)
He helpfully distinguishes this view from so-called theistic evolution, saying such a view "places the process of evolution as the primary term and makes our Creator secondary and merely a qualifying adjective." (43) Instead his scheme emphasizes a Creator who used the method of evolution to make the universe and life.
He rejects the "assumption that God revealed scientific facts in the Bible thousands of years before their discovery by modern science," insisting instead that the Bible features an ancient understanding of the physical world and biological origins. (37)
His goal isn't to win people over to his view, per se. Rather he has a more pastoral concern in mind: "I want young men and women to know that there is a Christian view of origins that accepts evolution and recognizes that our faith does not rest on the existence of Adam." (38)
The heart of his view on Adam pivots around what he terms "the Message-Incident Principle." According to Lamoureux's Principle, "the main purpose of the Bible is to reveal inerrant, life-changing, spiritual truths." (49-50, emph. mine) These spiritual truths are set over against (modern) scientific truths, which God left out so as not to "[confuse] the biblical writers and their readers with modern scientific concepts..." (50)
Philippians 2:10-11 is an example of this Principle in motion. In it Lamoureux says Paul is referring to the ancient view of the universe in three tiers, with "highest place/heaven," "earth," and "under the earth/underworld" occupying those tiers. Thanks to modern science we know this isn't the composition of the physical world.
According to the Message-Incident Principle, then, "In the case of Philippians 2:10-11, the Message of Faith reveals the lordship of Jesus over the entire creation, and the incidental ancient science is the 3-tier universe." (50) This doesn't mean the Holy Spirit lied by suggesting through Paul that the world is made of three tiers. Instead, "God accommodated and allowed Paul to use his ancient understanding of the structure of the world." Such a belief in ancient science also impacted Paul's position on the historical Adam.
Viewing Paul's teachings about Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 through the lens of Lamoureux's Principle we find these inerrant spiritual truths: "We are sinners, and God judges us for our sins; but the good news of the gospel is that we are offered the hope of eternal life through the sacrificial death of Jesus and bodily resurrection from the dead." Again the issue of "Adam" isn't one of scientific truths, but spiritual ones; the issue is that of faith, not fact.
In the end, Lamoureux charges that "Christians have conflated the spiritual truths in Romans 5 and 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 with the ancient biology of origins, assuming Adam to be a real person and giving his existence the inerrant truth." However, Lamoureux believes that once Christians discover the ancient phenomenological principles in Genesis "we will be set free the doctrine of inerrancy from the ancient biology that has created the first man in the Bible—Adam." (63)
No doubt, this will be an important resource for years to come, helping pastors and other interested Christians engage this groundbreaking debate. To fully engage this important chapter and the rest to come, order the book today. Then look for our next engagement this afternoon as we outline some intriguing aspects of John H. Walton's view.
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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