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Four Views on the Historical Adam: Pastoral Reflections by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken
Last week we engaged a new timely book that shares the views of four leading evangelical scholars concerning the historicity of Adam, Four Views on the Historical Adam.
We heard from Denis Lamoureux, who argued for no historical Adam and evolutionary creation; John Walton, who advocates a historical Adam and archetypal creation; C. John Collins, who says Adam is historical and creation is old; and finally William Barrick, who contends for a historical Adam and young-earth creation.
One of the things I love about this book is that alongside the views of these biblical scholars are the thoughts of two pastors, Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken. As a pastor I am particularly excited about this feature because their responses carry with them the benefit of explaining the pastoral implications of this important theological discussion for life and ministry.
Greg Boyd Asks, "Is A Historical Adam Essential For Our Faith?"
While Boyd is “currently inclined to the view that Adam was, in fact, a historical figure,” nonetheless he “[does] not see this belief as central to the orthodox Christian faith.” (255) For him the debate over the historical Adam should only be understood “as a debate among orthodox Christians, not as a debate that determines whether or not one is an orthodox Christian.” (266, emph. original)
Two of his argument were intriguing to me: his own experience and "mere Christianity."
First, Boyd explains some of his own story to illustrate why pastorally we should not make the historical Adam compulsory. While in college he had a crisis of faith because he could not reconcile his creationist beliefs with evolutionary science. After engaging Lewis's The Problem of Pain he was able to reconcile the "myth" of the Adam story with scientific discovery.
He writes, "Had I not found a way of reconciling belief in the Bible as God's Word with acceptance of some from of evolutionary theory as well as with other things I had learned about myths shared by Scripture and other ancient Near Eastern literature, I seriously doubt that I would have ever found my way back into an evangelical version of the Christian faith." (259) We need to have the same kind of pastoral sensitivity to help similarly struggling modern people reconcile their faith.
He also cites what C.S. Lewis calls "mere Christianity." While the historic Christian faith presupposes that humanity and creation are in a fallen state and bear witness to the fall, none are based upon the affirmation of the historical Adam. "Hence, when people today make affirming a historical Adam a test of orthodoxy," Boyd writes, "it seems to me they are unnecessarily and unwisely tightening the definition of 'orthodoxy' beyond that of the historic-orthodox church." (261)
Pastorally, this cashes out as placing an obstacle to people entering the kingdom. Instead "we ought to affirm the sincerity and integrity of those who feel the need to deny the historicity of Adam and welcome them into the fold of orthodoxy..." (266)
Philip Ryken Says, "We Cannot Understand the World or Our Faith Without A Real Historical Adam."
Ryken insists "the historicity of Adam and Eve has profound implications for daily life." Why? "Does anything have greater explanatory power than the creation of the first people and their subsequent fall into sin?" This is why he contends that "The dignity and downfall of humanity—as well as our hope for redemption—begins with Adam's story." (267-268)
Ryken believes Adam plays a “pivotal role” in Christian faith and practice. He particularly believes the historical Adam is pivotal for a number of necessary doctrines:
- It gives confidence that the Bible is the Word of God
- It explains humanity's sinful nature
- It accounts for the presence of evil in the world
- Along with the historical Eve it clarifies the biblical position on sexual identity and family relationships
- It assures us that we are justified before God
- It advances the missionary work of the church
- It secures our hope in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting
Pastorally, Ryken wants to make it clear "that defending or denying the historical Adam has a direct bearing on many areas of faith and practice...Adam's history and identity help us understand everything from creation to the consummation." (278) And because he is integral to understanding humanity's story and orthodoxy itself, Ryken insists people who deny Adam's existence bear the burden to prove how it strengthens rather than weakens an evangelical commitment to the above necessary doctrines. (279)
After the past week I hope you have a sense for how engaging and cogent of a conversation Four Views on the Historical Adam fosters. These posts have only scratched the surface, so buy and engage the book in order to engage the conversation your students and parishioners are having about Adam's historicity.
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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