We have all heard by now that Adam is in the dock. Each generation seems to have its own theological issues, and this is ours: Did Adam really exist? The 2013 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology took up this question, but not merely to provide a positive answer. The speakers all affirmed the historical Adam, of course, but their larger purpose was to ask what is at stake in the question. Speakers at the conference included:
Joel Beeke: “The Case for Adam” and “Christ, the Second Adam”
Kevin DeYoung: “Two Views of the Human Person”
Liam Goligher: “Adam, Lord of the Garden”
Richard D. Phillips: “The Bible and Evolution” and “From God’s Garden to God’s City” and “God’s Design for Gender, Marriage, and Sex”
Derek Thomas: “The Bible’s First Word” and “Differing Views on the Days of Creation”
Carl Trueman: “Original Sin and Modern Theology”
Richard Philips took up the task of bringing all these conference messages to print in the new God, Adam, and You. Today he talks to us about their subject. Just what is at stake in this debate?
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
If you will, give our readers a taste of the significance of this issue and of what awaits them in your new book. You cannot re-write the book here, of course, but perhaps you can briefly clue us in to the kinds of issues addressed by the various authors.
Let’s begin with the big picture. How does the question of the historical Adam affect the Bible story?
The historical truth of the Bible’s teaching concerning Adam is vital, first, to our doctrine of Scripture. There is no question that the Bible positively teaches Adam as the first, specially-created human being. We cannot simply declare Genesis 1-3 to be mythological or poetic metaphors without undermining the view of the entire Bible that follows. Jesus treated Adam as a genuine, historical figure when he spoke in defense of God’s creation of marriage (Mt. 19:3-9). Likewise, Paul treated Adam as a historical figure in Romans 5. So we not only adopt a secular understanding of creation but we undermine the authority and inerrancy of all of Scripture. Moreover, the hermeneutics involved in permitting evolution and thus removing a historical Adam cannot be contained to the first chapters of Genesis. If we re-read Genesis 1 because science does not accept it, what do we do with the rest of Genesis, including Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel, the history of Abraham, etc, which is written in the same narrative form. What do we do about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which science rejects equally as much as biblical creation? So in surrendering Adam, we gain little and end up sacrificing everything.
How is this question important with regard to a right understanding of humanity?
By abandoning the special creation of Adam in favor of evolution, we sacrifice the Bible’s entire doctrine of man. We no longer embrace the special dignity of human life and made in the image of God. We no longer believe that we are made specially for fellowship with God and worship. We lose the basis for the unity of the human race. And we lose the Fall, which relies on a historical Adam, so that we no longer embrace the problem of mankind in terms of sin and the solution of mankind in terms of redemption.
How is the debate significant with regard to a right understanding of soteriology, the biblical doctrine of salvation?
There are some obviously devastating effects and some less obvious ones. On the obvious level, without Adam we lose the Fall, which is the problem for which the gospel is the solution. If the gospel has a different problem, then its solution is also different. On the less obvious level, if mankind is not one in a historical Adam, then on what basis do we have the representative nature of Jesus’ covenant mediation? Do we even share a common humanity with Jesus? Is there such a thing as “true humanity,” if we were not designed and created but merely have existed in varying states of evolutionary progress? On the macro level, if the Bible does not start with the historical creation scenario then it tells a fundamentally different story. The Adam vs. Evolution debate is over nothing less than the metanarrative of the entire Bible and thus the relevance of the biblical gospel.
What does this question have to say about eschatology?
Without protology you really cannot have true eschatology. If there was not an original created state from which Adam fell, then there is no end state to which we are definitely heading. That is the very definition of eschatology which is lost. Was Jesus perfect man if he occupied just one evolutionary step in the on-going process? Are we not more evolved now than Jesus was? Then what is the point of hoping to become like him? Evolution leaves everything from the past in the dust as nothing more than random material that was used and discarded. Where does the biblical Jesus fit into that? Moreover, if secularism cannot accept the creation account with a historical Adam, it certainly cannot accept the even more fantastic message of Jesus’ Second Coming and the final judgment. So the hermeneutics of evolution logically drive us rejection of the entire supernaturalism of the Bible, and that eviscerates eschatology.
How is this question important with regard to Scripture itself? How is this more than just an “interpretive difference”?
For all the nuance of the various arguments, the bottom line is that we are being shifted from our traditional view by the demands of secular dogmatism. Hermeneutic strategies are being demanded for Genesis 1 which evangelicals would never accept for, say, the Gospel of John. The problem is that once you get started casting history away you find no place to stop. The issue is our willingness to take an unpopular and culturally scorned stance on the authority of God’s Word. Anything but a surface examination of the Adam question ends up being a mandate on the entire supernaturalism of biblical revelation. This is what skeptics like Peter Enns have had the courage to admit, as seen in his book on Adam. Enns admits that to start with evolution is to recast the entirety of the Bible and the Christian religion. He is right. In this respect, the biggest problem is not unbelieving liberals like Enns. The biggest problem is wavering evangelicals who are deluding people into thinking you can abandon creation and still keep the rest of the Bible. That is a Trojan Horse maneuver that leads an invading army inside the citadel of our faith.