Move over Hell, the historicity of Adam is back as the du jour controversy in evangelicalism. At least, I hope so. The next issue of Christianity Today features an excellent cover article by Richard Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam.” If you subscribe to CT, like I do, then you can read the article online; everyone else will have to wait until CT decides to post it for free, which usually doesn’t take too long. In the meantime, yours truly will provide an overview:

Ostling does a fine job summarizing the current state of the debate, which has shifted from geology, astronomy, and biology, to genetics. In the past, the debate over evolution was largely focused on the massive demonstrative evidence for an ancient and evolving creation. In particular, the age of the universe is settled in favor of an old earth. The details of evolution have been more difficult to assimilate, but many evangelicals have been happy to affirm some measure of evolution, so long as the historicity of Adam and Eve remains intact. Well, now that’s getting harder to do. With the huge advances in genetic research, including the complete map of the human genome, the historicity of Adam is on very shaky grounds, if there’s even any ground remaining. Ostling surveys the key players bringing this evidence to light within the evangelical community, including Dennis Venema’s articles published in the journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. In particular, you should check out this article by Venema on the genetic evidence for ancestral population sizes. The September 2010 issue of PSCF is dedicated to the topic. The second portion of Ostling’s article covers the exegetical debate: since the biblical authors assume a historical Adam, what are we to do as evangelicals committed to inerrancy or, at the least, infallibility of Scripture? Isn’t Romans 5 meaningless without a historical Adam? Ostling rightly recognizes that we need both players in this debate — the exegetes/theologians and the scientists — to come to the table and hear each other out.

As for myself, I don’t want to make a decisive judgment, one way or the other, at least not yet. The dogmatic questions and concerns are indeed important and not easily dismissible, yet we can’t take the position of Al Mohler, who judges empirical research altogether as inadmissible (as I discuss here and here). If the genetic evidence (against the historicity of Adam) is as strong as the astronomical and geological evidence (against a young earth), then we could see a rather large shift in evangelical intellectual opinion on the question of Adam. However, the age of the earth does not share in the importance of Adam to the biblical story line.

Thinking about God

May 11, 2011

This is why we love Karl Barth:

…the Holy Spirit is obviously not so much the reality in which God makes us sure of Him as the reality in which He makes Himself sure of us, in which He establishes and executes His claim to lordship over us by His immediate presence.

[Church Dogmatics I.1, p. 454]

Barth makes us think about God.


I’m currently reading two rather different systematic theologies: Douglas Kelly’s Systematic Theology, vol. 1, and Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith. Both men are well-respected theologians in the American evangelical-Reformed community. Kelly teaches at RTS in Charlotte and Horton at WSC.

I was already familiar with Horton and knew what to expect from his ST. If you’ve read his brilliant Covenant theology series, you know where Horton is coming from. Like Kevin Vanhoozer, Horton has read widely in the post-existentialist 20th century philosophy of narrative, community, and linguistic studies. Thus, references to Derrida, Ricoeur, Gadamer, and Lindbeck abound in his Covenant volumes. This scholarly interaction is still present in The Christian Faith though with less detail and less obtuse reflection, since it is intended for a larger audience. The critical appropriation of narrative remains. Yet, per his covenant theology, Horton critiques such narrative approaches as failing to preserve the Creator-creature distinction, particularly an interventionist model of divine agency. The category of covenant (and “redemptive history”) provides the drama and human participation, which Horton appreciates in postmodern thinking, without sacrificing God’s initiative/sovereignty in creation and salvation.

With Kelly, we are in a whole other world, but a world which I appreciate even more. There’s no narrative theology here. No Ricoeur or Lindbeck. I don’t know what Kelly thinks about post-structuralism or critical theory. Instead, he is basically picking-up where Barth and Torrance left off. There are several large quotations from Thomas Torrance in Kelly’s ST, as buttresses for his revelation-centered prolegomena. The first chapter is called, “God Reveals Himself,” and the proofs for the existence of God are relegated to an appendix at the end of the chapter. Kelly treats the arguments of Anselm, Scotus, and Aquinas with great appreciation — especially Aquinas — yet he believes (rightly) that such demonstrations are not necessary for the task of theology. I was pleasantly surprised with Kelly’s treatment of prolegomena (chapter 1) and epistemology (chapter 2). As a conservative and confessional Reformed theologian, I wasn’t expecting such a positive and well-balance appropriation of Barth and Torrance. Though, this shouldn’t be too surprising since he got his doctorate at Edinburgh, and I believe he even studied under Torrance.

Moreover, I greatly appreciate Kelly’s catholic sensibilities. He begins the book with some reflections on the catholic nature of the Reformed movement, as an extension and part of the larger catholic church. He quotes from The Manual of Church Doctrine according to the Church of Scotland where the ordination and baptism of the church of Rome is affirmed as valid (e.g., “the Reformed presbyter emerged from the Roman priesthood”). The catholic creeds are likewise affirmed. Kelly subtitled his systematic theology, “Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in the light of the Church.” As such, Kelly liberally quotes early church fathers, and his treatment of the Trinity (most of the rest of the book) is especially strong.