Saturday, April 7, 2012

Affirming the Biblical Adam

1. A Striking Contrast

I have just returned from teaching a short course on “Science and Christianity” at the Kiev Regional Bible College in the Ukraine. A refreshing experience.

There were about 25 students, ranging in age from about 20 to 50. Noteworthy was their respect for the Bible as the Word of God and their hunger to study it. At one point, as we were discussing Genesis 1, I mentioned that there were some in my church who denied that the creation days were actual historical days. The class was shocked. They exclaimed, “but if they don’t believe what the Bible says then they can’t be Christians!” I responded that such people would be very offended if you were to say that to them. The class insisted, however, “but they can’t have the Holy Spirit, they must pray for the Holy Spirit to help them believe.” As simple, devout Christians they had no doubts about the plain, historical meaning of Gen.1-11.

What a striking contrast to the current situation in our own circle, where sophisticated minds deluded by worldly knowledge--falsely so called--can no longer distinguish biblical truth from error, and where the discussion has, inevitably, moved beyond creation days to questioning the biblical account of Adam.

Let me stress that I do not say that members of Reformed Academic are not Christians or lack the Holy Spirit. What I do maintain is that they are deeply mistaken, and that their unscriptural notions can only have a detrimental effect on the well-being of our church.

2. An Ambiguous Response

In my previous post I questioned Dr. Sikkema's promotion of mainstream historical science against the traditional reading of Gen.1-11. My particular concern was the consensus of mainstream historical science that man evolved from animal ancestors and that there never was a human population less than several thousand people. This clearly contradicts both Biblical teaching and the Reformed Confessions. Hence I urged Dr. Sikkema to clarify where he stood.

In response, Reformed Academic has given a statement (look under the comments):

We have stated this earlier, but let us re-emphasize what we do affirm, namely that we hold to a real Adam and Eve, a real fall, that humans suffered actual biological death as a consequence of the fall (I Cor. 15:20-22) and that the early chapters of Genesis are speaking about real events, not myths (as commonly construed).

To the uninitiated, this statement may sound reassuring.

Note, however, that this statement says nothing against evolution. Although it says that Genesis speaks about real events, it does not say that it accepts at face value everything that Genesis says about those events. It does not rule out an evolutionary origin of Adam and Eve, nor does it specify that Adam and Eve were the only humans at that time, nor that all humans descended from Adam and Eve.

Indeed, in other comments in that same post, one member of Reformed Academic refers to the possibility that Adam and Eve had evolutionary ancestors and that Adam might have been the chief of a tribe. Another recommends books supporting such notions.

This is hardly the Adam of the Bible.

Along those lines, one member of Reformed Academic, Dr. vanderMeer, has postulated that Adam was the product of evolution, part of a larger human population that he merely represented (see my post Evolution and the Fall). Regarding biological death, Dr. vanderMeer suggested that God foreknew Adam's fall and thus incorporated suffering and death into the universe from the very start. In this manner, although suffering and death are consequences of Adam's fall, they preceded it chronologically. To resolve the conflict between Gen.1-4 and evolution, Dr. vanderMeer simply dismissed the details of Gen.1-4 on the grounds that biblical scholars cannot agree on its interpretation and, further, that the intent of Gen.1-4 is not to satisfy the requirements of modern historical and scientific scholarship. He concluded that there were no exegetical objections to the evolutionary history of life as given by mainstream science.

No member of Reformed Academic has, to my knowledge, ever publicly disputed Dr. vanderMeer's evolutionary views.

In short, this vague, ambiguous response by Reformed Academic does nothing to alleviate my concern that biblical teaching is twisted to fit evolutionary science.

3. Drawing the Line

It's been almost three years since my very first post: Is Reformed Academic Reformed? In that first post I raised virtually the same issues as in my previous post. My prime concern was--and remains--that scientific theories, being the speculations of fallible and fallen men, should be judged in the light of God's inerrant Word. Not the other way around.

In my post The demolition of Adam I discussed the background and implications of trying to reconcile the biblical Adam with evolution. Waffling on Adam has major theological repercussions.

It is thus crucial that the Canadian Reformed Church make a clear and firm stand. I propose, as a minimum, that we affirm--and enforce--the following two position statements:

A. The Bible and the Reformed Confessions clearly teach (1) that evolution played no role in the origin of Adam and Eve, who had no creaturely ancestors but were created directly by God, Adam from dust and Eve from his side, and (2) that Adam and Eve were the first two humans,  from whom all other humans--past and present--descended. (Gen.1-4; 1 Tim.2:13-14; Belgic Confession Art.5, 7, 14, 15, 16; Lord's Day 3; Canons III/IV Art.1-3).

This has, moreover, been the consistent view of Reformed theologians from Luther and Calvin to Kuyper, Bavinck and Schilder.

From this it naturally follows that

B. Reformed believers should reject as false any scientific theory or view of history that postulates an evolutionary origin of man or denies that all humans came from one initial human pair.(Belgic Confession Art.29: The true church rejects all things contrary to the Word of God).
These statements simply underscore what we already confess about Adam and Eve, and about the priority of Scripture against human opinions.

I note further that office-bearers have a special obligation to defend the faith. After all, they have vowed:

"...We promise, therefore that we will diligently teach this doctrine (Reformed Confessions) and faithfully defend it without contradicting it publicly or privately in teaching or writing. We also declare that we reject all errors conflicting with the doctrine expressed in these confessions and promise to oppose, refute and help prevent such errors..."

Hence one should expect especially office-bearers to affirm statements A and B.

Let me therefore bluntly put the question to Reformed Academic, in expectation of a clear answer:

Do you affirm statements A and B?


rmwilliamsjr said...


-=quote from: =-
As simple, devout Christians they had no doubts about the plain, historical meaning of Gen.1-11.

What a striking contrast to the current situation in our own circle, where sophisticated minds deluded by worldly knowledge--falsely so called--can no longer distinguish biblical truth from error, and where the discussion has, inevitably, moved beyond creation days to questioning the biblical account of Adam.
-=end quote=-

i've thought about pieces of this complex criticism of hermeneutical idea that we must read Scripture as did it's first readers, not as we think-common sense, everyman in the pew, literal, obvious, clear. simple, plain. etc.

part of the problem is a deeply embedded anti intellectualism in the modern conservative church. but let's put that aside.

i'd like to think about the reason we think that what is obvious, simple, plain, literal, common sense etc etc to us, is somehow the "right" way to read Scripture. and why intellectuals investigating the ancient near east (ANE) are considered too worldly in their wisdom to contribute to the conservative hermeneutical task.

i think that the modern conservative american church is a social subculture, a particular group of people that we can trace ideas within, a people with a cohesive coherence story for the last 200 years or so. i believe it is the successor to the defeated southern antebellum south. it helps my thinking a bit that i am currently a member of the PCA, a direct descendant of the southern presbyterian church but i became a Christian in the OPC, the successor to the northern presbyterian. i can see the cultural and theological differences firsthand between the two.

anyhow, that aside on why i'm thinking this way.
why would the idea that how we think is the right way to read an ancient text become so dominant, when the alternative, how the ancients thought, is available?

Henrietta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henrietta said...

This such an important issue that I took the liberty of posting the challenge on the Facebook wall of the Kerkbode, the mouth-piece of our church (Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa).

Unfortunately it is in Afrikaans, so not all will understand it, but if there are Dutch speaking people reading here, they ought to be able follow it here:!/kerkbode/posts/146041755525688

Henrietta Klaasing

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
Welcome home! I trust that God has blessed you in your travels, and also that He has caused you to be a blessing to others in your work in His service.
I support your direct challenge to RA. I think that for this moment in time these two questions are proper. But it seems to me there is a more important issue at stake, and we would not need to add any other points of orthodoxy than we already have to address it.
I have now read Dr. Van der Meer's article. His main thesis is that the two are equally subjective. He further asserts that the Bible is no more able to give us objective or "positive" knowledge than these others. All three, he notes, are equally subjective. Theology is subjective because the Bible says nothing on its own, but needs "interpretation" to each person's understanding. He has taken a decidedly Romanist view of Scripture.
But I find two very curious appeals in it. First Van der Meer points to Polanyi's work, noting that science is not objective. But second he appeals to Bavinck, attempting to prove that orthodoxy has always held to the modern post-Kantian separation between the objective and the subjective. This modern view holds that only true science can yield "positive" knowledge, since it alone is testable by observation and experiment. Van der Meer assumes that Polanyi and Bavinck also agree with this distinction. I don't see how this can be justified.
In both cases, Polanyi and Bavinck, we find that the old classical distinction is the one that still holds ground. The classical definition puts the separation between absolute knowledge (God's) and a limited, or an inveterately too hasty a knowledge (man's).
The modern distinction is not held according to who the source of knowledge is, but according to the object of the study. But Polanyi pointed to the individual scientist's right to do his work independent of the coercion of others; and Bavinck held to the Reformed ideal of Sola Scriptura: neither is possible under this post-Kantian distinction.
In the post-Kant era the "positive" sciences are held to be the only true source of objective knowledge while the studies of the other two main sources of knowledge, philosophy and theology, are deemed to be subjective (e.g., James, Freud). That which can be verified by observation and testing is now the only source of sure and certain knowledge.
What concerns me here is not just whether the historicity of Adam is at stake but that any actual history in the Bible is at stake. Van der Meer is cutting the testimony of the Bible in half when his leaves out the works of God as recorded in the Bible as objective testimony. We are to remember God's works as well as His teachings (Ps. 111); and we are blessed by the Saviour Himself when we believe the eyewitness testimonies of those who have seen and believed, if we, though not seeing, yet believe on the basis of their testimonies (John 20:29).
One can appeal neither to Polanyi nor to Bavinck to support the view expressed by Van der Meer. Polanyi’s aim was to defeat the post-Kantian view of his time; and Bavinck could never have been a Reformed theologian if he supported it. But surely, whether this is so or not, removing the Bible from the possibility of yielding objective, "positive" knowledge is tantamount to denying the faith as the Reformed define it. We cannot have Sola Scriptura if all that is possible is individual interpretations (or, as the Romanist accuse us of, Solo Scriptura.)
The question at issue for me is whether an objective Bible is held to, whether what it tells us is objective truth; whether we are willing to submit to the Bible instead of holding it in submission of our personal presuppositions.
John Vandervliet

Steve Drake said...

part of the problem is a deeply embedded anti intellectualism in the modern conservative church. but let's put that aside.

Is part of that anti-intellectualism in the modern conservative church belief in a recent, mature creation in six calendar days and young earth?

Ditari said...

Richard, you write as though the literal view of Genesis is something peculiar to (southern) Americans of the last 200 years; conveniently ignoring that it is the essentially universal view of the entire Christian church before that. Which is quite something when you think about it, considering all the differences there've been on other counts.

Also, the appeal to ANE studies to undermine the literal view of Genesis 1 ignores that that view is in fact confirmed and supported by the rest of the Bible, including many NT references.

Thank you Dr Byl for your faithfulness in alerting us to deviations. And may God bless the Ukrainian church!

Dan Baynes

Herman van Barneveld said...

Thank you, John Byl, for your post. And I very much appreciate your suggested affirmative statements. I think they would fit nicely in Article 14 of the BC. Not that the confessions aren't clear enough on this topic, but your affirmative statements appear to be necessary to stop attacks on the reliability of the Bible. When the reliability of the Word is under attack, the Church has the duty to build a defensive bulwark against it.

Trent said...

Hey Dr. Byl!
I just wanted to thank you for this amazing site!

Steve Drake said...

Brother John,
Have missed you. I realize the vagaries of a blog and work can be demanding on your time, but I would hate to think you are taken ill or something has happened.

Can we as brothers and sisters who enjoy your blog so much, pray for anything?

I hope I am not offending you in any way brother, just expressing concern, and a willingness to uphold you in prayer if needed.

Blessings brother,
Steve Drake

John Byl said...

Hello Steve

Thanks for your concern but I am still alive and well.
It's just that I have been travelling a fair bit the last two months and haven't yet gotten around to updating my blog.


Steve Drake said...

Hello John,
Glad to hear it and praise be to our Almighty God! Will patiently await with eager anticipation your next insightful post!

Blessings brother,