Thursday, February 16, 2012

PCA Divided on Biblical Adam

Did the biblical Adam really exist?  Two PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) theologians have written recent books on this controversial question: Dr. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam:What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins and Dr. C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Regretfully, both of these books are very much open to human evolution, thereby undermining Adam. Happily, there are still some sound PCA blogs that are boldly upholding the biblical view on Adam.  Two in particular:
[Johannes Weslianus: PCA News and Views]
 [Bayly Blog: Out of the minds of Presbyterian pastors David and Tim Bayly]

1. Rachel Miller has written a fine review of Dr. Enns' The Evolution of Adam. Enns accepts evolution as true. Hence he rejects an historical Adam. Enns acknowledges that Paul believed Adam was the literal first man. However, according to Enns, Paul was just a man of his time. Enns writes:

One cannot read Genesis literally – meaning as a literally accurate description of physical, historical reality – in view of the state of scientific knowledge today and our knowledge of ancient Near Eastern stories of origins. Those who read Genesis literally must either ignore evidence completely or present alternate “theories” in order to maintain spiritual stability...Literalism is not just an outdated curiosity or an object of jesting. It can be dangerous (150).

Thus Enns urges Christians to rethink their theology in light of evolution. This means a rather full scale revision of the origin and nature of sin and death. In Enns' words:

Although … sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful — for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool — are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (160).

The stance taken by Dr. Enns repudiates the notion of an inerrant, fully authoritative Bible.

2. Rachel Miller has reviewed also Dr. John Collins' book, Did Adam and Eve really Exist? Collins, like Enns, accepts evolution but, unlike Enns, wants to retain some form of historical Adam. Collins dismisses Adam as the first member of the homo species, since these date back over two million years (p.122), presumably much too early for Adam. To accommodate evolution, Collins deems biblically permissible the notions that Adam had hominid ancestors and/or that Adam was merely the chief of a large tribe of humans. Collins concludes:

"...even if someone is persuaded that humans had “ancestors,” and that the human population has always been more than two, he does not necessarily have to ditch all traditional views of Adam and Eve, and I have tried to provide for these possibilities more than to contend for my particular preference on these matters" (119).

Since the Bible is quite clear that Adam was created directly from dust, and Eve directly from his side, and that they were the original parents of all other humans, the "historical" Adam required by Collins' criteria has little in common with the biblical Adam.
3. Recently there was an interesting review by Dr. Enns of the book by Dr. John Collins. Enns commends Collins for his attempt to re-interpret an historical Adam and Eve in light of evolution. Nevertheless, Enns finds Collins' revamped Adam and Eve completely implausible. Enns comments:

In the long run, however, I am not convinced that all—or even most—of these readers will feel comfortable following Collins. Collins's synthesis requires an ad hoc hybrid "Adam" who was "first man" in the sense of being either a specially chosen hominid or a larger tribe of early hominids (Collins is careful not to commit himself to either option). Although I am sympathetic to Collins's efforts to blaze such a path (and he is not alone), I do not see how such an ad hoc Adam will calm doctrinal waters, since the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul, and therefore entails a clear rejection of evolutionary theory.

Further, this type of hybrid "Adam," clearly driven by the need to account for an evolutionary model, is not the Adam of the biblical authors. Ironically, the desire to protect the Adam of scripture leads Collins (and others) to create an Adam that hardly preserves the biblical portrait. Evolution and a historical Adam cannot be merged by positing an Adam so foreign to the biblical consciousness.

Dr. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the PCA (in which he is ordained). The PCA officially adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The PCA pastors David and Tim Bayly comment on their blog post Nullifying the Word of God for the sake of academic reputation:

If the man (Peter Enns) relieved of his duties at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is able to see and name (what he sees as) the betrayal of Scripture and the Westminster Standards by Jack Collins, why is Jack still teaching at Covenant? Surely there's no lingering doubt about Jack's views being incompatible with Biblical faith. Why should Covenant allow errors that Westminster repudiates?...Why couldn't it have been another Covenant prof blowing the whistle? Why couldn't it have been Covenant's president? Or Jack Collins's presbytery? Or even one of Covenant's trustees?

See also the subsequent exchange of comments on the blog post Enns' reviews Collins on Adam.

4. Also relevant here is a symposium on the historical Adam hosted on Oct.28, 2011 by the Metro New York (PCA) Presbytery. As PCA pastor Peter Dietsch relates, both Enns and Collins were speakers, along with two evolutionist scientists. The scientists presented the case for human evolution. They argued that hominids differentiated from chimpanzees approximately 5 million years ago, and modern humans originated in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago. None of this was disputed by the two PCA theologians. [The Metro New York Presbytery is home to Dr. Tim Keller, another PCA minister advocating human evolution.]

Pastor Dietsch was greatly disappointed:
There was no case made for the traditional understanding of the creation of the world, nor the non-evolutionary creation of an historic Adam and Eve. That, to me, was the major disappointment of the day.

The assumption was that we need to find a way to synthesize an evolutionary paradigm of the origin of humans with our interpretation of Scripture, and there was never any case made for how we ought to oppose an evolutionary paradigm of the origin of humans through our interpretation of Scripture as God's final Word.

I came away from the morning sessions (with the scientists) thinking, "These are very engaging, nice, smart (even brilliant) men from whom I want to protect my children."

Perhaps it was an off-hand comment, but during his presentation in the afternoon, Dr. Collins said, "I have no problem with what was presented this morning." Truth be told, I think I would want to protect my children from the presentations made by the theologians in the afternoon session, even more.

5. Recently, it was reported that PCA Savannah River Presbytery, at its January 2012 stated meeting, approved an overture to be sent to the 40th General Assembly of the PCA asking that it reject “all evolutionary views of Adam’s origin." Specifically, the overture requests the General Assembly to affirm:
"That Adam and Eve were created, body and soul, by immediate acts of Almighty power...
That Adam’s body was directly fashioned by Almighty God, without any natural animal parentage of any kind, out of matter previously created from nothing."

The PCA General Assembly will meet in Louisville, Ky., June 19-22, 2012. It remains to be seen whether it will take a clear stand, insisting on full adherence to the Bible and Westminster Confession.

In sum, it is evident that the PCA is deeply divided on the status of Adam. Its officially professed adherence to the Westminster Confession--with its high view of Scripture--seems, regrettably, to be in actual fact not rigidly enforced in its pulpits or seminary.


dean said...

Thank you for this interesting update.

I find it ironic that so many in the PCA are going wobbly on recent creation. It's not like there are no good arguments for it; we've had them for years.

The real problem is clearly the fear of man. What will folks--especially "intellectuals"--think of us if we espouse recent creation?

But there's the irony: Believers in the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation fearing that people won't be saved unless we step in and tweak his counter-cultural Words!

Methinks I hear Jesus saying, "O ye of little faith!"


Steve Drake said...

Hi John,
As I've been thinking about your point #5 and the Savannah River Presbytery's overture since you posted this article, I want to throw this out for comment. While I agree that it is an essential first step, I'm not sure it goes far enough.

Here's what I mean and here's my question: Is the overture rejecting “all evolutionary views of Adam’s origin," without an accompanying clause and discussion of the age of the earth, consistent? In other words, are the age of the earth, and a rejection of all evolutionary views of Adam's origin connected in any way?

What would be the implications, let's say, of the PCA General Assembly adopting this overture in rejecting all evolutionary views of Adam's origins, but leaving open what one believes about the age of the earth, especially if one were to say one adopts the current scientific understanding that the earth is 4.55 billion years old?

That then leaves open the door to some fanciful theories to put Adam on an historical timeline, created ex nihilo and not of evolutionary origin, and still explain all the other biodiversity of life. Does one say Adam is not of evolutionary origin, but the rest of life is, in order to accommodate a 4.55 billion year old earth? We've then still got some of the same theological problems.

If Adam is not of evolutionary origin, and neither is the rest of the created order, then there is no need for the billions and billions of years. Otherwise, what would be God's purpose of having the billions and billions of years before He created Adam ex nihilo at the very end of this long billions and billions of years process?

john byl said...

Hi Steve

Yes, I concur with your reasoning. It is inconsistent to accept the naturalist scientific reasoning leading to an old earth, to a local flood, to macro-evolution, etc. while, at the same time, maintaining the biblical story of Adam and Eve. It entails trying to shoehorn the biblical Adam into the naturalistic story of origins. An impossible compromise. See my post

The problem is that various Presbyterian denominations have already capitulated to naturalist science by not enforcing the Westminster Confession’s affirmation that God created everything "in the space of six days"(IV.1). Allowing elders to take exception to this article in essence voids the Confession’s teaching on the primacy of Scripture (I.10).

Steve Drake said...

Hi John,
'The problem is that various Presbyterian denominations have already capitulated to naturalist science by not enforcing the Westminster Confession’s affirmation that God created everything "in the space of six days"(IV.1). Allowing elders to take exception to this article in essence voids the Confession’s teaching on the primacy of Scripture (I.10).'

Yes, the PCA 'allowing' several different interpretations to what 'in the space of six days' means. A recipe for disaster as can be seen from the current state of affairs within the PCA denomination.

Steve Drake said...

My online comments here and at Green Baggins on the critique of Keller by Dr. Adrian Keister seem to have carried over to the Johannes Weslianus blog, where I am being discriminated against posting anything of substantive value by Wes White.

Steve Drake said...

More news here. The PCA Potomac Presbytery asks the 40th GA (General Assembly) not to make statement on Adam and evolution.