Some time ago an English magazine published in the Netherlands included an article by Dr. J. Van Bruggen entitled, “The Blind Man Sat Down by the Road and Cried…” The magazine, Lux Mundi, is an official publication of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, specifically from their Committee for Contact with Foreign Churches (BBK). In this article, Dr. Van Bruggen discussed the conflict between what some scientists are concluding and what Scripture says. Dr. John Byl has penned a helpful response which you can find here.
Category Archives: Science and faith
As most readers know, I’m also involved in another blog, a cooperative venture entitled Creation Without Compromise. That blog was the brainchild of Dr. Ted Van Raalte — together with Rev. Jim Witteveen and Jon Dykstra, we seek to “promote a biblical understanding of origins.” Since its inception, Creation Without Compromise has published several significant pieces addressing the challenges we face in upholding the biblical doctrine of creation. Some of the best ones, in my view, are collected on this page. Last week, Dr. Van Raalte began a series that has long been in the works, one that likely contains the most important material we’ve published so far. A number of years ago, Tim Keller wrote his “White Paper” for BioLogos. In case you’re not familiar with it, BioLogos is one of the foremost promoters of a synthesis between creation and evolution. Keller’s paper has been influential and is therefore worthy of a closer look. Does it stand up to biblical scrutiny? Does Keller present a good model for reconciling Scripture with the conclusions of so many scientists regarding origins?
It was back in the mid-1990s. I was a student at the University of Alberta, majoring in history and minoring in English. I suspected that my path was leading to seminary — I took a keen interest in matters theological. When I had spare time outside of my studies, I read voraciously. To serve my appetite, Edmonton featured a variety of decent used book stores. My story takes us to one of these.
On campus at the U of A was a large mall — HUB mall. Student accommodations climbing several floors on each side, there were shops and restaurants on the main floor. Near one end was a small used book shop. Between classes I would often browse their selection. One day in the small “Religion” section, an attractive cover beckoned a closer look. It was a paperback by Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg. As I paged through The Book of J, I seemed to be entering a new world of scholarship. It sounded so erudite and confident. The book claimed that large swaths of the Pentateuch were not authored by Moses, but by a mysterious author designated as ‘J.’ It took a couple of return journeys to the bookstore to enter a little more into their argument and its conclusions. One of those conclusions was that ‘J’ was likely a woman. This was serious scholarship, and I was beginning an academic career — so, like anything published on Facebook today, it must be true. I didn’t buy the book; after all, I got the gist of it by just browsing and, besides, didn’t have the cash.
Thankfully, my deception didn’t last overly long. My bus route home from the U of A took me along Whyte Avenue, through the Old Strathcona neighbourhood. In that neighbourhood were several really good bookmongers. One of those was Alhambra Books. I decided to get off the bus near there and spend a half hour or so checking whether they had any new volumes. Indeed, they did. There in the tall stacks of Christian books (of which they had many at the time) was a volume from “The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.” Today that company is still around, but their books appear only with ‘P & R’ on the spine. If you don’t already know what ‘P & R’ signifies, you can miss some good stuff. But this one had the name of the publisher entirely spelled out and that served my edification, because I knew I was Reformed, so this would probably be a good book. Besides, it was related to the subject of the previously mentioned book that seemed so persuasive. The title: The Five Books of Moses, by Oswald T. Allis. Subtitle: “A reexamination of the modern theory that the Pentateuch is a late compilation from diverse and conflicting sources by authors and editors whose identity is completely unknown.”
Oswald Allis introduced me to a solid critique of what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. According to this notion, the Pentateuch was written long after the events it purports to describes, not only in Genesis, but also in Exodus-Deuteronomy. Moses was certainly not the author. Instead, critical scholars, beginning during the Enlightenment period, posited that there were several authors/editors. They go by the names J, E, D, and P. ‘J’ stands for the Jahwist — one of his characteristics is the use of the personal name of God, Yahweh (or Jahweh). ‘E’ stands for the Elohist — he’s known for using Elohim. ‘D’ was the Deuteronomist, responsible for much of that book. ‘P’ was the Priestly source, the one who wrote much of the holiness codes and so on. Allis ably shot holes right through all of this. This JEDP stuff could only be held by people who don’t take the Bible seriously as the Word of God. Obviously, the arguments of The Book of J were built on this Documentary Hypothesis and they didn’t hold any water either. I would have heard this theory demolished in seminary eventually, but I was thankful to providentially discover Allis already a couple years before.
All of this came rushing back to my mind as I was reading Carl Trueman’s contribution to God, Adam, and You. Trueman’s task was to survey what modern theology has taught about original sin. One of the modern theologians mentioned is Karl Barth. Barth has become somewhat cool, but his doctrine of Scripture leads somewhere a bit warmer. Trueman highlights one of the problems with Barth:
…Barth sees part of the key to understanding Adam to be an acceptance of the implications of the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch, which for him makes it clear that the events recounted should not be taken at face value. (page 197)
In a footnote, Trueman provides the proof. Barth is quoted as referring to Genesis 3 as a Yahwistic text, whereas Genesis 2:2-3 is a Priestly text. It sounds so scholarly and sophisticated — but it is unbelief. Barth has taken this theory about the Pentateuch and used it to deny the historicity of the creation of Adam. The Documentary Hypothesis not only emerges from theological liberalism, it also reinforces it.
I’m thankful that Allis came along to steer me away from the abyss. If there’s any lesson to be learned in this, it’s that when we encounter a new idea in the field of biblical or theological studies, we should be extremely cautious. This new idea could prove to be exceptionally dangerous. Especially when you’re a young person, before climbing on board, you’ll want to check and see if people you can trust have critiqued this appealing new idea. Search for those who’ve offered critiques with biblical arguments and humbly hear them out. As Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” It’s wise to hear out what others have said. And as John says in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins, William VanDoodewaard. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015. Hardcover, 400 pages, $37.85.
Once in a very rare while I come across a book which brings me to think, “If I had the means, I would get a copy of this into every single Canadian Reformed home.” This is one of those books. If I couldn’t get it into every single CanRC home, I would settle for getting it into the hands of every single minister, elder, and deacon. The Quest for the Historical Adam is not only relevant, but crucially important for these days in which a biblical view of origins is under pressure. This volume could do a world of good if it would only receive the careful attention it deserves.
The author, William VanDoodewaard, is a church history professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). For those unfamiliar with this church, the ARP is a long-time member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Alongside his seminary teaching, Dr. VanDoodewaard is also an ARP church planter in Grand Rapids. Apart from his doctoral dissertation, this is his first published book.
The title of this volume plays off a much earlier book by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In that book, Schweitzer examined how historical conceptions of Jesus led to a variety of Jesuses. While his book had some value, unfortunately, Schweitzer did not honour the authority of Scripture, so his conclusions were necessarily flawed. However, VanDoodewaard has the highest view of Scripture as he traces out how people have variously conceived of Adam. The author points that contemporary debates over origins are often afflicted with what he calls “historical amnesia.” This volume seeks to recover our collective memory of how ages past have written about, preached about, and thought about our first parents and their origins.
The first chapter provides a general overview of what Scripture says about Adam. From this overview, the author reaches this conclusion, “…there is no inherent ground to posit anything aside from a special, temporally immediate creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans on the sixth day of creation” (18). The following five chapters trace out the post-biblical history of how Christians have looked at the early chapters of Genesis. If anything is clear from these chapters, it is that there has been a consensus view for millennia. The consensus is that the first chapters of Genesis must be taken seriously as a historical record. When it comes to human origins, the vast majority of Christian interpreters have understood Scripture to teach a special or immediate creation of Adam and Eve, a creation which allows for no prior biological ancestry of any sort. The Quest for the Historical Adam concludes with a chapter entitled, “What Difference Does It Make?” In this chapter, the author lays out ten areas of doctrine that are affected by how one views the origin of Adam. What are those ten areas?
- Scripture and hermeneutics
- Man and the ethics of human life
- Marriage and unity of race
- Human language
- God, the Creator
- The goodness of creation
- In Adam’s fall sinned we all?
- Christ as Creator and Redeemer
- Adam, Christ, and the Covenants
- Adam and accountability: the last things
Dr. VanDoodewaard convincingly makes the case that no one can soundly argue that one’s view of origins can be hermetically sealed off from the rest of one’s theology. Even taking an agnostic view or allowing for latitude in the matter will invariably have some impact.
The heart of the book is the historical overview. Let me mention five highlights that are worth sharing. There are many more highlights that I could mention, but I hope these five will whet your appetite and motivate you to buy the book.
Today we sometimes encounter the idea of pre-Adamites – human beings or human-like creatures (hominids) who lived before and beside Adam. One of the first to promote a form of this idea was a Frenchman named Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676). While he worked with the text of Genesis in his book Men Before Adam, he did so in a rather revisionist way. He argued that only the Jews were descended from Adam and Genesis 2 only described where the Jews came from. Everyone else came from other groups of human beings who had existed long before Adam. What motivated La Peyrère to develop this theory? He wanted to make Genesis more reasonable so that unbelievers would be more receptive to the Christian faith (143). Does this sound familiar?
La Peyrère developed a small following in Europe. His ideas were widely discussed, but uniformly rejected by Reformed theologians. His ideas were also rejected by Roman Catholic figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Following what Scripture taught on this matter, Pascal held to a young earth of about 6000 years age and “was also explicitly critical of pre-Adamite thought” (122).
Another valuable contribution of VanDoodewaard is his critique of historian Ronald Numbers. Numbers wrote an influential 1992 book entitled The Creationists in which he argued that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis only exists in our modern day because of the influence of American creation scientists, and particularly through the writing of a Seventh Day Adventist, George McCready Price. “However,” writes VanDoodewaard, “more thorough scholarship reveals significant evidence of a strong stream of both nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources that remained firmly in the millennia old tradition of a literal hermeneutic” (157). What Numbers and others have failed to see is that, entirely apart from twentieth-century creation science, theologians and clergymen have for centuries maintained a literal reading of Genesis, reaching their conclusions based on the text alone. Our author gives several good examples with Dutch-American Reformed theologians like Geerhardus Vos, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Louis Berkhof.
An important part of the work of a historian is discerning patterns. The Quest for the Historical Adam reveals an important pattern in thinking about origins. It starts with sources outside of Scripture and Christian theology pressuring an alternative explanation – these sources could be philosophical, scientific, literary, or archaeological. Under that pressure, interpreters begin to make allowances for alternative explanations. Other generations eventually arise which take things a step further and assert these alternative explanations more stridently, also following through on their logical consequences. This pattern is evident throughout the book.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. VanDoodewaard is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister. It is not surprising then to find his church and its struggles with this question mentioned. He notes that the ARP adopted a synodical teaching statement in 2012 that affirmed the clear biblical teaching on origins. He contrasts that with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He notes that efforts were made to have the PCA clearly rule out aberrant teachings on origins. A 2012 effort to have the PCA General Assembly issue a teaching statement on this matter floundered. Why? There was a convergence of two broad camps. VanDoodewaard writes:
Some argued that the confessional standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms provided sufficient clarity on the topic – positing that if there were concerns, they ought to be pursued through the means of church discipline. Other delegates held that belief in evolutionary biological processes in human origins, as circumscribed by Collins, Keller, or others, was harmonious with Scripture and represented a legitimate latitude of ecclesiastical theology (248).
These two lines of argument paralyzed the PCA and prevented it from taking a stand. The result is that various forms of theistic evolution continue to have a comfortable home in the PCA and very little, if anything, can be done about it. Will we in the Canadian Reformed Churches learn from this history while the opportunity is still there?
Obviously, I have a great deal of appreciation for this book. However, there are a couple of oversights that I noticed. Chapter 3 deals with “Adam in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Eras.” While the author does spend some time with the Westminster Standards (especially the issue of “in the space of six days”), he disregards the Three Forms of Unity or other Reformed confessions. This is important in our day when we hear it asserted by some that theistic evolution falls within the bounds of our confessions. Nevertheless, VanDoodewaard’s research certainly does support the position that in the era in which these confessions were originally written, it would have been unthinkable for forms of theistic evolution to be tolerated in Reformed churches. Chapter 6 deals with the 1950s to the present. The author has some discussion about developments in the Christian Reformed Church, but there could have been more said. For instance, it would be helpful for readers to see how the tolerance of theistic evolution in the CRC grew out of a weakened view of biblical authority starting in the 1950s, especially under the influence of the Free University of Amsterdam.
The Quest for the Historical Adam is a unique contribution to a vitally important topic. It might be a bit technical at times for some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded. As intimated in my introduction, this is especially an important book for office bearers. As those who have promised to “oppose, refute, and help prevent” errors conflicting with God’s Word, we need to educate ourselves about those errors and the patterns that lead to them being accepted. This is all the more case when an error is right before us, threatening to undo us. I heartily commend Dr. VanDoodewaard for writing this valuable book and Reformation Heritage Books for publishing it. May the day hasten when historians look back and say that the publication of this book was a turning point for the maintenance of orthodoxy on origins!
This review was originally published in Reformed Perspective magazine and reappears here with their gracious permission.
Imagine someone saying the following: “The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to accept. On the one hand, reason tells me that this doctrine is impossible. Three persons in one being is illogical. On the other hand, the Bible seems to be pointing in the direction of the Trinity. But we have to acknowledge that our human interpretations of the Bible are fallible, so we might be mistaken in believing that God is Triune. I’m faced with a conflict between what reason says and what the Bible appears to be saying. Therefore, I’m going to suspend judgment for the time being. Perhaps in the future there will be more clarity on this matter and then I can make a responsible judgment.” If we heard someone talking like that, we would recognize that there are significant problems in this reasoning. When all the evidence is considered, the Bible is clear about the doctrine of the Trinity. Yes, there have been numerous heretics over the centuries who’ve drawn this doctrine into question. Yet the consensus of the Church has always been that God is Triune. It’s in our creeds and confessions. Christians are called to accept and believe what the Word of God teaches, not to suspend judgment on it. As the Belgic Confession puts it in article 5, “We believe without any doubt all things contained” in these holy and canonical Scriptures. Moreover, we also “reject with all our heart whatever does not agree with this infallible rule” (BC 7). It sounds humble to suspend judgment and it might be when it comes to assertions from human authorities. But when it comes to divinely authoritative Scripture, nothing could be more arrogant.
We can see that suspending judgment is not an option when it comes to the Trinity. Why should it be when it comes to other vital areas of Christian theology, such as origins? I urge you to read this important post from Dr. John Byl illustrating one example of someone trying to argue in this manner and why it doesn’t work.