This morning a new website has launched. It’s a joint effort intended to serve the church with resources on the biblical teaching of origins. There’s not a lot there yet, but in the days ahead, our team has plans to add steadily to what you see. You can find Creation Without Compromise here. Bookmark it or add it to your RSS feed, share it with your friends, and plan to visit regularly.
Category Archives: Science and faith
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. He 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 make 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!
Amongst my books is this volume published by the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen. It was a gift to me from the late Gilbert Zekveld. This book is important because it chronicles many of problems that existed in the CRC during a tumultuous decade. For those who wish to learn from history, this is an invaluable and rare resource.
In 1976, a CRC Synod appointed Dr. Edwin Walhout as the “Editor of Adult Education.” In this capacity, he would be responsible for the production of adult education resources for the CRC. His appointment was not without controversy. Why? Because Dr. Walhout had an unorthodox and low view of Scripture. In 1972, he had written an article for the Reformed Journal entitled “Some Theses on Biblical Authority.” This article raised eyebrows with CRC conservatives.
Amongst other things, Walhout put forward these statements regarding the relationship between science and Scripture:
“The data that science discovers are as truly infallible as the data of the Bible, and if there should appear to be some conflict or discrepancy we ought to be willing to allow each area of God’s revelation to speak authoritatively to us.”
It was these kinds of statements that led men like Rev. John Kruis to oppose Walhout’s appointment. Yet the opposition was to no avail. Already by 1976, things were too far gone in the CRC. Men would be appointed to positions of influence even when they were blatantly breaking their vows of subscription.
Now maybe you’re wondering: where have I heard this name of Dr. Edwin Walhout before? That would have been right here.
Things can often be depressing when it comes to developments in church life. We often see things slip-sliding away. That’s one reason why I love being to able to share some good news here, some positive developments. For some years, the Canadian Reformed Churches have been troubled by challenges regarding the biblical and orthodox view of origins. In response to this, the Providence Canadian Reformed Church of Hamilton developed a proposal aimed for Synod 2016. You can find the proposal here on the Providence website (below the Welcome message). Yesterday, a Classis Ontario West adopted this proposal and decided to forward it on to the next Regional Synod East for consideration. The press release is here. The proposal is now public and circulating through the churches. I’m thankful to God for these very positive developments! May he continue to preserve his church against these attacks on the truth of Scripture and the gospel. Yet the battle is not over…not by far. We have some ways to go before these false teachings are officially ruled out of bounds in the Canadian Reformed Churches. More on this proposal perhaps some other time.
It’s not often anymore that I post links to other blogs or websites here. Most of the time I leave that for Facebook. But today I’m going to make an exception. In response to reports that BioLogos is going to be undertaking a major campaign, Rick Phillips has written the first in a series of articles on whether the Bible and evolution are compatible. It’s very much worth a careful read. Check it out here.