Last week I highlighted Adam’s return to the news. At a point more directly related to Christian theology than previous scientific realizations, current investigations into human origins are calling a traditional Christian understanding of the world into question.
We survived a round earth. We survived a heliocentric solar system. Can we, as Christians, survive the realization that there is no single human progenitor, at least, not in the way described in Gen 1-3?
As I’ve carried these questions around for the past week or two, a couple of thoughts have rambled about.
First, the problem of tracing human origins is even more difficult than finding a historical Adam. If we are going to insist that the first chapters of Genesis are historically accurate, we slice off 1,000+ years from the world’s age, and have to look for all humanity to come through Noah. Of course, with others having existed “before the flood,” the gene pool would have more differentiation than if Noah were the sole first human. But all people should be relateable not merely to Adam but also Noah.
More profoundly, however, I realize that the real problem of Adam is not Gen 1-3 but Rom 5. Because Paul builds his picture of salvation in Christ as a parallel response to the fall in Adam, what we do with Adam is often seen as a potential threat to the saving message of Jesus.
In the Christianity Today article that delves into the issue, Tim Keller is quoted as saying,
If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument–that both sin and grace work “covenantally”–falls apart.
There are so many directions to take this.
First, and most obviously, Paul’s argument nowhere states or implies that sin and grace work covenantally in either Adam or Christ.
One of the great things about questioning Adam is that it makes us ask and articulate why we think Adam is so important. One outcome of this is to highlight areas where our own thinking has built up a tradition that is not, in fact, biblical. There is a reason why only one thread of Christian tradition, the covenant-obsessed Reformed, have seen this as a covenantal arrangement; namely, because there is no covenant to be found in Paul’s description of our inheritance of Adamic sin.
The Reformed Traditions are not the only ones who have built much on the importance of Adam’s fall from a state of original goodness. There are other traditions that also, through other means, view us all as inheriting not only original sin but also original guilt from a first, rebellious progenitor.
But even after the chaff is blown away, what points of important Christian theology are still up for grabs, so it would seem, if we don’t cling to Gen 1-3 as descriptive of our origins?
- The world was created good and harmonious, but rebellion of the creatures introduced death and destruction
- Humanity in particular is set apart over creation as God’s special agents, a charge that we squandered through our own rebellion against God
- God wraps up the fate of humanity in representatives, and being “in” this representative is both how we find ourselves estranged from God (in Adam) and reconciled to God (in Christ).
I want to dive into some of these questions over the next week or so, exploring what sort of impact the loss of a historical Adam has on Christian theology.
But before I do: what issues do you see raised by this discussion? Does it highlight things that need to be taken out of our theology anyway? Does it call into question any essentials that we simply can’t get rid of? What are your thoughts?