Getting to Adam: Michael Horton on the Resurged ‘Historical Adam’ Debate

The debate over the ‘historical Adam’ has intensified over the last several years.  No doubt, the failure of the I.D. movement to gain much intellectual and social influence, the formation of BioLogos, the onslaught of ‘New Atheism’, and the controversial articulations on the topic by men such as Pete Enns have brought Reformed and evangelical pastors and scholars out into the front lines to defend the historical nature of Adam and Eve.

Scholars from both of my alma maters, Erskine College and Reformed Theological Seminary, have engaged in this discussion.  William B. Evans, Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine, has engaged with Al Mohler, G. I. Williamson, and others on the debate over hermeneutics and Genesis 1-3.   I also gave my thoughts during that debate.

The narrower debate regarding the historicity and nature of Adam has caused strife in the conservative Reformed world.  After the publication of C. John Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, my former Old Testament professor from RTS, Dr. Richard Belcher, reviewed the book with much criticism of Collin’s ‘mere Adam and Eveism’ proposal.  With a response from Collins and a final rejoinder from Belcher, the debate settled for a bit until the opening convocation at RTS Charlotte where Belcher gave a lecture on “The Historical Adam”, noting the importance of a literal interpretation of Genesis 2:7.  Michael Kruger, President of RTS Charlotte, posted a helpful summary of the lecture on his very informative blog.

I doubt that much movement has happened in terms of one side being persuaded by the other.  While I agree with Belcher’s exegesis of Gen 2:7, I think he misunderstands the purpose of Collins’ project.  Belcher’s project is more concerned with confessional boundaries in Reformed denominations while Collins is navigating the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy itself.  Nevertheless, this is an important discussion, and I hope it is fruitful in the longrun.

However, one thing I wish to add to the discussion is a quotation from Michael Horton’s second volume of his dogmatics, Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.  Horton makes an interesting statement regarding the nature of the historical Adam on page, 118:

Throughout this chapter I have assumed the historicity of Adam and Eve.  Apart from a historical Adam (whatever account by which one arrives at this claim), the anthropology assumed by biblical writers all the way up to Paul’s contrast of the two Adams – not as mythical figures or religious symbols but as the historical loci of judgment and justification – is meaningless.  It is rendered meaningless not because everything that a religion wants to affirm has to be in the form of historically reliable assertions, but because the Bible itself presents the fall in genre of realistic narrative and the ethical and doctrinal statements in subsequent Scripture (including references to this history by Jesus) make the historicity essential rather than accidental, particularly in the contrast of the two Adams.  Instantaneous creation of Adam and Eve is not explicitly required by the text or its subsequent interpretation, but the historicity of a first human couple with whom God entered into covenant is indispensable to theology at significant points in almost every locus.  After noting that Hegel, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Barth all denied the historicity of Adam, replacing it with the story of Jesus as the paradigm of truly actualized personhood, Childs correctly perceives that this move can only be made without serious attention to exegesis:  the “problem” is modern, not biblical.

Horton seems closer to Collins than to Belcher, noting that ‘whatever account by which one arrives at this claim’ of a historical Adam, the system of covenant theology and solidarity with either the first or Second Adam remains in tact.  Thus, for Horton, the exegetical details of Gen 2:7 aren’t terribly important (contra Belcher).

What makes this all the more interesting is that Horton teaches at the very confessional Westminster Seminary California, while Belcher is Academic Dean for one of the ‘winsomely Reformed’ RTS campuses.  One would think they should switch seminaries (although I think anyone knowing the history of WS Cal knows why six day creationism is not the hottest cup of tea on campus).

I think this debate is very confusing for the young Reformed seminarian and/or pastor.  How important or integral is one’s exegesis of Gen 2:7 to covenant theology and Reformed soteriology?

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4 thoughts on “Getting to Adam: Michael Horton on the Resurged ‘Historical Adam’ Debate

  1. “the “problem” is modern, not biblical.”
    Horton

    “Thus, for Horton, the exegetical details of Gen 2:7 aren’t terribly important…

    What makes this all the more interesting is that Horton teaches at the very confessional Westminster Seminary California, while Belcher is Academic Dean for one of the ‘winsomely Reformed’ RTS campuses. One would think they should switch seminaries (although I think anyone knowing the history of WS Cal knows why six day creationism is not the hottest cup of tea on campus).
    I think this debate is very confusing for the young Reformed seminarian and/or pastor. How important or integral is one’s exegesis of Gen 2:7 to covenant theology and Reformed soteriology?”

    Wells

    How important? Yes, WSCal is overly confusing in a lot of things. BTW, I know some old Reformed Pastors and Drs. of the Church who are very confused by what comes out of WSCal.

  2. >although I think anyone knowing the history of WS Cal knows why six day creationism is not the hottest cup of tea on campus

    Can you shed more light on this?

    1. WSCal had Meredith Kline as one of their founding faculty. Kline (who was probably the most brilliant, creative OT scholar of the 20th century) was a proponent of the Framework Hypothesis.

      Many faculty at Westminster Philly at the time were open to multiple views on the days of Genesis and the age of the earth. It wasn’t a hot button issue then like it is now in some Reformed circles.

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