Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam

Four Views on the Historical Adam 

Matthew Barrett (Author), Ardel Caneday (Author), Denis Lamoureux (Author), John H. Walton (Author), C. John Collins (Author), William D. Barrick (Author), Gregory A. Boyd (Author), Philip G. Ryken (Author), Ardel B. Caneday (Editor), and Stanley N. Gundry (Editor)

I anxiously awaited the release of Four Views on the Historical Adam, and I was not disappointed. This is a valuable and readable addition to the Counterpoints collection, books that allow proponents of different views on a topic to articulate their own perspective and interact (in print) with scholars holding opposing views. Essentially, you’re reading a scholarly debate on a subject. The Counterpoints books are intellectually rigorous, because the reader doesn’t have to rely upon one person’s (or one organization’s) explanation and critique of the range of competing views.

This volume is dedicated to the question, “Does Genesis intend to teach us that a real, historical man (Adam) existed?” If the answer to this question is “yes,” then the next question is, was he simply the corporate head of the entire human race of his time, or was he literally the biological progenitor of all humanity? If the biblical Adam was not a historical person, but only a theological literary device, how can sense be made of all of the New Testament theology that is tied to him?

The four main views that are presented are:

  • No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View (Denis O. Lamoureux)
  • A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View (John H. Walton)
  • A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View (C. John Collins)
  • A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View (William D. Barrick)

Other reviewers have summarized and analyzed each of the chapters, so I’m not going to do that here; I’ll simply offer my commentary on few points.

I found Lamoureux’s view to be…well, bizarre. I read it with an open mind, willing to learn something new, but I thought his argument failed philosophically, scientifically, exegetically, and theologically. He is open about the fact that he holds the [consensus] science of human origins in high esteem, but the fact remains that no evolutionary explanation for the origin of man’s material body rules out the existence of a historical man named Adam, the biological forefather of Israel and of Jesus Christ. In essence, Lamoureux sets up a strange false dichotomy, chiefly in the name of evolutionary biology. I thought he showed a bit of chronological snobbery towards the writer(s) of the Genesis account, giving a nearly audible sniff at what he calls their “ancient science.” As far as the few words he dedicated to evolutionary biology, I found some of it to be outdated or simply overstated. 

My own view on this topic aligns very closely with C. John Collins’. I thought his chapter and his rebuttals to the other views were spot-on. They were a nice summary of, and supplement to, his earlier, full-length book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. I found much in Collins’ essay quotable, but I’ll give you a little teaser here:

In the past few decades, many theologians have come to realize that the Bible has an overarching story line, which unifies all the different parts. And that story line serves as the Big Story of the world–a Big Story that tells us who we are, where we came from, what is wrong, and what God is doing about it. This is why “history” matters: Biblical faith is a narrative of God’s great works of creation and redemption, and not simply a list of “timeless” principles.

Walton and Barrick made very important points in their essays and rebuttals, many of them in sync with Collins’ assertions. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Walton and Collins, but ultimately, I believe Collins had the right of it on the points where the two of them disagreed. For those who may be interested, William Lane Craig has an excellent podcast series that dedicates a few episodes to giving a thorough critique of Walton’s view of creation in general. I recommend the entire series–it is PHENOMENAL–but if you only want to hear what Craig has to say about Walton’s approach to Genesis, you can begin with episode 7.

The two “pastoral” essays served as a very nice conclusion. The one written by Philip G. Ryken was easily worth the price I paid for the entire book. I might even suggest reading these two chapters first, reading the remainder of the book, then reading these two chapters again.

Four Views on the Historical Adam is by no means a quick, simple read. It’s accessible to a broad audience, though, and is a valuable resource for anyone desiring an up-to-date, clear, accurate picture of the historical Adam dialogue.

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