No Adam, No Gospel (review)

No Adam No Gospel

Why all the fuss? Is theistic evolution, in its various forms, really a going concern? According to Richard Gaffin, absolutely. He writes,

But more recently scientists, biblical scholars, and others who consider themselves evangelical or even Reformed Christians are increasingly calling into question the common descent of all human beings from Adam. Moreover they are persuaded that their doubts about this truth should be accepted as compatible with their Christian commitment (No Adam, no Gospel, 5).

Does this really matter? Gaffin is certain that it does:

Every Christian truly submitted to the Bible’s authority needs to be alert to this relatively recent development. Despite what others may tell us, we need to be clear about the consequences of these doubts and denials. No matter how well intended, they undermine the gospel and will lead to its eventual loss. The truth of the gospel stands or falls with the historicity of Adam as the first human being from whom all other human beings descend (5).

Who is Gaffin? He began teaching New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1965 and just recently retired. He had great appreciation for developments in redemptive-historical exegesis in our Canadian Reformed tradition, and loved the work of Geerhardus Vos and John Murray. He is well-known for careful, consistent, and historically-informed biblical exegesis.

Back in 1978 Gaffin translated from Dutch an important work by J. P. Versteeg about Adam in the New Testament. This book was republished in 2012, with the comment of Gaffin that these issues of 50 years ago (from the date Versteeg first wrote) are even more relevant today. The little booklet at hand, No Adam, No Gospel: Adam and the History of Redemption, continues this theme. Gaffin even ends by quoting Versteeg, “There is no danger that theology has more to fear than this danger [that the Word no longer determines everything].”

In the first half of the book Gaffin makes a number of salient points about Adam in Romans 5:12–19 and First Corinthians 15:21–2, 45–9. In the second half he addresses the published views of Peter Enns, who was once a fellow faculty member with Gaffin at Westminster.

Gaffin demonstrates why believers must hold together the historical reality of Adam with the theological reality of original sin, original guilt before God, salvation through Christ, and eternal glory. He deals with the approach that denies Adam’s historicity as well as that which affirms his historicity but denies that he is the first human being who fathered the whole human race. What he doesn’t consider is the position of, for instance, Tim Keller, who tries to maintain Adam’s historicity, his fatherhood of the whole human race, and his biological evolutionary ancestry.

Peter Enns, whose views Gaffin particularly addresses, argues that Christians do not need to believe in a historical Adam in order to maintain the rest of Christian doctrine. Gaffin convincingly proves that this is an unbiblical position. And, in fact, when Enns argues that “a true rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis” (15), it appears that Enns himself realizes that most of the core doctrines of the Christian faith require major renovation if they are to accommodate the theory of evolution. Gaffin demonstrates that Enns’s views on sin, salvation, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as on the end times are all incompatible with the biblical message (15–26). Basically, Enns is offering up nothing but a reworking of the theories of the liberal biblical scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (26).

Most critically, Gaffin adds this:

Finally, not to be missed is the view of Scripture involved in Enns’s historical-critical approach, as it makes contemporary evolutionary theory decisive for interpreting Scripture and so for deciding what in it is or is not valid and relevant today (27).

One could reasonably argue that this fundamental problem afflicts almost every rapprochement between evolutionary theory and the Christian faith, including forms that are not as radical as Enns’s.

This is the sort of booklet that is best read either when your mind is already well engaged in the topic or when you have a quiet spot and an open Bible so that you can read the numerous passages he alludes to, and gain the full benefits from his arguments. It is not an entry-level account. Not that the writing is unclear; rather, the arguments are fairly tight and the requisite prior knowledge fairly significant. But no one can miss the point that when the apostle speaks of Christ as the “second” Adam, he must be no less real that the “first” Adam (10–11). Anyone who wants to play loose with Adam as a real historical being and try to hold onto Scripture can’t do it, and Gaffin convincingly shows why.

Review of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., No Adam, No Gospel: Adam the History of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2015), 29 pp., $4.99.

June 24, 2015