Tag Archives: Adam

Genesis and Gun Control

I just finished reading three articles. The first was Dr. Richard Belcher‘s “review” of Dr. C. John Collinsbook on the historicity of Adam and Eve, the second was Dr. Collins’ response to the review, and the third was Rev. Richard Phillipspiece about why public critique does not invoke Matthew 18. The third article seems a bit detached from the first two, but it was actually written partly in response to the interaction between Dr. Belcher and Dr. Collins. Dr. Collins’ book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care, essentially argues that, despite evidence that currently seems to point to the contrary, we should believe that Adam and Eve were supernaturally created by God as real people in history and that sin entered the world through them. At first glance, it sounds so orthodox that you would think no one would have a problem with it. Remember, though: we are Presbyterian.

In the first piece, Dr. Belcher gives what is essentially a negative review of Dr. Collins’ book. More accurately, it is not a review of Dr. Collins’ book at all. It is a brief lecture on the importance of holding to the traditional understanding of Genesis 2:7 (an understanding to which Dr. Collins does, in fact, hold, as Dr. Belcher acknowledges) with a few hints throughout that Dr. Collins is somehow opening Pandora’s box by not requiring everyone else to hold to all of the details of said traditional understanding.

In the second piece, Dr. Collins discusses where and how he believes that Dr. Belcher has misunderstood and misrepresented his book. Dr. Collins decries, among other things, the portrayal of his book as one that advocates a “pictorial” and “symbolic” understanding of the Bible in general or even of Genesis 1-11 in particular and the insinuation that his literary approach to Genesis rolls out a red carpet to the pulpit for unbelieving ministers. In his conclusion, Dr. Collins laments that Dr. Belcher did not contact him privately to discuss his issues with the book before having the review released to the public as this necessitated a public reply.

In the third piece, Rev. Phillips ostensibly gives four reasons why public critique does not invoke Matthew 18, but he really only gives one: Matthew 18 deals with personal sins, not public debate. The other three paragraphs in Rev. Phillips’ article really don’t deal with Matthew 18. They mostly just emphasize that public stuff should be dealt with publicly. His third point, though, is very revealing. He gives the following syllogism:

  • “…since 1) Dr. Collins is previously bound to a certain confessional doctrine (WLC 17);
  • and now 2) publicly states that contrary views are acceptable to Scripture;
  • it is unavoidable to conclude that 3) he – the chairman of Old Testament at the PCA’s denominational seminary – publicly holds that the confessional standard is wrong.”

As an aside, this is actually an extremely avoidable conclusion. A person could hold that the confession is true and, at the same time, hold that a view contrary to the confession is not necessarily contrary to Scripture. In fact, doesn’t this happen… like… all the time? If it doesn’t, it sure should. Rev. Phillips goes on to note that “Dr. Collins did not write the words, ‘the Larger Catechism is wrong,’ but the obvious effect of his writing is to make a case to that very effect.” Again, this is far from obvious. Allowing for other views in your writing is not that same thing as writing “to make a case” against your own view. Perhaps what Rev. Phillips is trying to say is that, when Dr. Collins says in writing that certain views that are not in keeping with Westminster may yet be reconciled with Scripture, it somehow weakens the perceived authority of the confession. Someone could conceivably say, “But Dr. Collins said…!”

Incidentally, I’m not sure that Rev. Phillips citation of the Larger Catechism Question 17 really settles the matter. Although it states that God “formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground” and formed “the woman of the rib of the man”, surely these phrases in the standards should be understood in whatever sense God intended them to be understood in Scripture, just as we should understand “He descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed as referring to “not the place of final judgment, but the place of all the dead awaiting judgment” (even though the English word “hell” almost always draws up images of the lake of fire, the place of final and eternal punishment), even as Larger Catechism Question 50 indicates.

Dr. Belcher and Rev. Phillips seem to have a very different motivation than Dr. Collins does. Dr. Collins seems, at least to me, to be interested in making belief in a real Adam and Eve intellectually palatable for the widest array of people possible. This is a worthy goal. On the other hand, Dr. Belcher and Rev. Phillips seem to be interested in preserving and propagating a straightforward, face-value reading of Genesis that requires little or no familiarity with Ancient Near Eastern cosmogonic literature to be understood. Actually, I’m kind of on board with that, too, to be honest. I’d much rather not have to do (what many perceive as) exegetical acrobatics in order to reconcile my beliefs with contemporary science. In fact, I still lean toward a young Earth. The arguments and evidence I’ve seen and heard so far have not persuaded me… yet. It is entirely possible that I will change my mind eventually.

It looks like Dr. Belcher and Rev. Phillips want Dr. Collins to close the door of the Church to people who think Adam and Eve were, for example, “king and queen of a larger population” of original humans rather than the only two humans God created. That can’t be the case, though, because they’re arguing from the Westminster Standards. As I recall, regular members of the PCA aren’t required to adhere to the standards. There’s a membership vow, of course, and there are certain doctrinal expectations and requirements, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone asked about Adam and Eve during a new members’ installation. I think only elders have to worry about that sort of thing. So they’re concerned about who we ordain as elders. Their prime concern here is with the ordination of elders who will eventually reveal their true colors and start demythologizing the gospel. That’s definitely a good concern, but do we really need to get this worked up about a particular understanding of Adam and Eve beyond requiring them to believe that they were real people, that they were created by God supernaturally, and that their rebellion brought sin and human death into the world?

So what’s at stake?

If I do change my mind about the age of the Earth at some point, will I still be able to be ordained in the PCA? On one level, I don’t really care. I’m going to Japan anyway, so I’m kind of up in the air about working with the PCA to begin with. Then again, I’ve been in the PCA for nearly twenty years now, and I have some connections with MTW. Besides, I’m bound to run into the issue sooner or later in Japan, too.

I will say this, though: Making young-Earth, seven-day creationism a requirement for ordination in order to safeguard the Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds me of the people who were calling for more gun control laws after the Columbine incident, but before those two had “committed a single violent act, they had already violated enough state and federal weapons control laws to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.”  There was a just concern, to be sure, but it was not the legislation of new laws that was required. It was the proper enforcement of the ones already in place that was the issue. Likewise, the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have taken the cloth and the pulpit under false pretenses only to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ have caused Christians to be very concerned about false teachers. I think we have enough laws on the books already, though, to convict those who would lead people away from Christ.