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A Response to Tim Keller’s “Killer Argument” Against a Mythological Adam

Several weeks ago, Christianity Today published the cover story of their June 2011 issue online.  As a subscriber to the magazine, I decided to wait for my hard copy to arrive before delving into Richard Ostling‘s article “The Search for the Historical Adam.”  Although it took me several breakfasts to get through the article, I eagerly anticipated the conclusion, hoping for a positive sign that certain prominent Christian pastors and scholars (beyond the usual suspects) were exercising their God-given reason and giving science a chance to illuminate the historical reality surrounding the origin of our species, all the while retaining belief in the spiritual reality in which our species has found itself since the beginning of our interaction with the Supreme Creator and His moral law.  As I read the final paragraphs this morning and swallowed my last spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats, the milk seemed to suddenly sour.  I was wrong.

While I greatly admire the ministry and works of Tim Keller, I was taken aback considerably when Ostling quoted a paper Keller wrote for a BioLogos workshop:  “[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures.”  My spider-sense (courtesy of a distant evolutionary cousin) manifested itself as a tingling at the base of my skull.  Was Paul’s discussion of Adam in Romans 5:12-21 really meant to instruct his audience in the historicity of Adam and Eve?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Although living in Rome, the historicity of Adam and Eve was already something assumed by his Jewish audience.  There was no need for Paul to remind his readers of something that was part and parcel of their culturo-religious milieu.  They did, however, need to be reminded of something much more important:  the reality of their spiritual condition and their dire need for a savior, Jesus the Christ.  That, Mr. Keller, is the focus of Paul’s teaching.

If that wasn’t enough, Keller went on to write, “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument — that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’ — falls apart.  You can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but [then say that] we can accept his basic teaching about Adam.  If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”  Once again, nothing could be further from the truth, specifically in regard to our salvation hinging on the historicity of Adam and Eve.  While the scientific evidence of our primordial heritage is clearly recorded in our DNA and argues forcefully against a historical Adam and Eve — traditionally understood to be the first pair of human beings created de novo approximately 6000 years ago — our collective observations and human experience argue just as forcefully that we are spiritual victims of our own genes.  We are subject to some of the same primal instincts that caused our particular evolutionary lineage to survive and thrive.  We are driven to eat, drink, and sow our wild oats.  We are compelled to protect that which is ours, desire that which isn’t, and bond together in a society for utilitarian purposes.  Despite all the survival benefits that our genes have conferred upon us, we still envy.  We still murder.  We still commit adultery.  We still bite the hands that feeds us.  Our motives aren’t purely altruistic.  It is clear to me that we human beings, as enlightened as we are as a species, are still quite in need of God’s power to transform our minds, allowing us to transcend that which makes us human and move us to new stage in human evolution:  adopted children of God with truly transformed spirits, destined to experience a new dimension of relational living with each other and the Creator who made us.  Destined, as heirs of eternal life, to survive in some fashion beyond the grave, no longer subject to the gene-ridden flesh which made us sinners unable to move beyond ourselves by our own power.

Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures declare unerringly the truth that is the crux of Paul’s argument:  We are sinners in need of salvation.  Salvation from ourselves and the propensity to sin that is inherent in our species, from the moment of our conception to the moment fog no longer graces the mirror in which we see clearly our imperfections.  To paraphrase the Mexican bandit in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles,* “Adam?  We don’t need no stinking Adam.”  To prove our need for Christ, all we need is to be ourselves.  To be human. For example, if I were to develop cancer, it would concern me much less as to the cause of my condition than the fact that I was suffering from a deadly disease.  In the same way, how and when the human race became sinful is infinitely less important than recognizing our sinful state and seeking out a way to remedy it.

The “core of Paul’s teaching,” Mr. Keller, is that we are sinners who require redemption from the bondage of sin — inescapable sin brought on by our inherited flesh — through recognition of the loving, faithful-unto-death act of the very historical personage of Jesus of Nazareth.  While we don’t need the First Adam, we still need the Second Adam in order to make us more human than human.  To deny that fact, Mr. Keller, is to deny the “core of Paul’s teaching.”  That would crumble the foundations of the Christian faith.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Oh, yeah … I almost forgot.  I’m back!  😀

* Which, in turn, paraphrases a line from the 1948 film adaptation of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

UPDATE:  At Joel Watts’ suggestion, I’ve changed the title of this post for the sake of accuracy from “A Response to Tim Keller’s ‘Killer Argument’ Against Theistic Evolution” to its current title.  Thanks, Joel!

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