The Quest for the Historical Adam – A Review

by | Nov 10, 2016 | The Beginning of Redemptive History through the Lives of Adam and Eve, Featured

The intriguing title, The Quest for the Historical Adam, by William VanDoodewaard, is patterned after Albert Schweitzer’s (in)famous The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1910). But rather than a focus on the “last Adam,” VanDoodewaard focuses on the first Adam. And rather than reducing or marginalizing the authority and plenary inspiration of Scripture—as Schweitzer did—VanDoodewaard seeks to affirm it.

Dr. VanDoodewaard (PhD, University of Aberdeen) serves as professor of church history at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). He has written a number of articles for academic journals and is the author of The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition (RHB, 2011), which was the subject of his doctoral dissertation.

The Quest for the Historical Adam is a historical survey of the interpretation of and commentary on the early chapters of Genesis, especially as they relate to the creation account of Adam and Eve. In today’s cultural milieu that is positioned against the vast majority of biblical teachers, pastors, and theologians throughout history, VanDoodewaard presents a mountain of research to defend the “literal” approach to the creation account.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides the Foreword, drawing the reader’s attention to the need for such a book in a climate of biblical skepticism, in general, and skepticism of the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2, in particular. The book has seven chapters: an introduction, five chapters surveying the historical and theological landscape, and a concluding chapter pulling it together—“What Difference Does it Make?” One of the book’s great strengths is the documentation and analysis of how prominent exegetes, theologians, and pastors throughout history and interpreted the early chapters of Genesis. In this way, the book introduces the reader (maybe for the first time!) to the breadth and depth of historical theology on the subject of creation. What did the church fathers believe? What did Luther and Calvin teach? How did the early and various Protestant streams interpret Genesis 1-2? How does the modern revival of creation studies (AIG, ICR, etc.) contribute to the discussion? VanDoodewaard does a fine job at incorporating all of this.

I also appreciate how VanDoodewaard pulls in the whole counsel of God—Genesis to Revelation—to put Genesis 1-2 in its historical, literary, and redemptive contexts. For example, how do other Old Testament and New Testament writers interpret the creation account and the person of Adam? Surely, this is missing in many modern critiques of the “literal” approach to Adam.

A third strength is VanDoodewaard’s academic integrity. No straw-man arguments here! He deals honestly and fairly with the content of what those who have gone before us have taught, whether he agrees with them or not. I appreciate this attribute of the book, in particular.

Fourth, the final chapter presents the consequences of holding to the various views of evolutionary biological processes (EBP). In other words, if one holds to EBP, then he or she must consider the ramifications. Even within mainstream Christianity, there is a growing rise of “compatibility” views that seek to bridge historical-literal interpretations of Genesis 1-2 and evolutionary theory. But these, too, have consequences. For example, if Adam is merely a symbolic figure, then how do you explain the fall into sin and the need for Christ? The progressive revelation of biblical theology—centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ—quickly dissolves when the literal nature of the first Adam is removed.

I usually have several critical points for the reader to consider, but not so with this book. The Quest for the Historical Adam is timely, well-researched, and a needed answer to this generation’s questions and skepticism over the biblical teaching on beginnings. I highly recommend it!

This review first appeared in Theology for Life Fall Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.

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