Quest for the Historical Adam“If we do not know how the story of the gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the gospel.”

Much of the current debate surrounding Genesis, origins, and evolution has focused on how to read the early chapters of Genesis and the creation itself in the world around us and the universe beyond. While the playing field of options might have been pretty small not even 50 years ago, today it is a much different story. Opinions as to how to read Genesis and science together, whether they can be reconciled, or even if they should be, abound.

In all of the heat produced in the discussion, what has been largely left out is the history of the discussion itself within the church. Historical theology has always played a role in the how the contemporary church deals with and addresses the issues of the day. When we look to the church of the past, we avail ourselves to the wisdom of the ages of those who have walked the road we are walking; sometimes before we even knew it existed. We stand on the shoulders of the past so we are in a better position to see the road ahead.

In regards to Genesis, origins, and evolution, it is the historical position of the church that William VanDoodewaard believes has been largely left out of the conversation. A professor of church history, VanDooewaard has written The Quest for the Historical Adam: Genesis, Hermeneutics, and Human Origins (RHB, 2015), which seeks to bring to the forefront of the contemporary churches mind how the church has viewed the relationship between Genesis and science. VanDoodewaard is writing to fill in this historical hole because “scant attention is paid to the historical understanding of Genesis and human origins within Christianity.” (7)

“The crux of the current division,” VanDoodewaard says, “on creation and human origins is found where evolutionary theory stands in conflict with the traditional, literalistic reading of Genesis 1 through 5 common to the history of Christianity.” (3) This “literal” reading is the “nonfigurative, detailed, historical record of events and existence narrated as they actually were.” (6) VanDoodewaard’s position on these matters is the position that he believes is the majority position of the church.

As the subtitle indicates, this book addresses how the church has understood Genesis exegetically and theologically, the hermeneutical principles employed in that en-devour, and how theologians and pastors handled the secular scientific consensus concerning origins. VanDoodewaard addresses all three of these issues within five historical eras, starting with the Patristic and Medieval era and ending with the present. His aim is to show that “despite some ebb and flow in the past century, there remains a substantial commitment to the literal understanding of the entire Genesis 1-2 creation narrative.” (281) History is on the side of the traditional view.

As to the title of the book, this all matters because it effects how we understand where humanity and sin (just to name a few things) came from, which hing on Adam. Was he a real person? Was he the first person? Can we trust the Bible’s presentation of Adam? If not, how does that change the way we read the rest of the story of God’s interaction with mankind in redemptive history. If we change how we understand the beginning of the story of redemption then how much of the rest of the story do we have to change?

The Quest for the Historical Adam accomplishes its purpose to shed the light of historical theology on the darkness that pervades so much of the current discussion on these issues. VanDoodewaard has written a book that needs to be widely read an widely dealt with. Those who ignore this book will do so to their detriment. This is a serious walk through church history and the Adam and Genesis question. VanDoodewaard is fair in his presentation of the variety of views throughout church history on Adam, and the acceptance and resistance detractors were given.

I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”