Pastoral Reflections on The Historical Adam: Greg Boyd and Phil Ryken

April 24, 2014 — Leave a comment


Today we finish up our journey through Four Views on The Historical Adam. Yesterday we looked William Barrick’s young-earth perspective on the historical Adam, and on Tuesday we looked at C. John Collins’ view. For the full table of contents, click here.

Rather than closing with additional editorial comments (like Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy did), this volume closes with two brief pastoral reflections. I suppose technically this makes it six views on the historical Adam. However, since these are pastoral reflections, the focus is much different than the views. Rather than defending whether Adam existed or not, the question is how pastorally relevant is his existence (or non-existence).

Interestingly, both Greg Boyd and Phil Ryken think Adam was a historical figure. Boyd is more tentative (“I am currently inclined to the view that Adam was, in fact, a historical figure”). Ryken is more dogmatic (“To deny the historical Adam is to stand against the teaching of Moses, Luke, Jesus, and Paul”). What they disagree on is how dependent our faith is on the historical Adam. For Boyd, our faith is secure either way. For Ryken, much like Barrick, it is a gospel issue.

This plays out in the tone and content of each essay. Boyd’s essay is more autobiographical. He too was once a young-earth creationist and had a significant faith crisis in college. The role his experience plays is his significant and informs the pastoral stance he takes on the issue. Honestly, though I am not inclined to agree with Boyd’s perspective, his essay was more pastorally sensitive to people wrestling with the issue.

On the other hand, Ryken’s essay reads more like a treatise on the doctrinal importance of the historical Adam. He gives an outline of seven doctrines connected to Adam as a historical person, and only briefly flirting with personal experience in an opening anecdote. His response is thorough and I imagine, hoped to be semi-definitive in the short space allowed. It is thankfully less combative than Barrick’s perspective, though Ryken clearly thinks a historical Adam is just as important as Barrick does.

In this sense, I think the strength of each essay is also the weakness of the other. Boyd is more pastorally sensitive and having wrestled with the issue, has an insider’s perspective. Ultimately, he does not take a real definitive doctrinal stand (e.g. “I am merely inclined to the view that Adam was a historical figure.”). His position on Adam, like his theism, is quite open. 1

Ryken on the other hand does take a clear doctrinal stand. Had he presented his view with a little more personal engagement with the issue, it might have been more pastorally effective. But at the same time, I realize there is a trade-off when you’re dealing with space considerations. The more personal experience he infused, the less space there would have been for sketching out the doctrinal importance. Perhaps it could have been balanced better in the essay, but I don’t know. I do know it could be better balanced in a real life conversation scenario, something I am still learning to do well myself.

My vantage point at the moment is that there is no significant reason to deny a historical Adam. I taught high school biology for a year and during that time explored the question of evolution from the perspective of a teacher. 2 In the time since then, life has considerably evolved, but not so radically that everything is traced back to lower life forms. Relations are somewhat provable, but lines of descent are harder to definitively establish. For that reason, I am highly skeptical that a) they could be proven, and b) that mankind can be brought into a provable line.

The reason I put it this way is that just based on scientific evidence, I don’t find the evolution of man compelling. I realize of course that mainstream science thinks otherwise, but I investigated the evidence for myself, and I found it wanting. I could see how someone could believe wholesale in evolution. But my background in philosophy and particularly philosophy of science influences the way I see the connection of evidence/data and theories. In this case, the connection seems to me, highly improbable.

Moving to Scripture, I think the case that Adam was historical is much stronger than the case that he wasn’t. I think this book more or less shows that since of the 6 voices, only 1 thinks Adam wasn’t historical. And he clearly has to do some revisionist hermeneutical gymnastics to still hold that Scripture is trustworthy and true. It seems that the predominant Christian intuition in this matter is to take the text at face value and believe that Adam is a real historical person who existed in the past. This isn’t to say someone who doesn’t share that intuition isn’t a Christian, but merely to say they represent a minority report within Christian thought. They also exclusively seem to do so for scientific reasons. That is, I don’t know anyone doubting that Adam was a real historical individual apart from also believing whole-heartedly in evolution. 3

Considering that there are ways of believing in much of scientific data regarding evolution and believing in a historical Adam, it doesn’t seem necessary to revise our interpretation of Scripture to fit something that is not conclusively proven as true (or really could be given the limits and scope of origin science). This book underscores that fact from a variety of angles. At the end of the day, I think we should read Genesis like Collins (and to some extent Walton), express the significance of a historical Adam like Ryken, and try to relate to people struggling with the issues like Boyd.


  1. To be clear, I am making a joke about Boyd’s open theism. I am not questioning his belief in God or his being a Christian. I actually have not interacted much with his writings until recently. But, I have found myself enjoying my way through disagreeing with him. Considering the number of Spectrum Multiview books I have to read in which he is a contributor, this won’t be the last time I engage Boyd.
  2. In terms of my biological studies, I didn’t come across any compelling evidence to belief that humans evolved from lower forms of life (the “common ancestry” component of the definition of evolution). Even if we grant a billions of years old universe, Big-Bang cosmology, and even macro-evolution (evolution from one species to another), there is no hard evidence definitively proving man evolved from lower life forms. Now, there is evidence that points in that direction, but it only compelling for people who do not have any other options when it comes to origin stories. If you’re not a Christian, evolution in its totality has to be true, it’s the only game in town as Alvin Plantinga says. You could just as easily believe that the universe itself was created billions of years ago, but then God formed the earth we live on in six successive days. 4Keep in mind that even if you believe that creation took place in 6-24 hour days, the earth already existed as a watery planet (v.2) in the dark before Day 1 (v.3). How long it has been there is not something Genesis addresses, but on any “plain” reading of Genesis, the earth and space itself are not created on any of the days.
  3. Whereas I do know people who do not believe that the earth was created six thousand years ago in 6 literal 24 hours days and also do not believe whole-heartedly in evolution. One of those people is me.


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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