Greg Cootsona: Adam, Eve, and the Amazing Clarity of C. S. Lewis


"I, as a pastor of an evangelical and Anabaptist church, think it vitally important that we not put forth the historicity of Adam as a matter that is essential to Christian faith."

"The fact is, dogmatism on this point would have tragically barred C.S. Lewis, myself, and a multitude of others from the life-giving kingdom."

--Greg Boyd

According to a 2012 Pew Report, many Christians do not believe that human beings evolved: "A majority of white evangelical Protestants (64%) and half of black Protestants (50%) say that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." One reason seems to be for those who take the Bible seriously as a divine revelation, human evolution is hard to square with a literal Adam and Eve (By the way, too many discussions leave out the Eve part here, but I think she's important.).

So a lot of people would rather chuck evolution than the first two humans. 

But can you do both? Can you be what C. S. Lewis described as a "mere Christian" and believe in human evolution? Put another way: Christians believe that Adam is an archetype of all humankind and a type of Christ-thus Adam is "typological"-but does he also have to be historical?

Many decide that, instead of a literal Adam and Eve, we have to adopt the perspective that these two are typological or paradigmatic of the human condition, but did not exist historically. Thus, Yes to typology and No to history.

(For the sake of clarity it might be worth describing two other positions. There is a naturalist position which says, "Despite talk about a 'mitochondrial Eve,' that concept plays a far different role in modern science than in theology. Why should we care about Adam and Eve?" In other words, this topic becomes moot. There's also are the young earth creationist view based on a rigidly literal reading of the Bible that affirms the historical Adam and Eve, but rejects the consensus of mainstream science. Since, in my view, this harms the viability of the Christian faith, I won't have say more about this perspective.)

Back to Lewis, who wrote in The Problem of Pain,

"For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of himself." 

--C.S. Lewis

In other words, God implanted a divine consciousness on those early hominins, but

"we do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell.... They wanted, as we say, to 'call their souls their own.' But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own." 

--C.S. Lewis

This means that we all are created for good, and we all turn away, but that there was probably was no one historical pair, specially created by God. It many ways it actually makes sense of the Bible since the word adam in Hebrew simply means "human." In fact, Genesis 1-3 often uses the article with adam-thus it means "the human," or maybe "Human." "Eve" by the way, means "mother of the living" or "Life." So, if I told you there were two people who lived in the Ancient Near East and their names were Human and Life, you might think I'm not giving you their proper names, but symbolic ones, and so I'm recounting a powerful, non-historical narrative. 

Given this approach, we are descended not from one pair, but from the gradual evolutionary development of hominins. The move toward self that is inherent in God's gift of his image in us, but that means we can also turn away. We don't pay the price for one pair's decision thousands of years ago, but for our own actual, and very real, individual and collective sin. 

This perspective lines up easily with modern science. For example, it correlates well with modern population genetics. It also squares with Christian faith as it has existed through time, what Lewis called "mere Christianity." Thus, for this position-and for sure for Lewis, who was very clear on this-we need the Redeemer, who was an historical figure, who died on a cross under a particular Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, and who rose bodily from the dead. I.e., the life and work of Christ is historical, and it is the kind of faith that can declare (if we can pardon a bit of masculine language, which was part of the 1950s when it was written),

"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." --C.S. Lewis

With quotes like that, it's hard to argue that, when we see Adam and Eve as paradigms for humanity, we're going to abandon the Christian faith.

But there's another school of thought that looks at Adam and Eve and answers Yes to both typology and history, while taking modern science quite seriously. This is the position that theologian Greg Boyd arrived at, even though he defends and sees the wise clarity of Lewis. And that's the topic of the next post.

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