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The Importance of Adam

AdamChristCarl Trueman writes here that,

...the question of Adam is arguably the biggest doctrinal question facing the current generation.

He has a couple of strong quotes from Warfield and Bavinck worth reading too.

Last night I taught a little on 321 and experienced some push-back on Adam.

There are issues of clarity - it seems overly complicated to speak of our corporate identities like this.

There are issues of fairness - original sin seems unreasonable (to non-Christians and, one suspects, to Christians too).

There are issues of credibility - no-one believes in Adam anymore. (Non-Christians and Christian alike it seems!)

I've written on this stuff here and here, but I thought I'd list some more thoughts in the hope that we might speak of Christ's vicarious action for the world with a renewed sense of the importance of Adam. With the backdrop of Adam I'm convinced we'll be able to speak with a greater sense of clarity, fairness and credibility. Here are ten bullet-points, and some further reflections:

1) All Christians are in the business of proclaiming vicarious action: one man on behalf of humanity - on behalf of the cosmos even.  To the Bible's way of thinking, the fact one Man answers another one man is what makes the gospel clear and credible. Without Adam, we're proclaiming a vicarious solution to a self-caused problem.  Or, even more ridiculously, a vicarious solution to a God-caused problem.

2) All Christians are in the business of proclaiming a sin problem.  But if “sin” is basically bad behaviour, you’ll draw a blank with many. (See more here)

3) We all know that our families shape us. My ancestor, Ann Forbes, committed a crime, was exiled from the mother country and thousands have been radically affected. One person, one crime, and whole generations are determined. All our family trees are like this. It’s a modern delusion to think that we’re self made people. It’s worth unmasking that delusion because it goes right to the heart of the gospel.

4) It has real traction with the unbeliever to say “There’s a brokenness to me that goes far deeper than behaviour. I’m a part of something bigger than me. Give me the best circumstances, the greatest achievements, my dearest loved ones, and still a selfishness and pride and envy comes out of me that can be shocking.” It connects with people to talk about "deep, overpowering drives". Connecting that to a problem of being over behaviour is not incredible.  For those being awakened to the truth (about themselves and about Christ) it is very credible.

5) Addiction is a great category for sin opened out by speaking in ‘original sin’ / ‘bound will’ terms. (Not the only category certainly, but an important one),

6) Steve Levy’s “Hell sermon" is a tremendous example of how being “condemned already” (in Adam) connects with unbelievers in a profound way.

7) Mockingbird are constantly culturally relevant because they're always hammering home the bound will.  See their resources. Here's an example.  Or try this series: Good News for People with Big Problems.

8) Non-Christians are also questioning our modern equation of freedom with choice - see this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice.

9) Atheists (like Sam Harris) are far more deterministic than any biblical teaching on the bound will.

10) Whether they be atheists or not, many in the culture are drawing deeply theological conclusions from our supposed union with others. It's just that they're thinking of their union with star-dust, we're thinking of our organic union with humanity.  I think we're offering a much more believable account - certainly one that accords with our deepest feelings of personal affinity.

In my own experience, I've seen non-Christians respond powerfully to Adam and Christ teaching.  Secular folks have become Christians through 321 and the Adam stuff has made a deep impact.  On Sunday I preached on Romans 5 and the common response from listeners was "I wish my unbelieving friend could have heard that."  Not - "That was weird, let's keep it to ourselves!"

I'm sure I'm wrong in many, many cases, but when I hear people say "The world will never believe in Adam", I suspect they really mean "I do not believe in Adam."  That might be completely false, but it's a suspicion that's been borne out in a few specific cases.

You might ask, "What on earth should we say to our scientifically minded friends who laugh at an historic Adam?"  Well I'd simply ask them about their belief in Christ. With 1 Corinthians 15 open I'll say, "Here's the bible's logic: if Christ rose, Adam fell. Let's ask whether Christ rose..."

I'm not seeking to build discrete theological points in a sequential argument - in which case I suppose we'd have to lay an Adam foundation first. But no, I'm inviting the non-Christian into the bible's world and saying "Look around at the whole thing, see how it fits together. See how this story helps make sense of your story, etc, etc."

I'm not asking them first to buy Genesis 2. Nor am I asking them first to buy Genesis 1.  To begin with, I'm asking them to view the world through a different set of lenses and praying they'll "See it!"

Notice that I want them to "view the world" differently.  I think that's important.  So often in evangelism we want maximal agreement in advance and so, for instance, when we teach on God, we won't make explicit that we proclaim 'the God of Jesus'. Instead  we'll just let their default doctrine of God slide - maybe addressing that down the line.

In the same way, when we teach on humanity and the world, we leave people's ruling assumptions alone.  We basically ask them to switch their view of "God up there" and possibly "me down here" but there's zero transformation of their view of "the world out there." It's enlightenment evangelism, with a transition of "the man upstairs" but little or no change in their vision of the real world, down here.

I'm fully aware that such transformation is a life-long activity.  But given that saving faith fixes on the enfleshed, crucified and risen Christ, the youngest Christian's vision of 'the world' is beginning to be transformed. Again, I'm not asking anyone to believe in 'Genesis first' or anything like that.  I'm just saying, when we invite our friends into a Christian view of reality, we're inviting them over to our place - a grand and strange old house. But we'll be super hospitable and we'll pray they'll grow to love it.

The trouble comes when when we leave the house built on the Rock and simply build on supposed common ground.  Great will be the fall!


16 thoughts on “The Importance of Adam

  1. Kip' Chelashaw


    This is super post and I love your abiding confidence in the first Adam-last Adam paradigm which is not only biblical (and therefore right, true and good) but it powerfully explains our mess (sin & death) and how to undo it (Christ and His gospel. Keep up the good work - you're a blessing to the Church.


  2. Cal

    Thanks for this!

    3 was really helpful to think about. All of this was great when thinking about Adam. I think a lot of people are more dismissive about Adam because of ignorance, they don't fully understand the condition we're all subject to. I use to be in a more skeptical camp, but knowing Christ better unveils the truth.


  3. Dave K

    I likewise loved this.

    Listening recently to an MP3 of your weekend away talk on the 2 of 321 I was thoroughly convicted by the centrality and confidence of your declaring that we are in the historical Adam until we are in the equally historical Jesus. It made so much sense of the bible and experience. Your 'who do you think you are' personal story made that crystal clear.

    Thanks for the encouragment to proclaim the strange and REAL world of the Bible.

  4. Glen

    Thanks Kip, Cal and Dave, getting my head around our corporate identity (in Adam and in Christ) has been shaping my thinking a lot. It's hard to walk down the street without seeing the world differently through these lenses.

  5. A3B7A29B44 BW 4,6 some part of me with 1 Adam

    As the angels herald, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.", is it important that we humans in our flesh and blood form "in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness," could in our day to day workings and guarding of the Eden paradise been "confirmed" as these angelic heralds into an eternal state of never being able to sin? Further contrast Revelation 4:8. With Luke 8:28-31, we, clearly, see angels who did not follow an evil tempter eternally rewarded and the latter eternally condemmed by God's will (Gen. 3:15). The saving "enmity" allows for transformtion today (2 Cor. 6:2).Is it relevant to know we may have had a blessed relation in our current flesh and blood forms

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  9. Brian Midmore

    We need to ditch the fundamentalists approach which seems to imply that if you are a Christian you will believe in an historic Adam. Perhaps his historicity or otherwise needs to be left open. 'Adam's story makes sense of my story' seems to be the best approach leaving it as 'story' rather demanding that it is history. We are saved by believing in the historical verity of the resurrection not the fall.

  10. Howard Nowlan

    “Here’s the bible’s logic: if Christ rose, Adam fell. Let’s ask whether Christ rose…”

    It's Christ and Adam, or we really have nothing to say.

  11. Brian Midmore

    If we say that that the Biblical description of the Adamic fall is a myth we are not saying that the fall was not a concrete historical event only that this historical event is described in poetic language.

  12. Howard Nowlan

    The question then becomes, Brian, when and where do we place that (non-myth) event, and if it didn't take place in the terms defined in scripture, how and why did it happen, and what relationship does this 'non-myth' version bear to the work of God in Christ? The consequence of placing the Biblical Adam and the scriptural account of the fall into myth can be extremely high.


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