What Makes a Human “Human”?

Further to my talk on Genesis and Human Origins, here is the presentation that I used:

What Makes a Human “Human” (and why it matters)

At the end of my talk, the last slide contained four questions that were intended to be the catalyst for discussions around the tables.  Due to some logistical challenges, the table discussions did not happen, so here are the questions and also some of my thoughts about each one:

How can we talk about being in the “image of God” with someone whose picture of God is inaccurate or absent?

This is a great question, as it identifies the reality that each of use may not be starting with the same assumptions.  For example, if I talk with someone about the image of God and it becomes evident that we are not assuming or working with the same idea of who God is, it is an opportunity for me to “back up” and explore who God is.  And what a great conversation to have with someone!  We could talk about theology, the person’s spiritual background, etc (of course, this would be a great opportunity to explore the Bible itself and how it describes God).  As a practical idea, working through the nature and mission of God in the first few chapters of Genesis and the first few chapters of John could be a great place to start.

How should we, or should we not, partner with other groups to care for creation?

Depends.  Assuming the “we” refers to the particular church of which you (or I) are a part of, it would be helpful to first identify the mission and vision of both the church and the other group.  Are they in sync?  Are they in conflict?  Do they complement each other?  If the two organizations’ visions and purposes fit with each other, then a partnership just might work well!  If not, it might be best to look for partnerships elsewhere.

In my church community, what are the doctrinal and missional challenges to talking about the historicity of Genesis 1-3?

In my particular church there are no challenges, as our church family loves to engage relevant issues, and to ask questions about all kinds of topics.  🙂  One challenge though, in the larger church community, is that there may not be existing relationships in place that serve as the foundation for the discussion.

I experienced this missing piece in real life at the Study Day where I did this talk.  Even though the main purpose of my message was not to explore the question of historicity (the main point was to explore the distinct identity, calling, and relationship capacity of humanity), I included a brief exploration of some of the observations and questions that I currently have about the topic of Adam and Eve’s historicity.  My intent was to introduce the topic during my talk and then explore it at a more personal level during the discussion time afterward.  Unfortunately, that discussion time did not happen, as the study day ended later than anticipated.

So … what are my thoughts about the historicity of Adam and Eve?  Good question, but tough to answer on paper (hence my desire for discussion at the end of my talk).  Here are the thoughts in my head at the moment:

  • This is a topic that is “in process” for me.  In other words, my thoughts are just that; they are simply thoughts.  They are not conclusions.  And as mentioned during my talk, be sure to take these thoughts with “a grain of salt”.
  • Thought #1 – What do we mean by “historical”?  That Adam and Eve were the two literal and physical human beings from which all human beings biologically descended?  That Adam and Eve were two specific literal people, but were part of a larger group of people at the time from which all other human beings descended?  Or does historical mean something else?
  • Thought #2 – Regardless of the definition, I’m not sure that the historicity of Adam and Eve is a core concern of the author of Genesis 1-3.  These chapters seem to be more interested with the nature of God (eg, sovereignty, majesty, creativity, power), the nature of humanity (eg, image of God, relationship), and a radically different worldview (eg, the existence and supremacy of one God), rather than the specific process and mechanics of creation.   I think the opening chapters of Genesis paint a picture of something bigger than just historicity.
  • Thought #3 – To explore the historicity of Adam and Eve, I think we need to look elsewhere in the Bible.  What about Adam in the rest of the OT?  What about Adam in the Gospels?  What about Adam in the Letters?  When Adam is referred to in these other texts, is the intent to prove his historicity?  Does the argument in the various passages require that Adam be the specific physical human being from all other humans descended?
    • What is at stake?  In other words, if Adam was not the single, original, and physical human being from which all others biologically descended, does it make a difference to any key orthodox beliefs of Christianity?
    • I’m sure this could cover endless topics, but let’s talk about sin.  Is sin a biological inevitability, a personal choice, or something else?  If being a “sinner” is a result of humanity’s biological/genealogical connection to the single historical Adam, how do we reconcile that with Jesus being fully human?  I don’t know the answer to this question, but I know it is a big one!  What about my sinfulness and your sinfulness?  Am I a sinner because Adam sinned or because I sin?  Or is the answer “both”?
  • Thought #4 – Perhaps, as was the main point of my talk, the way that humans were described in the opening chapters of Genesis was not to prove or disprove Adam’s historicity, but rather, to show that humanity distinctly represents God within the rest of creation, and that we are designed to have a relationship with him.
  • Thought #5 – Take my historicity thoughts with a grain of salt.  I wonder, though, if one of the keys to reading this section of the Bible is not to ask what it says about me (eg, humanity), but instead, to ask what it says about God.  Perhaps Genesis is best understood as being theocentric rather than anthrocentric.

In terms of engaging both the biblical text and my local community, what are my next steps?

With the topic of origins, the door is wide open and I just need to be more intentional about making time to have the conversations.  Seriously.  The ball is in my (and your) court.  Let’s get the conversations going!

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