Covenant Seminary's Scripture Problem (No. 2): Jack Collins starts with a whimper...

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"From my viewpoint, there is something lacking in the book. First as a Christian the author does not address the importance of the inspiration and authority of scripture. For the most part the author stands over the Bible rather than under the Bible." - from an Amazon review of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist by Jack Collins

C. John "Jack" Collins is an Old Testament prof at Covenant Theological Seminary who served as the Old Testament "chair" of the English Standard Version's Translation Committee. Collins did his undergrad work at MIT, his doctoral work at Liverpool, and has been given money by the Center for Science and Culture and the John Templeton Foundation to write on "faith and science."

Recently, Dr. Collins issued a book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? enlarging upon a paper he wrote titled, "Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters." It's that compressed version of Collins's book critiqued below and this is the second in a series. The first is found here.

Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters

by C. John (Jack) Collins

(Summary) The best way to account for both the biblical presentation of human life and our own experience in the world is to suppose that Adam and Eve were real persons, and the forebears of all other human beings. The biblical presentation concerns not simply the story in Genesis and the biblical passages that refer to it, but also the larger biblical storyline, which deals with God’s good creation invaded by sin, for which God has a redemptive plan; Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations; and the church’s prospect of successfully bringing God’s light to the whole world. The biblical presentation further concerns the unique role and dignity of the human race, which is a matter of daily experience for everyone: all people yearn for God and need him, depend on him to deal with their sinfulness, and crave a wholesome community for their lives to flourish.

Baylyblog has a post category or tag titled "Gelded discourse." The tag comes from something C. S. Lewis said in his The Abolition of Man:

We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Among Reformed men who enter the ministry, the castration Lewis mentions is usually accomplished in the three years prior to ordination by their seminary professors. The summary paragraph above is a perfect example of how seminary profs accomplish their nasty task...

Go back and read Collins's summary paragraph above, asking yourself how you would change it to strengthen readers' trust in the Word of God, their conviction that "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2Timothy 3:16) with none of it coming about through "the will of man," but rather "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2Peter 1:21)?

Thinking about what could have been said is a good way to see the weakness of what has been said, and so let's think about how Dr. Collins could have written this summary had his goal been to lead readers to trust the Holy Spirit and Scripture more rather than less.

Collins begins his summary:

The best way to account for both the biblical presentation of human life and our own experience in the world is to suppose that Adam and Eve were real persons, and the forebears of all other human beings.

Now let's try it another way: "Both the Biblical history of God's creation of mankind and our own experience of the world and ourselves testify that Adam and Eve were real persons, and that Adam is the father of man."

Note the contrast between these two sentences. What is the difference between "biblical presentation" and "Biblical history?"

First, the capitalization: why tip the hat to the denial of God that has caused a revolution in our lexicons and style guides? Is it really too much to ask that officers of Christ's Church continue the very old habit of capitalizing references to God and His Word? Must we not only give up the Biblical word 'man' for the Chicago Manual of Style's 'persons,' but also give up the capitalization of 'He' referring to God, and 'Biblical' referring to His Word?

Second, the words: maybe the most distinguished book of history man has written is Thucydides's The History of the Peloponnesian War. But let's give it a different title after Collins's style: "Thucydides's Presentation of the Peloponnesian War." Feel the difference? To say that Genesis is the "Biblical history" is quite different from saying Genesis is "the biblical presentation." The word 'presentation' invites comparison without judgment whereas the word 'history' demands judgment. 'Presentation' is pleasing or not (food and flower arrangements), helpful or not (Powerpoint or classroom work groups), whereas 'history' is true or not.

So why not use the word 'history?'

Likely Collins would say his goal was to avoid putting off unbelievers and sceptics by presenting himself as a gentleman who is willing to acknowledge that many deny the truthfulness of God's Word, seeing Scripture as simply one people group's holy-book-presentation of their experience of transcendence.

If so, there are two problems with this strategy. First, it cedes the very point it's claiming to uphold. Collins is not quoting a pagan evolutionist, here; he's speaking himself, in his own words communicating his own beliefs. So in the first sentence of his treatise, he ends up acknowledging that Genesis (which is to say Holy Scripture) is merely one presentation of the origin of human life. This tactic is rife within Evangelical scholarship, especially members of the Evangelical Theological Society. Having an inferiority complex, they bend over backwards to prove themselves open-minded. They prove themselves ever-so-polite, speaking of the Holy Spirit's "narrative" and God's "perspective," but all they've done is proven themselves ever-so-polite. And at the expense of the inspiration of Scripture and the truthfulness and authority of God.

When an Evangelical academic speaks this way, every other Evangelical reading or listening to him is immediately clued in to the fact that the author fears man, not God. The author aspires to be welcomed into the inner sanctum of the erudite, of those acknowledged by their peers to be productive scholars and true intellectuals. If the author responds with the claim that his work is intended to be a forceful blow against other scholars' attack upon God's Word and Truth, we respond asking him why the first sentence of his blow is so very mealy-mouthed? So timid and soft? So hesitant? So gelded?

Maybe he would respond that this is only his beginning salvo, and the shells get heavier and better-placed later in his work? Sadly, as we progress through Collins's work, we'll see it never firms up at all. In fact, this first sentence tells us everything we need to know about Dr. Collins's approach to the defense of God's Creation. The fear of God is absent, the fear of man (which is to say the fear of appearing not sufficiently progressive to other scholars) is everywhere, and the reader is left convinced of only one thing: that Professor Jack Collins is pitch-perfect in signalling his essential docility in this present war against Adam's fatherhood of the race of man.

But earlier I said there are two problems with this strategy, and here's the second: if Collins says his goal with this language of the first sentence of his summary paragraph was to avoid putting off unbelievers and sceptics by presenting himself as a gentleman who is willing to acknowledge that many deny the truthfulness of God's Word, is he getting his royalties from unbelievers and sceptics? Are they the ones buying his book and are they repenting as a result of reading it?

As a matter of fact, the book is just a lengthier version of a paper he gave back in 2009 to a small group of fellow Evangelicals down in Waco, Texas. Collins wasn't addressing sceptics; he was addressing other men equally eager to claim conservative credentials so they could continue to hold their salaries at conservative Christian colleges and seminaries, and continue to sign the statement of faith of their professional association, the Evangelical Theological Society, which requires them to sign a statement of faith that they hold to the "inerrancy" of Scripture.

So, if Dr. Collins has written this way in order to show himself a gentleman among sceptics and unbelievers, if we spend a moment noting his original audience, we see that Dr. Collins is speaking to himself. The sceptic he's addressing is himself—or rather, his colleagues at Covenant Theological Seminary, Covenant College, BioLogos, and Wheaton. In other words, Dr. Collins has no intention of winning any war defending any inerrant Word of God. He's simply announcing his arrival in the kettle of decadence and compromise to all his colleagues simmering there already.

In the pages of His Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit presents to us a model of how to call true intellectuals to repentance. These are the first and last sentences of the Apostle Paul's witness to the intellectual of Athens:

...while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, "to an unknown god." Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. ...having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:23, 30, 31)

The words of the Apostle Paul are in stark contrast to the words of Covenant Theological Seminary's Jack Collins. It's obvious if the one is right the other is wrong, and I hope you, good reader, are on the side of the Apostle Paul.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!