Friday, August 23, 2013

Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology: A Few Comments on Chapter 21

Millard Erickson recently updated his famous systematic theology.  Christian Theology was first published in 1983 with a second edition in 1998.  August 2013 saw the release of the third edition that is full of updates.  This post is not anywhere near a full analysis but, rather, looks at one chapter.

Chapter 21 concerns “The Origin of Humanity.”  In that the issue of the historicity of Adam is a current hot topic among evangelicals I was eager to read Erickson’s discussion.  I was a bit disappointed with his failure to keep up to date on the discussion that is happening with these issues.  In fact, the most recent bibliography entry in this chapter is from 1971.  Perhaps with other doctrines that would not be as problematic but when seeking to interact with the scientific aspects of this issue then one must keep up with the developing disciplines.  It appears that Erickson hasn’t updated this chapter since it first appeared in 1983.  Here are a few examples:

1.  When discussing what he calls “fiat creationism” he has a footnote on page 444 referencing the work of Walter Lammerts: Why Not Creation? (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970) and Scientific Studies in Special Creation (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1971).  The past forty years have seen a number of new developments in the defense of young earth creationism.  The failure to note any of these works is a big oversight.

2.     Erickson’s next category is “deistic evolution” in which he references the 1844 of Robert Chambers Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

3.     In approaching the view he calls “theistic evolution” the discussion seems especially deficient.  His footnote #11 on page 446 states: “On theistic evolution, see Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1907, 466-467).”  This is a source that is over 100 years old!  Furthermore, the phrase “theistic evolution” is not the preferred term by those who hold this view.  Howard J. Van Till in his essay “The Fully Gifted Creation” argues against using this phrase.[1]  Recently Denis Lamoureux argued on behalf of the phrase “evolutionary creation” in the following manner:

On the surface, the category “evolutionary creation” seems like a contradiction in terms.  However, the substantive noun is “creation.”  Evolutionary creationists first and foremost believe in a Creator and that the world is His creation.  The qualifier is the adjective “evolutionary” and indicates simply God’s creative method.  This view of origins is often referred to as “theistic evolution.”  But I find this category unacceptable because it makes the Creator merely an adjective to a scientific theory.  Over the last ten or so years, the term “evolutionary creation” has become popular among evangelicals who accept evolution.[2]
            Erickson is simply not up to date on his understanding and discussion.

4.     Erickson next discusses the “progressive creationism” view.  Here he references the 1948 work of Edward J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics.  This work is 65 years old and the discussion on this viewpoint has significantly been developed over this time. 

5.     On pages 448-451 there is a section entitled “The Age of the Human Race.”  Again, this section betrays a lack of interaction with developments over the past 40 years in that the most recent bibliographic entry is from 1970.

It is always risky for theologians to enter the realm of science and seek to intersect the concerns of theology with the natural sciences.  It’s risky but needs to be done.  The problem for Erickson’s discussions is that he has not kept up with developments in this area and his textbook shows obvious deficiencies in this regard.  Students looking for sound interaction and integration regarding human origins from a scriptural and scientific vantage point are not well served by Erickson’s treatment in his third edition of Christian Theology.

NOTE:  Here is a link to a bibliography on the issue of the historicity of Adam.

[1] In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds (Zondervan, 1999), pp. 161, 172.
[2] “The Bible, Science, and the Historical Adam: An Interview with Denis Lamoureux” Criswell Theological Review (Spring, 2013), p. 58.