Ken Keathley: Notes from Dabar and a Baptist's Hope

This week, from 8am, July 5th to the 7th, we will be holding office hours on the forums with my friend Prof. @KKeathley.

He is Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, Senior Professor of Theology, and Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Ken was at the Dabar Conference a couple ago, where he saw the reaction of theologians accross the spectrum to A Genealogical Adam. He also sat in an a conversation between Dr. Fazala Rana and myself, as we discussed the RTB model. @KKeathley also gets special credit, also, for being an early supporter. He kindly had me out to his seminary a few months ago, to present my paper to three scholars at his seminary. This was really good practice for the free for all to come, and that interaction ended up really refining what I presented at Dabar. I was really lucky to have him part of my discussion group that week (do you recognize the rest of the people there?):

Ken, as I understand it, is an Old Earth Creationist, and his devoted to seeking peace. He is a friend of both BioLogos and RTB. For years, he moderate discussions between RTB and BioLogos, culminating in a recent book that I endorsed with the following blurb:

This book has cultural significance that extends far beyond the origins debate. Here, Christians with deep disagreements chose to worship together, laboring for several years to understand and love each other. In a society marked by angry divisions, the hard work of reconciliation chronicled in this book is rare, beautiful, and an example for us all to follow.

@KKeathley is one of those I’ve found that is seeking peace, and we are lucky to get a chance to talk to him here. I have a few key themes I want to get at while he is with us:

  1. What are the main takeaways from the Dabar Conference? What are the things that those unable to attend should know?

  2. How was the Genealogical Adam received by theologians? What lies ahead in the coming years to do this right?

  3. How should Old Earth Creationists be engaging these developments? How can we seek peace together? What are you hopeful for in our current moment?

I’m very happy to count @KKeathley as one of my wise guides and friends. I’m looking forward to this conversation, and I hope you can join us.

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Joshua’s paper generated significant conversation at the Conference. This is because practically everyone realized that his proposal provided helpful insights, and perhaps even a helpful corrective, in several areas. He makes the important distinction between genetics and genealogy. If I’m understanding his argument correctly, he makes two points: 1) We have little or no discernible genetic evidence of most of our ancestors beyond, say, 1000 years ago. So most of our ancestors are “genetic ghosts.” And 2) if someone in the ancient world (i.e., before the time of Christ) had any children at all, then he or she probably is the direct ancestor of all.

For scientific laypersons like me, this is extremely helpful. It means (I think) that I shouldn’t get too distracted by attempts to locate a common genetic ancestor (i.e., a Mitochondrial Eve or a Y-Adam), nor should I wonder if it is possible if an ancient couple could be the genealogical ancestors of all living humans.


Now that @kkeathley is here (under a new ID it seems), anyone can feel free to join this thread and keep the conversation moving. He should be here for today and tomorrow. There is a good chance that @rcohlers and @jack.collins might stop by too, who were both at Dabar with us.

Yup, there is that. Also “human” is an ambiguous term, that can mean a large range of things. Theologians have legitimate autonomy to define it with theological precision.

Thanks for the kind words. I was honestly a bit surprised. It seemed that almost every session included discussion of points from my paper. One main speaker even changed his entire point to interact with it.

One of the critiques I’ve received over and over again from people is that “theologians are just not going to care about this.”

This often comes from no-Adam Christians, who see no reason to affirm a historical Adam. What should I be telling them in response to this? Do Conservative theologians care?

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The reception was mostly positive, albeit it was a cautious reception. Most noted several positives to the proposal, and some significant questions. On the one hand, the proposal accepts the findings of mainstream science (particularly concerning human origins) while it simultaneously interprets the creation account of Adam and Eve (Gen 2) as fairly straightforward history. That makes the proposal very attractive. On the other hand, the proposal requires the acceptance of others outside the Garden. Questions about their theological status–were they theologically “human?”, did they possess the divine image? or how were they affected by original sin?–those questions still require careful thought.


Of course. That will take time too. It will be interesting to see how the theological community starts to process these things. Andrew Loke looks he will be the first out of the gate with a book engaging this.

Also, @kkeathley, I’ll be in and out. You do not need to feel pressure to answer every question, or to answer immediately. I’ll look forward also to the questions and comments from others here too.

I identify as an Old Earth Creationist (OEC). My impression of OEC proponents such as Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana is that, operating from a high view of Scripture, they sincerely desire to go where the evidence takes them. This is one reason why they put such strong emphasis on providing a testable model. I know they desire engagement, with respectful give and take.

Taking the long view, we have every reason to be hopeful. The Church from the beginning has been engaged in discussions, debates, and controversies concerning the doctrine of creation. And these (sometimes contentious) dialogues have consistently been fruitful–both for the Kingdom of God and the advancement of scientific understanding.

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I agree. That was very clear when I met with Fuz at Dabar. I’m looking forward to helping them assess their model:

I hope we can be a good conversation partner for them, whatever they end up believing about evolution. Though, I do hope they adopt the Genealogical Adam as one option in their tent.

You know more of theology than most of us here. Certainly more than me. How long do you think this specific conversation regarding genealogical ancestry will take to shake out? Five to ten years? Or something much longer?

Hi, Dr. Keathley… As a monthly RTB supporter and a life-long student of Genesis, I came to conclusions regarding the text which led me to Joshua’s doorstep.
The significant questions have good answers, and it’s good to know that his paper at Dabar has generated discussion of the issues involved.
The old tactics of leveling ad hominem charges of textual laxity do not apply to the concomitant theories which have, thus far, attached to his overall perspective. Scholars have be willing to discover new things from the text, while discerning and rejecting the same old shibboleths arising from the backlash to potential paradigm shifts.
Cheers, and glad to have you hear. Especially enjoyed your lecture that made the RTB chapter rounds recently!

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Wow, anyone who makes that claim doesn’t really know conservative theologians. Just look at the number of books generated in the past couple of years: Four Views on the Historical Adam; The Quest for the Historical Adam; Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin; or Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. These are just a sampling of books by conservative scholars arguing the necessity of affirming a historical Adam and Eve.


I think they are referring to genealogical ancestry in particular. Why is genealogical ancestry important to theology? Some think this angle is a total waste of time. Sure people care about Adam, but why would the genetic vs. genealogical distinction be helpful? Why would the descent from Adam (vs. merely representation) be important to them?

And yes, these people do not appear to know much about conservative theologians.

I think you’ve heard this objection too, that this is just an “ad hoc” Adam, that really does not make any sense to them. How do you respond?

Ignoring the biblical hermeneutic for the moment, how do we have to interpret history, archaeology and anthropology if Adam is real but there are no humans outside the garden? Every cave painting, every far flung vestige of Homo sapiens, every sign of cultural or spiritual development in Neanderthals or Homo erectus is an embarrassment. The only way to affirm Adam is to place him before any possibility of transmitted tradition and dehistoricize the whole of Genesis 1-11.

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Scripture puts a great deal of emphasis on the genealogical connection between Adam and the human race, the descendants of Abraham, and ultimately Jesus of Nazareth. So that makes it a big deal.

Is the proposal simply an ad hoc rescue? That’s a serious question, because one’s theological motivations can cause him or her to make this mistake quite easily. So self-reflection is always in order. However, the points you make about genetic ghosts and/or universal genealogical ancestry appear to be parts of accepted science. How best to incorporate this knowledge is the issue at hand. Let’s examine a proposal fairly before dismissing it with a pejorative label.


@kkeathley this really seems to be the crux of the issue.

And, to be clear, aren’t the leading OEC models (from RTB) already there? Rana and Ross hold that there were Neanderthals “outside the garden” already. They are left with a some real challenges at this point though, because they have to give up on so much of what is in Genesis to push Adam back that far in history, and then they end up with beastiality.

It seems like the real question facing OECs is how (not if) to think about people outside the garden, or to move Adam back 700,000 years ago (alongside @Agauger) , giving up just about everything in the Genesis narrative. And this question of “how” has been under-contemplated. I’m not a theologian, but it seems like would be an exciting time to be engaging this question.

Coming back to this question @kkeathley, I’ve heard you paint this beautiful vision of what the creation wars could be come. Instead of a war, it could become an engaging conversation among family, by bracketing off Genesis 1:1 - Genesis 1:25 from everything that comes after, deweaponizing the conflict, defusing the bomb.

Can you tell us a bit more about that vision?

To be clear @Guy_Coe, that hasn’t stopped people from trying :wink:.

It seems pretty straightforward to me. In a recapitulative reading of the first two pericopes, there is at least a hint that there was an “adam” (pl., “groundlings”) that preceded “imago Dei humanity” in the transition noted going from Genesis 1:26 to 1:27. In a sequential reading, “humans outside the garden” are the very “imago Dei humanity” being described in the first story, at the conclusion of which we begin the second story about Adam and Eve. So, no matter which view you take, you have to account for the fact that there’s someone suitable enough for Cain to take as a wife, who he’s capable of breeding successfully with, who is NOT from his family lineage, as God has expressly exiled him from them. The elements are all there for discovery.

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I like how you are presenting both views. As @jack.collins has wanted to make clear, the proposal does not hinge on a sequential reading, even though that is what of which some here (e.g. @Guy_Coe and @jongarvey) are convinced. Though @anon46279830 does take a recapitulatory reading (I misread him too in the past).

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