Evolving With Enns: Reflections on “The Evolution of Adam”

*The following is part of the Evolution of Adam Blog Tour.

About four years ago, a glaring issue terrified me.  At this point in my spiritual journey, I had dealt with many theological assumptions bequeathed from popular Evangelicalism.  The grand shift of recognizing God’s love for the cosmos and God’s intention to join heaven and earth in renewed creation started a chain reaction.  Several significant changes can be traced back to this fresh realization in college.  With all of the paradigms shifts up to this moment of fear and trepidation, I feared I now was stepping into sacrilegious territory: an openness to biological evolution.

Believe it or not, at that time I was fairly immersed in the emerging church dialogue, but had never read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian trilogy.  When the main character was scripted as a science teacher who embraced both evolution and Jesus, my worldview felt like it was crumbling.  It didn’t help that as I struggled with these questions in the subsequent months that I was accused of being an atheistic youth pastor by friends.  But now I digress.

I wrestled with God, dialogued with others, and found myself in want for helpful resources.  Some books were written with people like me in mind, but many of these didn’t quite give me the answers I wanted.  Each moved me closer and closer to understanding how to handle biblical authority and modern science with integrity.  Then, resources like Biologos.org came along and I started to move beyond superficial answers such as “Genesis 1 is a poem,” etc.

I also discovered that other prominent evangelical leaders have an open posture toward evolution, such as – Billy Graham, Timothy Keller, Greg Boyd, N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, and John Stott – and my fear of sacrilege subsided. But even with this, my longing for better answers (while embracing some mystery) remained.  John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, built a sturdy bridge for many of us to stand on in this quest toward biblical faithfulness and honesty about biological evolution.  Now, another book enters the conversation, offering an integrous approach to biblical theology and evolution: Pete Enns’ The Evolution of Adam – What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

This book offers a thorough investigation of many of the questions we have when dealing with the question of biblical faithfulness and evolution.  What should be clear is that when most of us, who were reared in the evangelical tradition, speak to this issue, our intention is not to modify traditional views as a compromise for the sake of modern science.  Rather, Enns’ intention, as well as mine, is to take what we know of biological evolution and discover if the Bible actually contradicts it.  To the point: We should want to read the Bible with full integrity, not simply to “fit in” with popular culture. Issues like evolution invite us to rethink our presuppositions, moving us toward refined interpretations of Scripture.

To this end, Pete (a past contributor to this blog) begins the book by analyzing the historical situation that led to this discussion.

An Inadequate Overview

For the rest of this reflection, I will offer what I call an “inadequate overview” of the major arguments of the book.  In the coming months, I will publish an E-book that explores these issues in depth.

Three major forces are at work, all of which emerged in the nineteenth century: 1) scientific discovery of our planet’s history, 2) developments in biblical criticism, and 3) biblical archeology.  Each of these continues to push the people of God to wrestle with the situation in which Genesis 1-11 was written.  With the help of the three “forces” we learn the following:

There is a strong consensus that the postexilic period played a vital role in (1) the production of numerous books or parts of books and (2) the final editing of older material and eventually the shaping of the entire Old Testament as sacred Scripture.  It was after the exile that Israel’s sacred collection of books came to be – not out of a dispassionate academic interest on the part of some scribes but as a statement of self-definition of a haggard people who still claimed and yearned for a special relationship with their God.  The Bible, including the Pentateuch, tells the old story for contemporary reasons: Who are we? Who is our God? (32)

Pete persuasively argues that Genesis 1 emerges in the midst of post-exile as a universal story designed as a counter-story to Mesopotamian theology.  God’s people in a postexilic situation attempt to clarify their self-identity as God’s special people in the midst of a world of lesser gods.  They see their God as one who brings the world into order in the midst of a chaotic prehistory.  As Pete says: “Israel’s God alone created the world (established order out of chaos) by an act of his sovereign will, not as the result of a power struggle within a dysfunctional divine family” [contra Enuma Elish] (41).  Israel’s God is sovereign above all other deities and ordered the cosmos for the benefit of all humanity and specifically for Israel.

The Adam and Eve story, which is older, developed over time as mostly an oral tradition about the origins of Israel.  It does not reflect literal history, but a narrative that “…mirrors Israel’s story from exodus to exile” (66).  It sets up Adam and Eve as the original Israelites, not as the original humans, and seeks to tell the story of their people’s origins in the midst of the rest of the world.

Source: Biologos

By the time the editors of the Pentateuch appropriated this old story, it functioned to retell Israel’s story of: being created as a people after the liberation of the exodus, choosing to forsake the wisdom of God’s covenantal path, and ultimately being exiled.  Just as Adam chose to seek wisdom in against the way of God’s command (in eating the fruit), so also Israel sought wisdom in foreign deities, which led them astray.  As a result, Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden just as Israel was exiled out of the Promised Land.  Enns’ reading of Proverbs, which we will not examine here, reinforces this profoundly (see: 89ff).

Pete then goes on to explore the issue that causes the most tension for evangelicals: Paul’s Adam.  Without getting into the complexities of the argument, Pete rightly demonstrates that Paul doesn’t seek to give a historically accurate interpretation of Genesis 2-3, but appropriates that story to give witness to the resurrected Christ.  The writers of the New Testament give fresh readings to their Scriptures as they attempt to explain the significance of the saving work of Jesus.  Paul, then, uses the Adam story “to highlight the work of Christ and the equality of Jew and gentile” (142).  This idiom provided a clear means of communicating the “problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ” (143).

Evolving With Enns?

In my estimation, The Evolution of Adam, offers the most significant working view of how to carefully, pastorally, and honorably interpret the early chapters of Genesis and their workings out by Paul, in light of evolutionHis reading does nothing to defend biological evolution, but uses the questions raised by science as an opportunity to refine our understandings of God’s inspired Word. I invite you to read Pete’s prolific book and to decide for yourself if you will also, evolve with Enns.


For why this issue should matter to Evangelicals, see my recent video: “Preaching Against Evolution in Evangelical Churches Creates Atheists.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • The more I read about this book, the more I want to read it.

  • Got it on order and look forward to reading it. I can say, though, that I’ve never thought of “Genesis 1 as a poem” as being a superficial answer. His Paul proposal sounds worth exploring. We come at Paul with the question, “Was Adam a real historical person?” But that is not at all the question Paul is trying to raise. But does this answer avoid the problem? Even if we say, “that’s not the question Paul is asking” it is still a question that arises out of something Paul says. Did Paul believe Adam was a historical figure? Probably (tell me otherwise?). Then does the idea the Paul believed Adam actually lived historically coupled with the idea that he builds an argument about Christ on that presupposition have any bearing on the question of Adam’s historicity? Then there’s the Jesus questions. Jesus sources Moses as the author of many things in the Pentateuch. Was Jesus mistaken? How does that work into the equation? Jesus also speaks of the first man and woman couple? It seems fair to say that Jesus was thinking specifically of Adam and Eve if he shared Paul’ worldview. What do we do with that? Does Enns deal with Jesus at all? There’s also issues related to sin and atonement that implicated in this discussion. These are some of the heavy things that weigh on me as I think about all of this.

    Thanks for the review.

  • Good summary, Kurt, esp. your last point about this being an opportunity to refine our understanding of God’s Word. Some of Enns’ critics accuse him of redefining God’s Word, but I think “refining our understanding” is a much fairer way of characterizing what he’s trying to do.

    One the most fascinating things that I’ve taken from this whole discussion is how the creation story basically depicts God building a cosmic temple for himself – anticipating the temple Israel would build, as well as where the story will finally end up, with God dwelling among his creation once more.  

  • I like this. I’m slightly more conservative then Enns, I think, when it comes to dating certain portions of the OT (which is simply to say that I think more of the Torah can be considered older than many scholars would accept), and I don’t locate quite as much in the exile as he would. I also was taught a covenantal understanding of Gen 1 – entities on the first three days were put under the “rule” of entities on the second three days, all of whom were put under the rule of God on the Sabbath. This provided Israelites a covenantal logic to creation, etc., tying what Yahweh was doing in their midst to Yahweh’s cosmic acts of creation. I learned this from a fabulous teacher with a PhD from Harvard (in the 1990s), but I know many scholars would disagree with her.

    Of course, all this is also why I’m in theology and not biblical studies proper…

  • Anonymous

    Adam and Eve?  Challenge yourself.  Google First Scandal.