Evolution, Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Evolution, Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey July 15, 2013

I’ve been reading some books (like this one) and online essays lately on evangelicalism and evolution, and I have to stop and ask myself:

Can evangelicalism really incorporate evolution into its theology system, or do these very attempts expose the problems of evangelical theology that need to be addressed?

I’m not sure evolution and evangelicalism in its current form can ever truly coexist.

For mainstream evangelicalism, Adam must be in some sense a historical individual. Why? Adam as myth, metaphor, symbol, etc. is, we are told, beneath Scripture’s dignity. Also, Paul’s references to Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, however brief, indicate that Adam as first man is foundational to the gospel.

As long as the Bible and the gospel are seen to be at stake, evangelicals willing to discuss evolution will be forced to think “creatively” about how make a successful merger.

The problem, though, is that these creative attempts are ad hoc–which is a nice way of saying “let’s make up something as we go along to maintain our way of thinking.”

The two most common attempts are (1) to see Adam and Eve as the first hominids in the evolutionary line that God chose as the first representative humans, and (2) “Adam and Eve” represent the gene pool from which the current world population is has descended–which I am told by people who know these things is something like 5,000 to 10,000 people living 100,000 or more years ago.

Neither Genesis nor Paul say either of these things. I continue to find it ironic that, in an effort to protect the Bible, some see no problem in advancing readings of texts that aren’t there and for which the biblical authors had no frame of reference.

As far as I am concerned, these ad hoc solutions do more to expose the inadequacies of evangelicalism than they do to solve the problem of a biblically oriented faith vis-a-vis evolution.

Merging evolution and inerrancy like this is what Denis Lamoureux has called “pinning the evolutionary tail onto the evangelical donkey”–blindly stabbing away, hoping to hit the target one of these days.

Or to use another image, one cannot simply graft evolution onto the evangelical theological system and hope no one notices. This graft will never really take to the host. One will always see the mismatch. To ward off infection and tend the graft, rounds of medication are needed. When going out in public, the area has to be protracted with layers of gauze, covered up with clothing, or disguised.

The root problem here is that the evangelical theological system is seen as the immoveable starting point–that center around which all else needs to adjust. This is why ad hoc solutions are necessaryand why so many are willing to make themselves think they actually work.

But this attitude creates the very cognitive dissonance so palpable within evangelicalism. The way forward, I feel, is not to make up transparently ad hoc solutions to the problem–finding a better graft or training people to play a better game of pin the tail on the donkey.

It is time for evangelicalism to sit down and think this one through–without feeling that lines have to be drawn immediately, theological turf has to be protected, or that “the gospel is at stake” every five minutes.

Some may not be able or willing to consider critiquing and adjusting their theological system. That’s fine with me. They don’t need to be a part of the dialogue.

Consider evangelicalism on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing the most conservative end and 10 the most progressive form of evangelicalism. Forgive me for not defining what 1 and 10 look like exactly, or who fits where–this is a blog post, not a treatise. Stay with me.

1-10 represents the current spectrum of evangelicalism, the acceptable ends of the scale. For those wishing to work within the evangelical tradition, I think the only way forward is to shift the scale from 1-10 to, say, 4-13.



Leave 1-3 behind intellectually (I’m not talking about shunning people), i.e., those whose view of evangelicalism is viscerally opposed to this needed discussion, and bring into the process those who sympathetically see the problems with the evangelical system but are willing to work through and from it toward different models, i.e., 11-13.

I understand that no one can stand up and speak for an entire diverse movement like evangelicalism and say, “O.K., you’re a 2, so you’re gone; Ooooo, I like this new idea, let’s make it a 13.” There is no clearing house for evangelicalism–try as some might to claim that right. A self-redefinition of evangelical consciousness can only happen on smaller scales–in schools, denominations, para-church organizations, etc.

As yet, I am aware of no evangelically oriented organization that is seriously musing about how evolution affects evangelical theology. What I see is endless games of pin the tail on the donkey and skin grafts that won’t take.

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  • Evangelical/fundamentalism cannot embrace any form of evolution that threatens their literal hermeneutic. If their interpretation of Scripture is called into question here, then their theology and in particular their soteriology which employs the same hermeneutic is called into question. Most would rather commit intellectual suicide than wrestle with the tenets of their faith.

    • Douglas E

      I believe that you identify clearly why BioLogos has had little impact in the evangelical/fundamentalist world.

      • It’s having some but it’s slow. Evangelicalism (some elements, not all) are having trouble with it in NA. In most other areas of the world, it’s not as strong an issues, but then, the overall cultural impact of evangelicalism is not as significant as here.

      • Rick

        But some associated with Biologos (F. Collins, NT Wright) hold to some belief in a first pair (be it some biological advancement and/or spiritual awakening for that couple/group of people).

        • Douglas E

          Signing in here is a pain 🙂 so this may appear twice. I believe that Collins is likely making a theological point since I know of no biological data that would indicate a first pair.

  • John Shakespeare

    The problem, it seems to me, is not the inability of Evangelicals to come to an accommodation with evolution, nor the need for Evangelicals to accept some modification of their theologies, but the very existence of Evangelicalism. Obscurantist distrust of evolution is inherent in Evangelicalism to some degree or another. Your 1–10 and 4–13 scales both miss the point. The point is that Evangelicalism *itself* is fundamentally flawed, and that the problems it has with evolution are a symptom rather than a cause of the flaws. No numerical scale will do the trick. Evangelicals have an instinctive distrust of finding an accommodation with evolution, and their instinct is right. It will prove necessary in the end to abandon all ideas of Evangelicalism and to jettison the entire thing. Sorry if this offends: I was myself a strongly committed Evangelical (of the neo-puritan persuasion) for four decades. I have eventually been forced to face reality.

    • I agree , John. The scale-shifting at some point becomes a qualitative change, where the Evangelical center cannot hold. My seminary theology prof used to emphasize that Evangelical theology is of a piece. Remove one element, and the entire fabric unravels. But Evangelicalism has trouble figuring out what the functional equivalent of inerrancy could be. And there is none. It isn’t just inerrancy that needs to be relinquished, but the very quest for certainty and absolutes.

      • Rick

        I am not sure the fabric analogy is the best. I think a better example would be a 4 legged stool (using Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism, but other definitions could be used as well). Biblicism is one leg of the stool, so the design or weight distribution may have to be adjusted, or that one leg may have to be redesigned. However, that does not mean the whole thing collapses.

        • John Shakespeare

          I am impressed by Bebbington’s analysis. I think he has pinned Evangelicalsim correctly. In my opinion every leg of the stool is questionable, not only in the way they are interpreted and applied, but also in their underlying concepts. Oddly enough, the only one I am left with is what Bebbington calls ‘Biblicism’. And it is Biblicism that leads me to jettison the others. Evangelicalism is based around the idea of the conveyor belt to individual salvation, which provides the imperative for ‘conversionism’, ‘crucicentrism’ and a kind of ‘activism’ which can often be deplorable.

          • Rick

            But there are those in that camp that may maintain those stools, but also goes well beyond them. Scot McKnight comes to mind as he pushes against the sole emphasis on personal soteriology (he stresses Christology first, then soteriology), and for a wider activism (beyond certain politics).

          • John Shakespeare

            Yes, I’ve listened to McKnight, who impressed me. He is well on the way to freedom, but not quite there yet.

          • Rick

            What equals “freedom”?

          • John Shakespeare

            I was being rather light-hearted, and equating freedom with ceasing to be an Evangelical–a transition I, personally, have found liberating.

          • Rick

            I thought so, but was curious what tradition/stream you have since found yourself in.

          • John Shakespeare

            I remain a baptist (though not a Baptist), but not many people would recognise my/our practice or beliefs as any kind of identifiable tradition — unless it’s on the outer fringes of the Anabaptists. I find I resonate with some aspects of eastern Orthodoxy (but only some).

          • Rick

            Then I can see why you like McKnight, since he too is from the Anabaptist tradition (I think he leans towards an Anabaptist-Anglican stream, though goes to an evangelical megachurch).

          • John, you might find some of us American Baptists to be of similar mind.

      • Lars

        Such a fascinating topic! Apart from Evangelicalism, I wonder if the theory of evolution eventually unravels Christianity, or even God? As a product of Evangelicalism, there were places I could not go if I wished to remain a believer – questioning original sin, salvation, the resurrection, etc. – but I went to those places anyway and why I’m inclined to agree with Mark, John (hoping Matthew and Luke weigh in as well). How far can you shift the center of gravity before the whole structure topples over? What can you eliminate or alter and still can it Evangelicalism?

        My center eventually collapsed for one reason, that I begin to see religions, in essence, as Peter wrote, “…creative attempts (that) are ad hoc–which is a nice way of saying “let’s make up something as we go along to maintain our way of thinking.”” Religion started to feel like humans working backward, creatively to be sure, to explain meaning and purpose, or in the words of Dr. Lamoureux, “…blindly stabbing away, hoping to hit the target one of these days.” But how, exactly, do we know when we’ve hit the target? And is that “target” destined to always be, not only “ad hoc”, but also *moving* as knowledge increases?

        • Lars, I identify with your itinerary, by and large. As the fabric of Evangelicalism unraveled for me, the capstone was seeing that Christianity is a human construction. This doesn’t mean it is without value, but that we have the challenge of identifying those things in Christianity which are indeed to value to us.
          I wouldn’t say that this process “unravels God,” but that it deconstructs our idea of God, which seems to have its source in an extrapolation of ancient near eastern sovereigns.

          • Lars

            Thanks, Mark. I do think you could say the same thing about most religions, that they all have *some* value, and I don’t dispute that. I just think most values that have survived this long are probably societal-based and good old common sense, and easily adopted or adapted by whatever religions those societies embrace.

            I suppose that goes for God as well. He seems too easily constructed or deconstructed to think there’s anything worth believing in, much less killing (or dying) for. I don’t consider myself an atheist but I have a hard time finding any evidence of His existence other than most of the people on this planet think there must be at least one god. And the 1969 Mets.

          • I can add that John Cobb and other process theologians have recast God in terms that cohere nicely with science. Bruce Sanguin is a more recent popularizer.

      • Right on, Mark. I went to Talbot (“Dallas West”) in the 70s… I’m no longer Evangelical. It’s eminently clear the theology “is of a piece”. I think of it as a circular chain… any weak link (of which there are several) breaking, breaks the whole. “Theistic evolution” may hold things together for some but that inevitably leads (as it should, in my view) toward panentheism… not just an “open” God, but one much better described by process theology (as “non-traditional” theism). Lately I’ve been thinking more that the idea of revelation to and through a “chosen people” or chosen prophets/apostles and its preservation via a “faithful remnant” may be the core misconception that, once corrected, will force Evangelicalism toward a less supernaturalist (traditional theist) and more process view of God and the Bible. Your thoughts?

        • On the same page, Howard. Another of my profs at Bethel Sem in the mid-70s remarked in the midst of the Battle for the Bible controversy that the next big issue would be supernaturalism. I did a week’s course with John Cobb at Claremont in 2011 and found his theology very plausible.

          • Interesting! The Bethel in San Diego? If so, do you live in the area now? (I’m in SD county.) I did PhD work at Claremont in the 90s, so understandably Process influenced me, tho mostly later, more than at the time. Saw both Cobb and Griffin last April (2012) at the Process and Faith event honoring Griffin… both were in great form, Griffin having fought back from a near-fatal infection. Love to talk shop sometime. If you do Facebook, friend me!

    • If Evangelicalism is purely an intellectual framework, then I agree. However, if you see it as having more to it—an ethos, a community, a devotion, a power, a voice, a culture, an embodied faith, hope, and love—then there is a lot worth preserving. It is personally my own tradition and my own family, and even though I’ve let go of the intellectual constraints, there’s still a lot left there—more than I ever realized before, even! Instructive is how evolution itself proceeds: not only by transcending the past, but by including it too.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “an ethos, a community, a devotion, a power, a voice, a culture, an embodied faith, hope, and love”
        How is any of that distinctly evangelical? You could say the same traits are shared 100 fold by Mormons. What has held and holds American evangelicalism together is biblical inerrancy/certainty of dogma/conservative biblical hermeneutics. If those crumble (and I think they do after honest examination), you are no longer evangelical by any rational definition, you have joined another part (made up of many billions!) of Christianity.

        • Andrew, perhaps I may be more aligned philosophically with other parts of Christianity, but if I keep going to the same evangelical church; if I keep worshiping, praying, and learning with the same people; if I am still participating in the activities of the church, where we encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up, isn’t it true that I am still part of the movement? And proof that the movement can evolve? If people within a church have shifts in their world view and yet do not head straight for the door, is it not possible that a movement could evolve from within? If we all said, “hey, I don’t believe what you guys believe anymore, therefore I’m leaving!” won’t we be falling prey to the exact same trap of giving preeminence to belief systems? Can we at least consider the possibility that some may stick around, putting their faith in the power of God’s love to build bridges and heal divides? Or that a group of people might be held together by more than a coherent belief system?

  • Andy

    How do we dialogue with churches who are at a ‘2’ on the evolution issue but who are a ‘9’ on issues like gender equality in church/ community, a focus upon love and relationship with Christ, a heart for justice and love for the poor? In these situations should we just forget about the evolution question?


    Belonging to an Evangelical tradition that has always had reservations about Reformed views of sin and its origins, I find it much easier than many to understand Adam and Eve without constructing elaborate historical conjectures. But that very set of reservations leads many to say that my tribe aren’t Evangelicals. Sigh.

  • joel

    I haven’t read the books in question, so I don’t know the answer to this. But are the authors arguing literally:

    [1] By “Adam and Eve” the authors of scripture were talking the first hominids

    or are they arguing:

    [2] The theological analysis of humanity that Adam and Eve represent and mythically communicate might well be satisfied, in part, by the earliest community of hominids

    Or do you not see any significant difference between the two?

  • So then Peter’s concept of the incarnational analogy: “Christ’s incarnation is analogous to Scripture’s incarnation.” (“Inspiration and Evolution,” p. 18). Applying what Peter said on the same page, to the topic of this blog, then the question is: “How does Scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture [with regard to evolution]?”

    But the scientific truth of evolution cannot become autonomous from the lordship of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures. It seems to me that this issue echoes Francis Schaeffer’s discussion of the nature and grace dilemma in his book, “Escape From Reason.”

    Schaeffer affirmed that nothing can be autonomous from the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Scriptures. Early scientists believed there was “a reasonable God, who created a reasonable universe, and thus man, by use of his reason could find out the universe’s form.” (chapter 3, p. 31) When nature [science] denies the existence or importance of revelation [God or grace] to its work, this autonomy will “devour” grace, so that: “At this time we find that nature is now really so totally autonomous that determinism begins to emerge.” (p. 33) Whatever shape evangelicalism and the authority/inerrancy of Scripture takes as a consequence of evolution, we cannot go here. The uniformity of natural causes in a closed system of nature has no room or need for any Gods; Christian, Biblical or otherwise.

    • The unspoken part of this is the hermeneutic employed both in scientific realms (although it’s not often called by that term there, preferring a more general reference like philosophy or world view) and theological ones illustrates the problem. If it’s true that God is the source of both natural (general) and specific (scriptural) revelation, then why is it assumed that if a literal hermeneutic is found lacking against science where it is proper to assume a limited materialistic point of view, that it’s necessary to reject and then work backwards to reconcile science to a scriptural hermeneutic that has no checks in terms of it’s hermeneutic when tied to Scripture?

      That, in effect, elevates the literal, fundamentalist hermeneutic itself over Scripture and makes Scripture subject to it.

      For my part, I believe it’s reasonable to work on the presumption that the culture and people to whom Scripture was originally received were capable of receiving and understanding spiritual truth without their unscientific worldview (as compared to a 21st century western culture) requiring an equal standard applied.

      Having been an evangelical most of my life, and even now still including the term in my self-description as a post-evangelical, it frankly doesn’t threaten me that scripture incorporates the human points of view of it’s time and culture and while I believe there is value in examining it in light of subsequent (and still in places unresolved and transitional) knowledge, that doesn’t require us to loosen our hermeneutic in other realms in terms of theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc. What it perhaps should do, however, is inform us to adopt some more flexibility and humility in approaching the text and to embrace the human element of scripture as well without the need to create a systematic theological framework that over time works to bend scripture itself to in the end eliminate any element of mystery and willingness to see that scripture never was and never will be intended to inform every element of human existence beyond its original primary intended purpose.

      • Bart, I’m not arguing for a literal hermeneutic, if by that term you mean something like how young earth creationists interpret Genesis. I would say that God is the author of general revelation in nature and special revelation in Scripture; and that they are complementary systems of knowledge. I’m cautioning against opposing general and special revelation; or giving science,
        as general revelation, the ability to neutralize the authority of Scripture. When scientific worldviews exclude the possibility of God influencing nature (what Francis Schaeffer described as assuming the uniformity of natural causes within the closed system of nature), the end result is a universe entirely independent (autonomous) from God. This is antithetical to a Christian worldview; there cannot be an understanding of creation that excludes the Creator for a biblical Christian. Schaeffer says that a Christian view of science will presume the uniformity of natural causes within an open system of nature; one into which God can and does act. If this is not done, then what emerges, according to Schaeffer, is a closed, determined universe, like the one described by B. F. Skinner in “Beyond Freedom and Dignity. “

        One example of a Christian view of evolution that fits Schaeffer’s open system of nature would be Denis Lamoureux’s discussion of evolution that Peter Enns had in various installments here on his blog and recently posted the last installment (follow the link above for “The God of Intelligent Design is a terrible pool player).

        I agree that the original audience for the human authors of
        Scripture could understand the spiritual truth of Genesis without a worldview that recognizes the universe to be over 13 billion years old. And I agree that we need more humility and flexibility in approaching the text of Scripture. However, “whatever words Christians employ to speak of the Bible (inerrant, infallible, authoritative, revelational, inspired) either today or in the past, must be seen as attempts to describe what can never be fully understood.” (from Peter’s book, “Inspiration and Incarnation, ” not my previous typo of “Inspiration and Evolution”). I think this has to be self consciously maintained.

        I suggested in my above post that what Peter Enns said in “Inspiration and Incarnation” with regard to his incarnational analogy of Scripture could frame the question of how evangelicals could approach the issues of evolution Scripture and inerrancy: “How does Scripture’s full humanity and full divinity affect what we should expect from Scripture [with regard to evolution]?” What would be critical for an evangelical to answer this question is that both the fully human and the fully divine aspects of the incarnational analogy are included and given equal consideration.

    • Susan_G1

      The lordship of Christ is far, far removed (except by some evangelicals) from the Lordship of Scripture. An EC told me recently that in some inexplicable, mysterious way, Jesus and Scripture were one and the same, and therefore in some inexplicable, mysterious way, all of Scripture was inerrant. I must admit, I fail to comprehend her explanation, or even to believe her.

      You say, “Whatever shape evangelicalism and the authority/inerrancy of Scripture takes as a consequence of evolution, we cannot go here.” How, then, can you spread God’s Good News to people who have questions? The final barrier for me was overcome by someone I respected saying, “I don’t know.” So, in my experience, it becomes essential to say this: I do not know. Scripture tells me some things. But not everything.

      • Susan, with regard to your first comment on the lordship of Christ, the point of my post is that for evangelicals, the lordship of Christ is not far removed from the Lordship of Scripture. And I used a concept and quote from a book written by Peter Enns to illustrate this point. Peter’s views on Scripture have been criticized by many conservative, literalist evangelicals. Yet he still sees that the inspiration and authority of Scripture is part of a dialogue with evangelicals.

        Your second point about my statement seemed to misunderstand what I was saying. I was saying that as Christians, we cannot accept (“go to”) a view of science that excludes God; a view that is autonomous from the lordship of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures.

  • Perhaps 1-3 must be left behind in the same way that inside of the trunk of a tree is not immediately involved in its current growth. The tree must continue to grow on the outside–sending its roots deeper, its branches higher while, at the same time, expanding it’s trunk. It’s inner trunk is, in a sense, “history”, but not totally irrelevant to its contemporary growth and development.


    • NateW

      I like this illustration. I was a little troubled by the talk of leaving brothers and sisters behind.

      We need to be careful not to take groupish names like “evangelicals,” “progressives,” etc., to heart. Evangelicalism may never be able to change, but every Evangelical person can continue to grow and learn to submit more humbly into Christ-like love.

      Rather than talk of leaving people behind, we need to endeavor to be the site of change (and lets remember, the change we seek is not intellectual but heart, not an increase in knowledge, but in love) in the midst of those who will resist until they will not have us any longer.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Call me naïve, but I think a way forward is to see early Genesis as stories in literary genres like parables, that is, fiction that makes spiritual point(s) in a short story form. One can reverse engineer the CSBI and see this at the reason Henry Morris got the CSBI to claim early Genesis was factual in its genres, because he realized what not “nailing it down” in this way and allowing an open discussion of the genres in early Genesis and thereby what they allowed in terms of science.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Your conclusion is spot on. “As far as I am concerned, these ad hoc solutions do more to expose the inadequacies of evangelicalism than they do to solve the problem of a biblically oriented faith vis-a-vis evolution.” The problem is that if a better approach is taken on these issues (from among the several already available) many will think the resulting theology is no longer evangelical. It seems that a better (perhaps simpler) definition of evangelical is needed. Christians who, through the work of the Spirit, believe the good news of the gospel and seek to live out and spread abroad this good news are, in my book, evangelicals. It’s not so much about a detailed theology as it is a real and developing relationship, both vertically and horizontally. Naive I know, but workable, hopefully for many.

  • Chris

    It is not strictly the evolution issue but an issue with evangelical apologetics in general. On a whole host of issues (evolution, gay marriage, historicity of the Bible, the problem of abhorrent commands, etc.), evangelicals are trying to maintain some unquestionable foundation at all costs. They have already arrived at their conclusions, and so it is now the job of the apologists to come up with “creative” (ad hoc) justification for why those conclusions are correct, even when all evidence works against them.

    You might be interested in a term paper I wrote. It was for a class I didn’t want to take on CS Lewis. http://bit.ly/17tqqAT The premise is that apologetics confuses laymen into thinking apologetic strategies are identical to the essential beliefs of the faith, setting them up for failure and perhaps even a loss of faith once their apologetic resources run dry.

  • Jerel

    A “Covenant Creation” view of Genesis 1 and Revelation 21-22 solves the dilemma of Adam, Evolution and the Bible for me. Adam was the first “covenant man,” not the first human. He was the first priest God called to work in his Temple. The death Adam brought was not physical death, but covenant (spiritual) death. The death Jesus overturned was the death Adam incurred, the first covenant death. The new creation in the NT is not a new universe or planet, since “matter” was not cursed or corrupted by Adam, but the new creation is a new covenant relationship in Jesus. The New Heavens and New Earth in Rev. 21-22 came at the AD70 destruction of Jerusalem, as predicted by Isaiah 65-66 (the context of Isaiah is the end of the old covenant people and city). With this construct I can accept what Genesis and Paul say about Adam, and still believe in evolution. Feel free to email me at jjkratt@gmail.com if anyone would like to discuss this further with me.

    That being said, I agree with you Pete about the Evangelical world. Evangelicals typically don’t read the Bible in it’s historical context, and don’t understand metaphor and poetic literary genres. They are literal about everything. Of course this is why eschatology is so important to protology. If one is literal about the apocalyptic texts about the end, they have to be literal about the beginning.

    • Lars

      If Adam wasn’t necessarily the first human, did his spiritual death extend immediately to everyone else or only to Adam’s direct lineage? And if the latter, then we surely still have a remnant of humans that could be considered to be “sin-free” since there would have been thousands, if not millions, of other presumably instinct-driven, yet innocent, hominids roaming the earth when God randomly plucked Adam for His covenant. How do you reconcile this posibility if your view is that Adam came along much later?

      • Jerel

        Lars, I understand the death of Adam (spiritual, covenantal, not physical) to extend to all the covenant people. But I do see Adam theologically as a “federal head” if you will of all mankind. The Temple was a representation of this arrangement. Just like how in the garden there were cherubim with flaming swords preventing entrance, so too we see in the Temple cherubim over the mercy seat and also on the Veil, preventing entry into the Most Holy Place.I don’t see this death being a lineage (i,e, function of biology) thing. As the lineage grows to bring the Christ, we see many “outsiders” of the blood lineage being incorporated into the covenant by faith. Though of course there is a definite blood lineage presented to bring us to Christ. The people of the covenant could at least draw nearer to God than the nations surrounding them, but even that closeness wasn’t the ideal to what we now have in Christ.

        I wouldn’t say that those before Adam or those not in covenant with God were sin free. I think what the NT especially Paul draw out is that no one is without sin. But what we find is that “sin is not imputed where there is no law.”

        In regards to others before Adam and those after but not in covenant, we don’t know if maybe God did deal with primitive man in some sort of covenant that isn’t what we find in the Bible narrative. I don’t read the Bible as the history of the universe or all mankind, or answering such questions. I see it as a narrative of redemption bringing us to Christ where all men are reconciled to God. We certainly see that God in the OT had many covenants with those outside the lineage of Christ. Lot and Nebuchadnezzar are two that come close to mind.

        I gave a conference talk about this a couple years ago, you can find a chart from the lecture and forum discussion about it here: http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/forum/topics/the-covenant-creation-6

        • Lars

          Thanks, Jerel, but it’s precisely the history of the universe that demands that eventual redemption, right? If this narrative has no basis in fact, there’s no need for redemption. In that light, I’m trying to get my head around the possibility that Adam was selected from the masses to be the first sinner and wreck it for everyone who came along after him. But did Adam commit the ‘original’ sin, or was it a T-Rex (which could explain the asteroid). My problem is that Christianity seems to work backwards to arrive at something called “sin” but all it can point to is Adam in the Garden doing a very human thing – being curious. And now, thanks to Dr. Enns, we can’t even point to that! It just feels awfully capricious, if not convenient, to have God intervene so dramatically and irreversibly in the evolutionary process.

          I do not take any of this as lightly as it sounds and this has caused me considerable anxiety in the past, but I have to ask – on the continuum between instinct and positive social behavior, where we do we place ‘sin’? If it separates us from God, is it also what separates us from animals, who presumably live mostly, if not entirely, by instinct? I can kind of get Original Sin if the creation account and The Fall were true. If not, they feel more like ambiguous literary devices and not things that will determine where I spend eternity. I hope.

      • JL Vaughn

        In contrast, to Jerel, I see Adam as the federal head of what became the Jews, not of all mankind.

        In Rom. 5:12-14, we see Adam tied to Moses. My ancestors didn’t know Moses. They likewise didn’t know Adam.

        I see Adam’s death as an imputation of sin. There is no imputation without law. Therefore Adam was given law.

        Sin preceded that event. Sin existed and men committed sin long before Adam ever walked in the garden.

        • Jerel

          JL, I do agree with you, but like Norm Voss has said before, the story comes to represent the reality of all mankind. The court of the Gentiles (the sea) was even further outside the Temple/tabernacle arrangement, showing that through the covenant people they could approach God, but they too were “outside.” That’s all I meant by the “Federal Head” comment. I was trying to use familiar language to help communicate my point. 🙂

        • Lars

          I’m not sure I understand. What law was Adam given? I know that Moses was given the 10 Commandments but Adam was given only one command, and it could only be broken that one time. If sin existed long before Adam, then how is sin not part of our DNA? Or something God can, in fairness, judge us for? You can train an alligator not to bite but can you really fault it when it takes your hand off?

          • JL Vaughn


            Moses was judging by and teaching the law before he “was given the 10 Commandments.” What law was that? Isy it was the law given to Adam.

            I wrote a blog on this topic a while back. http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-giving-of-the-law

          • Lars

            Intriguing analysis – thanks for the link, JL! But also somewhat confusing. So sin abounded well before Adam, but he was the first to “transgress the law”? I don’t understand how this is possible. He was the first to realize he had sinned?

            Do you think there was there death prior to Adam or was it Adam’s sin, among all the other sin going on, that brought about physical death for all living creatures from that point forward? And once that transgression occurred, did God tell everyone else from that moment on exactly what was sin was so that their sin now counted against them as well? I’m trying to construct a mental timeline of God’s interaction with humanity if we assume Adam was just one of many thousands of humans alive at the same time. It feels like a Pandora’s Box of implications no matter which way we go – that Adam was the first man or just one of many.

            Finally, isn’t it just as likely that all laws prior to the 10 Commandments were generated in the interest of maintaining society (even if ascribed to other gods) and not handed down from above? If I’m going to believe in the Judeo-Christian God (again), these are the kind of foundational questions I hope have logical answers. In any event, I appreciate your willingness to discuss this topic

          • JL Vaughn

            Lars, Augustine pointed out that Adam ate. Therefore, there was physical death in the garden. No, Adam’s death, on the day he ate was something different. This was legal death, violating the covenant. People sin. They have done so for 100,000 years. Man’s law appears to date to before Gobekli Tepe, some 12,000 years ago. Most of what we call the Law of Moses, dates to Gen. 1:3, sometime around 3500 BC give or take, at the time of the very beginning of writing. But that law was given to those people. That covenant was only for them. It was not given to our ancestors. We were not in Adam. We never were. We were grafted into Christ. And it is only when we are grafted in, that their history becomes our history.

            Think of this, as an American, George Washington is my father. My son-in-law is not an American. Washington is not his father. But when my son-in-law becomes a citizen next year, Washington will become his father. If the US one day ceases to exist, Washington will then be no ones father.

            Adam was never my father. He was the father of Israel just as Abraham was. He became the father of the mixed multitude that left Egypt. But he ceased to be anyones father when the first covenant ended.

          • JL Vaughn


            Consider this. The oldest known temple is at Gobekli Tepe. It is 6000 years older than the oldest known altar which was in the city of Eridu. People worshiped God or gods for at least 6000 years before the first sacrifice.

            The altar at Eridu was from the literal dawn of history. That is, we know who that altar belonged to. (There is no older object for which we know the name of the owner.) His name was Adapa. In Akkad, to the north which spoke a different language, the city was called Eden and man was called Adam.

        • Bryan

          Where in Genesis does it actually use the word “sin” to demonstrate Adam’s “fall”?

          • JL Vaughn

            Bryan, Genesis doesn’t. Paul does.

          • Bryan

            Correct. Doesn’t solve the problem of injecting a term which never appears in the text. Paul is most likely using a particular rabbinic exegesis. My point is this, for all the talk about original sin in Genesis, it sure is odd that the term never even occurs. This doesn’t mean that the concept of sin is forever gone; it just needs to be defined with different parameters.

          • JL Vaughn

            And I believe Paul does this. He purposefully uses “sin” in two different but related ways. We have bollixed up our interpretation of Genesis and of Paul, because we have assumed that “first Adam” means “first man.” It doesn’t. Just as (and we all agree) “last Adam” does not mean “last man.”

          • Bryan

            Again, this brings us back to Genesis. Why demonstrate on a theological plane the origin of “sin” in a text which never explicitly mentions it? Paul seems to offer a retrojection of an explanation of how sin begin when he describes Adam as “one”, henos. I don’t think this is a stretch to interpret Paul this way.

            I recently heard a podcast in which Pete was interviewed and he offered an explanation of the “Fall” chapter of Genesis as a post-exilic polemic regarding the Israelites stay in exile. The curse which occurs (not sin) offers a portrayal in which a reframing of their situatedness offers the best possible explanation for why they are there.

          • Lars

            JL & Bryan, this is why it’s so hard for me to get excited about “sin”. Unless you believe Genesis is true, it’s impossible to determine when it first occurred or what it even is or isn’t. And yet, sin is the very thing that separates us from eternal life with the one, true perfect God (but, alas, not eternal life altogether) and the raison d’etre of Christianity. When I look at my own family and friends, do I see rampant sinning or just a series of decisions with good, bad, and neutral outcomes? Is anyone engaging in the sort of behavior that demands that they be “tormented day and night forever and ever” or that ensures they will receive “treasures in heaven”? Not seeing it in mine.And how can a rational person agree that justice is served in either case, regardless of what is believed or what prayer is recited?

            When I tore up my faith and started over, I wanted to see if I could rebuild it with a minimum of assumptions, sort of like a spiritual flowchart. I’m finding it hard enough to get to deism, much less past it. But, questions about meaning and purpose should be hard, and it’s great to see that there are evangelicals that are at least reframing them and inviting discussion. It also makes me wonder if this sort of thing also happens on Islamic and Judaic blogs??

          • Bryan

            I do not think that Judaism struggles with this particular question because they are far more free to explore their scriptures, hence, this discussion is strongly relegated to the Western Evangelical church. I appreciate your honesty in stressing your struggles with your faith. The real question is, “Why does this happen?” In seminary I noticed that there was a grave difference between the Bible that was read on the popular level and the Bible that is read in the academy. Both sides genuinely believe in God but they perceive God in different ways. One is far more reflective and has struggled and waded in difficult material pertaining to the period while the other has not.

            I think you are asking the wrong question when asking when sin first occurred. The prophets, Deuteronomistic historians, Priestly class and the popular religion of the Israelites who offered resistance to state-sponsored Yahwism all would have had a conception of sin. None of these groups ever lamented the “first sin of Adam” as the source of all their problems. Other concepts of sin would include idolatry, social injustice, etc. Ironically, the vast majority of the protestant church does not realize that they have inherited an Augustinian version of original sin and yet they are not Catholic. This perspective is pervasive.

            In no way would I dismiss the concept of sin as separation from God. As for when it all began, I am not so sure I am concerned with that as much as “what” causes sin. In the end, to preserve sanity, mystery will have to be accepted on some level and yet proceed with life knowing that we truly do have limited access to complete knowledge. I guess we are victims of being human.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You’ll find that basically next to no serious biblical scholars propose a pre-70 AD dating for Revelation.

      • Jerel

        That is completely untrue. I’m not sure who you consider to be a serious bible scholar, but there are many out there who do. And, it was the majority scholarly opinion for hundreds of years before dispensationalism arose in the 1850’s (which was a reaction to Lyel’s geology and Darwin’s evolution). One of the best scholarly works is “Before Jerusalem Fell” by Kenneth Gentry. He presents both internal and external evidence showing the early date of the book. He refutes the scholars to base a late date from Irenaeus’ testimony. I am a former Pastor, and have been studying this for many years, and have several books and commentaries (around 60) in my library, both pre-AD70 and post-AD70. You really shouldn’t throw logical fallacies like that around.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Sorry, but Gentry is a renowned preterist who forged his conclusions prior to any research (and I think dispensationalism is crud as well). Not honest scholarship in my opinion. The preponderance of external (including the earliest) external testimony puts it during the reign of Domitian, done at a time when orthodox scribes were pushing direct apostolic authorship of NT texts (which says a lot). This corresponds with the internal evidence within the text, which speaks of Christian persecution certainly larger than the isolated event that occurred under Nero.

          The common Christian interpretation of the fall of Jerusalem as some ‘act of God’ breaking the old covenant not only struggles from a historical basis (Mark 13 reflects an evangelist writing during the time of the siege; the references to the fall of the Temple and associated events attributed to Jesus are clear post-diction) but also people forget how horribly brutal that event was; many innocent women and children butchered. I don’t understand that cognitive dissonance required when people lament some of the actions of Yahweh in the OT but don’t think twice to this view of the Jewish War and its significance. But of course Gentry is a Calvinist so his conception of God is already pretty brutal.

          • Jerel

            That’s quite a mouthful, Andrew, accusing a “renown” scholar of forgery and dishonesty. Maybe you could back that accusation up?

            You might be interested to know that the Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches have held to the pre-AD70 dating since the second century.

            The internal evidence is so overwhelming to a pre-AD70 dating that I wonder about the “Cognitive Dissonance” of those who reject it. I guess they aren’t reading the same Bible I am.

            The best modern scholarship know rejects any widespread persecution under Domitian and recognize that it was at it’s height under Nero. But, the story of Revelation isn’t about Rome, but the harlot city Jerusalem who rode on the Beast Rome. The judgment is on the adulterous wife of God, old covenant Israel.

            Regarding lamenting God’s actions in the OT, the Jewish War is thoroughly consistent with God’s actions in the Babylonian exile as well, and I lament neither one. It was God’s purpose to carry out such plans. Read 2 Chronicles 36 and 2 Kings 24 where God says it was He that did it for a specific purpose. The AD66-70 war was the vindication of Jesus against those who murdered him. You can see that from such texts as Matt. 22:1-14, 23:34-36; and 26:64.

          • AHH

            Without getting into the argument itself, Andrew was using the word “forged” in a different sense than what you interpreted.

          • Jerel

            Thank you for that input AHH. I came to my understanding of “forged” because of his accusation of not Gentry being “honest.” I can see now that is not how he was using “forged.” However it’s still a heavy accusation. That is a serious charge.

            I take Andrew’s arguing to contain some logical fallacies (ad hominem, genetic, and personal incredulity).

            BTW I am not a Calvinist and not of the exact same eschatological view of Gentry and find some of his arguments to be wholly in error or fallacious, but still I can find worth in other parts of his work. It is a logical fallacy to dismiss someone’s entire corpus of work because they are preterist or calvinist.

            I believe the arguments for an early date of Revelation fulfilled by AD70 deserve new study by those who follow Enns, because I found them to support a different view of Genesis which upholds the concurrent possibility of evolution and the existence of a man named Adam approx. 6000 years ago as concordant with the Bible.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Yes I meant forged as in “setting forth” and not forgery. Although I do think Gentry cherry-picks his sources out of context.

            You say “because I found them to support a different view of Genesis which
            upholds the concurrent possibility of evolution and the existence of a
            man named Adam approx. 6000 years ago as concordant with the Bible.”

            Which is the very issue and a major issue with evangelical/conservative hermeneutics. The path is set to get to a certain destination. What I would call “honest” scholarship leaves the destination to be determined by the data. That fact that you are looking for an answer to Genesis to be in accordance with a 6000 year old Adam demonstrates this.

            You said “The AD66-70 war was the vindication of Jesus against those who murdered him.”

            Ha! I guess so much for love your neighbor . . .notwithstanding the twisted mind that would see the murder of women and children by Roman soldiers as some sort of righteous justice.

          • Jerel


            Yes you are right when you say that any approach to the text with a foregone conclusion and then trying to fit the text to the conclusion is wrong. If I gave the impression that was what I did, that would be incorrect. My journey has taken me several years and many changed viewpoints and interpretations over the years. The viewpoint I stated was my current understanding, the result of my study of the text and science, not the other way around. But you never asked me anything about why I believe what I do or how I arrived at it; all you did was throw out logical fallacies and attack the authority of one of my references. I assure I can find people who have done the same thing to any of your choice scholars including Pete Enns. But I don’t think that approach is very mature. (And you haven’t provided a lick of evidence proving your accusation other than Thus Sayeth Andrew).

            Your last comment about the AD70 war and loving your neighbor shows tremendous ignorance of the Biblical text including the prophets and the teaching of Jesus. I read this text just last Sunday in my Daniel class at our church:

            2 Kings 24:1-4 (ESV) In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. (2) And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. (3) Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight [away from His presence, just like He had done with Cain for murdering Abel], for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, (4) and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon.

            2 Chronicles 36:14-21 ESV (14) All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. (15) The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. (16) But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (17) Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. (18) And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. (19) And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. (20) He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, (21) to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

            God sovereignly ordained both exiles of his people just like he did with Adam and Cain. The Adamites/Sethites who called on the Lord would be in exile but with the presence of the Lord going with them out into the wilderness where they came from, but Cain (who foreshadowed the wicked Israelites both in Daniel’s time and in Jesus’ time) would be punished. Jesus himself warned rebellious Israel throughout the gospels of the impending judgment of Gehenna in their generation if they did not repent. The judgment of Gehenna happened in AD66-70.

            It appears you have issue with God doing this, and see it as unjust and unloving. It might be best to cease any further discussion with you because I perceive you to be closed minded and unwilling to discuss disagreements in a mutually edifying way.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Jerel, while I have no doubt we are coming from two very different places, I do apologize if you took my comments as a personal attack. I can’t comment on your personal opinions beyond what you post yourself, and I have issue with some of the views you were espousing.

            This brings us back to what is the Bible, how it was developed, its historicity, what authority does it have. It’s a major issue evangelicalism and Christianity in general has to grapple with. You cite those passages as if a) they are completely historical and b) they are true reflections of God rather than the ancient writer’s reflection of God during a certain point in Jewish history. Likewise, I see, along with most non-apologetic critical scholarship. the Gospels as having been written after the destruction of the Temple, and the lengthy apocalyptic discourses about the Temple’s destruction attributed to Jesus having their root in communities dealing with that catastrophic event (as concurrently Judaism was shunning Christians from synagogue worship as it coalesced for survival).

            As stated, we are coming from very different places and I’ll just leave it at that.

          • Norman

            Andrew, IMHO what drives the idea of late authorship of NT writings or even ruling out Paul’s authorship of some writings historically attributed to him is an uneasiness with prophetic fulfillment. It is very similar to the idea that Daniel is really not a fulfilled messianic piece of literature because it’s written in the 2nd century BC instead of the 5th century. It doesn’t really matter because what matters is that all the evidence points to messianic fulfillment by Jesus of Nazareth as the lynchpin or cornerstone of our Christianity. Critical Historical scholars are not going to climb on board a dating the doesn’t reinforce their presuppositions about after the fact writings as they often work from that supposition.

            I think the issues you raise are valid discussion points that need to be addressed without shying away from them. There are many layers though that may have some surprising answers if we dig deeper. I personally think that Christianity was a response to the OT problem of religious corruption by the Jewish leadership, we see this constant theme throughout the OT with that dissatisfaction. However it’s also tied into not wanting to align with the pagan nations so the issues become complex and need to be sorted out systematically.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Ah Norman, was surprised you hadn’t come in earlier . . .

            You say “an uneasiness with prophetic fulfillment.”
            Or maybe knowledge that practically every ‘prophecy’ or ‘end-times date’ claimed once solid record-keeping became standard practice has proven to be complete bunk. I think to believe that prophecies were being fulfilled left and right but have suddenly stopped in the last 1000+ years requires a pretty big veiling of our God-given brains. (Also, if Jesus truly had knowledge of the future, is it not suspicious he fortells an event that occurred at a time around or after most scholars date the Gospels? Could he have not given heed about the the rise of Constantine, the bubonic plague, discovery of the Americas? etc.)

            I don’t see the NT writers looking through the OT (the Greek OT, of course, leading to some translation issues) to find prophetic fulfillment as a “cornerstone” of Christianity, although I suppose I can see why some may feel that way since the early Church emphasized them to make sure it demonstrated its ultimate superiority to Judaism (and deem illegitimate those who still practiced Judaism).

          • Norman

            Andrew, I fully realize the doubt that many have about prophetic fulfillment but the prophecies IMO were all about the time of Messiah to set right what had gone wrong in the Garden. That is simply how Judaism turned to a works based religion instead of a faith religion. Daniel and other locations including Paul call for the cessation of prophetic fulfillment when all has been accomplished concerning Messiah. We have historically kept on projecting a never ending era of Messiah when it was a place in time to change focus and usher in the Covenant Change.
            When one misappropriates the setting of prophecy it’s easy to get confused and say nothing really was fulfilled. Those who we Preterist call futurist simply have missed the context of the times. But hey we could be wrong and everything Christianity is built upon could be a house of cards that’s built upon Christ and the Apostles and the OT prophets not really having a clue to what they were talking about.
            Andrew why would you continue to hang with a religious construct that has no basis in any form of truth in your mind. Preterist are adamant about prophetic fulfillment and our faith is strengthen through recognizing those events coming to pass.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Andrew why would you continue to hang with a religious construct that has no basis in any form of truth in your mind.”

            To the contrary, I find plenty of truth in the ministry of Jesus and the power of the Resurrection.
            But what you state rests on several assumptions that I don’t share.

          • Norman

            That’s good, I was concerned somewhat by what you stated previously. I can dialogue with someone of faith even if I’m concerned about their approach as I realize things can be hard to decipher.
            I would love to hear how you establish your faith.

      • Jerel

        Also, would the “no serious bible scholar” charge apply to NT Wright, Gordon Fee and David Chilton?

    • residentoftartarus


      Your idea of Adam as the first “covenant man” whom God called/chose to “work in his Temple” is one of the two solutions that Pete dismissed in this post on the grounds of being ad hoc.

      • Norman

        Actually Jerel’s idea is the least ad hoc approach as it encompasses the original Jewish mindset and not the modern one.

      • JL Vaughn

        Uh, Resident, the two “solutions” Enns calls ad hoc are

        The two most common attempts are (1) to see Adam and Eve as the first hominids in the evolutionary line that God chose as the first representative humans, and (2) “Adam and Eve” represent the gene pool from which the current world population is has descended–which I am told by people who know these things is something like 5,000 to 10,000 people living 100,000 or more years ago.

        Covenant Creation is neither of these. The question we should first ask is, “What was created in Genesis 1?” The standard answer, our natural assumption, is, “The physical universe.”

        But is it? The most common entity in Scripture that is referred to as “the heaven and the earth,” is the entirety of the Old Covenant. If Genesis 1 describes the “creation” of this covenant, then every claim made about the Bible and the physical universe is in error. The Bible isn’t necessarily in error, but we are because we have misunderstood Genesis.

        What if Genesis 1 describes a historical event, some 5000-6000 years ago, written in the standard form of the day?

        The creation of the physical universe is not an historic event in the technical meaning of the term. If Adam was the first man or progenitor of all humans, then he is not a historic person. Both physical creation and the first humans were prehistoric by definition. That is, no one can know their names, because they couldn’t be written down.

        But we know Adam’s name. The text says he lived in what we now call ancient Sumer, in a land destroyed by the great flood. The text is written in an extinct Sumerian style. Genesis 1:1-2:4, specifically, was written in a style used by early accountants to commemorate temple dedications.

        This is not a style Moses nor Ezra would have used. This style died when Akkad conquered Sumer around the time of Terah and Abram.

        Genesis 1 concerns the “creation” (H. bara, to cut, verb form of the Hebrew word for covenant), the setting aside, of God’s original covenant people. Adam was their priest and king. The people were Adamites, because they followed Adam.

  • summers-lad

    I think you have made the same mistake as the Christian fundamentalists and new atheists here: of claiming that biblical Christianity and evolution are incompatible. I believe that the majority of evangelicals in the UK (not sure about USA – maybe the fundies are just more vocal over there) don’t seem to have a problem with evolution, although a sizeable minority do. I would argue strongly that young earth creationism is biblically untenable, and that scripture is silent on evolution but certainly doesn’t exclude it. A coherent evangelical argument can be made for the possibility of evolution (though not further, as we then move into science, not theology).

    I don’t see redefining evangelicalism as any answer. You may see evangelicalism as spanning 4-13, but as long as most people see it as 1-10, there it stays. It will evolve (yes) but it won’t be pushed.

  • Derek

    I often like to think in terms of mere Christianity and I envision a “theology web” to help define that. Essentially I see in the middle of the web the existence of God, and near the center would be the resurrection of Christ. If the existence of God or the resurrection are proved to be false then the entire web collapses and Christianity is falsified.

    Now, in regards to inerrancy and evolution these issues are more on the outer regions of the web and therefore whatever the reality may be, the web stays in tact and ultimately has no bearing on the truthfulness of Christianity. Therefore, I maintain a interest in these matters but I try and keep it in perspective.

    At the end of the day I’m just an average dude that believes the Bible and that entails reaching the lost with the good news of the gospel: God Holy – Man Sinner – Christ reconciles. =)

  • Susan_G1

    “or do these very attempts expose the problems of evangelical theology that need to be addressed?”

    No surprises here; I think people need to ask what, exactly, is the Bible, and what, exactly, does the Bible say it is? I’m not advocating circular reasoning here, just the ability to question and seek truth. This is so threatening to so many Evangelicals that they cannot get past what they think it says to come around to what it was meant to be.

    I don’t think there is as much cognitive dissonance as there is cognitive-avoiding compartmentalization. I want to add that it is the very same compartmentalization that allows people to cherry-pick verses to hurl at each other to condemn activities that make some uncomfortable (e.g. contraception, public-schooling and other choices). If we argue over such minor details without an honest approach to Scripture, how can we have an honest approach to what Scripture is?

    I don’t have all the answers, all I have are a lot of questions and three answers. However, I feel that I am a more honest and loving person now that I don’t have “the answers”. (My three “answers”: an omnipresent, loving God exists; Jesus is the perfect, mysterious sacrifice given in love for us; and the Holy Spirit is indeed active in the world of believers. So I guess I like Derek’s web, which places these things at the center, and the rest at expanding distances from the center.)

  • Collins


    I’m a faithful blog reader here (and I am extremely grateful for your thoughtful and spiritually provoking posts!). I’m a little confused with this one, though. How are you defining “evangelical?” It’s a notoriously difficult definition, I understand. But it seems like you have a specific, sub-cultural picture in mind with the tone of this piece. Are we talking evangelicalism = wooden literalism? Evangelicalism = biblical orthodoxy? Evangelicalism = “Enlightenment Christianity”?

    • Susan_G1


      forgive me for jumping in here, but your question was the same one I thought of as I started reading the post. This might help:

      “For mainstream evangelicalism, Adam must be in some sense a
      historical individual. Why? Adam as myth, metaphor, symbol, etc. is, we
      are told, beneath Scripture’s dignity. Also, Paul’s references to Adam
      in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, however brief, indicate that Adam as
      first man is foundational to the gospel.”

      The NAE describes itself as holding to 4 principles, one of which is “Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.”

    • AHH

      I had the same thought. If one defines “evangelical” by Bebbington’s famous analysis, or for example by the scope of views at Fuller Seminary, there need be no conflict with evolution.

      It seems like Pete is defining it more in terms of Westminster (maybe understandable) and Wheaton and other expressions that I might call “conservative evangelical” or “fundamentalist”.

      I think part of the problem is that some on that wing have tried to redefine the word so as to shrink the size of the tent, for example by trying to make “inerrancy” (rather than something more inclusive like “authority and inspiration of Scripture”) a part of the definition of the term. So a question is whether those of us who think of ourselves as Evangelicals but don’t buy into these imported fundamentalist doctrines want to fight for a broader use of the term or abandon it to the fundamentalist-leaning wing.

  • rvs

    Perhaps 1-3 on the continuum are like Captain Benteen in the Twilight Zone episode “On Thursday We Leave for Home.” Benteen initially loves the idea of returning home to a wonderful, lush earth (he and his people are stranded on an unforgiving planet), but as he realizes that his totalitarian control over the group will be diminished, he begins to try to convince others to stay with him on the desolate world.

  • residentoftartarus


    I think the main problem goes something like this: For evangelicals, the biblical narrative is an Augustinian creation-fall-redemption-new creation narrative; however, evolution functions as a defeater to the historicity of the second act in this narrative. Hence, Adam must be historical not because Paul mentioned him a few times in a couple letters but because his existence is important with respect to the veracity of the biblical narrative.

    The way forward, then, is not to shift from a 1-10 scale to a 4-13 scale as you propose (whatever that means) but to re-imagine the biblical narrative along non-Augustinian lines so that the historicity of Gen 2-3 is no longer as important.

    • Aceofspades25

      I agree and this is why many scholars have attempted to resurrect the Irenaean theodicy. Personally I think they’re headed in the right direction with that.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Evangelicalism is very broad as many have said and the discussion recognizes. Asking for a wide ranging evangelical theology that everyone signs on to is like asking for a wide ranging statement of what all Baptists or Anglicans believe. Many of the ideas expressed here and Pete’s general approach fall into what Roger Olson refers to as post-conservative (itself a broad group). I find Olson’s book “Reformed and and Always Reforming” very helpful in thinking through this maze. He seems content to let those who wish to stay conservative do so, while encouraging the post-conservatives to press on toward much needed reform. That’s what I see Pete, Kenton Sparks, Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, Greg Boyd, N.T. Wright and others doing and am glad to cheer them on.

  • Aceofspades25

    Hey Peter, there are lots of bad attempts to merge a literal Adam in with what we know about our origins.

    Here are three of them that differ from your own: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/creation-and-science-ten-models

    None of these are tenable in my opinion. Perhaps you could comment on these and give us your thoughts about their various flaws.

  • James

    When God creates a people for his name he separates out Adam from the great deep, Noah from un-creation, Abraham from idolators, and new creation from orginal creation. So in a sense Adam is not only proto-Israel but also the first Christian–we need to keep him in our family tree, original sin and all! Rather than demythologize our faith like Bultmann, I think we should remythologize it like Kevin Vanhoozer. Not sure if that’s over near 1 or 13.

  • Bryan

    It seems like the attempts to reconcile a first Adam and Eve with either first hominids or first gene pool is perhaps an inadvertent attempt at demonstrating a metanarrative which totalizes all other narratives. Any thoughts on this?

  • carrdexter3

    This is a such a great post, intriguing and make me think your point of view and thoughts. http://zondervan.com/violaf

  • Brian P.

    Pete, Evangelicalism was founded and shaped in a different cultural context and worldview than what most of us have today. Trying to reconcile or harmonize is like trying to fit phaser guns into Star Wars and light sabers into Star Trek. It can be done but something net new is created that is different from the intents of the creators of either prior world. And if someone were to take on the project, I’d suggest it would have to be much more vast than your project about historical Adam and dabbling into Original Sin. There’s much more doctrinal at play. With regard to slipperyslopephobia, the presuppositions about how the real world works that cause us to come to accept evolution, these same presuppositions are not silent on things such as the virgins conceiving and the dead and decaying returning to a state of metabolism or rising into the air in defeat of gravity’s tug. We the Reformers presupposed and believed isn’t what Paul or Jesus presupposed and believed and what we’re left with is a collage of their worldviews and beliefs and ours too. Why does their need to be one model any more than Star Wars and Star Trek needing to be flatly clubbed together into one harmonized world and story. Enjoy the stories for what they’re worth. Evangelical Biblical scholarship is a project meant to preserve one telling of one tradition of stories. Bringing up evolution in that context is like trying to extol the virtues of Jar Jar Binks at a Trekkie convention. Let it go Pete. Breathe in, breath out. Let it go.

    • Lars

      I think it’s a great question! Can Evangelicalism evolve in light of new revelation (science) or is it forever mired in its tar of inerrancy, destined to reflect the ignorance of its beginnings? It’s certainly worth discussing if you think that science has anything to offer on matters of faith. And, as you note, it IS a vast undertaking but you have to start somewhere. What better place than Adam! I don’t think the goal is to arrive at a particular model as much as it is to fully understand this one, And, of course, to boldly go where no evangelical has gone before.

  • archie

    the problem for you is that you are trying to get the church to accept sinful and false teaching and you are the one who is at fault not the church. you are the one sinning and leading people to sin. get right with God.

    • Can you point to any manifestations of this ‘sin’ in reality? The OT prophets typically described the actual damage that was caused by Israel’s injustice, decadence, etc. Can you point to any actual damage that Pete is causing? I can’t. Indeed, it seems to me that a switch away from the Augustinian view of the Fall, toward the Irenaean view, may actually yield better theology. It’s not clear that there is really any scriptural evidence as to whether Ireneaus or Augustine had a better interpretation of the Fall, even though much theology has been built on the Augustinian view. It seems that we Christians should respect the physical evidence in such situations, no?

      Would you be open to discovering whether the Augustinian view of the Fall is a sinful view? The way we’d investigate it is to follow Jesus’ command to evaluate the fruit of people and their ideas.

  • Great observations and “calls to action”, Peter. The one major figure who seems to have personally done what you suggest and is calling Evangelicals to do it, more “in the public eye” than anyone I know of, is Brian McLaren. Personally I think he has transcended Evangelical theology (properly) and I think he knows it. However, he doesn’t want to declare it in so many words, so he can keep speaking as if “from within the camp.” It is remarkable to me how he keeps as much Evangelical hearing as he does (although I know many have relegated him to true apostate already).

  • I was sent a review of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, which contained this snippet:

    I greatly value the teachings of men like Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, although I now am more aware of the fact that we should not automatically agree with everything they said. They were men, and therefore they were capable of error.

    Here’s a key insight: wrong ‘view’ of inerrancy results in treating people as inerrant, which commits the highest crime one can commit under rule of [evangelical] inerrancy: adding to a closed canon. The reviewer originally wanted to agree with something Martin Luther may or may not have said: “[a justified person is like a] snow-covered dunghill”. Seven years later, he admitted that Eldredge had a point: the regenerate heart is not pure evil. Let’s put aside that the whole “refining of precious metals” metaphor fails if there are no precious metals to refine.

    Pete, I think there is merit in finding other such inconsistency or outright hypocrisy in certain lines of evangelical thinking. I am becoming more and more convinced that God designed the world such that inconsistency and hypocrisy would always be around when ‘badness’ is around. There’s also pride, which leads me to this bit of Job 40:

    Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

    “Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
    Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
    Have you an arm like God,
    and can you thunder with a voice like his?

    “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
    clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
    Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
    and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
    Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
    and tread down the wicked where they stand.
    Hide them all in the dust together;
    bind their faces in the world below.
    Then will I also acknowledge to you
    that your own right hand can save you.

    To lossily paraphrase: Job shouldn’t think that he is prepared to judge right and wrong until he can put the proud and wicked in their places. Note that pride sees more emphasis than wickedness!! Pride is the number one defense against exposure of hypocrisy and inconsistency. Worth thinking about?

  • TruthSeeker

    When I got to the paragraph about Paul referencing Adam as justifying Genesis, all I could think was, OK, the writer is no logician, because the only obvious conclusion is that Paul is probably as wrong on this as he is regarding “Jesus dying for our sins” and a whole lot of other fundamental mistakes about God.

  • Chip M Anderson

    The Certainity assumed of the evolutionary theory is astounding. Enns here as well as elsewhere assumes that firm foundation of the evolutionary theory, by which their is now a rather shaken consensus. Furthermore, he asks us to use evolution as one of our hermeneutical principles for interpreting the texts of scripture, and where the two are in conflict, the a priori commitment is to the truthfulness and certainty of the evolutionary theory. He neglects to concern himself with the fact that the evolutionary theory is not the only scientific game in town. The same weaknesses of atheistic naturalism are also found in the Enns’ et al theory that we have an errant bible that was divinely inspired. Ironic.

  • Bruce Glass

    How does Pete define evangelicalism? Dismissing the findings of science, while most prevalent among evangelicals, is not necessity of evangelicalism–at least not as i understand the term. Evangelicalism is a way of life that includes a reliance on the “inerrancy” of Scripture and, among some, it has fostered an erroneous adherence to literal interpretations of some Scriptural passages. But this error is nor what defines evangelicalism and not all evangelicals make the mistake. Nor is the mistake exclusive to evangelicals.

    I think we need not expect evangelicals to modify their theology. Instead, perhaps we can simply encourage those who believe that the findings of science threaten their faith to see that science cannot undermine Scripture when it is properly understood. Undue Biblical liberalism is a modern phenomenon. Early Christians tended not to make that mistake. It is certainly not inherent to Christian belief.

    As an essential component of the reconciliation of science and faith, I wrote about this at greater length in “Exploring Faith and Reason.” Christians, including evangelicals, need not abandon reason to believe in God.