Pete Enns, The Evolution of Adam: Part 2

Pete Enns, The Evolution of Adam: Part 2 February 1, 2012

As part of the blog tour about Pete Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, I previously blogged about the introduction and part 1. Now I turn to part 2, which focuses on the figure of Adam in Paul’s writings and theology.

In part two, Enns turns his attention to Adam as Paul understood him, emphasizing that this is not simply Adam as depicted in Genesis or indeed anywhere else. The extent to which Paul resembles and in some instances shared the views of other Jewish interpreters in the ancient world is highlighted, as is the freedom with which Paul was willing not merely to reinterpret passages but even reword them in order to make his point. Paul was clearly not a Biblicist. As Enns strikingly and accurately puts it on p.113, “The text is not the master: it serves a goal” (p.113). The implication, of course, is that those who set themselves up to be the defenders of Paul’s view of Adam are in the process approaching Scripture in a radically different way than Paul himself did.

One reason why Paul’s view of Adam is distinctive is that he views Adam in relation to Jesus. Indeed, it is Paul’s view of Adam that is shaped by Jesus, rather than vice versa. Had his view of what God had done to save humankind involved two individuals, Paul could easily have read the Genesis story with a different emphasis: “Just as through two people sin entered the world…” Paul’s view of Adam is shaped by his understanding of Christ and salvation.

Enns acknowledges that Paul presumed Adam to be a historical individual. But he considers it important to separate the observable (indeed, self-evident) situation in which humankind finds itself (namely one of domination by sin, alienation from God, and death), and Paul’s presumed cause of that state of affairs (pp.123-125). One can view Jesus as God’s solution to humanity’s plight much as Paul did, even while taking a different view of the cause of that plight. That does require rethinking of Christian theology, but not the jettisoning of its core tenets, much less of the whole package in its entirety.

Enns makes many other important points in this part of the book. Among them is his emphasis on p.126 that “failure to provide at once an adequate counterproposal to a historical Adam for “why” does not mean that the scientific and archaeological data that raised the problem in the first place can be set aside.” The question of whether the sun orbits the earth or vice versa was settled by the scientific data and the simplicity of the latter explanation in accounting for the relevant evidence, and fortunately did not have to await a point at which all Christians felt that they had adequately adapted to the new cosmological view. The question of whether evolution occurred is to be settled scientifically, and accepting the conclusion of science cannot and must not be made dependent on whether Christians have yet come up with a satisfactory way of adapting our theologies to this new understanding.

In the conclusion to the book, Enns offers nine theses. One is that literalism is not an option – and indeed, is dangerous. Another is that an incarnational view of Scripture is appropriate. For Christians to claim that one has to see beyond the humanity and cultural trappings of the Bible in order to encounter God is to deny the very nature of the incarnation, which claims that God is made known in and through a human life, not by getting away from it or seeing around, through, and past it. Enns also emphasizes the need for serious theological reflection on the subject of evolution. Evolution requires a very different view of a number of matters from aggression and sexuality to death. Nevertheless, Enns views it as a genuine and viable option to rethink Christian theology in a way that keeps core elements intact.

These, perhaps, are the key points that one takes away from this important book, which packs an amount of persuasive detail into a relatively small space. On the one hand, mainstream science including evolution is not going away, and so one can only ignore or deny evolution by isolating oneself and engaging in deception of oneself and others. On the other hand, there are viable and attractive options in between preserving faith by rejecting science or rejecting faith because of science. It is possible (and for those of us committed to both the Christian faith and honest engagement with other spheres of human knowledge, necessary) to rethink elements of Christian theology in relation to the current state of scientific knowledge. In doing so, Christians are not being unfaithful to God and the Gospel, but are doing precisely what has always been done, even within the pages of the Bible itself, namely allowing their faith to find expression in a way that is relevant to and incarnate within our particular historical context.

I highly recommend this book, and am hopeful that the significant number of books by Evangelical scientists and scholars addressing the relevant scientific and textual evidence related to the intersection of evolution and Christian faith will lead to a shift away from deceptive nonsense like young-earth creationism, and towards a serious whole-hearted engagement with the best Biblical scholarship and science.

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