The 20th century saw considerable debate surrounding evolution and Christianity. It appears that the 21st century will not fare differently (at least, presently). There continues to be significant debate and disagreement among evangelicals (broadly defined). Peter Enns has been at the center of this issue for some time. While he was once a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (an opponent to theistic evolution) he is now part of the BioLogos Foundation by way of Fuller Seminary and Eastern University.
His career journey has corresponded to his scientific and theological journey. The Evolution of Adam is the latest addition along the road of his journey. Yet, even this latest contribution is not meant to be the final word. Enns opens Evolution with this explanation:
Here my goal is not to arrive at final solutions, and it is certainly not to cover the many vital, complex, interwoven issues that evolution has brought to the theological table (ix).
Enns wants to focus on the Bible and not evolution directly. He continues,
My goal is to focus solely on how the Bible fits into all of this. The biblical authors tell a very different story of human origins than does science (ix).
The perennial issue between theistic evolutionists and young-earth creationists has been the theological emphasis Scripture (namely Paul in Romans 5) places upon a real, historical Adam. Jesus and the apostles believe in a literal, historical Adam, so to conclude that he did not exist is shaky ground.
Enns wants to propose a new solution. In order to make his argument he focuses upon the book of Genesis and the apostle Paul. In the first part he looks at issues surrounding the authorship and dating of Genesis, it’s cultural contemporaries (Ancient Near-Eastern literature and mythology), and an emphasis upon a theological reading. Turning his attention to Paul, Enns examines Paul’s view of Adam and the Old Testament. He then explores Paul’s cultural mileau and makes the point that Paul’s Adam is not necessarily historical (135).
On the surface, Enns makes a compelling argument for his reading of Genesis and Paul. Yet, interesting as it is, it still does solve the theological problems it presumes to solve. Additionally, it adds a host of other predicaments.
First, in order to maintain his thesis it requires that we accept modern, critical theories of Pentateuchal authorship. Despite the insistence of liberal scholarship, there are far more compelling reasons to accept Moses’ authorship as opposed to the proposed J, E, D, P theories. Wellhausen’s theories were uncritically accepted by modernist theologians despite it’s inherent deficiencies. So, Enns proposal suffers from a deficient presupposition.
Secondly, while his reading of creation and Adam as the formation of Israel is novel, it still doesn’t fit the context of Genesis 1-11. Whether Genesis 1-2 is poetic or prose, it certainly has cosmic implications. Also, reading Adam in light of Moses is anachronistic. It’s Moses who is to be read in light of Adam and the Passover as a redemptive paradigm describing God’s restoration of the conditions present in Eden.
Moreover, if Genesis 3-11 is to be limited to Israel, then the focus on the Noahic flood and the tower of Babel would seem oddly universal. How exactly the geographical dispersion of humanity and the creation of various languages to thwart their attempts to build a monument to their idolatrous intentions tells the story of God’s covenant nation is unclear. Also, it is against this literary backdrop wherein we are introduced to the patriarch of Israel: Abraham. The same one who, interestingly enough, plays a key historical and theological role in Paul’s greatest theological treatise – Romans. It seems to be a more natural reading of Genesis to see Abraham as the patriarch of Israel and Adam the patriarch of humanity.
Thirdly, he assumes evolution and re-reads the Bible in its light. As a Reformed christian I welcome observational knowledge gleaned from all sources. God’s common grace allows for truth about the world to be discovered by non-Christians. But, the problem which evolutionists fail to see is that it is still a theory that is treated like a fact. If it could be proven (in the truly scientific sense, i.e. reproducible in a laboratory), then I would welcome the knowledge. Yet, it is still a theory and has not been proven. So, scientifically speaking I am welcome to question its validity.
Fourthly, comparative readings can be helpful, but they are not absolute. While there may be similarities in literary form, they are not absolute sources of meaning. While reading Orwell’s 1984 alongside Huxley’s A Brave New World may be helpful to understand their world, but Orwell cannot definitively explain Huxley. Orwell must be read on his own terms. Enns places far too much emphasis upon comparative literature to make his case.
In conclusion, Enns makes a interesting addition to the debate between science and faith. However, despite his attempts he introduces new problems facing a faithful reading of Scripture. It would appear that his intention is to answer the critiques of more conservative Christians who are hesitant to combine evolutionary theory and orthodox Christianity. Yet, his means involve accepting much of liberal scholarship on the Bible thus undermining any attempt to convince conservative Christians. And they should be skeptical. Enns has produced an interesting thesis, but not a compelling one. It will be interesting to see how this argument evolves in the coming years.
NOTE: In accordance with the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission I would like to state that I received a complementary copy of the aforementioned text for the purposes of review. I was not required to furnish a positive review.