Volume 37 - Issue 2

Some Reflections on Enns and The Evolution of Adam: A Review Essay

By Hans Madueme


The gist of this new book by Peter Enns is that evangelicals should revise their expectations of Genesis and Paul—with reference to Adam and the fall—in order to relieve perceived tensions between Christianity and evolution. This thesis turns out to be controversial...

The gist of this new book by Peter Enns is that evangelicals should revise their expectations of Genesis and Paul—with reference to Adam and the fall—in order to relieve perceived tensions between Christianity and evolution.1 This thesis turns out to be controversial.

On the one hand are evangelicals who disagree with Enns and judge his basic argument a capitulation to modern science. If Enns is right, then present-day conservative evangelicals are wrong, the early twentieth-century fundamentalists were wrong, pre-nineteenth-century Protestant Christianity was wrong, the post-Reformation scholastic tradition was wrong, the Reformers were wrong, and the entire medieval and patristic tradition was wrong. And why? Because Darwinian natural science and the biblical criticism that emerged with the rise of historical consciousness in the eighteenth/nineteenth century are right.

On the other hand, those sympathetic with Enns are worried that old bugaboos like inerrancy are tearing apart the evangelical movement and bringing unnecessary disrepute to the Christian faith. This also places an unbearable strain on younger evangelicals who seek to cultivate the best Christian minds as they follow Christ: Are they to play the ostrich, bury their heads in the sand and deny what every sane, intelligent person believes in the twenty-first century?

That is the situation—alas—and Enns is brave enough to begin a conversation (p. 112). Taking him up on this, this brief reflection offers a perspective on why many Protestants, myself included, have significant reservations about his arguments. I shall simply assume that readers have already read the book; specific details of Enns’s argument can be found in other reviews (e.g., see countless print, online and blog reviews). 2 Better yet, read the book for yourself. It is well-written, accessible, and provocative. My main purpose is to dialogue with Enns from my location as a Reformed systematic theologian. Like Enns, these reflections “are an outworking of my own Christian convictions” (p. xii, with italics); I have good friends who disagree with some of the claims I make here. Further, this review is not comprehensive since there are vital matters I do not touch on—not even to wave as I drive by.3 Instead, (1) I begin with initial observations before broaching a few areas worthy of discussion: (2) the doctrine of Scripture, (3) natural science and historical criticism, (4) further theological concerns, (5) a methodological aside, and (6) concluding thoughts.

1. Preliminary Remarks

Ever since 1859, when Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, Christians from across the theological spectrum have been retelling the doctrine of the fall, some explicitly rejecting relevant aspects of evolutionary theory, others consciously embracing them. In The Evolution of Adam, Enns offers a creative and provocative argument in the latter category.4 If the mainstream theory of evolution is true—an assumption he makes in the introduction (p. x) and throughout—then his proposal ranks easily as one of the strongest on offer. Enns sees clearly the niggling problems in many evangelical and non-evangelical attempts at reconciling the scientific and theological data, and he pushes for a more compelling solution.

This book is a sequel to Inspiration and Incarnation, another controversial volume that was part of the reason Enns left Westminster Theological Seminary.5 My own view is that WTS was right to part ways with Enns, a move that perhaps should have been made years earlier. But I sometimes wonder if, in the broader evangelical debate, Enns has unfairly become the fall guy. In my experience, a fair number of evangelical biblical scholars, socialized in the same guild, share many of Enns’s methodological commitments (it is not always clear why they would have strong disagreements with the ideas expressed in his latest book). Who knows how many evangelical scholars—both young and old—are privately sympathetic to Enns’s ideas but too afraid to come out of the closet? In other words, to what extent do Enns’s proposals actually point to broader questions within the state of evangelical biblical scholarship today?6 These are tough questions.

As we tend to do in reviews like this, I will belabor areas of disagreement—but not because there is nothing I agree with! To pick three at random: I think Enns is right when he argues that Gen 2:17 refers to spiritual and physical death (p. 67); I am sympathetic to his criticism of attempts to interpret Adam as a federal head of a society of hominids (p. 120);7 and I am grateful when he acknowledges that the book’s conclusions flow out of his own “Christian convictions” (p. xii). This latter point applies to everyone who is part of this conversation—if ever there was a place where theology is autobiographical, this is it.

Given that most non-evangelical scholars have learned to live without a historical Adam, it is worth asking why Enns’s book is so controversial. Is this not all so passé? Enns is a self-professed evangelical inerrantist, former WTS professor, and past editor of the Westminster Theological Journal (among other things). One reason for the book’s lively reception is this: conservative evangelicals typically insist on the inerrancy of Scripture; they often reject aspects of mainstream science; and they have tended in the academic context to develop different concordist approaches to dealing with apparent conflicts between science and theology with special reference to the early chapters of Genesis (some more persuasive than others). 8 Their liberal counterparts typically reject inerrancy and all its theological accoutrements; they embrace the scientific consensus; and they adapt their theology accordingly. In the debate about Adam, Enns is distinctive because he simply cuts the Gordian knot: we can remain fully committed to inerrancy but revise what we think Genesis and Paul are telling us about Adam. 9 Here we have a professed inerrantist (unlike classical liberals) who rejects concordism (unlike classical conservatives) and simply bites the bullet (by denying a historical Adam). As Enns concedes, most of what he is arguing is not new. What is new—and controversial—is that Enns defends his position as fully consistent with inerrancy and evangelicalism at its best.

This last point is a clue to the wider academic and cultural significance of Enns’s recent work. People usually assume that fundamentalists are anti-intellectualist and harbor a profound distrust of modern scholarship (not least the scientific disciplines), whereas genuine evangelicals affirm that all truth is God’s truth and the pursuit of true learning is the enduring privilege of bearers of the imago Dei. 10 For many younger evangelical scholars especially, it is precisely here that Enns emerges as the internal whistleblower. Having spent most of his professional life within its institutions, he exposes much of academic evangelicalism as a sham, a betrayal of the authentic evangelical heritage—beware the false advertising; that evangelicalism is fundamentalism after all. 11 In short, the debate over the historical Adam for many has become a test case for the abject failure of conservative evangelicalism. That is why a growing number of evangelicals find Enns and his project so compelling. There is no need for spooks or conspiracy theories here: these are scholars who were raised as evangelicals; they self-identify as evangelicals; but they are seeking a better, bigger, broader vision than the perceived ideological myopia of conservative evangelicalism, a vision genuinely open to pursuing truth critically by engaging the best of modern learning.12

2. The Doctrine of Scripture

In response to the charge that Enns abandons any viable notion of biblical authority in order to keep up with the Joneses of modern science, he might respond by distinguishing “inerrancy” and “hermeneutics.” Such evangelicals think that Enns has abandoned biblical authority, but they are confusing their faulty interpretations of Scripture with inerrant Scripture itself; if they come around to sound biblical exegesis, then they’ll see that inerrancy was never at stake. That response, or something like it, is very common among evangelical theologians debating controversial topics in science and theology. Enns is no exception, for he marshals the inerrancy-vs.-hermeneutics distinction, implicitly or explicitly, throughout the book. And no doubt it is a distinction worth making. Surely there are many exuberant lay Christians all over the world who need to meditate on such things. Thus Enns reminds the reader in his first thesis in the conclusion: “Literalism is not an option” (p. 137). He cites Augustine on how naive Christians should avoid making idiots of themselves by pitting the Bible against well-established cosmological views. “As this quote [from Augustine] indicates,” Enns remarks, “literalism can lead thoughtful, informed people to reject any semblance of the Christian faith” (p. 138).

Fair enough, but there is perhaps more to be said. First, while many scholars love quoting Augustine here, his words were not a hermeneutical manifesto for aborting any Christian convictions that seem ridiculous to non-Christian minds. It all depends. For example, what is the conviction on view, and how central is it to the gospel narrative of Scripture? After all, Augustine held all sorts of views that would have been considered “literalistic” and “ridiculous” by his contemporaries.13 Second, evangelical scholars and informed lay people already affirm the distinction between inerrancy and hermeneutics. To obsess about this distinction is to strangle a truism to death (everyone already thinks they have legitimate exegesis on their side). Indeed, it becomes a proxy for something else, namely, when you are more theologically conservative than me, it’s my way of telling you that I disagree with your views and find them too literalistic. The distinction is a rhetorical way to marginalize other views that are more conservative than mine. In the debate about Adam, there’s no problem with thinking others are wrong, but far better to demonstrate it than to assume it. In my view, beating the drum against “literalism” usually does not advance the conversation.

The book has a distinctive perspective on the doctrine of accommodation (revisiting earlier themes from Inspiration and Incarnation). 14 Enns argues that our doctrine of inspiration should be developed phenomenologically (bottom-up) not dogmatically (top-down). He concludes that God inspired errors in Scripture:

But when we allow the Bible to lead us in our thinking on inspiration, we are compelled to leave room for the ancient writers to reflect and even incorporate their ancient, mistaken cosmologies into their scriptural reflections. (p. 95)

[T]he scientific evidence we have for human origins and the literary evidence we have for the nature of ancient stories of origins are so overwhelmingly persuasive that belief in a first human, such as Paul understood him, is not a viable option. (p. 122)

On the question of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, Enns recognizes the christological implications when he concedes that even though Jesus is the incarnate Son of God we should not think that John 5:46–47 is decisive: “Rather, Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew and that his hearers assumed to be the case” (p. 153n19). In other words, even Jesus held many views given to us in Scripture that may have been mistaken.

For the record, the classical Reformation doctrine of accommodation denies that God could ever inspire genuine errors in Scripture. By the eighteenth century, a Socinian, rationalistic, and historical-critical view of accommodation emerged that justified real errors in the Bible. 15 Enns’s position is consistent with the latter, not the former. Setting this aside, what about his substantive point?16 These are hardly new questions, and I happily acknowledge the difficulties here. But I must confess that I cannot see how Enns’s solution offers a better way forward. For example, he claims that Paul was right theologically about Christ’s resurrection and salvation but was wrong historically about Adam and the fall (see ch. 7). How does Enns know this? On what epistemological grounds does he know what part of Scripture is true and what part of Scripture is false? More specifically, how does Enns know that we can trust what Paul says about Christ’s resurrection and salvation? After all, one might argue that there were resurrection myths and beliefs in apotheosis contemporaneous with (and prior to) Jesus and the apostles,17 and the modern consensus today is that people do not rise from the dead— so if Enns is right about accommodation, why would we as modern Christians continue to believe in Paul’s soteriology and Christology? Does his thesis collapse on itself?

Enns acknowledges my concern and offers this explanation: “For Paul, the resurrection of Christ is the central and climactic present-day event in the Jewish drama—and of the world. One could say that Paul was wrong, deluded, stupid, creative, whatever; nevertheless, the resurrection is something that Paul believed to have happened in his time, not primordial time” (p. 125). The idea seems to be this: as long as apostles and prophets speak about things that they themselves experienced as actual events—rather than intellectual traditions about “primordial time” that they inherited—we can believe their testimony to be true. But this seems to be a very slender conceptual reed. How do we know that Paul’s interpretations of his experience are legitimate? How do we know that his first-century plausibility structures do not impinge inescapably on his interpretation? Sure, the NT records over 500 other witnesses (cf. 1 Cor 15:6), but why should we believe them? Thousands of Hindus claim to have seen Lord Shiva, but why should we believe them? Again, to use Enns’s own categories, we know scientifically that people do not rise from the dead, and we know historically that many people in Paul’s day (and before Paul’s day) had ancient resurrection myths—so why should we today believe what Paul thought about Christ and salvation?18 In short, Enns needs to give us more reassurance that, on the terms of his proposal, Paul’s Christology and soteriology are infallible.

Here is my point: I am not sure that Enns has a functional notion of biblical authority. Repeatedly in the book, he reassures us that he has not abandoned a high view of Scripture, but I do not know what he means. Jesus was the Son of God, and, so Enns says, because he was also a first-century man he could make erroneous assertions. But where does that leave us? How can “inerrancy” remain a viable concept on such terms? Scripture is a divine-human book. Enns almost exclusively privileges the human side of the equation. Enns tells us that Paul was wrong about Adam; Jesus was wrong about Moses; there are tensions, perhaps even contradictions, between different parts of the Bible; we should beware the impulse to “unify” inconsistencies in the Bible. And so on. All of these observations privilege the human dimension of Scripture, in part because Enns feels that evangelicals tend to neglect this reality. Maybe so. However, the cumulative effect is that Enns has lost any meaningful notion of divine revelation. Christians believe that Scripture is God’s Word; God is the single divine author of all of Scripture. Enns’s book does not help the reader make sense of such realities. They become problematic, even incomprehensible.19

3. Natural Science and Historical Criticism

Let me come back to Enns’s distinction between primordial time and present-day experience (pp. 125–26). What is really going on here? It seems to me that natural science is obviously in the methodological driving seat. At this point, it is worth noting, in Enns’s defense, that there need be nothing automatically sinister about science indirectly shaping some of our exegetical conclusions. As Christians “adjust” their understanding of the Bible in light of science, it could be that modern interpretations of scientific data are acting as a friend to bring to light previously erroneous readings of Scripture (e.g., the Galileo controversy). That is what Enns thinks he is doing. There is also the possibility, however, that modern interpretations of scientific data are in fact the enemy and are squeezing us into a more and more minimalistic—and mistaken—understanding of biblical authority. I hope I am wrong, but I worry that Enns is going down that path.

The difference between Enns and many theologically conservative Protestants (including myself) is that he is far too romantic about the reliability of mainstream scientific consensus. Its truth is a non-negotiable assumption throughout the book (but not in a crass way—e.g., he confesses that he is not “a materialist, nor have I bowed the knee to the false god that natural science is sometimes made to be” [p. 94]). I find this naïve for at least two reasons. First, the eyes of faith should not be surprised if there are periods in church history when central Christian doctrines seem highly implausible to the world. No believer should be surprised or alarmed at such realities. They have appeared in the past and will continue to appear; aspects of modern science are only one of many such challenges, though perhaps the most compelling in recent memory. Natural science—human reason at its most sophisticated—is not inerrant.20 Second, we have a more sure word from God in Holy Scripture. Let us concede every legitimate complexity in the biblical text, and let us recognize all the literary features that demand different reading strategies, etc.; but when we rightly understand the propositional claims of Scripture, there is no higher authority, for it is God’s authority. 21 That makes all the difference in the world.

Enns disagrees. We have no other option as modern Christians, he says; my skepticism about scientific consensus is simply an untenable form of fundamentalism. Besides, he can appeal to historical-critical insights (as he does throughout the book). Here too, however, I find that he is far too romantic about the reliability of modern academic consensus. Concerning the book of Exodus and the conquest narratives of Joshua, for instance, he admits there is “some sort of historical trigger” behind these stories, but they are “not blow-by-blow accounts of historical events” (p. 62). If Enns means that the biblical stories are not journalistically written as if seen through a video camera, no one would disagree. But he means more by this. In an accompanying footnote, he expresses skepticism about accounts in Exod 12:37–38 and Num 1:46 because they suggest that up to two million Israelites left Egypt: “It stretches the imagination to think that a group that large, which then spent forty years wandering around the wilderness, would leave Egypt without a trace in either Egyptian literature or the archaeological record” (p. 156n1). Archaeology sets the epistemic standard.

Consider another example. In chapter 4, he argues that the “Adam story” was actually Israel’s original creation story. He then cautiously speculates how Gen 1 and 2 came to be placed together (see p. 68 and Thesis 4 on pp. 140–42). Like all good historical-critical reconstructions, there is a measure of plausibility here. The story makes sense on its own terms. But one of the problems with this historical criticism is that it shifts the locus of epistemic authority from the canonical text to the world behind the text. Authority, for Enns, is no longer fundamentally a property of the canonical text as we have it in the sixty-six books. The authority of the biblical witness is relativized by extra-textual historical factors, and those “historical factors” depend on what historical critics, archaeologists, and others are saying. The pattern of authority is not really sola scriptura. To be more precise, Enns seems to be proposing that we replace the traditional canonical test with a new christological one. Take Paul: we are not to believe that his words given to us in Scripture are inerrant; rather we can believe Paul when his theology reflects his lived experience of the risen Christ (e.g., pp. 103–4). It seems doubtful that Christology can bear this heavy epistemological burden.22

The problem seems to be this: Enns thinks that the human author of Scripture—or better, what modern biblical scholars and historians speculate about what the author could have known—is definitive. That seems mistaken. The divine author is definitive. To be sure, God the Author is not disconnected from the human author, but he is not limited to him either (Scripture is a supernatural, not a natural book). Enns makes provocative observations about Paul and his “Interpreted Bible” (see pp. 113–17). And I confess: Enns is the professional exegete; I am not. I make no pretensions to having all the answers to the difficult textual phenomena.23 Nevertheless, a more traditional view of Scripture acknowledges the humanity of Paul and concedes that he could and did have all kinds of prior assumptions and traditions that he inherited extratextually. I agree with Enns that we do not have a docetic Bible. But we do not stop at the “humanity” of the Scriptures; we move on to confess their “divinity.” Since these texts are at once divinely authored (i.e., inspired), they take on a new canonical givenness by virtue of being the Word of God. Therefore, Paul can inform us how we should read the relevant OT passages; since God is the primary Author, we allow Scripture (Paul) to interpret Scripture (Genesis). That Paul may have derived some of his exegetical insights from inherited reading traditions is not germane to the status of the NT texts as inspired Scripture.

Interestingly, Enns defends his argument by appealing to the “grammatical-historical approach” (see p. 140). Recovering ancient Near Eastern reading strategies to understand Genesis better is simply to follow the canons of this approach, namely, to uncover the original intent of the human authors. Enns notes that evangelicals and fundamentalists have always placed a high premium on original authorial intention (p. 36). As I allude to in my introductory comments in §1, I think Enns has a point here. However, evangelicalism at its best never claimed that the grammatical-historical approach should be understood atomistically. It is always situated within a larger providential, typological, and supernatural understanding of the concurrence of divine and human authorship. Enns either minimizes or abandons those latter realities, and the human historical context takes center stage. I admit that these are complex matters. But my point is that if the human historical context crowds out all other theological concerns, then we are left with something like a narrow biblicistic historicism that is abstracted from the broader canonical-theological action.

Perhaps that helps explain how Enns can argue that the OT is largely silent about Adam (except for the first five chapters of Genesis and 1 Chron 1:1) and has nothing to say about Adam’s fall and its disastrous effects on all of humanity (pp. 82–88). This qualifies as narrow biblicistic historicism, i.e., looking at passages in Scripture myopically without reading them in canonical and theological context. It fails to read the Bible theologically in light of God as the Author of all Scripture.24 Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15 help us read Gen 3 properly, i.e., in canonical context. They illuminate why Cain and all the other protagonists in the OT sinned against God. Paul is doing exegesis, not eisegesis. When Enns argues that Paul is eisegeting Scripture for good christological reasons (“Paul’s reading of Genesis is driven by factors external to Genesis” [p. 87]), we see the same narrow biblicistic historicism. He fails to deal with Scripture as a unified, redemptive-historical revelation from God. He so emphasizes the contingency of the human authors that he misses the divine voice in Scripture. In my view, Christians are right to want to reconcile extratextual historical realities and intratextual canonical claims. The relevant question, however, is what sets the terms for our interpretation of extratextual historical realities? The two main options in biblical studies are the methodological naturalism of standard biblical criticism or a more robust, theistic, Augustinian supernaturalism.25 My problem with Enns and the biblical scholarship that he relies on is that his assumptions in the study of extratextual history are typically constrained by methodological naturalism.

4. Further Theological Concerns

According to Enns, Scripture does not teach a historical Adam; indeed the OT does not teach it, and though Paul believed it, he was wrong to do so. The advantage of this conclusion is that it removes one of the main sources of conflict between evolution and Christianity. On one axis, that is a huge gain. But those apologetic gains immediately introduce a number of distressing theological problems. The first problem relates to the doctrine of the fall. One of its crucial functions within Christian dogmatics is to offer an account of the origin of sin within the human story. As N. P. Williams remarked in his 1924 Bampton Lectures, take away the “fall” and you are left with only two options, either Dualism or Monism. 26 In the first case (e.g., Manicheism), evil becomes a second eternal principle that exists alongside God—Light and Dark; Good and Evil. No one is responsible for sin because it is simply the ontological way of things, or as some might say, God is the author of sin. In the second case (e.g., Taoism), God himself is both good and evil (or transcends them); sin becomes a meaningless concept. Anyone who wants to abandon the doctrine of the fall faces this dilemma.

The second problem for Enns is that he needs to tell us why men and women are sinful people. In the theological jargon, this is “originated” or inherited sin, a condition in which we all find ourselves from birth because we somehow participated in Adam’s first sin. 27 Having no recourse to Adam, Enns cannot appeal to that tradition. How will he explain the human predicament of sin? One option is to look to evolutionary theory for help (drawing insights, perhaps, from disciplines such as sociobiology or evolutionary psychology). The challenge for such an evolutionary hamartiology will be to resist reducing sin to a merely biological problem. 28> In any case, Enns needs to clarify how he plans to augment his thesis theologically in the face of such questions (he seems to be aware of the issues—cf. p. 126).29

As a way to resolve the theological conflict with evolution, an increasing number of scholars are placing the blame on Augustine. It was Augustine who first gave original sin (and the doctrine of the fall) its classical formulation. Given the obvious tension with mainstream evolution, some are thus demonizing Augustinian hamartiology. We need something better, they say—enter Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyon. 30 Irenaeus handled Gen 3 differently from Augustine, describing Adam and Eve as morally childlike; sins are growing pains, part of the path to maturation. Enns picks up on this Irenaean (and Eastern Orthodox) way of reading Gen 3, “the story of naïveté and immaturity on the part of Adam and Eve and the loss of childlike innocence in an illicit move to grasp at a good thing” (p. 88). Yes, Augustine and Irenaeus had different emphases here. But I doubt that Irenaeus can help resolve the conflict with evolutionary theory. That is because Irenaeus, like all the church fathers, believed that Adam and Eve were two historical people who gave rise to the entire human race. And even though Irenaeus described Adam as an “infant,” Adam was without sin until he disobeyed God.31 On these two points, Irenaeus could not be further removed from the standard evolutionary account.32

5. A Methodological Aside

At least since the medieval period, if not before, Christians have wrestled with how the faithful should think about the natural world. However, “science-and-theology” as a modern, more rigorous professional discipline emerged, roughly, with the publication of Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion (1966).33 Much of that professional scholarship—at least when Christianity is on view—is devoted to showing how Christian faith and science are in harmony.34 There is much to admire in this work, and Christians can be grateful for many dimensions of this research. As moderns, whether we like it or not, science is the world in which we live and move and have our being. Unless our faith is to be fatefully disconnected from large facets of our lives, thinking Christians will want to know how best to relate scientific concerns, assumptions, and the like, with the love of Christ and the world he created. The discipline of science-and-theology is helpful at unmasking the popular—though quite uninformed—myth that Christianity and science are in mortal combat, enemies in a never-ending conflict.35

One of Barbour’s main contributions was to develop a typology of the relationship between science and theology, namely, “conflict,” “independence,” “dialogue,” and “integration.”36 Barbour’s sympathies lie with dialogue and integration. He completely dismisses the conflict position, a view he attributes to conservative evangelicals and other modern inerrantists. The discipline of science-and-theology has for the most part followed Barbour in this judgment (unfortunate, as it gives the impression that science and theology are never in genuine conflict—nothing could be further from the truth).37 The “independence” (or complementarity) position was held, in different forms, by Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and many others, though less common today among scholars in science-and-theology.

Speaking in broader methodological terms, then, Enns’s book can be seen as a creative contribution to this discipline of science-and-theology. Throughout his book, Enns assumes the independence/complementarity model of how to relate science and Genesis (see especially Thesis 2, pp. 138–39), hence his recurring claim that Genesis has nothing to say to science (and vice-versa, e.g., see p. 57). In my view, Christians should hold Barbour’s categories loosely and apply them eclectically. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how we should engage science. I think the same applies to Genesis. Complementarity tells part of the story, but not the whole story.38 Genesis, to be sure, does not speak as widely about science as some people think, but it is an overstatement to claim that Genesis has nothing to say to scientific concerns. Thus when Enns claims, “Genesis cries out to be read as something other than a historical description of events” (p. 58), he is too breezy, too cocksure, too confident in dismissing an assumption that the catholic church has held for so long. Does it count for nothing that Jesus, Paul, the Bible, and the church East and West shared this assumption? Apparently so: “A historical Adam has been the dominant Christian view for two thousand years,” but—Enns tell us—this “general consensus was formed before the advent of evolutionary theory. To appeal to this older consensus as a way of keeping the challenge of evolution at bay is not a viable option for readers today” (p. xvi). Here again, our scientific context is driving Enns’s hermeneutical certainty. In a way, his book is a collection of interesting hermeneutical insights and exegetical theories about the Bible deployed to justify the methodological position of complementarity. But we should raise questions about such a reductive methodological assumption.

6. Concluding Thoughts

Enns is worried that evangelicals will self-destruct if we keep denying what mainstream science is telling us. He is worried that our young people are growing up as intellectual schizophrenics, believing one thing in church and another thing in the lab—and suffering under the mental strain. Many are leaving the faith because they see only two choices, affirm Adam or abandon ship. And a number of emerging evangelical scholars are disillusioned and discouraged by the chilly reception their hard-earned views of Scripture have received from Mafioso, muscle-flexing evangelical gatekeepers. His book is an attempt to bring healing and to offer a different way. I understand where Enns is coming from, but his book, I am sorry to say, is a cure far worse than the disease. I have tried to explain some of my reasons for this negative judgment, and I hope they stimulate further conversation (with Enns and others). I recognize the force of the mainstream evolutionary consensus, and I know that it raises tough questions for the viability of a historical Adam and the doctrine of the fall. But I am constrained by Scripture, tradition, and weighty theological considerations. I am a son of Adam. That is why I am a sinner. And it is why I need Christ.

[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).

[2] E.g., see the reviews by Jonathan Jong in Theology and Science 10 (2012): 215–17; C. John Collins (April 26, 2012),; and the ten-part series by Roseanne Sension (“RJS”) on the Jesus Creed blog, (this is the first installment published online on January 17, 2012). (Editor’s note: All the citations to websites in this article worked when accessed on July 10, 2012.)

[3] E.g., Enns’s endorsement of the so-called New Perspective on Paul (see pp. 127–31), specific claims made about the OT, etc.

[4] For historical orientation, see David Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). See also the recent analysis in J. Matthew Ashley, “Original Sin, Biblical Hermeneutics, and the Science of Evolution,” in Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: 1700–Present (ed. Jitse M. van der Meer and Scott Mandelbrote; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 407–36.

[5] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

[6] See my brief remarks below in §3 on the grammatical-historical method.

[7] Enns uses the older taxonomy (“hominid” instead of “hominin”). Prior to the 1980s, humans and their evolutionary ancestors were classified as hominids (i.e., part of the family Hominidae) to distinguish them from the great apes and their family lineage (Pongidae). But more recent studies, influenced by new molecular research, tend to classify humans and chimps within the hominin family (Hominini). Cf. Alan Barnard, Social Anthropology and Human Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 19–20.

[8] Concordism is the idea, roughly, that when all the relevant facts are known the claims of science and the teachings of Scripture are in harmony. Cf. Edward B. Davis, “The Word and the Works: Concordism and American Evangelicals,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (ed. Keith B. Miller; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 34–58.

[9] Might one say that what Charles Goodwin did for concordist attempts to interpret the days of Genesis in dialogue with geology, Peter Enns has now done for concordist attempts to interpret Adam in relation to paleoanthropology and evolution? Cf. Charles W. Goodwin, “On the Mosaic Cosmogony,” in Essays and Reviews (2d ed.; London: Parker & Son, 1860), 207–53.

[10] Cf. John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness (rev. ed.; Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 18–19. As Stott reminds us, in the early twentieth century, the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” were synonymous (so Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947]).

[11] Recall Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), esp. 177–208. See also the related perspective in Roger Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).

[12] See the poignant musings in the brief commentary by David Lincicum, “Lament for a Maternal Home (or, Is There No Place for Believing Criticism in Evangelicalism?)” (posted on Peter Enns’s blog on June 20, 2012, ). One finds the same spirit in many of the contributions coming out of the BioLogos Foundation, the evangelical organization founded by Francis Collins (

[13] To mention only three: (1) against Pelagius and his many allies, he believed that all human beings really sinned in Adam and were born guilty and morally corrupt; (2) against the culturally dominant Neoplatonic doctrine of recollection, he saw Christ as the inner teacher; and (3) against the influential Donatists, he argued that sacraments administered by sinful clergy were nonetheless effective, for Christ, not the clergy, is the foundation of the Church.

[14] Not surprisingly, the early debates about science and theology contested the idea of divine accommodation. Cf. two essays by Stephen D. Snobelen in Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: Up to 1700 (ed. Jitse M. van der Meer and Scott Mandelbrote; Leiden: Brill, 2008): (1) “‘In the Language of Men’: The Hermeneutics of Accommodation in the Scientific Revolution,” 691–732; and (2) “‘Not in the Language of Astronomers’: Isaac Newton, the Scriptures, and the Hermeneutics of Accommodation,” 491–530.

[15] Cf. Martin I. Klauber and Glenn Sunshine, “Jean-Alphonse Turrettini on Biblical Accommodation: Calvinist or Socinian?” CTJ 25 (1990): 7–27; Martin I. Klauber, “Francis Turretin on Biblical Accommodation: Loyal Calvinist or Reformed Scholastic?” WTJ 55 (1993): 73–86; Ford Lewis Battles, “God Was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity,” Int 31 (1977): 19–38; Dirk Jellema, “God’s ‘Baby Talk’: Calvin and the ‘Errors’ of the Bible,” Reformed Journal 30 (1970): 25–47; Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (2d ed.; vol. 2; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141, 187–88, 238, 301–2, 305–6.

[16] Enns gives examples of so-called biblical errors: e.g., Paul believed in a three-tiered cosmos; he knew nothing of arctic poles; infertility is always the woman’s fault; and the Bible teaches creation in the recent past rather than evolution in deep time (pp. 93–94).

[17] E.g., see Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2001); Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 148–318. The pagan idea of apotheosis is the veneration or deification of human beings.

[18] I offer these questions here and in the previous paragraph as a reductio, not because I think they are ultimately compelling. It may be that Enns has no time for such concerns (cf. “It is commonly argued that, as goes the historicity of Adam, so goes the historicity of Christ. I disagree and suggest that we need to move beyond that obstacle” [p. 126]). If so, I am not convinced.

[20] On this point, see Del Ratzsch, “Science and Religion,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (ed. Thomas Flint and Michael Rea; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 65: “Recurrent claims that we finally have in hand all necessary materials for completing the scientific picture have just as recurrently failed.” Antirealist philosophy of science, though overstated, is instructive here.

[21] But am I illegitimately conflating Scripture and human interpretations of Scripture (i.e., theology)? Theology is not inerrant either, and that—not Scripture—should be the proper counterpart to natural science. The point is well taken. Alas, I do not have time in this brief review to do it justice. So let me just say here that I am assuming that some theological convictions are so central—not peripheral—to the biblical narrative, so clearly attested, so widely affirmed or presupposed in the catholic tradition, that we can say they are functionally “inerrant.” (I hope to defend these controversial claims in a forthcoming article on a methodological proposal I dub scriptural realism.) I place the historicity of Adam in this category. For now, I defer to a Christian philosopher to make a relevant clarification: “presumably . . . special revelation has what status it does have in the believing community because that community believes that at least some of its interpretations admit of no real debate. To suppose that all interpretations of the special revelation might be overturned would call into question the whole status of the special revelation in the community of believers, for it has this status because the community holds that at least some of the expressions of the special revelation express certain propositions” (Paul Helm, Divine Revelation [Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982], 113).

[22] This is one of my misgivings with another book that makes similar christological claims: Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2011), 93–126. I am grateful to Keith Plummer for reminding me of this connection.

[23] On such questions, see the relevant essays in James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

[24] For some helpful treatments on why a historical Adam is important for biblical faith, see C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011); D. A. Carson, “Adam in the Epistles of Paul,” in In the Beginning: A Symposium on the Bible and Creation (ed. Nigel M. de S. Cameron; Glasgow: Biblical Creation Society, 1980), 28–43; J. P. Versteeg, Is Adam a “Teaching Model” in the New Testament? (1969; trans. Richard Gaffin; Nutley: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1977).

[25] Cf. Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation (ed. Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, and Murray Rae; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 19–57.

[26] N. P. Williams, The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin: A Historical and Critical Study (London: Longman, Green & Co., 1927), xxxiii. In response to evolutionary theory, Williams rejected the fall of a historical Adam and opted for a pre-temporal fall reminiscent of Origen.

[27] In theology, federalism and Augustinian realism are the two classical ways of describing our union with Adam.

[28] For an intriguing analysis of this problem, see Ted Peters, “The Evolution of Evil,” in The Evolution of Evil (ed. Gaymon Bennett, Ted Peters, Martinez J. Hewlett, and Robert John Russell; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 19–52.

[29] Some steps in this direction are appearing in a growing number of studies. E.g., see Mark Worthing, “The Emergence of Guilt and ‘Sin’ in Human Evolution: A Theological Reflection,” in Sin and Salvation (ed. Duncan Reid and Mark Worthing; Adelaide, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 2003), 113–29; Ted Peters, “The Genesis and Genetics of Sin,” in Sin and Salvation (ed. Duncan Reid and Mark Worthing; Adelaide, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 2003), 89–112; Gregory R. Peterson, “Falling Up: Evolution and Original Sin,” in Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective (ed. Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 273–86; Stephen J. Duffy, “Genes, Original Sin and the Human Proclivity to Evil,” Horizons 32 (2005): 210–34; Ian McFarland, In Adam’s Fall: A Christian Meditation on the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); and the relevant essays in R. J. Berry and T. A. Noble, eds., Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009) and Michael S. Northcott and R. J. Berry, eds., Theology after Darwin (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2009).

[30] For one of many calls to develop our hamartiology using Irenaeus instead of Augustine, see John J. Bimson, “Doctrines of the Fall and Sin After Darwin,” in Theology after Darwin (ed. Michael S. Northcott and R. J. Berry; Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2009), 119.

[31] E.g., see Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (trans. Armitage Robinson; London: SPCK, 1920), 81, 84.

[32] On how Irenaeus and other Orthodox fathers understood Adam’s fall, see the helpful comments in Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist, 45–46, 84–85.

[33] Ian Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1966). Others prefer the broader phrase “science and religion.”

[34] The journals to read here include Zygon, Theology and Science, Science and Christian Belief, CTNS Bulletin, and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Key organizations are the Vatican Observatory (Rome; with research group in Arizona), the Center for Theology and the Natural Science (Berkeley), the Zygon Center for Religion and Science (Chicago), the Faraday Institute (Cambridge), and the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion (Oxford).

[35] A myth made famous by Andrew Dickson White, A History of Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (2 vols.; New York: Appleton, 1896) and John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: Appleton, 1874). More recent devotees include new atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.

[36] His original categories for relating theology and science were as “contrasts,” “parallels,” and “derivations.” These categories later evolved into the more familiar fourfold typology in Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 3–30.

[37] Another problem with much science-and-theology scholarship, in my judgment, is that it often seems far too willing to set aside central commitments of Scripture and the tradition in the interests of science.

[38] For a recent theological defense of complementarity, see David Fergusson, “Interpreting the Story of Creation: A Case Study in the Dialogue between Theology and Science,” in Genesis and Christian Theology (ed. Nathan MacDonald, Mark W. Elliott, and Grant Macaskill; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 155–74.

Hans Madueme

Hans Madueme is associate professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

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