The theory of evolution, it’s not going away. And for many, Christian or not, the evidence for evolution is compelling enough to warrant it as the most probable hypothesis for explaining human origins. For many Christians this conflict between evolution and what the Bible says about human origins means the ghosts of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution have been stirred and are once again haunting the church. The church survived the revolution; however, the challenges that, let’s say the heliocentric model posed to Scripture’s implied geocentric model, pale in comparison to the textual and doctrinal challenges that the theory of evolution poses. For one, Scripture portrays Jesus’ death as the single soteriological act that redeems man from specifically Adam’s primordial act of disobedience (e.g. Romans 5:12-19), and thus there are some theologians who might conclude, “If evolution is true, then Christ has died in vein and your faith is futile!” Implied in this position is the theological premise that for Jesus’ death to be truly effective necessarily demands a historical Adam. The big question then is, “How can the church make sense of its central tenets in lieu of the rising acceptance of the evolutionary model?” Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins is a biblical scholar’s attempt at beginning to answer some of these urgent questions. Enns writes,
My goal is to focus solely on how the Bible fits in to all this. The biblical authors tell a very different story of human origins does than science. For many Christians, the question that quickly surfaces is how to accept evolution and value Scripture as God’s Word. In other words, “If evolution is true, what do I do with my Bible?”
Simply stated, Enns is proposing an evolution of Adam, not as an attempt to force Genesis 1-3 to accommodate evolution—a sort of exegetical procrustean bed approach, but rather that, “Our understanding of Adam has evolved over the years and it must now be adjusted in light of the preponderance of (1) scientific evidence supporting evolution and (2) literary evidence from the world of the Bible that helps clarify the kind of literature the Bible is.” In other words, the book isn’t a sustained argument for evolution per se, Enns seems to take the evolutionary theory for granted, but rather a serious look into what kind of ancient text Genesis actually is. By examining the literary function of Genesis we will be able to both clarify and limit how Genesis can bear down on the rising conflict between the Genesis creation accounts and the mounting evidence for evolution (not a battle between “religion and science”). This approach has a certain strength to it as both sides of this discussion usually make the mistake of presupposing that Genesis is a literal portrayal of the creation of the cosmos (ancient historiography though not purely mythological in character was quite libertarian compared to the limits of modern historiography).
In order to classify the sort of text Genesis is we’ll need to perform a “genre calibration” where we “[place] Genesis side by side with primordial tales of other ancient cultures to help us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis.” We’ll likewise have to study the date of composition, authorship, and coherence of Genesis using Biblical criticism, that is, an “academic study of the Bible.” It is after pairing up Genesis with other A.N.E texts like the Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic—ancient creation and flood stories, and after having examined the text critically that we can conclude:
It was written after the exile that Israel’s sacred collection of books came to be—not out of dispassionate academic interest on the part of some scribes but as a statement of self-definition of a haggard people who claimed and yearned for a special relationship with their God. The Bible, including the Pentateuch, tells a story for contemporary reasons: Who are we? Who is our God?
Such were the hard questions Israel had to ask while languishing in Babylonian exile. The creation narratives, shaped around Israel’s own national story and seven-day liturgical life, thus become a resolute act of self-definition and theological reaffirmation in the face of national crises. But what happens when later interpreters like Paul employ this document to formulate their soteriological framework for the value of Jesus’ crucifixion? In order to deal effectively with this question we must keep in mind two factors: “(1) the Jewish climate of the day, likewise marked by creative ways of handling Scripture; and (2) Paul’s uncompromising Christ centered focus… Paul is not doing ‘straight exegesis’ of the Adam story. Rather, he subordinates that story to the present, higher reality of the risen Son of God.” Thus, a synthesis between evolution and Paul’s (and ours) Gospel can be maintained because Jesus’ efficacious death, in the face of evolution, still deals decisively with,
- “The universal and self-evident problem of death.”
- “The universal and self-evident problem of sin.”
- “The historic event of the death and resurrection of Christ.”
What Enns has accomplished by this genre-sensitive approach is a new avenue for the often stand-still debate between creationists and evolutionists (and those in between) to finally move forward beyond the narrow either/or’s—evolution or Adam, old earth or young earth—that are usually put forward by both sides. First, for intra-Christian dialogue where the central tenets of the Christian kerygma can be maintained without compromise while one’s position on Genesis and evolution can differ dramatically, thus allowing for Christian unity to be maintained. Second, for those who maintain the false, over-dramatized tension between Scripture and science, can finally be equipped to make more informed judgments on the places where new discoveries may challenge old assumptions in the text without necessarily having to abandon a biblical worldview altogether. Finally, this is an informed book that both embraces what modern science is telling us and at the same time maintains a deep devotion to sacred Scripture and its centerpiece, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.