How to become absolutely brilliant and annoying to your Christian friends for only $2.99

Posted by PeteEnns on August 17, 2015 in announcements The Evolution of Adam 29 Comments

TEAThis week, from 8/17 to 8/23, Baker is running an eBook special on The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

For $2.99.

Well? Why you’re still staring at this screen rather than click-clicking on the link above? Seriously, do I have to draw you a map or something?

Seriously, seriously, for those of you who are not familiar with the book, it is my approach to how Christians can and should move forward in stalled debate over evolution and Christian faith.

Evolution is true and cannot be ignored. But evolution cannot be simply grafted onto conventional evangelical Christian ways of understanding the Bible.

The real tension for evangelicals between Christianity and evolution isn’t simply the challenges presented by evolution—which are many—but how evangelicals understand the Bible. 

Typically evangelical theology is seen as more or less the stable factor in the evolution/Christianity debate, with no need for re-examination. Evolution is the unstable factor that needs to be shaped and molded around that theology.

In The Evolution of Adam, I argue that the opposite is true. The real hindrance is this allegedly stable understanding of the Bible and to move forward the evangelical view of the Bible needs to be reexamined. In fact. evolution gives us a golden opportunity to do so.

I take on two big biblical issues that need to be rethought for there to be a true synthetic dialogue between Christian faith and evolution.

The first issue is about how to understand the Adam story in Genesis.

Rather than a more or less accurate account of some space-time event, which is a key evangelical assumption, the last several hundred years of biblical scholarship has shown that the Old Testament employs “origins” myths, common to other ancient cultures, in carving out its own ideological niche in the ancient world.

The Adam story is not a scientific account of the past, nor is it compatible with any current scientific conclusions about human origins. It is part of a story of Israel’s “self-definition” (which extends throughout the first 5 book of the Bible and the Old Testament as a whole) rather than an attempt to explain “where people come from.”

In other words, the story of Adam should not be read as the biblical explanation for human origins that must then be pitted against the scientific model to see which wins out. The two speak entirely different languages for different purposes.

There is no tension there, only one we create by imposing false expectations onto the story.

The second issue is about the apostle Paul in the New Testament and his understanding of the Adam story.

Adam is functionally a non-character in the Old Testament, popping up after Genesis 5 only in a genealogy in 1 Chronicles. But in the New Testament, specifically in the writings of Paul, Adam makes a robust appearance.

Simply put, for Paul—and influenced somewhat by other Jewish writers of his time period—Adam’s actions are the cause of a deep rift between God and all humanity, and that rift can only be healed through Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

Paul even refers to Jesus as the “last” Adam contrasted to the first Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).

For Paul’s argument to have any validity ( especially in Romans 5:12-21, ), as the evangelical argument goes, the first Adam has to be every but as much a flesh and blood man as the last Adam is.

In a nutshell, that is why we have so much tension among evangelicals over evolution. It’s not so much what we read about Adam in Genesis, but how Paul understands Adam in Genesis.

The entire gospel seems to depend on whether or not there was an actual Adam who broke the cosmos which then Jesus had to come fix—as Paul seems to argue.

Which brings me to my main point in part 2. Paul was an ancient Jewish thinker and reader of his Bible. In the Christian Bible we see this 1st century Jew interpreting the Adam story in a highly creative way, which was the manner of early Jewish interpreters at the time.

Paul stood squarely within Jewish tradition, and so his Bible was an open book with it’s deeper meanings waiting to be mined. Paul is giving us his take on what the Adam story meansor better, what it has come to mean for him as a follower of Christ.

The reality of Jesus drove him back to his Bible to seek creative readings.

Paul employs the Adam story not “objectively,” as modern readers might value, but as a means to a greater end.

Paul is arguing in Romans that Jesus is the messiah of both Jews and Gentiles—both peoples need Jesus equally and neither one is more valued by God than the other.

Paul makes his case throughout Romans that Jews and Gentiles are on the same footing before God, and in chapter 5 he employs his creative reading of the Adam story to further his case.

The true problem, Paul argues, is not specifically a Jewish problem of failure to obey Torah. The true problem is a universal one, going back to the first man. And God’s solution, though Christ, is to build one people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles on equal footing.

Paul’s handling of the Adam story is not what the story itself in Genesis says or even implies, but what it has come to mean in light of Jesus.

Anyway, as I’m sure you know, I can’t do justice to the book in a few sentences, but here is my bottom line:

If we understand how Genesis and Paul functioned in the ancient world—what they were getting at—we will see that they were not answering the scientific question “Where do people come from?” but the theological question “Who comprises the people of God?” 

The story of Adam in Genesis and Paul’s use of that story are culturally shaped expressions of faith, and to expect them to address—let alone adjudicate— modern questions of human origins is to misread and undervalue these portions of scripture.

The gospel does not stand or fall on whether the Adam story is literally true, as some would have it.

[For more of my many posts on Adam and evolution, search “Adam” and/or click “Christianity and evolution” and “The Evolution of Adam” in the category list below. ]

29 Comments

      • Can you, (have you, plan to) speak to the virgin birth part of the story? What if … What if the apparent situation was exactly what it appeared to be. What if Mary was pregnant out of wedlock by the ordinary way? A young Jesish girl having a vision of the angel? Seems plausible though heretical. Then Jesus is born of sin in a very explicit manner, making an even starker contrast with his life. Jesus then learns his Messiah/Son of God role in the same way he expects us to: by faith, based on his understanding of the story of Israel, a la T. Wright. Which only begs the larger question for me anyway, regarding what constituted “sin” wrt Jesus as the story tellers/writers looked back on things? It seems to me that Jesus played pretty loose with the strict letter of the law, at least in matters of ritual purity, such as touching menstral women and dead bodies. His teachings certainly set aside parts of the law that were, well law. Or such as Moses writ of divorcement. So what actually would have constituted sin in Jesus’ life? Did child Jesus never tell a cookie-jar lie, did teenage/twenty-something Jesus never have a lustful thought? etc? Can all that — the humanity of Jesus — be part of the discussion?

    • Gary, I’m pretty orthodox with respect to answers to the question that you raise, but agree with Pete that the question
      always has a place at the table. A main reason for this is because unchallenged beliefs have a strong tendency to become beliefs with no substance. In short, we easily fall into folk-theologies of various sorts. Roger Olson is one who always cautions against folk-theology. His newest book “Counterfeit Christianity” is quite wide ranging, with thumbnail sketches of the long history of issues surrounding orthodox belief. We may have trouble coming up with questions that have not yet been raised long ago regarding the nature and historicity of Christ. The arguments and answers from the earliest defenders of orthodoxy should, at least, keep us from reinventing the wheel.

        • The historicity of Christ, his nature, his relation to God etc. are perennial questions that are no more or less challenging now than then. Also, the wisdom (not knowledge) of the ancients was certainly as good as ours, because the source is the same.

          Note, I’m only responding to the single question that you raised. In this time of massive scientific advance, we do come up with entirely new questions, ones that the ancients never had to consider because they did not have our knowledge. We do hope that our wisdom can approach theirs as we apply this new knowledge to questions of interpretation and faith. It is interesting to imagine how those thinkers would handle reality as we now understand it. Based on how they rose to challenges in the second and third centuries, it’s most unlikely that a head-in-the-sand approach would have been their choice.

          • I’m not sure those questions are no more challenging than they were in the past. For example, Enns’ take is that Jesus believed in a real, historical Adam. But now we know (mostly) that Adam is fiction (albeit fiction with a purpose). I think this type of knowledge/understanding greatly impacts how we take the historical Jesus and how we interpret what people say he said.

    • Jesus was not literally “the last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15: 45. Paul is clearly speaking metaphorically. Also, Jesus did go into “the heart of the earth” literally, in Matt. 12: 40. I bring that up because people also use that comparison to say that Jonah had to be a literal story.

  • I haven’t read the book, but I’m curious about exactly what you mean when you say that “Evolution is true and cannot be ignored.” To my knowledge evolution is not a very specific, well-defined theory. I’m well ready to accept that large swaths of evolutionary claims are true, but I find it difficult to say “evolution is true” in one broad stroke. It seems to me like there are a lot of competing evolutionary paradigms floating around out there, some of which are scientifically and/or philosophically dubious. It think this is obvious when some people attempt to use evolution as an explanation for all phenomena whether biological, cultural, mental, etc.
    I guess that’s my way of saying that calling evolution true is a bit like saying theoretical physics is true. There is a lot of truth there, but there’s still a lot of garbage in with the gold. Something like that…

    • I agree with your objection to any blanket statement of approval for the cluster of scientific theories on human development we call evolution. But the same objection must be leveled at any blanket statement of approval for those theological theories we call inspiration, scriptural authority, and inerrancy. Still, we are left with the challenge of relating theology and science. A huge mistake on both sides, I feel, is to subject the Bible uncritically to modern scientific means. Thus, the Bible turns out to be either myth or scientific text. If it is myth it is false; if it is science it is true. I’m thankful for blogs like this that seek to handle scripture critically and positively.

      • I understand, James. That’s exactly the problem.

        I’ve been around the block plenty of times and comments such as yours don’t bother me personally. But think of the unexamined sense of self-assurance it takes to raise the heresy specter based on a blog post that points to a learned book. Maybe it would be best for your sake and those around you if you turned it down a few notches.

  • Just wondering, is this sale just for people in the states? I can click the link as much as I like and it still cost’s nine dollars something.
    Maybe you should draw a map! 😉

  • “Paul stood squarely within Jewish tradition, and so his Bible was an open book with it’s deeper meanings waiting to be mined. Paul is giving us his take on what the Adam story means—or better, what it has come to mean for him as a follower of Christ.”

  • I like what you’re saying in this book. As with rethinking our understanding of Adam, I would also add that it’s beneficial to rethink that being a ‘follower of Christ’ meant something very different to Paul from what we today think of as ‘following Christ.’ Paul, in fact, did not ‘follow’ Christ. To Paul, the death and resurrection of Christ set humanity free and on a path of healing and restoration by God. Paul did not follow Christ’s teachings as we ‘Christians’ do today. How do we know this? Paul never expounds on Jesus’ teachings (sermons or parables) in his letters. Huh. Interesting….
    “Paul stood squarely within Jewish tradition, and so his Bible was an open book with it’s deeper meanings waiting to be mined. Paul is giving us his take on what the Adam story means—or better, what it has come to mean for him as a follower of Christ.”

  • My understanding is that Paul knew (unlike us) that Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses to those under the Law with him (Gal. 4:4)– and those people only– and subsequently Paul says in Romans 7:6 that after Jesus died and rose, we no longer follow the Law, but the spirit. Seems maybe this is why he doesn’t expound on Jesus’ teachings. Seems we’ve missed this badly through the centuries perhaps…

    • Paul didn’t “know,” he interpreted based on what he perceived to be revelation, which also informed him that the parousia would come within a matter of years, not centuries (or even decades). I think way too many supercede Paul over Jesus because the whole “grace not works” theology sounds a lot less difficult than what Jesus implores. AND what Paul meant by “works” is usually seriously misunderstood anyway.

  • I believe the beliefs of the author and audience had that component. I also believe the beliefs of the author and audience corresponded to a cosmology that is less-than-factual from what I understand. I have no clue what a contemporary person is expected to really believe about the Ascension. I can grok some symbolism in a Jungian kind of way, but not anything that material ties into a both my understanding of, say, gravity and the doctrine of the Incarnation. I’ve found it fascinating that the Resurrection gets apologetic focus when the Ascension seems more physically incredulous.

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