Adam, Evolution & Me
“Do you think one day we’ll look back on evolution as a cultural myth, something people thought was true? You know, the way we study Greeks and their gods?” This is what Christians talk about on road trips. Two friends—a blogger and a biochemist—driving through the Salt Flats at dusk.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think there’s evidence that points to evolution being true.”
Jaw. Officially. Dropped.
Was he really “coming out” as one of those crazies who believe the world is billions of years old? Does he actually think we evolved from sea gunk? There I was, a hardcore creationist, trapped in a Honda Civic with a theistic evolutionist behind the wheel and a hundred miles to go.
Growing up, I was a self-proclaimed young-earth creationist, convinced the earth was no more than 10,000 years old, and even more convinced that Darwin was the devil. I went to Answers in Genesis seminars, visited the Creation Museum, and read books about the lie of evolution. By the end of grad school, I was open to the concept of an old earth, but evolution was off the table. Synonymous with atheism, evolution aimed to destroy the truth of God’s Word and (as I’d been taught) the gospel itself.
Then, in that final stretch of desert on the Great Road Trip of 2010, my friend explained the theory of evolution from a Christian perspective, noting how curious and beautiful it is for God to start the redemption story billions of years ago, sovereignly guiding the evolutionary process from beginning to end. Yes, he was leaning toward belief in evolution. And yet, somehow, he still loved Jesus. And contrary to what I’d been told about those Scripture-twisting evolutionists, he actually treasured God’s Word.
Other friends came forward, too, confessing interest in theistic evolution. Not only that, renowned pastors, such as Tim Keller, were exploring ways to harmonize evolution and the Bible. Now I had a terrifying obligation to investigate these things. Believe me, I didn’t want to. I’d rather write poems about Adam and go on believing the way I did. But I decided to start small with two books: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (2011) by C. John Collins and The Evolution of Adam (2012) by Peter Enns. Although both authors are Christian, they take different sides on the most heated issue in the church’s ongoing debate on evolution: the historical Adam.
For Collins, the best way to interpret the Bible (and the human experience) is to accept the historical Adam. He acknowledges that Genesis 1-11 contains literary elements that do not require a literalistic reading, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t based on true events. The biblical writers portray Adam as a real person, as does Second Temple Jewish literature and today’s church at large. An historical Adam not only fits the “big picture” of Scripture, complementing its overarching theme of fall and redemption, but also speaks to the problem of sin and death today. That is, understanding Adam helps us “make sense of the world.” Collins critiques various attempts to “marry” modern science and the Bible, citing everyone from Karl Barth to C.S. Lewis, but maintains that the only theories worth considering include some variation of a literal Adam.
Enns, on the other hand, believes we’re better off abandoning the traditional view. The Evolution of Adam is split into two parts: the Pentateuch and Paul. The big takeaway from part one is rethinking what modern-day readers have the right to expect from the Pentateuch, and in particular, Genesis. That is, it wasn’t intended to be a historical or scientific play-by-play on the origins of the universe, or even the human race. Instead, it’s a theological statement of Israel’s self-identity as the people of God. The stories are structured after other creation myths from the Ancient Near East but are “corrected” to prove Israel’s God is the true God. Enns posits the Pentateuch being completed during the postexilic period, after centuries of polishing and perfecting. The completed stories now retell Israel’s “history” in light of their return from exile.
Similarly, part two asks us to rethink what we have the right to expect from Paul, especially his treatment of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Simply put, Paul uses the Adam story to convey what he knows to be true in light of the death and resurrection of Christ: that all humans are affected by the universal reality of sin and death, and all have need of a Savior. Paul is a product of his time and culture, and as such, he believed in an historical Adam. But we need not follow suit, Enns says. Whether or not he really existed, Adam serves Paul’s purpose: to remind both Jews and Gentiles of our common ground in Adam (as sinners) and in Christ, the second Adam (as God’s people).
Two books down… and my brain had already blown a fuse. What am I supposed to do now? Make a decision? Shout my verdict from the rooftops? A few weeks ago, we read Psalm 131 at church—the same day I’d been struggling most with the question of evolution:
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! (Or distant cousin.) Was this psalm an excuse to stop worrying about evolution? Maybe. Was it permission to stop? Definitely! Don’t get me wrong; I like to be right. But when it comes to where I stand on evolution, I just don’t know. Frankly, my heart breaks a little when I think of Adam as a metaphor and not as a man, and some of the “evidence” the world offers for evolution is downright funny to me. Then there are times when the universe hints at its old age, be it stars or fossils, and I find myself in the middle again, clinging to a psalm. Call it ignorant bliss. But I can tell you this: I understand both perspectives and believe there are godly people on both sides of the debate. I guess that’s a kind of evolution. At least, it’s the kind I’m content with for now.
UPDATE: After reading your comments and talking to friends and church leaders, I realize the biggest concern in this debate is not evolution itself, but the inerrancy, inspiration and interpretation of Scripture. I should note that I didn’t know much about either author before reading their books (Amazon recommended them based on my search history and I chose them almost at random). This blog shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of the authors or the books, but rather, an exploration and summary of their ideas. Like many people, I have concerns about Enns’ approach to Scripture, not to mention frustrations with Collins’ book, the more “conservative” of the two. (You might be interested in Enns’ review of Collins and Collins’ review of Enns.) The Two Cities team looks forward to addressing some of your comments regarding Scripture’s authority in future posts. In the meantime, our readers have started a good conversation below and we look forward to hearing more from you.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION: Genre, Image of God, Inerrancy, Inspiration, Interpretation, Liberalism, Literalism, New Perspective on Paul, NT use of OT, Original Sin, Sola Scriptura