James K.A. Smith reviews The Evolution of Adam

April 26, 2012

James K.A. Smith (Calvin College professor and blogger) has written an excellent review of Peter Enns’ latest book. This review is one of the all too few instances where light is shed on the exegesis involved in the historical Adam debate. There is no attempt to resolve the issue at hand, but Smith asks the right questions about Enns’ method, with its curious lack of theological grounding. I haven’t read The Evolution of Adam yet, but the problems which Smith detects can be found in Enns’ articles at the Biologos webpage. This goes to show that even those of us who are sympathetic to Enns can and should work toward better formulations of a complicated issue, the complexities of which go back at least to Augustine on original sin. As Smith rightly notes, there is a lot of hard theological work still to do.

Also, C. John Collins has his review up at TGC. Collins is an Old Earth guy who, along with John C. Lennox, is among the better defenders of Adam’s historicity.

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7 Responses to “James K.A. Smith reviews The Evolution of Adam

  1. You believe in the historicity of Adam? Happy to hear it, Kevin.
    Recently “down under”, in a nationally televised informal debate with Richard Dawkins, the ranking RC clergyman here, Cardinal Pell, denied the historicity of Adam and – not surisingly – also showed he had little understanding of the need for redemption through Christ. Even atheists could be “good enough” to go to heaven…after spedning a little time in Purgatory, of course!

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, for now, I affirm Adam’s historicity. Though, I cannot say that it is a matter of moral certainty for me.

      The certainty of Christian faith is the knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ. This knowledge includes the recognition of his mission as the embodiment of the covenant with Israel (including the Law). Whether Adam’s historicity is likewise included…that I’m not so sure.

      In other words, if somehow it could be proven that Adam and Eve never existed, my faith in Christ would still be firm. Yet, if it could be somehow proven that God never made covenant with Israel (i.e., “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”), then my faith in Christ would be made null and void. I’d probably then become a Platonist, so I can at least have some way to affirm beauty! As a non-believing Platonist, I could then probably get ordained in The Episcopal Church. :)

  2. Joel said

    I find it intriguing that some parts of the Genesis narrative seem to suggest other humans in the background. “Incest used to be okay” has never been a satisfying to where Cain got his wife (and where Seth and the other children got their spouses, for that matter). Plus the question of why Cain was afraid of people killing him. I think Ben Witherington takes the position that they were the first humans God made a covenant with rather than the physical ancestors of all humans, though of course he’s pretty suspect to some of the Reformed!

    I don’t think this is a definite solution though, just a possible route to explore.

    Daniel Kirk posted a response to the review and had some discussion with James Smith in the comments. It was pretty interesting:

    http://www.jrdkirk.com/2012/04/26/whats-wrong-with-theological-exegesis/

  3. Joel said

    Here’s a Catholic offering his perspective. He argues that a single ancestral couple is not necessarily incompatible with evolutionary theory and gives a creative reinterpretation of the story:

    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html

    I haven’t exactly settled on this matter yet.

  4. BC Hodge’s posts on his blog ‘Theological Sushi’ give some good ANE background for the idea of seeing Adam and Eve as historical individuals, but as representatives for other human beings created at the same time. Just search for the names in the bar.

  5. It’s quotes like this from Enns: “[e]volution tells us that human beings are not the product of a special creative act by God as the Bible says but are the end product of a process of trial-and-error adaptation and natural selection” (xiv).

    That should give us great pause. I know the alternative is a bit like moving the goalposts (i.e., if the ‘evolution of Adam’ is true, then by default the scriptures don’t say that human beings were the product of a special creative act; in other words, our hermeneutics were wrong, not the scriptures), but the basic reliability of the scriptures is worth it, it seem to me.

    Which is worse—a fideistic approach to the scriptures (by God’s will an infallible compilation of human works) or the scriptures as merely human constructions, with no divine, as it were, “protection”? Is there a middle way I’m missing?

    • Kevin Davis said

      Such a middle way is very much a part of my own reflection. I think a fairly Barthian approach is worth appropriating, as found in Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, a book that a number of my fellow Aberdeen students found transformative for their thinking (including my own). The details of how this is worked-out in our protology? I don’t know, but I’m on the way to knowing.

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