Please do not read this post if you’re planning on reading Peter Enns’ book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Read it first and then return to this post if you wish. I do not want my thoughts and opinions to spoil or stilt yours.
I don’t normally do book reviews and with a topic as controversial as Peter Enns’ Evolution of Adam, I feel as though I ought to do some more studying to give it an honest critique. I should also mention that it was a matter of eight or nine months to start and finish this book; I’d read a section, put it down, read something else, come back to it a week or two later, put it down again, and so on, and so on. My recollection of various parts is scattered, although I believe I retained the main objective throughout.
Even though my reviewing abilities are somewhat hindered, I can review the aspects I appreciated. After all, despite Peter discussing some heavy scholarly stuff, he talked quite a bit about modern day theology and how we ought to approach ancient texts.
For those who haven’t read it (or haven’t even heard of it), Peter Enns takes on a rather controversial topic: Genesis 1 & 2 and whether or not Adam is a historical person or a figurative one. Of course, it’s much more nuanced than that, but this is the primary discussion he refers back to on a frequent basis.
He begins with setting the scene of the Ancient Near East by discussing in brief the conventional non-Jewish stories surrounding Israel at the time (most likely during the exile). In order to truly understand the New Testament as a whole (and especially Paul) we not only have to understand the Old Testament and how it came to be, but also how those in New Testament times (including Jesus) interpreted the texts. Starting with the environment from which the Old Testament was produced, Enns continues on to discuss Paul’s theology and his interpretation of Adam as an historical or metaphorical figure.
“Evolution” doesn’t come through in explicit terms until towards the end of the book and even then it isn’t discussed at length. This is because Enns appears to have been more focused on setting the stage in which the theory of evolution (or theories of evolution) can actually fit into the Judeo-Christian narrative – namely, if a literalist view of Genesis 1 through 11 is asserted (again, Enns spends more time in the first two chapters), then, as Enns argues, it’s nigh impossible to see how it would match up with the scientific evidence we have today. If such a view is not asserted, which Enns suggests is the correct way to approach the ancient texts, then evolution and Christianity are not at all opposed (unless, of course, “human origins” is the topic; Enns believes science and the Bible are “incompatible” for they speak different languages).
What Enns seems to put forth here is a foundational understanding of the Biblical writers so that we might be better at grasping their overall message. Enns expertly separates modern ways of thinking from the most likely ways the ancient authors thought and taught. This is, I believe, Enns’ greatest feature in this book for by separating what is a modern belief from what ancient Jews would have believed (i.e. Genesis being a literal, historical account of events that happened – modern view), he not only reveals the beauty within ancient theology, but also the flaws in modern theology.
In his final pages, where he lays out the nine main theses he discussed throughout the book, he says something that I find refreshing:
“At present there is a lot of fear about the implications of bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.” – 145
To sum it up, Enns’ book is about a theological foundation to understand the texts of the Bible, but to also understand the interaction between Israel and God, and then how later Christians (both Jewish and Gentile alike) were grafted into that interaction. What Enns strives for (and may have attained – I don’t know, I haven’t done enough studying to critique the more in-depth arguments) is a Christianity that leaves room for thinking – a Christianity that not only lives up to the calling of Christ, but does so with an engaged and honest mind. It’s like he said: Sometimes our theologies don’t lead us down a slippery slope, but rather up a hill we should never have been on.
I enjoyed it quite a bit and, given my low level of understanding regarding the subjects, I would give it a 5/5. Enns possesses a rare talent by writing both to the scholar and the lay-reader. I felt challenged to dive deeper into understanding God and how we are to read the creation stories in Scripture. Not only that, but I felt challenged to engage God with my mind instead of my comfortable, preconceived beliefs.
If you’re interested in the Creation and Evolution discussion, this is a great text to start with because it helps lay out how one should understand Genesis before engaging the evolution theory (or theories).
Enjoy and God bless!