According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pete Enns - The Evolution of Adam, Parts 1, 2, 3

by Peter Enns
November 8, 2011

This post is by Pete Enns, and it is taken from his blog at Patheos and re-posted here.

Last week I spoke to a gathering of pastors from the NY Metro presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of America on the problem of evolution and Adam. This topic is a particularly pressing problem for this denomination, since the Westminster Confession of Faith (their doctrinal standard written around 1650) presumes, understandably, that Adam was the first human, created specially by God without any preceding evolutionary process.

I thought I’d summarize what I said to these pastors. My aim was not to force upon anyone views they are not prepared to ingest, but simply to present the options, my own position, and why I arrived at it.

So, my first point was to lay out the options for thinking about Adam in view of evolution.

Evolution can either be accepted (in some form) or wholly rejected. If rejected, one has no problem with an historical Adam as first man, but then one has to find ways to neutralize the scientific data, which is attempted in various (but unconvincing) ways. (Google Al Mohler, Ken Ham, and Hugh Ross.)

No need to get into that here. This group of pastors was already (largely) aware that evolution cannot be dismissed, and so we proceded to other things.

If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.

Hence, if one wishes to bring Adam and evolution into conversation, one is left with the theological burden and responsibility of bringing them together somehow in a manner does justice to both. The second part of my talk was focused on how that conversation can proceed with integrity (see below).

Back to the flow chart.

So, once one accepts evolution, the question becomes “what do I do about Adam?” I see two choices: Adam is either historical (in some sense) or he is not.

If one wishes to retain a historical Adam, the two options I am aware of (if you know of others, please let us know) are:

(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;

(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).

In my opinion, these two options fail for the same two reasons:

(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.

(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.

This brings us to a non-historical Adam–meaning Adam in the Bible as parabolic, metaphorical, symbolic, or “supra-historical” (a term I learned from Richard Clifford, meaning a truth transcends history but told in historical terms, and therefore not meant to be taken literally).

I gave three options for a non-historical Adam (there are more). The red line joining them indicates that these options are not so much distinct as they are variations on the larger category “non-historical.”

One option is to understand Adam as a literary figure, which would relieve the pressure of thinking of Adam as the first human.

A [second option is a] mythical understanding [of Adam] – which is the most common, I think, among scholars of the Bible and the ancient world–means that the story of Adam is a concrete expression of a deeper reality. (Some would argue that story is really the best form to communicate “deep reality,” but we’ll leave that to the side.)

A third option, which I throw in because I happen to think it has a lot of merit, is to see the story of Adam as a story of Israel and not as the story of the first human. I will explain that more in my next post.

Anyway, those are the options as I see it. Which option(s) is(are) best depends on one thing: accounting well for the relavant exegetical and historical factors.

That is the subject of the next post, but let me preview it here briefly. Any attempt to account for Adam in an evolutionary scheme will have to account for “data.” Scientists work this way, too. “Models” that account for most of the data well (not forced, ad hoc, or idiosyncratic) are models that need to be considered.

Bringing Adam and evolution into serious conversation is really a matter of building convincing models.


Talking to Pastors about Adam and Evolution: Models (1)

In my last post, we looked at some options for how to bring Adam and evolution into conversation. Today, we begin to look at the factors that have to be addressed when building a “model.”

A model is a way of “putting the pieces” together that accounts for as many pieces of the puzzle in as compelling a way as possible. So, when discussing Adam today, a pretty big “piece” is evolution. Talking about Adam in a way that ignores this “piece” will not be compelling.

The same holds for ancient Near Eastern literature. Any talk of Adam that does not account for the similarities and differences between Israel’s origins stories and those of Israel’s neighbors won’t be compelling.

We don’t have all the pieces, however. Think of it as 1000 piece puzzle where only, say, 300, are in the box. Skilled puzzle solvers dump the pieces and begin separating out the edge pieces, and they find that most of the boarder can be put together.

Then they group together similar pieces–those that look like grass and trees, others of sky and clouds, etc. Many of those pieces fit together nicely and are placed inside the frame where the puzzlers’ skill and experience tell them they should go: grass and trees down here, sky and clouds up there.

What the puzzle as a whole looks like is a matter of working with the pieces you have, putting them where they most reasonably belong, and filling in the empty spaces based on your general knowledge of what puzzles look like, and that more sky is likely to be up there, more grass and trees down there, an animal of some sort over here (because one piece has a tell-tale paw on one edge).

OK. I’m killing this analogy. You get the idea.

That is what biblical scholars do. We put pieces together and fill in the gaps as best as we can. Any attempt to solve the puzzle that leaves pieces in the box or puts sky where grass should be will not be compelling.

A good model of Adam will account for the pieces and make a case for where those pieces belong and how they hang together. So, what are the pieces of the puzzle that have to be accounted for? That is what the next slide begins to address.

Adam is mentioned in Genesis and in Paul’s letters (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). For each of these authors–living in different times and places–we need to be mindful of three factors.

(1) Near literary context. One must account for the words the text before us, i.e., how it behaves, what it is “saying” on its own terms. This is often refered to as “grammatical-historical” interpretation. So, what do Genesis and Paul actually say about Adam?

(2) Canonical context. What Genesis says about Adam must be placed in the larger context of what the Old Testament says as a whole, and what Paul says about Adam must be placed in the larger context of what the New Testament says about Adam. [This is known as "contextualization" - res]

(3) Cultural context. Neither Genesis nor Paul’s letters written in a vacuum, but in cultures where origins was widely discussed. What these biblical authors say about Adam must be placed against the backdrop of the cultural moment(s) in which they were doing their writing. [Thus, what is their "cultural context?" - res]

One caution is that these factors are not mutually exclusive–they interact with each other, which is sort of the point for why we have to look at all three (hence, the connecting blue lines).

Only after we do the work of thinking through Genesis and Paul in terms of these three interweaving contexts can we bring Genesis and Paul into a meaningful biblical theological conversation and begin answering the question: “What is Adam doing in the Bible?”

Then–and only then–can one turn to the issue of how evolution and Adam can be in conversation.

In my opinion, many of the problems with the Adam/evolution discussion stem from short-circuiting this process. For example, taking the near literary context of Genesis, comparing it to evolution, and saying, “Well, that doesn’t fit.”

Looking at Genesis and Paul in their larger canonical and cultural contexts helps us understand what the biblical authors were saying and why–which helps us understand what we might have the right to expect from the story of Adam.

But that is no quick fix; it is a process that takes some patience. Welcome to the world of biblical interpretation.

OK, I spent too much time talking about puzzle pieces and such. In my next post, I’ll outline some of the details a bit more (unless I think of another analogy and get wordy again).


Talking to Pastors about Adam and Evolution: Models (2)

Near Literary context of Genesis.
  • A perennial issue is the presence of other human beings outside of the Garden (Cain’s wife and the people whom he fears will retaliate for his act of murder).
  • The relationship between Genesis 1 and 2 (how does the creation of Adam relate to the creation of humanity in chapter 1?).
  • The universal feel of the Adam story (Eve as mother of all living).
  • The fact that only death is spoken of as an explicit consequence of Adam’s disobedience, not sin. (Commonly it is asserted that sinfulness as consequence is implied, which raises the question of why something so fundamental to the story of the fall is not mentioned.)

Near literary context of Paul.
  • Romans 5:12 seems to say that death is the result of the sin of each individual, not the disobedience of Adam, which does not easily square with the rest of Paul’s argument in chapter 5.
  • Paul seems clear in thinking of Adam as a real person whose disobedience led to universal death and sinfulness.

OT canonical context.
  • The absence of any overt reference to Adam in the Old Testament after Genesis 5, save 1 Chronciles 1:1, seems significant.
  • The parallels between Adam and Israel’s national history seem to be more than coincidental (both are exiled from a lush land for disobedience to law).
  • Eve’s choice and Adam’s compliance to seek wisdom (knowledge of good and evil) apart from fearing the Lord (obeying his command) parallels the choice between wisdom and foolishness given in Proverbs.
  • Eden is a well-known foreshadowing of Israel’s sanctuaries, which suggests that Adam is more an Israelite (priestly?) figure than the first human.
  • Adam is certainly present typologically in the OT (e.g., Noah, Abraham, Moses are “new Adams”), but not in the way that Paul presents Adam, especially in Romans.

NT canonical context.
  • Although Adam is mentioned elsewhere (the genealogy in Luke 3, 1 Timothy 2, and Jude 14), Paul alone speaks of Adam as the cause of sin and death.

Cultural context of Genesis.
  • When Genesis was written is an extremely relavant factor discerning why it was written, i.e., what we are to expect Genesis to deliver when we read it.
  • Ancient Near Eastern origins stories were ubiquitous in the ancient world, and the similarities and differences with Genesis must be accounted for.
  • The question of Adam cannot be addressed in isolation from Genesis 1-11 as a whole and its ancient Near Eastern parallels.

Cultural context of Paul.
  • Many Jewish writers near the time of Paul talked about Adam, but none of them considered Adam to be the cause of universal sinfulness, which suggests Paul’s reading is not obvious. Also, the diversity of “Adams” in Second Temple Judaism reflects the interpretive “flexible” of the Adam story.
  • In keeping with his Jewish context, Paul’s use of the Old Testament in general is marked by a creative approach, centered on Christ, that is not bound to the meaning of the texts in their Old Testament contexts.
  • Paul’s unique take on Adam seems to be driven by his mission to put Jews and Gentiles on equal footing before God. Appealing to Adam as he does helps Paul make the case of universal culpability before God. (As it is commonly put in the NT scholarly literature, Paul is arguing from solution to plight.)

Like I said, these are merely a partial list of factors that I feel need to be accounted for in any discussion of Adam. Although have my opinion, I am not implying that all these factors necessarily push you in one direction or another. And if you think there are other pressing matters, by all means comment on them below.

The main point in all of this is that Adam in the Bible is a long, intricate, and ongoing discussion. Slogans and bumpersticker arguments don’t help.

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