I just read Peter Enns’ disturbing book, The Evolution of Adam, which attempts to integrate evolution with Paul’s belief in a historical Adam. If this book is the evangelical path to the future, our children are in a heap of trouble.
Enns says that Paul clearly believed that Adam was the historical first man whose disobedience brought sin and death into the world. However, evolution has proven that Paul was wrong about this, so we must find a way to honor the spirit of what Paul was up to even while disagreeing with his facts.
Paul’s main point in Romans 5:12-21 is to explain how Jesus’ resurrection saves us all from sin and death. Paul merely uses Adam to explain why we all are burdened with this problem of sin and death. Paul was wrong about Adam (he didn’t realize that his Jewish cultural assumptions had misinformed his view of history), but this doesn’t change the fact that we all are sinful and die. And so we all still need Jesus, which is the main point anyhow. Paul’s gospel remains unchanged, even though one of his key facts is wrong.
Enns’ argument reminds me of Langdon Gilkey’s 1961 essay, “Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language” (The Journal of Religion). Gilkey noticed that his Neo-Orthodox mentors wanted to keep the spiritual freight of “the mighty acts of God” even though they didn’t believe such events actually occurred. God didn’t miraculously deliver his people from Egypt, but we can still talk about Israel’s redemption as if he did. Gilkey called foul on his friends and said that we aren’t allowed to keep the spiritual meaning if we dismiss the historical facts on which they are grounded.
But 50 years later, this is exactly what Enns is trying to do. He declares that Scripture is correct to say that sin and death are universal, even though its historical explanation for why everyone sins and dies is clearly mistaken (p. 123-26).
So why do we all sin and die? Enns says he doesn’t know, so he throws that question to “the tremendously important work of Christian philosophers and theologians” and promises to “be among the many who listen in on those discussions and try to discern the best way forward” (p. 127).
Thanks, Pete! Since you asked, I recommend Chris Brauns’ new book, Bound Together, which fills the hole you dug and left us with. Adam’s historical rebellion is the reason we sin and die, and our solidarity with him is why we can be saved by a similar solidarity with Jesus, the last Adam. It isn’t that complicated, but it is counter-cultural, especially today.