Peter Enns Fall from Grace | Theistic Evolution

Here is an excerpt from a book that was a very enjoyable read. Part of the reason is due to some of the worldview points he John Otis makes. In fact, a book quoted from (footnote #319) is a favorite political read from many years ago. (As an aside, here is a CHRISTIANITY TODAY article on Peter Enns firing) Take note as well that I do not agree with everything Otis makes a career on or writes on. If one is looking for a SOUND work that is good as well on the subject, see Refuting Compromise, just keep in mind that while this touches on theistic evolutionary theology and science, it also deals with gap theory as proposed by Hugh Ross.

One should keep in mind, while maybe theologically standing against theistic evolution — adamantly — note that many fine Christians have been theistic evolutionists. See a short video under the debate excerpt in a supplement for a men’s group I was in, titled: An Ironman Supplement ~ Thin Nothing:

While theistic evolution is almost at complete odds with the Gospel message, we should understand that the union between man-and-God is the acceptance of Jesus, not these particulars.

There have been great men of God who have been theistic evolutionists… this does not mean we have to be. (See video to the right, and I wish to thank Darren for keeping the tendency to judge unrighteously in check).

 …. In any case, enjoy the chapter.

Peter Enns: Where Theistic Evolution Can Lead

Peter Enns is the last person that I will analyze simply because he probably best typifies what can happen once one begins the downward spiral on adopting an evolutionary view to Scripture. This does not mean that all theistic evolutionists will end up theologically where Enns has, but it does show how one can easily end up with views purported by Enns. I would say that Enns’ views are the logical outcome of an evolutionary perspective, and the result when one views science as the best interpreter of Scripture.

Peter Enns was professor of Old Testament for 14 years at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia up to his dismissal in 2008. Controversy arose over his 2005 book titled Inspiration and Incarnation. And that book is not as abrasive in certain ways as this book written by Enns last year, 2012, titled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Does not Say About Human Origins.

Westminster Seminary President Lillback told students about the board’s decision to dismiss him:

We have students who have read it say it has liberated them. We have other students that say it’s crushing their faith and removing them from their hope. We have churches that are considering it, and two Presbyteries have said they will not send students to study under Professor Enns here.296

It is most grievous to see such division in the visible church. Some hail Enns’ ideas as liberating and others as crushing. There is something very, very wrong with this picture. With Enns’ publication of The Evolution of Adam, some have argued that this book definitively shows that Westminster’s decision of dismissal was fully justified. I would concur with that sentiment for sure.

What’s so bad about Enns’ book is that it is the consistent and logical outcome of a theistic evolutionary perspective. Now this does not mean that everyone who adopts a theistic evolutionist interpretation of Genesis ends up where Enns has.

I will not give as many quotes as I did with Jack Collins even though Enns is far more explicit and open in his views. As one will see, Enns is very straight forward. For example, he says:

A literal reading of the Genesis creation stories does not fit with what we know of the past. The scientific data does not allow it, and modern biblical scholarship places Genesis in its ancient Near Eastern cultural context.297 (Emphasis mine)

If the following comment by Enns is any indication of his views of Biblical inspiration, then one can understand why he was dismissed from Westminster Seminary. In Part 2 of his book titled “Understanding Paul’s Adam,” we learn what he thinks.

Enns states:

The conversation between Christianity and evolution would be far less stressful for some if it were not for the prominent role that Adam plays in two of Paul’s Letters, specifically Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15:20-58.

In these passages, Paul seems to regard Adam as the first human being and ancestor of everyone who ever lived. This is a particularly vital point in Romans, where Paul regards Adam’s disobedience as the cause of universal sin and death from which humanity is redeemed through the obedience of Christ.298

Enns continues:

It is understandable why, for a good number of Christians, the matter of a historical Adam is absolutely settled, and the scientific and archaeological data- however convincing and significant they might be otherwise – are either dismissed or refrained to be compatible with Paul’s understanding of human origins.299

So, it is evident that for Enns science and archaeology are more convincing than us poor misguided people who think Paul got it right because the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle. I suppose the Holy Spirit needs to check in with the latest scientific data to be sure of things before the living God inspired men who were mistaken. I am being facetious of course.

While saying that Paul’s view of Adam and Christ is central to Christian theology, Enns is critical of those who insist that science and archaeology must “fall in line” for all those, “who look to Scripture as the final authority on theological matters…”300

Wow! Shame on us for wanting science and archaeology to fall in line with Scripture and shame on us who look to the Scripture as the final authority. I am being facetious again.

I do not want to go into specifics on the New Perspective on Paul Theology, but Enns has adopted this view. Enns states:

Paul is not doing “straight exegesis” of the Adam story. Rather, he subordinates that story to the present, higher reality of the risen Son of God, expressing himself with the hermeneutical conventions of the time.301

One of the dominant views of the New Perspective on Paul Theology is that Paul’s theology is not so much about explaining justification by faith alone like Martin Luther understood it, but Paul’s case is simply to show that Jews and Gentiles together make up the people of God.

While true in one sense about Jews and Gentiles being in the church, the New Perspective on Paul approach has a twist to it.

Enns goes on to say this about Paul’s view of Romans 5:

Adam read as “the first human,” supports Paul’s argument about the universal plight and remedy of humanity, but it is not a necessary component for that argument. In other words, attributing the cause of universal sin and death to a historical Adam is not necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be a fully historical solution to that problem. (Italics is Enns)

Without question, evolution requires us to revisit how the bible thinks of human origins.302

One could ask Peter Enns, “Then why did God the Father send God the Son to be incarnated into this world? I suppose the apostle Matthew got it wrong also when in Matthew 1:21, Matthew records the angel instructing Joseph to call the virgin conceived son as “Jesus,” for He will save His people from their sins.

From Peter Enns’ perspective, the Apostle Paul got it wrong in I Corinthians 15:21-22 which says, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”

In questioning the consequences of Adam’s sin in Genesis 2 and 3, Enns says:

If Adam’s disobedience lies at the root of universal sin and death, why does the OT never once refer to Adam in this way?

Adam in Chronicles seems to be a positive figure, the first of many, not the cause of sin and death, although I admit that is more an argument from silence in Chronicles.300 (Emphasis mine)

If one recalls from the chapter on Ron Choong, this is his view about Adam not being the source of sin and death.

What does Enns believe about Cain? He says:

The picture drawn for us is that Cain is fully capable of making a different choice, not that his sin is due to an inescapable sinful inheritance… Adam’s disobedience is not presented as having any causal link to Cain’s.304

What about Noah? Enns says that Noah, being called a righteous man, demonstrates that at least in Noah there was no original sin linked back to Adam. Enns says:

If Adam were the cause of universal sinfulness, the description of Noah is puzzling. If Adam’s disobedience is the ultimate cause of this near universal wickedness, one can only wonder why, at this crucial juncture in the story, that is not spelled out or at least hinted at.

If Adam’s causal role were such a central teaching of the OT, we wonder why the OT writers do not return to this point again and again.

Rather than attribute to Adam a causal role, however, the recurring focus in the OT is on Israel’s choice whether or not to obey God’s law — the very choice given to both Adam and Cain.305

It is quite clear that Peter Enns does not agree with the notion of original sin. In fact, much of Enns’ views here are outright the same as the heretic Pelagius with whom Augustine did battle in the 5″ Century. R.C. Sproul has an excellent book titled Willing To Believe: The Controversy over Free-will. In this book, Sproul identifies 18 premises of Pelagius’s views. Sadly, Enns’ views constitute several of these premises. Enns, sensitive that some think he is Pelagian, says, “I am not trying to advocate some form of Pelagianism…I read the Adam story not as a universal story to explain human sinfulness at all but as a proto-Israel story.”306

Regardless of what he says, Enns is a Pelagian. Enns views the story of Adam and Eve as simply a wisdom story that depicts Israel’s exile. Israel’s failure to follow Proverb’s path of wisdom is what the Adam story is all about, he says:

We get a glimpse at why certain men at Westminster Seminary were upset with Enns. Enns discusses the Apostle Paul’s views compared with ancient cosmology.

Enns states:

My aim is simply to observe that Paul (and other biblical writers) shared assumptions about physical reality with his fellow ancient Hellenistic Jews…

Many Christian readers will conclude, correctly that a doctrine of inspiration does not require “guarding” the biblical authors from saying things that reflect a faulty ancient cosmology.

But when we allow the Bible to lead us in our thinking on inspiration, we are compelled to leave room for the ancient writers to reflect and even incorporate their ancient, mistaken cosmologies into their scriptural reflections.307 (Emphasis mine)

Just when one thinks that it cannot get any worse, Enns says:

But does this mean that Paul’s assumption about this one aspect of physical reality- human origins- necessarily displays a unique level of scientific accuracy? Just as with any other of his assumptions and views of physical reality, the inspired status of Paul’s writings does not mean that his view on human origins determines what is allowable for contemporary Christians to conclude.

I do not grant, however, that the gospel is actually at stake in the question of whether what Paul assumed about Adam as the progenitor of humanity is scientifically true.308 (Emphasis mine)

Oh well, theistic evolutionist Peter Enns has Paul in error. Even inspired Paul must bow to the sacred altar of Darwinism.

Enns continues in his assault on inspired Paul:

When viewed in the context of the larger Jewish world of which Paul was a part, his interpretation is one among several, with nothing to commend it as being necessarily more faithful to the original.309

Peter Enns gives us his understanding of the federal headship of Adam as a theistic evolutionist. He says:

We do not reflect Paul’s thinking when we say, for example, that Adam need not be the first created human but can be understood as a representative “head” of humanity. Such a head could have been a hominid chosen by God somewhere in the evolutionary process, whose actions were taken by God as representative of all other hominids living at the time and would ever come to exist. In other words, the act of this “Adam” has affected the entire human race not because all humans are necessarily descended from him but because God chose to hold all humans as accountable for this one act.310

Enns may not see that there is a problem with this next statement, but I hope my listener does when he says:

Admitting the historical and scientific problems with Paul’s Adam does not mean in the least that the gospel message is therefore undermined. A literal Adam may not be the first man and cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, but what remains of Paul’s theology are three core elements of the gospel.

Even without a first man, death and sin are still the universal realities that mark the human condition.311

In another swipe at the doctrine of original sin, Enns states:

…The notion of “original sin” where Adam’s disobedience is the cause of a universal state of sin, does not find clear – if any – biblical support.

The fact that Paul draws an analogy between Adam and Christ, however, does not mean that we are required to consider them as characters of equal historical standing.3I2

Imagine. Just because Paul believes something you’re not required to believe it, and Paul got it wrong about Adam being the first man, so you do not need to believe him either.

Peter Enns concludes his book by saying the following:

One cannot read Genesis literally- meaning as a literally accurate description of physical, historical reality- in view of the state of scientific knowledge today and our knowledge of ancient Near Eastern stories of origins.313 (Emphasis mine)

In his conclusion, we who hold to a traditional understanding of creation are the dangerous ones according to Enns:

Literalism is not just an outdated curiosity or an object of jesting. It can be dangerous. A responsible view of the biblical stories must account for the scientific and archaeological facts, not dismiss them, ignore them, or- as in some cases, manipulate them.314

So, when having our devotions, are we to be sure that we have beside us pagan origin stories and Darwin’s Origin of Species and his book Descent of Man to be sure we understand the Bible correctly?

I think it is appropriate to conclude a review of Enns’ book by demonstrating how Enns has logically arrived to his Thesis 9.

A true rapproachment between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not simply adding evolution to existing theological formulations.

Evolution is a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death… sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful – for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool – are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated … death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally.315

… Evolution is not an add-on to Christianity; it demands synthesis because it forces serious intellectual engagement with some important issues. Such a synthesis requires a willingness to rethink one’s own convictions in light of new data.316 (Emphasis mine)

Right here is where it logically ends up. Peter Enns has understood the essence of evolutionary thought. Surely Enns is not advocating an amoral society where we can do whatever we want if it advances our perceived betterment, but that is what he actually said. Enns did say that we need to rethink our former convictions about sexual promiscuity. Part of the evolutionary process is to ensure the best gene pool. Does this mean we can practice immorality? This is what he implied.

Enns says that we should not view death as some sort of enemy. It’s a natural thing in the struggle for life. Death is a means by which workable populations are ensured.

Well, Peter Enns is in good company with some who have and are practicing various forms of eugenics (population control). Sir Julian Huxley, as I pointed out in an earlier chapter, was a great champion of Eugenics, and he had no qualms about being sexually promiscuous, even asking his wife to engage in “open marriage.”

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was an avid evolutionist and advocate of Eugenics. She stressed the necessity of using birth control, even abortion, to control the numbers of the unfit in various populations. She boldly proclaimed that birth control was the only viable way to improve the human race.317 How much different is Sanger’s view on sexuality than what Enns has stated? Sanger once wrote:

The lower down in the scale of human development we go the less sexual control we find. It is said the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets. According to one writer, the rapist has just enough brain development to raise him above the animal, but like the animal, when in heat, knows no law except nature, which impels him to procreate, whatever the result.318

Sanger was a huge fan of Malthus on population, just like Darwin. Sanger advocated euthanasia, segregation in work camps, sterilization and abortion.319 As her organization grew, Sanger set up more clinics in the communities of other “dysgenic races” — such as Blacks and Hispanics. Sanger turned her attention to “Negroes” in 1929 and opened another clinic in Harlem in 1930. Sanger, “in alliance with eugenicists, and through initiatives such as the Negro Project… exploited black stereotypes in order to reduce the fertility of African Americans.” The all-white staff and the sign identifying the clinic as a “research bureau” raised the suspicions of the black community. They feared that the clinic’s actual goal was to “experiment on and sterilize black people.” Their fears were not unfounded: Sanger once addressed the women’s branch of the Klu Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey, and received a “dozen invitations to speak to similar groups.” Flynn claims that she was on good terms with other racist organizations.320

Margaret Sanger’s view of eugenics is most telling when she said:

I have no doubt that if natural checks were allowed to operate right through the human as they do in the animal world, a better result would follow. Among the brutes, the weaker are driven to the wall, the diseased fall out in the race of life. The old brutes, when feeble or sickly, are killed. If men insisted that those who were sickly should be allowed to die without help of medicine or science, if those who are weak were put upon one side and crushed, if those who were old and useless were killed, if those who were not capable of providing food for themselves were allowed to starve, if all this were done, the struggle for existence among men would be as real as it is among brutes and would doubtless result in the production of a higher race of men.321

Peter Enns’ view in his Thesis 9 may seem very radical to many of us, but it has been consistently practiced in the past by other avid evolutionists.

Peter Enns has a blogsite titled Peter Enns “Rethinking Biblical Christianity”. On April 5, 2012, he titled his blog – “You and I Have a Different God, I Think.”

I’ve been watching the Adam and evolution debates . . . on line, in social media, and in print. I think I am beginning to see more clearly what accounts for the deeply held, visceral, differences of opinion about whether Adam was the first man or whether Adam is a story.

The reason for the differences is not simply that people have different theological systems or different ways of reading the Bible. A more fundamental difference lies at the root of these (and other) differences.

I think we have a different God.

And the Gospel certainly does not teach me that God is up there, at a distance, guiding the production of a diverse and rich biblical canon that nevertheless contains a single finely-tuned system of theology that he expects his people to be obsessed with “getting right” (and lash out at those who do not agree).

Would it be safe to say that Peter Enns is a heretic? I think the answer is obvious. Enns’ views are part of the theological monstrosity that results when we open Pandora’s evolutionary box.


296 Taken from Sarah Pulliam. “Westminster Theological Suspension Christianity Today. April 1. 2008. Found at http://www.christianitytoday.comict/2008/aprilweb-only/114-24.0.html.

297 Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Does not Say about Human Origins, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), p. 79.

298 Ibid.

299 Enns, p. 80.

300 Ibid.

301 Ibid., p. 81.

302 Enns, p. 82.

303 Ibid., pp. 82-83.

304 Enns, pp. 85-86.

305 Ibid., pp. 86-87.

306 Ibid., p. 91.

307 Enns, pp. 94-95.

308 Ibid., p. 95.

309 Enns, p. 98.

310 Ibid., p. 120.

311 Ibid., pp. 123-124.

312 Enns, p. 125.

313 Ibid., p. 137.

314 Ibid.. p. 138.

315 Enns, p 147.

316 Ibid.

317 Jerry Bergman, “Birth control leader Margaret Sanger: Darwinist, racist and eugenicist” who cites Engelman, P., Foreword to Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization, Humanity Books, Amherst, NY, pp. 9-29. 2003; p. 9.

318 Ibid., who cites M. H. Sanger, What Every Girl Should Know, Belvedere Publishers, New York, p. 40, 1980. A reprint of the original 1920 edition.

319 Ibid., who cites D. J. Flynn, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas, Crown Forum, New York, 2004, ref. 13, p. 150.

320 Ibid., quoting both Sanger and D.J. Flynn.

321 Bergman, who cites M. H. Sanger, Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, Norton, New York, ref 14, p. 160.

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