Enns’ Clarity and Consistency

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.” (Exodus 20:11)

Among confessional Presbyterians (PCA, OPC), particularly in the northern half of the United States, it has long been accepted that varieties or aspects of evolutionary thought may be legitimately held and harmonized with the teaching of Scripture. Roots of this can be traced back to men including Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield, its twentieth century acceptability bolstered by the work of Meredith Kline and others. Expressed ecclesiastically by sanctioning acceptability of multiple views on Genesis 1 and 2 in the OPC and PCA, the line to this point has held at the historicity of Adam and Eve. This status quo continues to have supporters. While this plural stance is formally articulated in these denominations it is most recently defended by my friend, William Evans, in a recent piece at Reformation 21: Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance.

However, despite the attempts to hold this long approved approach in northern Presbyterianism, the attempt to allow a pre-Adamic merger of the two systems fails when individuals seek to pursue a thorough and carefully logical consistency of thought. Peter Enns stands as the most recent example of this, having come to consistently adapt his hermeneutic to what he views as acceptable and authoritative evolutionary models. Enns’ address of a conference of New York area PCA pastors maps out his take on this, which is ironically similar, though opposite to my own: Talking to Pastors about Adam and Evolution Options. I agree with Enns as to the consistency of his mapping and conclusions, aside from one significant difference: I am convinced he errs fundamentally in his exegetical hermeneutic — error rooted in his submission to, or choice of authority. Historiographical and theoretical scientific interpretations of evidence have primacy over the self-attesting authority of Scripture in Enns’ approach. Rather than Scripture interpreting and assessing reconstructions of historical contexts, reconstructions of historical contexts re-interpret and re-assess Scripture, either through hermeneutic theory or more direct adjustment.

This connects with Carlton Wynne’s recent, thoughtful, and very irenic rebuttal of Evans in his Reformation 21 article Modern Debate Over Ancient Texts. It seems that as we younger Presbyterians see the trajectory of Enns and others on the one hand, and consider the articulate concerns of men such as Albert Mohler on the other, the old “neutrality” adopted in parts of Presbyterianism is giving way on the ground. One the one hand there is now a groundswell of conviction along the lines of R.C. Sproul’s transition of conviction, expressed in his Position on Creation; on the other those who sympathize with Peter Enns. The two see eye to eye clearly on one thing: differing authorities and the need for consistency with them.

One implication is that questions begin to hit home as to whether the approaches long taken for granted are really the best for the good of the church. Is it fair to allow men to hold to pretty much anything that can be connected to the text in some way up to the historicity of Adam and Eve, but then take disciplinary actions when they seek further consistency in their thought? What becomes of preaching and teaching on the first chapters of Genesis even where the current ecclesiastical divergent status quo is to be maintained in local or presbyterial settings?

I believe the literal six day ground historically held by the church, and even more significantly as Sproul now argues, the plain sense of the text of the Word of God in Genesis 1 and 2, has been given away in error in parts of the Reformed world by fathers and brothers in the faith. I pray it will be articulately, pastorally, winsomely, and wisely recovered and maintained. The implications of an old debate are being felt more significantly again — with potentially positive, as well as negative outcomes as old assumptions are now revisited.