Good book reviews not only summarize a book but they engage the issues themselves, educating and challenging readers to think more deeply, thereby advancing the discussion. In other words, a good book review should not only teach you what the book under review says, but should teach you something about the topic under consideration.

Two new reviews of Peter Enns’s The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Brazos, 2012) are good examples of what I have in mind. Enns, who teaches biblical studies at Eastern University, is not only an academician, but also the author of a new Bible curriculum for homeschoolers. In The Evolution of Adam he asserts that “If evolution is correct, one can no longer accept, in any true sense of the word ‘historical,’ the instantaneous and special creation of humanity described in Genesis, specifically 1:26-31 and 2:7, 22″ (xiv).

Jack Collins, author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011), has written a thorough and informative review, interacting with the book’s arguments, assertions, and assumptions. Here is his conclusion:

In general, Enns presents what he takes to be the “consensus” view of “modern scholarship,” and underplays any critique of that consensus.

Nor does he recognize that this approach can be highly circular: who qualifies as a “scholar,” and does dissent from the consensus disqualify one?

Further, he tends to rely on a kind of either-or tactic: either it’s the critical consensus or it’s a simplistic brand of fundamentalistic literalism that is more simplified than that of any fundamentalist I know. There is no effort to warrant this stark antithesis and no awareness of the problem. The book is rife with oversimplifications like this.

What’s more, as I have remarked, he gives no analysis of any ideological underpinnings for the consensus, or of whether that makes any difference. Simply on the basis of sound critical thinking the book’s case must be judged a failure.

I found a value in reading this book, because its argumentative style strengthened and clarified my own hermeneutical thinking in the process of disagreement.

Nevertheless I do not recommend that anyone follow Enns into his conclusions. Indeed, I came away even more confident in traditional views of Adam and Eve as our specially created first parents through whom sin and evil came into human experience. If evolutionary theories are opposed to that, then those theories must adapt to accommodate the entire range of evidence.

You can read the whole thing here.

For a very different sort of review—a meta-review, if you will, looking at some of the underlying hermeneutical and theological assumptions—see this piece by James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College.

He writes:

If one wants to disagree with Enns’ conclusions, it is crucial to first attend to the whole framework within which he pursues his project.  In fact, even if one were inclined to agree with his conclusions, it is important to consider whether one also wants to accept the way he gets there.

Focusing on Enns’s methodology, Smith asks: (1) which author? (2) whose Genesis? and (3) what’s history?

His argument is that Enns (1) tethers his interpretation so exclusively to the human author’s intention that he has no functional role for divine authorship in determining meaning; (2) operates with an a-canonical approach that fails to recognize that each book of the Bible is recontextualized within the canon; and (3) tends to implicitly dichotomize the “historical” and the “theological,” such that he verges on making the “theological” seem a-historical.

In the closing section, Smith explains why this matters so much:

Enns thinks he can save the Gospel by simply affirming universal human sinfulness without taking a stand on the origin of sin; but that is to fail to recognize that what’s at stake is the goodness of God.  If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with fall and God is made the author of sin—which compromises the very goodness of God.  And if the goodness of God isn’t central to the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

It’s a long review, but worth the read, if for nothing more than to challenge some of the common-place assumptions that are largely unchallenged today in biblical studies.

For those uncomfortable with the idea that there can be a divine meaning that goes beyond the human author’s intention, see Vern Poythress’s article, “Divine Meaning of Scripture,” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 241-279.

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22 thoughts on “Reviewing Enns on Adam and Advancing the Conversation”

  1. Justin, thanks for the links, especially to Smith’s piece. I love the divine/human author point he makes and in particular this question: “what if the same author wrote Genesis and 1 Corinthians? What did he intend?” Good thought-provoking stuff.

  2. rg says:

    ” If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with fall and God is made the author of sin”

    I think it’s a mistake to refer to sin as a “thing” with a creation date. Sin is a choice allowed by the Creator, but it isn’t until there are creatures bearing His image that this becomes a possible reality. The choice to partake in the “knowledge of good and evil” is a relational choice. To say that sin is inherent in an evolutionary creation is nonsense, as sin is defined in the context of the relationship between God and His image-bearing creatures. A close reading of Genesis notes that eternal life is only hinted at as a possibility – the Tree of Life. The creation is “good” in that it is complete and utterly fulfilled what God set out to do. I think if God had meant that the creation were holy and sanctified, He would have used those words (not “towb”, as it stands). There is some sense in which the men of dust are deliberately created lacking (unlike angels) – God knows that they will fail their test, awaiting redemption – so that they may become sons, in some sense greater than angels (Heb 2). Job has sometimes been referred to as a study in the “origin of sin” – maybe it’s more a study of “under what circumstances do we worship”?

  3. Danny says:

    Does anyone know why Susan Wise Bauer has taken Enns under her wing? I have read Wise’s “The Well Trained Mind” and respect her greatly among the homeschool crowd. I’ve been trying to figure this out for a year. Why sell out? Does anyone here go to her husband’s church? Any connections to biologos there?

    1. Ed says:

      Danny,
      I do believe she was his student at Westminster

      1. Burly says:

        We’re using Enns’ curriculum for our Kids Church. Hardly a scandalous curriculum. The first year is exclusively about Jesus. If I run into any heresy in the curriculum, I’ll let you know. And to my knowledge, none of our 2-11 year olds have wondered about his stance on divine/human authorship of the Scriptures, theistic evolution, etc.

  4. Danny says:

    Also, what is the motivation for grabbing onto theistic evolution. Embarrassment or real scholarship?

  5. JW says:

    Jutin,
    Could you wiegh in on Kirk’s critical response to Smith’s review. I think Kirk raises some good points…
    Here is the link: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2012/04/26/whats-wrong-with-theological-exegesis/

  6. Jesse Jaquez says:

    Another book I found stimulating is William F. Brown’s book “The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder” published Oxford University Press in 2010. Dr. Brown does not wrestle with the historicity of Adam, but his goal is to find the points of contact between creation and science. These points of contacts he calls, “virtual parallels.” His three step hermeneutical steps are: Step 1. Elucidate the text’s perspective on creation within the text’s own contexts.
    Step 2. Associate the text’s perspective on creation with the perspective of science.
    Step 3. Appropriate the text in relation to science and science in relation to the text. (p. 14) I highly recommend it for those who are interested in the dialogue between Theology and Science.

  7. Tyler says:

    i <3 enns

  8. R. Delaney says:

    Enns continues his downward spiral. What a waste…

    1. Tyler says:

      Maybe you (all) should try to talk with Enns before you make these kind of statements. The simple fact is that most people who comment on these posts have never read Enns’ book and basically have no idea who he is or what he thinks, most have never spoken with him or even read a post that was favorable toward his views. Don’t make your opinion from a post where the author and site is virtually unanimously negative toward Enns. And I take real issue with posts/replys that seem to imply that Enns is ‘less’ than Christian. Lets all remember that Enns is a committed Christian and choose our comments accordingly.

      1. steve hays says:

        It’s easy to find out what Enns believes from what he’s posted on his two blogs, as well as his BioLogos stuff. Enns is simply the modern counterpart to Charles Augustus Briggs.

      2. R. Delaney says:

        Tyler,

        That’s nonsense. I don’t need to speak with an author in order to determine if his views are heretical. I have read him. He’s not a committed Christian, I think he’s a self-deceived unbeliever who is only getting worse with each publication.

  9. Tyler says:

    So now you’re the authority on who is saved and who isn’t? Why are Enns “mistakes” if you want to call them that any worse than Wesley’s or Calvin’s or Catholics or eastern orthodox? Where’s the line and who gets to draw it? Frankly I think Enns is right on a lot of stuff, am I now an unsaved heretic? The bible warns us about making judgments about a persons salvation, it’s not our place and frankly it’s beyond the scope of our knowledge. It seems wrong to blatantly make a decision on a mans eternal destiny who you have never met, spoken to, or understand.

    1. R. Delaney says:

      I didn’t say he wasn’t saved, I said *I don’t think* he is. Everyone draws the line at a different place, but denying inerrancy is a safe line to draw for me.

  10. Tyler says:

    Okay that’s fine. The “I don’t think” doesn’t make that much of a difference. And “inerrancy” could mean about 100 different things.

    1. R. Delaney says:

      But Enns knows what inerrancy means, apparently it’s not that hard to define…

  11. Tyler says:

    I’ll leave it at this: As someone who has been a part of the Reformed/Calvinist tradition for quite a while I am sick of going onto blogs, reading books and posts, and hearing talks about how someones views were wrong, about how they were a heretic, about how people shouldn’t read or listen to them, and about how everyone was an enemy of the gospel if they weren’t a Calvinist. One thing about today’s Reformed Christians is that they seem to always want to fight about everything (A couple years ago it was Brian Mclaren, then Rob Bell, then Kent Sparks, now Enns). Enns is a committed Christian and that should not even be in question. Just because he has different views than most people on this site about theistic evolution, Adam and Eve, and “inerrancy” doesn’t make him a “self-deceived unbeliever”. Why do we feel the need to put everyone in a category of believer or heathen heretic?

    Also I think we should be careful about just accepting tradition. We should respect it, but most people (myself included in most cases) don’t have the faintest idea about how scripturally, exegetically, historically, politically, sociologically, etcetera, “traditional” views came about. If we did we might not be as quick to call people heretics who differ. Case in point: the New Perspective on Paul. I hated it at first but that was only because of all I read or heard was the conservative Reformed response, and now, after hearing and weighing both sides I must say I like the NPP quite a bit. Basically epistemological and theological humility is in order in cases like this; if we don’t agree with Enns that’s fine, but lets not just pile it on.

    1. James Rednour says:

      “Enns is a committed Christian and that should not even be in question. Just because he has different views than most people on this site about theistic evolution, Adam and Eve, and “inerrancy” doesn’t make him a “self-deceived unbeliever”. Why do we feel the need to put everyone in a category of believer or heathen heretic?”

      Disgusting, isn’t it? I say just ignore people like Albert Mohler or John Piper who claim that anyone who doesn’t hold to a 7000 year-old earth is a blasphemous heretic or that a woman who chooses to work outside the home or pursue a career is a radical feminist. The New Calvinists are a pretty ugly bunch.

      Regardless, let them continue to cling to a literal view of the Bible. They believe that they are the last hope for Christendom when in fact they are killing it. As science and knowledge marches forward and renders their views obsolete, their position will weaken inexorably.

  12. Danny says:

    So embarrassed must be the answer.

  13. Glenn says:

    Theistic evolution is an oxymoron.

    Molecules to man evolution is an anti God religion. It has no other purpose than to do away with the need for a creator.

    Despite all the bluster science does not support molecules to man evolution. There are no transitory forms for a start.

    What happens is the old ‘bait and switch’ deception. Evolutionists point to the observable small changes within a kind/species and then try and use that to say that molecules to man is proven. Not so.

    There exists no evidence (beyond wishful thinking) for one kind changing into another – mammals remain mammals, fish remain fish, reptiles remain reptiles.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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