Others Weigh in on Smith's Review of Enns' Book
James K.A. Smith, a senior research fellow here at The Colossian Forum, has recently reviewed Pete Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, prompting a lot of attention from those invested in the conversation on Christianity, evolution, and human origins. Smith’s review focuses primarily on Enns’ methodology rather than his position: "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. More importantly, if evangelicals are going to debate these matters well, we need to consider more foundational issues and not rush ahead to nailing down a 'position.'" Smith critically approaches the paradigm of the biblical studies guild, claiming that Enns is caught between the limits of this paradigm and his “sincere desire to aid and equip the church to be faithful in the modern world.” One significant shortcoming of this paradigm, according to Smith, is the reduction of interpretation to authorial intent, focusing mainly on the intention of the authors of Genesis. Smith refers to this account as one “from below.” Furthermore, Smith says that this account concedes Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), an idea that Smith believes we should not assent to. What’s more, he calls into question Enns’ assumptions by proposing the following: "First of all, the Christian church is not a recipient of the book of Genesis as a discrete unit; we receive the book of Genesis within the Bible and the Bible is received as a whole – as a 'canon' of Scripture. Second, internal to the canon is the conviction that meanings God intends are not constrained by what human authors intended." With the mission of The Colossian Forum in mind, Smith posits that the “location” from which we read the Bible should be the practices of Christian worship. We therefore receive Scripture from the particular place of the church, and this place exhibits particular practices that influence our interpretive frameworks. Authorial intent or “original meaning,” therefore, cannot be the determinative factor in our interpretation of Genesis: "Worship is the primary 'home' of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. That will certainly generate meanings of Old Testament books that could never have been intended by their human authors; but that doesn’t mean they were not intended as meanings to be unfolded 'in front of the text' by the divine Author." The review closes with Smith's investigation of Enns’ view of original sin, claiming that Enns’ account fails to recognize what’s at stake: the goodness of God. If our acceptance of evolution leads us to eschew the issue of the origin of sin and the causal claims made by original sin, according to Smith, we are likely to make God the author of sin: "If God uses evolutionary processes to create the world and sin is inherent in those processes, then creation is synonymous with the fall and God is made the author of sin – which compromises the goodness of God." Since Smith’s review, others have weighed in, including Fuller Seminary professor J.R. Daniel Kirk, whose critical assessment of Smith's review prompted correspondance between the two of them in the comment section of Kirk's post. Even Enns himself briefly remarked on Smith's review, planning to contribute to the conversation in more depth at a later date. This has not happened yet, but it would promise to be an exciting exchange. The review was also highlighted by the people over at Near Emmaus and the Gospel Coalition, and a positive nod was given to the review by the folks at the City of God blog. In his own review of Enns' book, Professor Ken Schenck briefly mentions that Smith might be right about needing to address a more fundamental question before moving on to the issues raised by Enns. Last, Richard Beck relates his own reflections on the problem of evil to Smith's concern that Enns' account renders God the author of evil. Smith's original review was posted nearly two months ago, but the conversation is worth re-surfacing here on the blog. There's still a lot of ground to be covered.