In this review, I’m not particularly interested in debating the specific position that Enns holds. While it might seem odd, I will forego assessing whether or not Christians can or should affirm an evolutionary account of human origins—not because I think that is unimportant or because I don’t have a position but because I think we have a lot of work to do before we get to that question and debate.Indeed, in many ways, the very mission of The Colossian Forum is predicated on the conviction that Christians too quickly rush ahead to settled “positions” before reflecting theologically on just how we should proceed. 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.”
Thus I will focus on what we might call Enns’ “methodology”—and more specifically, the assumptions that undergird his approach, many of which simply reflect standard operating procedure in the biblical studies guild (and so are not unique to Enns). Indeed, in many ways, Enns might be sort of caught between the practices of the biblical studies guild and his own sincere desire to aid and equip the church to be faithful in the modern world. So any criticisms that follow are not criticisms of Enns’ intent, but more an attempt to open up a conversation about the limits of the paradigm in which he renders this service to the church.
This sequestering of Genesis from human origins gives us “NOMA” by other means. NOMA is a famous acronym coined by evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould, who claimed that science and faith were “non-overlapping magisteria”—two different authorities with different jurisdictions or domains. Science, for Gould, dealt with facts; while religion dealt with values. As long as we kept that straight, then the two would never conflict because there would be no “overlapping” jurisdiction. The problem, of course, is that Christian faith does make factual, historical claims and is not just a nice collection of “moral teachings” (and science is also loaded with values). So Gould’s NOMA model has been roundly rejected.
And yet Enns seems to revive a version of it in order to “solve” the (“perceived”) tension between evolutionary accounts of human origins and the biblical understanding of human origins. But note the price for eliminating this tension: rejecting the notion that the Bible has something to say about human origins. Thus Enns questions “whether the Adam story is even relevant to the modern question of human origins;” if we appreciated this irrelevance, “much of the tension between Genesis and evolution is relieved” (69).
To use Ricoeur’s metaphor again, the meaning of Scripture is also generated in front of the text—in the people of God’s continued interaction with revelation, illumined by the same Spirit who inspired the authors of Scripture. The meaning of Scripture is not limited to what human authors intended—which is precisely why the meaning of prophetic texts outstrips what human authors might have had in mind. As Richard Hays puts it, in some ways Christians read the Bible back to front. But the dominant methodology that Enns reflects has no functional room for appreciating this point, which is why he seems to think that defining what the “authors of Genesis” had in mind settles the matter. It doesn’t.
This sort of a-canonical approach also explains why Enns sees such a strange relationship between Genesis and the apostle Paul as a reader of Genesis. “Paul’s reading of Genesis,” he comments, “is driven by factors external to Genesis. Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting” (87, emphasis added). Well, that might be true; and Enns is exactly right to offer a corrective to irresponsibile habits of Bible reading that are little more than baptized eisegesis, reading into the Scriptures what we want to find there. But is the “original meaning” the determinative factor for the meaning of Genesis for us? We receive a canon of Scripture that recontextualizes each book—situating every book in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is why the “location” from which we read the Bible needs to be the practices of Christian worship. 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.
Our options are not either a-historical “theological” claims or literalist “historical” claims. We shouldn’t confuse or reduce “historical” to journalistic paradigms or blow-by-blow chronology. We need to develop more nuanced accounts of history in order to do justice to the theological. There is much work to be done on this front.
But it is in this context that I think Enns either misrepresents or misunderstands the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Fall and original sin. He speaks as if the doctrine of original sin was just an account of the cause of our universal human sinfulness (124)—and it is just this sort of causal claim that he thinks is untenable in light of evolutionary evidence for human origins. But Enns thinks we are free to abandon this causal claim associated with original sin and instead simply affirm universal sinful humanness—and hence the need for a Savior, thereby preserving the Gospel. We “must remain open on the ultimate origins of why all humans are born in sin (original sin) while resting content in the observation that all humans are born in sin (sin of origin)” (125).
Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Because if we don’t have an account of the origin of sin we will end up making God the author of evil—a thesis that has been persistently and strenuously rejected by the orthodox Christian tradition. 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 andsin 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. I don’t deny that this is an incredibly thorny issue; and this is not necessarily an apologetic for a “blow-by-blow” understanding of the Fall. I only point out that Enns’ account doesn’t recognize it as an issue. And that is a problem. Indeed, I think it explains why so much of the recent debate about the historical Adam has been an adventure in talking past one another—and why we need a new conversation to delve further into these issues, working with what Hays calls an “ecclesiocentric” hermeneutic rooted in the worship practices of the church.
If you’ve read this far, you really should just read the whole thing.