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.
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.