This writer is out to convince an audience which he is fully aware may not be entirely sympathetic to what he has to say; especially an American one. And indeed, sometimes he will labour a rather obvious point unnecessarily to this end.
A reasonable case can in fact be be made for a more sensitive conservative interpretation of 'first things' (see for example, Derek Kidner's 'Genesis' IVP), but Mr Enns nevertheless offers a refreshingly common sense approach throughout. Paul of course, a product of his own era, in creating his own theological architecture of salvation viz 'old & new Adams', also equally serves to keep any 'historical' debate alive in the minds of many who might otherwise have marginalised it.
This author knows what he's up against and has chosen his corner to fight. I did enjoy reading it.
I have read so few authors like Enns that he seems like an oasis in a desert of half-baked internet arguments and passionately defended doctrines, both theological and scientific. Pete Enns is, in my opinion, one of the best exegetes of the Old Testament scriptures and makes the confusing and circular process of understanding what Genesis says and why it says it into a clear peaceful process whereby you actually begin making sense of the problematic and often bizarre ancient text. Enns lucidly summarises the key issues in biblical interpretation, and the recent history of how scholars have viewed Genesis.
Among his achievements in this book are that Enns helps to stop us asking for oranges from an apple tree: namely, for asking questions about human origins from a ancient text more similar in genre to the Declaration of Independence than to Darwin's Origin of Species. Enns is excellent at driving home the point that all and any history is and has to be shaped by the needs of the present, including the Jews' own national lore of about traumas and triumphs in the past. And that this way of producing scripture is okay! Even though apologetics and origins interest me less and less as a committed Christian (they are distracting and often fruitless and I prefer getting to know what Jesus actually taught), I enjoyed reading Enns' engaging guide of dos and don'ts when it comes to handling the ancient Israeli national declaration of identity, retold through then well-known tribal stories.
This is the only book I’ve read (or even seen) that deals with what I think is the crux of the difficulty of aligning the Bible with the theory of evolution – Paul’s explanation of how Adam’s sin brought death into the world. In this enlightening book, Enns explains how the creation accounts in both Genesis and Romans need to be read and understood through the eyes of the author's community and the context within which he was writing. This profoundly challenges the traditional understanding of the purpose of the text - for instance, one implication is that Genesis should not be viewed as a story of origins in the biological sense but, rather, as a functional tool for Israel to understand itself! To his credit, though, Enns does not shy away from admitting that his thesis potentially opens up a new set of challenges.
One of the most valuable contributions of this work is the way in which Enns demonstrates that those who want to remain faithful to the Biblical record need not be threatened by the findings of Biology, Archaeology or even textual criticism, but the more we understand the ancient world, the closer we can come to finding harmony in the debate between science and faith. He approaches each of the challenges he sets out with grace and demonstrates how one can read Paul in this way and still maintain faith in a literal, resurrected Christ – just as he himself does.
It may, at first glance, appear to be an attempt to unite two irreconcilable worldviews, but I think this is a misunderstanding of his work because - as he explains - the original intention of the author of Genesis was to help the people of Isreal deal with their current situation (exile) and the creation account (as a polemic) provided them with a powerful understanding of their uniqueness - a people chosen by the one true God, which meant far more to them than the theological debates about how sin came about. Moreover, he explains how the concept of sin through Adam was not part of the thinking during OT times, but was developed by the New Testament writers. Following on from that he argues that Paul used the cultural stories as a basis for his theology and interprets them through the framework of the risen Christ. In other words, just because Paul appears to affirm the traditional interpretation of Genesis, it does not mean that it has to be read that way. Of course, the immediate response is to question whether any of the stories in the Bible can therefore be trusted, but fortunately Enns addresses this issue and carefully demonstrates how the nature of the stories do not need to be equated in terms of their historical relevance.
Accepting his line of reasoning might indeed alter one’s view of scripture and of God, but Enns shows that this can, in fact, enhance one’s faith because it speaks of a God who is far more intricately involved in his dealings with his creation than a lofty one who dictates a system of rules. And what I really appreciate about Peter’s approach is that he is incredibly humble. He doesn’t come across like a know-it-all but merely with the sincerest of intentions to understand Paul’s writings. He even admits to not having the final say on the issue but rather wants to open up the door for further investigation along this line of thinking.
This is an extremely important book and it paves the way towards a closer synthesis in a debate of apparent polar opposites, by showing that such a dichotomy may not be necessary! I highly recommend it, and not only for those interested in the origins debate but also for anyone who's willing to allow their theology to be challenged for the better.
First, I don't give five stars to anything which is less than exceptional, so this is a very good rating.
The book is very readable and well presented, introduces a variety of methods of interpretation, taking the view (which I agree) that a search for one layer of meaning only is a mistake. In the process, some ideas which were novel to me occur, and I like books which get me thinking in a new direction.
As a definitively liberal Christian, I did not find that Dr. Enns evangelical background was at all obtrusive, though more space was given to justifying the interpretational methods used than I needed.
In this engaging and learned book, Peter Enns has done a great service to Christians all over the world. For many of us who have not been trained how to study ancient texts and explore ancient worlds, at the extent that Enns has anyway, this book proves to be a very useful stepping stone / tool to cut your teeth in. It is contemporary without ignoring the centuries of scholarship behind us, and it is accessible without being superficial. I have found it useful beyond measure and often go back to it. I would also recommend Walton's The Lost World of Genesis 1.