Daniel Kirk on Jamie Smith and the Bible

Daniel Kirk on Jamie Smith and the Bible April 26, 2012

A couple of days ago, James K. A. Smith posted a review of The Evolution of Adam on his new science/faith website “The Colossian Forum.” Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College and senior fellow at newly minted Colossian Forum, which hopes to provide a “new kind of conversation” free of fear and animosity–an admirable goal.

The next day, J. R. Daniel Kirk (assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary) seemed quite eager  to oblige Smith in his quest for conversation. Kirk was none too happy with Smith for advancing a theological approach to the science/faith issue that he felt simply circumvents the difficult and unavoidable historical challenges that beset the Bible’s presentation of human origins.

I have always (and still do) respect Smith’s contributions to Christian thought, which are many and often penetrating. In this instance, however, Kirk anticipated some (not all) of my own significant reservations with Smith’s theological approach to the historical phenomena of Scripture.

I plan to contribute to this conversation in the next few days. In the meantime, perhaps the exchange between Smith and Kirk will be of benefit to some of you. (Note, too, that Smith has a lengthy comment on Kirk’s post, which you may want to look at.)

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  • RJS

    Interesting – this is probably not the place to comment on this, but I find Smith’s comments at the end of his review perplexing. It is an argument that I have heard before … but quite frankly I cannot see how the story of Adam and Eve makes God any less or any more the author of sin than many other proposals for how sin came to be fact. An already fallen snake in the garden tempts Adam and Eve? Give me a break … I just don’t see how this this absolves God while the absence of an account makes God the author of evil.

  • Pete, we’d love to give you space on The Colossian Forum website if you’d like to engage in a conversation. What do you think?

    • peteenns

      Hey, that’s an idea. What time frame are you thinking about? I am pulling my hair out at the moment grading papers and writing exams. A couple of weeks? I appreciate you asking.

  • Howard Walker

    As one of my old philosophy profs used to say, “It’s better to be clear than correct.” Smith whipping out Ricoeur and Gould adds nothing but obfuscation. But as far as I can tell he is ascribing to you the belief that each book of the bible is a discrete packet of meaning, and that meaning is given by the physical author. Obviously he hasn’t read Telling God’s Story…

    He says, “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.” And that, “the dominant methodology that Enns reflects has no functional room for appreciating this point.” He’s begging the question here. Might the act of spirit be involved in our wrestling with scripture as a body from the only vantage we have? Namely, a post enlightenment 21st century perspective, which involves evaluating data from light of evidence? Which, as you point out in I & I has occurred not only within the church outside of canon, but within canon itself?

  • I gotta tell you, I’m really surprised how many folks misrepresent your views when they write these. Smith’s review isn’t the first one that I’ve writhed my way through. He’d be much more constructive if he was just fair. Losing Adam means that God is not good? How’s that? And I wonder if he places any weight at all in the human authors’ intent.

  • No rush. We’re interested in a good conversation, not a fast one. The search for truth doesn’t conform to the 24-hr news cycle. I’ll email you.

  • Well I started reading Smiths review and when he presented his “divine” premise qualifier I realized we had an investigative show stopper there.

    I can empathize with Smith when it comes to Pete’s own premise toward Paul and Genesis to some extend as I also believe it is not yet the most robust approach. However unlike Smith who reverts to “Divine” authorship I believe Pete hasn’t quite explored fully the intent of the authors yet which may yield more depth to Paul’s understanding.

    I follow Pete in his new EBook concerning the exilic background of Genesis but I believe Pete stops short in fully exploring the possible implications that can be derived from that understanding. When scholars point out the exilic background it seems they don’t pursue some of the masked agenda that the authors are propagating ultimately toward Judaism in its present dysfunctional state. I believe Genesis reflects unhappiness with the status quo of Israel as reflected throughout the entire mini series of stories found therein; and I would state especially the flood account. I don’t think it’s their ancient history necessarily the authors are interested in but IMO it’s sowing the seeds of the coming messianic revolution by presenting justifiable history as a precedent. Indeed this revolutionary theme is what most of the second Temple literature along with Ezekiel and Daniel picks upon and is constantly presenting as a coming climax in history in which things are going to change. Genesis is no different when analyzed from this perspective, especially in the manner that 2T literature builds upon its foundational messianic coming and judgment stories. This story is not as much a mystery to the Jews when Christ arrives as we like to think sometimes as the details were already being sketched for them.

    Smith appears to underscore this finality as illustrated in the NT as Divine authorship. In a way he’s correct but he just cut the wheels out from under this investigation by laying his premise out in the manner he did. I would hope most interested parties would recognize the Divine accompanying that guided these authors but ultimately these writers appear to understand the end game much better than we give them credit for. If one doesn’t limit themselves to just the OT canon as we Protestants have before us but go back and read the second Temple literature it becomes much clearer that revolution was always undergirding these OT writings. This idea of revolution adds much to the investigation rather than stating the authors didn’t know what they were positing; but realize that indeed they did and so did Paul. History was important to the exilic Jews but revolution was the game IMO.

    I believe we all hold to Divine oversight because the actual event of revolution occurred, but IMO it wasn’t authors necessarily writing down things they didn’t understand. So there seems to be room for both Pete and Smiths and others investigations to continue exploring Paul and Adam.

  • G. Kyle Essary

    It should be pointed out that the comments on the discussion on Dr. Kirk’s blog are well worth reading. They include some interesting discussion between Kirk and some other fine scholars who disagree with his perspective, i.e. Alan Jacobs (a literary critic) and Jeff Schloss (a biologist).

    • peteenns

      Unfortunately, there is a bit too much arguing over evolution and not hermeneutics or, if I may, the actual, concrete advantage brought into the discussion by appealing to divine intention.