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For the sixth time, I saw mewithoutYou live last night. It was actually full circle last time I saw them because it was in St. Pete were I saw them for the first time on the Tooth & Nail tour in 2004. Last time I saw them was at the last ever Underoath show, but that was a couple of years ago, so I was due for another. They played songs from their latest an album as well as songs from 4 of their older ones, including classics like Torches Together, A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains, and Four Word Letter (Pt. 2). They also played the spider trio from Brother, Sister.

Over at Christ and Pop Culture I wrote an article last week on the band, and frontman Aaron Weiss specifically:

The band’s most recent album, Pale Horses, continues the evolution. In some ways, Pale Horses represents mewithoutYou come full circle, which is fitting for band that once sang “all circles begin with an end, they come back around, they come back around again.” Lyrically, this is their most biblical album, as far as imagery goes. Musically, it’s a nice blend of all previous mewithoutYou incarnations. Spiritually, it draws from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but without a commitment to any one of them. Instead, the commitment is to a worldview of a different sort.

In addition to seeing them live last night, I was able to interview frontman Weiss before their set. I think we could have kept talking for a few more hours, but he had a show to put on. We talked about a wide range of ideas and experiences (speech act theory, perichoresis, spirit animals, marriage, to name a few), and I hope we’ll be able to have another conversation in the future. As for the one last night, I’ll tell you more about it in an upcoming article for Christ and Pop Culture, hopefully by the end of the month.

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A couple of months ago, I wrote about how Carl Trueman changed my mind about Martin Luther. It is only fitting since he was partially responsible for my original disinterest in Luther. Although I might have been aware before I read Histories and Fallacies, that was the first extended discussion I came across related to Luther’s anti-Semitism.

For those that aren’t aware, the key writing is Luther’s 1543 treatise, On The Jews and Their Lies. There, he says things like this:

God has struck [the Jews] with “madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite all their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming…. (in Luther’s Works, vol. 47, ed. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 267).

When he mentions “the blood of the children they have shed,” he is referencing the so called “blood libel.” Trueman explains, that, “This was the claim that Jews kidnapped Christian children and offered them in ritual sacrifice, and it is clearly part of a culture that treated Jews with deep suspicion and fear” (Histories and Fallacies, 133). As Trueman goes on to explain Luther’s anti-Semitism, it clearly emerges that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the fact that Luther hated the Jews. That was fairly common in medieval Europe.

What is more interesting is the reason why the Jews were so hated. We tend to infer, based in large part on the Holocaust, that the motivations were primarily racial. Trueman says not so fast, and explains that our categories of race applied to the medieval context are anachronistic. If we remember that this was the height of Christendom, you can see how the Jews would be ostracized for primarily religious reasons rather than racial ones. So long as the Jews remained outside the church, they would arouse suspicion and fear. 1

While this was the case for most people, it was surprisingly not Luther’s original position. The historically remarkable thing is not that Luther hated the Jews. Rather, it’s that in 1523 he would write a book called Jesus Was Born A Jew and say things like this:

If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either (from vol. 45 of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962, 229).

Go back and read the first quote again. Granted, these quotes are 20 years apart, but one could hardly imagine a more complete 180. As Trueman explains in Histories and Fallacies, and I think reinforces indirectly in Luther on The Christian Life, the reason Luther changed his mind about the Jews is because they didn’t convert like he expected them to. As he points out,

Luther thinks that the Reformation will carry all before it; and, like many Christian before and since, he thinks he is living at the end of time where the return of Christ will be heralded by a mass conversion of the Jews. Indeed, there can be no doubt that Luther desired to see the Jews converted to Christianity because he was convinced that he was living at the end of time when the eschatological conversion was imminent” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).

In a similar way, Luther would eventually realize that you couldn’t just preach the gospel and call it a day. When there wasn’t a mass influx of Jews in the wake of the Reformation, Luther not only resorted to traditional anti-Semitic writing, he kicked it up a notch. The reception and use of his writings by later Germans would prove disastrous to say the least. This is the Luther that no one wants to be. We might want to emulate his commitment to the gospel in the face of rivals, but wouldn’t admire his condemnation of the Jews when they didn’t come to Christ.

Though not exact, I see a parallel with those today who are ministering in, with, and to the gay community. It is perhaps tempting to think that all one needs to do is preach the gospel and the converts will come. Or, to think that once converted, one can simply “pray the gay away.” In reality, neither of these things are guaranteed. This is not to say neither happens, but unrealized expectation can lead one to re-think the viability of the power of God to change lives. Or, cause one to categorize a group of people as hostile to the gospel in a way that forecloses future ministry. I would imagine that some of the animosity from Christians toward the gay community could be traced to attempts at ministry that didn’t go so well. That’s not true in each and every case, but it is easy to write off and stereotype a group of people when representatives of that group aren’t responsive.

When our involvement in Christian ministry doesn’t lead to the results we were expecting, it is certainly frustrating. But, that frustration can quickly turn dangerous and in Luther’s case proved deadly. What we say and do in the wake of our frustrations can have a lasting impact. And while we want to have a lasting impact if we’re involved in ministry in the first place, this isn’t the kind we’d want to be remembered for. Luther helps serve as a reminder to be faithful to our calling over the long haul even if doesn’t prove to be as fruitful as we might have liked.

Notes:

  1. Here’s the quote from Trueman: “For Luther, the problem with Jews is a fundamentally religious one, as it was for all western European societies during the late Middle Ages. Luther had no real concept of race in the way that we do today. His world was one of religious categories, not biological or pseudo-biological ones. For him the problem was thus one of ideological commitment, connected to the issue of social assimilation. To put it bluntly: how does a society where the state and the church are essentially two sides of the same coin assimilate those who, by their very definition, are not members of the latter? The answer is simple: either it does not assimilate them and instead persecutes them, or it tries to convert them (either by persuasion or by force) and thus make them part of the church. Once converted, the problem ceases because it is an issue of religious conviction, not one of race. A Jew who becomes a Christian is easy to fit into a society, all good members of which are baptized and respect the church” (Histories and Fallacies, 136).

New Books of Note

June 30, 2015 — 1 Comment

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I don’t read many of Simon Gathercole’s books, but when I do, they are short. Around this time last year I read Justification Reconsidered. There, he was rethinking a Pauline theme, and in some ways, that’s also what he is doing in his recent book Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. In both books, he is defending a classical understanding of Paul’s soteriology in light of recent objections and/or recalibrations. Though the titles frame it differently, these books work well in tandem and demonstrate fine Pauline scholarship in relatively bite size form. [NOTE: A graceful commenter pointed out that Justification Reconsidered is by Stephen Westerholm, an author who I’ve also only read one book by and I guess have had been confusing with Simon Gathercole for some reason]

This book has four chapters, though the first is simply an introduction framing the discussion. Once framed, Gathercole highlights three recent challenges to the traditional understanding of substitutionary atonement and their underlying connection. Then, he defends the classical view in light of these objections. First, he focuses on 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Paul’s claim that Christ’s dead for us was “according to the Scriptures.” Second, he focuses on Romans 5:6-8 and Paul’s use of vicarious death traditions widely known in his first century context. A conclusion recapitulates this all briefly and next thing you know, you’ve just read a book.

Readers who are interested in either Paul’s theology or soteriology (or ideally both) will want to check this book out. Gathercole is interacting with the frontlines so to speak of critical scholarship. In doing so, he models a careful reading of an opposing position and then a gracious response that digs deeply into the Scriptures as well as background historical context in order to defend the traditional understanding of Christ’s death being for us in a substitutionary sense. Because of that, one can learn not only from the content of Gathercole’s argument, but it’s character as well.

Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in PaulGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, May 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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You might have seen Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness with a different cover. Originally published by Baylor University Press, there is now a paperback edition courtesy of SPCK and they graciously sent me a copy. I hadn’t read any of Hays’ works, but I see his name frequently and N. T. Wright did dedicate PFG to him. Sometimes I get bored with regular reading so the opportunity to learn a new skill intrigued me.

The book itself is derived from a series of lectures Hays delivered at Cambridge in 2013 and 2014. It is a preview of a Gospel focused sequel he is working on to Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. In his preface, Hays mentions several forerunners to the type of work he is doing (Dodd, Wright, Hurtado, Bauckham, to name a few). He then offers an introductory chapter on figural reading, which as you might have figured, is the backwards reading the title refers to. There then follows a short chapter on each Gospel writer’s strategy of doing this. The final chapter offers summary thoughts on retrospective readings and the challenge and benefit of Gospel-shaped hermeneutics.

If you leave out the front and back matter, the body of this book (chapters 1-6) is just over 100 pages. As such, it is quick read but a slow digest on reading the Old Testament in light of Christ. It is thought provoking and nowhere near a final word on the method of reading this way. After reading it, I’d like to go back and dig into some of Hays other works and I’ll look forward to the full length title that this book previews.

Richard B Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. London: SPCK, May 2015. 155 + xxii pp. Paperback,  $26.73.

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Thanks to SPCK for the review copy!


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Modern theology and I have an uneasy relationship. That’s another way of saying I’m not sure what I think of Karl Barth yet, but I find him intriguing. As part of that intrigue, I thought it worth exploring a new collection of essays from Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. As he himself explains in the introduction,

The following chapters, some previously published, attempt to reflect on what it means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in our day. They explore issues of ecclesiological conversation in ecumenical encounter, scriptural authority in relation to tradition and confession, and christological determination of creation and covenant. This exploration is undertaken by examining two of the most significant theologians of the modern period, Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher, and by placing them in dialogue with Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical and Free Church traditions – key traditions of the current American religious landscape. (11, emphasis added)

Barth is more of a focus than Scheleirmacher, hence my interest in getting a copy. The above quote gives the three main divisions of the book, which I bolded for your pleasure. Bender notes that in his essays, the arguments “do not lend themselves well to abridgement and are best experienced in their exposition and aggregate effect” (13). Later he invokes Lewis to explain that the essays are in some sense “looking at” Schleiermacher and Barth, but in another sense are more “looking along” them at the reality of God’s revelation in Christ and applying that to the issues we face in the current American religious landscape. If that is something you find intriguing, this is a book you should probably pick up and look along for yourself.

Kimlyn Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2014. 391 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

Buy it: Amazon

Read an excerpt

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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From a slightly different angle, this is also a book on modern theology. Here, the focus more on the topic, in this case, the economic Trinity. However, as you can tell from the subtitle, Barth figures prominently in Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary TheologyAlso clearly significant is T. F. Torrance, who along with Barth, is probably one of the two most influential theologians in the 20th century (at least as far as that influence carries over into the Reformed world).

This work, author Paul Molnar explains,

This book is intended as a discussion of just how a properly conceived pneumatology would assist theologians speaking of the economic Trinity to think more accurately about divine and human interaction in the sphere of faith and knowledge within history. Toward that end I being with an extensive discussion of the role of faith in knowing God and in relating with God in and through his incarnate Word and thus through the Holy Spirit. I then move to a discussion of how and why a properly functioning pneumatology will lead to an appropriately theological understanding of God’s actions within the economy, and of why natural theology can never be seen as the ground for a theology of revelation. Rather, natural theology is seen as an approach to God that bypasses God’s revelation and thus diverts attention away from the action of the Holy Spirit enabling knowledge of God acting for us within history (7).

Molnar notes from this that it is important for theology to begin and end with faith (7). Barth and Torrance then serves as paradigmatic examples of theologians who begin and end in faith, not our experience of faith, but of the God experienced in faith. Their views are compared and contrasted throughout, making this work significant for understanding modern theology better. Readers who would like to see an important study of Trinitarian theology with Barth and Torrance key conversation partners would do well to check this volume out.

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 2015. 448 pp. Paperback, $40.00.

Buy it: Amazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

I’ve posted about CHON before, but here they are being legit live. If you can stand some swearing, you should watch this video where they play Fall of Troy songs with Thomas Erak. It might seem a little messy, but they just met the Fall of Troy frontman that day and in the video, you’re watching them play the songs for the first time.

I actually ended up watching this movie in high school because I had a Bible teacher that pointed out some of this imagery. I remember being slightly disturbed and wondering if it was possible that the Matrix was real. But then I remembered if Christianity is true then it’s not possible. The anxiety soon dissipated.

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On the surface, this might seem like a post about Tullian Tchividjian’s recent resignation from his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. In reality, it was motivated by a pastor in our network of churches (CrossPointe) that was disqualified from ministry a couple of months ago. He had been the pastoral apprentice at our congregation the second year we were there before planting his own church in another part of the city. I am tempted to say I knew him well, but we basically talked here and there on Sundays and had coffee once or twice. My brother in law knew him better since he was part of the core group that planted the other congregation. Although he was no longer at that congregation, it still hit very close to home.

It also seems to be a trend here in Florida. Though the pastor closest to us didn’t make the news, another pastor from last year, who subsequently committed suicide, did. In that case, I didn’t know him, but my wife did since she grew up in his dad’s church and he was a big reason she started taking her faith seriously and wanted to go into ministry. There was another high profile case as well at a mega church in south Florida. And now Tullian.

I realize in some sense that each case is unique. I also realize that the first impulse shouldn’t be analysis, which is why I felt like I should preface this as analysis unrelated to Tchividjian. My initial response when I heard about the pastor at our sister church was to examine my own heart. The areas in which he was disqualified were the same areas you would guess if I told you to think stereotypically. I know things like that don’t happen overnight, so I wanted to know what led him to where he ended up and see if any of those trajectories are present in my own life.

Very similar to suicide, you always feel like you should have known a moral failing was imminent after it happens. In the case of a pastor’s moral failing, this is even more acute because they are still around to help you see what you were missing. Predicatably, there is usually a lack of accountability. But saying that a pastor’s fall could have been prevented by more accountability isn’t necessarily true. Any guy who has been in an accountability group because of porn consumption knows this is true. Accountability doesn’t solve problems in and of itself. If that were the case, I’m in pretty good shape since I meet with a couple of older men regularly who will ask me difficult questions.

As I was wrestling through how to process this pastor’s fall, my hunch was that there seeds of his destruction in his everyday rhythms and habits and accountability may or may not have uncovered them. It seemed likely that these seeds could easily be there without setting off any accountability checkpoints. I hadn’t really come to a complete explanation other than to note that I was not immune to a similar fate.

Then last week, I started reading Tim Keller’s latest book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. While it might seem unrelated to the topic at hand, that’s the beauty of Keller’s books. In the final chapter, which I read first, Keller discusses “Preaching and The Spirit.” Early on, he makes a distinction between gifts and graces:

Gifts are things we do, but spiritual fruit or graces are things we are.

Gifts and talents can operate when the speaker is spiritually immature or even when the preacher’s heart is far from God. If you have a gift of teaching, for example, the classroom situation draws out your gift, and you may be very effective. But that can happen in the absence of a strong walk with God. (194)

Having experienced this first hand a couple of years ago, I can confirm this is dead-on. From here, Keller, drawing on Edwards, expounds the difference between gift operation and grace operations:

Gifts will usually be mistaken for spiritual maturity, not just by the audience but even by the speaker. If you find people attending eagerly to your address, you will take this as evidence that God is pleased with your heart and your level of intimacy with him – when he may not be at all. If anything, we Christians living today are in greater danger of this misperception than at any other time in history, for our era has been called the “age of technique.” No civilized society has put more emphasis on results, skills, and charisma – or less emphasis on character, reflection, and depth. This is a major reason why so many of the most successful ministers have a moral failure or lapse. Their prodigious gifts have masked the lack of grace operations at work in their lives (195-196).

This is both humbling and helpful. Humbling in that it means the only difference between a faithful and failed pastor is grace. That means when I see any pastor with a moral failure, my first response should be, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” On the other hand, it is helpful because it actually explains what I can and can’t do in order to avoid a similar tragedy in my own life. These “grace operations” can come through a variety of means, but chiefly it means having a vital devotional life that is centered on the Word and dependent on God in prayer. Coupling this with accountability and you’re in good hands. Remove both, and you have the pattern for disaster.

To be clear, I can’t just approach either as something to check off a list, but I need to check the status of my heart in the process. It means that I also need to be attentive to pursuing holiness and godliness and close enough with other people that they can attest to fruit in my life that isn’t the result of giftings. That is certainly much harder to do, but to stay faithful for the long haul requires it.

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Earlier this year, The Gospel Coalition ran a series with “Advice to Young Pastors.” The answers given by these pastors and leaders is in response to this question:

In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

I found the answers illuminating and also noticed a pattern emerge. Keep in mind that these answers are offered with the assumption that pastors know the Scriptures and sound doctrine well. Without realizing that, you might come to the assumption study Scripture isn’t all that important since none of these guys seem to think so. If that’s not where you’re at, you should start there. But if you’re growing in that and are pursuing or already in pastoral ministry, this is some good advice. See if you spot the two things that come up the most frequently:

Conrad Mbewe

  • Study church history (particularly through biographies)

Ligon Duncan

  • Study church history
  • Read up on Islam
  • Read cultural analysis

Ken Jones

  • Learn how to do Christ-centered preaching well
  • Learn different models of Christian cultural engagement

R. C. Sproul

  • Study prayer.
  • Study the lives of great preachers and Christian leaders.
  • Study the Old Testament law and its relevance to New Testament saints.
  • Study the history of sacred music and its effect on the church.
  • Study especially the doctrines of Christology and justification.

Tom Schreiner

  • Read Christian classics

Carlos Contreras

  • Read objective theological truth that helps your devotion to God
  • Read in areas of current social/political concern
  • Read literary classics

Bryan Chapell

  • Understand the thought processes of a generation whose worldview is primarily informed by media impressions
  • Understand the differences in the ways North Americans over 50 and those under 40 understand the obligations of Christians in society
  • Prepare to be a multi-ethnic church
  • Help church members perceive themselves a vital members of a global Christian community that is interdependent for its mission and moral status
  • Help each member understand the gospel’s application to everyday decisions, occupations, and ethics
  • Help a younger generation of preachers address each of the previously mentioned concerns from a compulsion of grace, rather than a theology of doing better than other generations, traditions, or churches.

Miguel Núñez

  • Read, study, and meditate on topics related to morality, ethical and bioethical dilemmas, the nature of truth, worldviews, and biblical wisdom and discernment.

Darrell Bock

  • Study what drives culture
  • Exegete the culture

Sam Storms

  • Make every effort to read every book that will deepen your delight in the Lord

Wayne Grudem

  • Learn how to teach biblical ethics well

David Wells

  • Learn to walk with God through life
  • Study the Word more deeply and reflect on the world more seriously

Don Carson

  • Know more of God
  • Do broad reading (church history, missions, evangelism, Bible studies)
  • Read up in area of particular problem in your ministry context

Danny Akin

  • Read the great hymns of the faith.
  • Read missionary biographies.
  • Read books on marriage and family
  • Read books on preaching and hone your skills.
  • Read books on evangelism.

Scotty Smith

  • Get equipped in conflict management (conflict is inevitable, but healthy conflict is all too rare)
  • Understand family systems theory
  • Understand emotional intelligence
  • Develop servant leadership
  • Understand transition theory and planning
  • Grapple with suffering, depression, and loss
  • Learn fly-fishing, photography, hang-gliding, rock guitar playing . . . whatever will put a huge smile on your face and joy in your heart

David Powlison

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Talk with people—“the human documents”—so that you are studying primary sources. Listen, notice, ask questions, ponder, interact, remember.
  • Read histories and biographies. People are so different from each other, yet so alike. You need to learn how these realities intertwine.
  • Listen to the music and watch the films that capture hearts and minds.
  • Read good novels and poetry.
  • Read the daily newspaper and some thoughtful commentary—The Economist or The Atlantic, perhaps.
  • And, of course, read your Bible. Let your eye for what people are like and for what people experience be just as keen as your eye for what God is like.

David Dockery

  • Seek to be as technologically savvy as possible in order to communicate well and effectively in this brave new world
  • Recognize that the needs of people are not dissimilar from previous generations
  • Reading well-written biographies of influential Christian leaders can also be inspirational, informative, and genuinely helpful
  • Learn to take truths that have been taught or the ministry models that have been practiced and then adapt them with insight and great sensitivity in light of the shifting cultural dynamics and demographics

Tim Keller

  • Study up on cultural analysis
  • Study up on leadership

Paul Tripp

  • Commit yourself to be a student and accurate exegete of Scripture
  • Commit yourself to be a constant student of and accurate exegete of people

John Frame

  • Learn how to show godly love to people—in evangelism, counseling, church administration
  • Study logic

John Yates

  • Read commentaries
  • Read church history (both biographies and sociological accounts)
  • Read leadership books
  • Read Christian fiction
  • Read news sources
  • Read Tim Keller
  • Read other biographies
  • Read the Bible thoughtfully, carefully, and prayerfully every day

In triperspectival terms, there is a big emphasis on the situational aspect. I think we could sum it up as cultural engagement with three emphases: (1) the past culture of church history, (2) the present culture of our world, (3) the interior culture of our hearts and those we minister to. This goes back to my review from yesterday emphasizing the importance of context. In this case though, it is a wide variety of contexts and the careful pastor will endeavor to understand each of them with more diligence. For the first context, there are numerous resources on church history and great biographies you could pick up. For the second, I’d recommend thoughtful sociological writing, but also thoughtful writing on pop culture like we do at Christ and Pop Culture. For the last, I would try to read more wise pastoral counselors, some of whom show up in the above list.

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I was barely into my four years at Dallas Seminary when John Piper published The Future of Justification. For better or worse, that was my introduction to both the New Perspective on Paul and N. T. Wright. I say that because context is important and initially, my understanding of Wright was filtered through Piper and mostly as a rebuttal. I would eventually read most all of Wright’s work on Paul for myself and come to slightly different conclusions than Piper did.

In reading Wright, you often run across the implication that Paul has been misread since the Reformation. In part, this is because we got Judaism wrong and then wrongly correlated it to medieval Catholicism. Actually, it’s not really an implication, Wright more or less says this from time to time, I’m just not running the quotes to ground for you. This again suggests that context is important, since Paul is invariably understood against the background of Second Temple Judaism.

When E. P. Sanders went back and read many of the Second Temple Judaism documents and published his study Paul and Palestinian Judaism, it set the stage for a re-reading of Paul that birthed what is now called the New Perspective. The questions that emerged were first, whether Sanders got the first century context right when it came to the Jewish religion, and second whether the medieval context was similar. Context, is after all, king.

If you’re interested in sorting all this out, you will probably be interested in reading Aaron O’Kelley’s Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Because this is a doctoral dissertation (from SBTS), his thesis is stated boldly right off the bat:

This study will argue that the new perspective’s hermeneutical presupposition generated by Sanders’ view of Second Temple Judaism is a non sequitur; as such, it does not overturn the Reformation paradigm for interpreting Paul’s doctrine of justification. The hermeneutical presupposition does not follow specifically because Sanders’ argument has no bearing on the categories that defined the concepts of grace, merit, and justification in the Reformation debates (2).

Ultimately, O’Kelley will suggest that rather a “new perspective” on Paul, we need to further refine the old one in light of recent research (3). To validate that, O’Kelley spends the opening chapter outlining the New Perspective’s understanding of justification and Sanders contribution in the aforementioned work. With the current context set, O’Kelley delves into the medieval one in chapter 2. Here, he explores grace and merit in theological discussion prior to the Reformation. He then spends a chapter unpacking 3 prominent Reformer’s understandings of justification (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin) before a follow up chapter on the post-Reformation developments. The latter solidified, but did not diverge drastically from the Reformation understanding. In the final chapter, O’Kelley summarizes his observations and then adds some exegetical observations on three key texts: Galatians 3:10-14, Romans 9:30-10:13, and Philippians 3:2-11.

A big upshot of reading O’Kelley’s book is that you should takeaway a much clearer understanding of the theological climate in which the Reformation doctrine of justification emerged. Once you have that, you are apt to say as O’Kelley does that “the fact that first-century Jews might be better described as ‘covenantal nomists’ rather than ‘legalists’ has no bearing on the categories that gave shape to the historic Protestant doctrine of justification” (121). Granting Sanders argument (and it is not without its critics), Paul is not reacting to legalism and neither are the Reformers since neither first-century Jews or medieval Catholics were purely legalistic (or fully Pelagian for that matter). While there are similarities between the two, “nothing that Sanders has argued necessarily implies that the Reformation reading of Paul cannot be sustained” (121).

All of this is to say, if we need to re-read Paul, it is not because the Reformers misread him. O’Kelley does a fine job of arguing as much. There is probably more work to be done in Paul’s first century context to understand him better, but an essential revision of a new perspective entirely is not necessary. I’ve appreciated insights I’ve drawn from Wright and others, but often they offer them with the hubris of insinuating that the majority of gifted exegetes drastically misread Paul. Ironically, in Wright’s case at least, he practices a reading of the Reformers (particularly Calvin) that is not well acquainted with the historical context, yet chides old perspective advocates for doing the same thing with Paul. In the end, both could use a bigger dose of context, but in different ways. Without it, the interpreter is quite likely to set himself up as king instead.


Aaron O’Kelley, Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, October, 2014. 188 pp. Paperback, $23.00.

Buy it: Amazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Wipf & Stock for the review copy!

These guys are, no surprise, a bit cleaner on their recordings. But given the extensive use of whammy bars, I was pleasantly surprised they turned out good live in a session like this.

If you’re not familiar with the background of these videos, it is an alien explaining human culture to other aliens, via our movies. I’m sure you picked up that the LEGO movie had some philosophical undertones, but now you can know it for sure.

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