God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology

January 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

9780802867476

Frank J. Matera, God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, November, 2012. 283 pp. Paperback, $28.00.

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Frank J. Matera is Andrews-Kelly-Ryan Professor of Biblical Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. He has previously written a NT theology, and commentaries on Romans, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians. Here, he presents us with his Pauline theology, God’s Saving Grace.

Overview

Matera begins the book with a very clarifying introduction. I’ve posted on it previously, so you can go here to read of the difference between a theology of Paul and a Pauline theology. As you should be able to tell by now, Matera is composing a Pauline theology, and it is more of less ordered according to the general systematic theological loci.

Before he gets to that, he first gives us his organizing motif in chapter 1. As Matera explains, the framework for his Pauline theology is guided by two principles: “the theme of God’s saving grace, which Paul experienced at his call and conversion” and “three implicit narratives that underlie Pauline theology.” (10) These three narratives are 1) the narrative of God’s saving grace in Paul’s own life, 2) the narrative of God’s saving grace in Christ, and 3) the narrative of God’s saving grace in the lives of those in Christ (11).

In order to unpack all this, Matera starts with the first narrative in chapter 2. He contends that Paul’s Damascus Road experience was the “generative center” for his theology since “the Pauline corpus grounds Paul’s gospel and commission” in it (45). In making his case, Matera surveys the three accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts as well as the way Paul himself discusses in it his letters.

At this point, Matera moves from the narrative of Paul’s life to unpacking the theology in his letters. While he does follow traditional systematic loci, he orders them differently. It still follows a logical ordering (which is not a monolithic “thing” – there are different logical orderings), but starting with Paul’s conversion has shifted things a bit.

Starting in chapter 3, we enter into Pauline Christology. Since Paul’s revelatory experience was of the risen Christ, and this completely reoriented his theology, this is only fitting. Throughout the chapter, we are able to see how Paul’s understanding of Christ influences his theology.

From here, we follow a fairly predictable ordering. Chapter 4 presents Pauline soteriology, chapter 5 Pauline ecclesiology, chapter 6 Pauline pneumatology, and chapter 7 Pauline eschatology. We end with Pauline theology proper in chapter 8. This makes for a more experiential ordering since most people come to faith in Christ through his revelation in their heart and only later work through the categories in the way this book presents them. Most people, I would imagine do not start their theological journey with theology proper.

At the end of each chapter Matera provides an excellent summarizing section titled “Coherence and Meaning in ______ ” (the blank being field by the appropriate branch of systematics under discussion). This is followed by suggested further readings for readers whose interests where piqued along the way. I found this very helpful in my reading and even though Matera’s writing style is crisp and clear (more or less jargon free), I also like a good concluding section that ties up any possible loose ends.

Strengths/Weaknesses

In terms of content, Matera seem to fit into a broadly evangelical mold. He is sensitive to insights from the advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, but doesn’t seem to be an NPP guy himself. He is not particularly writing for a Gospel Coalition type audience and most of his resources are more in the mainstream scholarly end of things. His presentation however should be accessible to most readers and brevity of his work (just under 250pgs) makes it easily digestible for the average Bible student.

For a scholar who, along with most critical scholars, does not accept Pauline authorship of several canonical letters, Matera does an excellent job of treating them all equally in his exposition of Pauline theology. This is certainly a strength of his work. Add this to his ability to pack a lot of theological content into a small space without overwhelming the reader, and you’ve got a quality book on your hands.

Conclusion

I really appreciated Matera’s organizing motif of God’s saving grace. I found his book to be an enjoyable and edifying study of Pauline theology. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for entryway into Pauline theology and who finds other works (Ridderbos, Schreiner) daunting on first glance. In Matera’s book you’ll be treated to a well ordered and clear presentation of Pauline theology that unpacks the gravity of God’s grace in shaping it.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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