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Last week, we actually started our review series on N. T. Wright’s Paul and The Faithfulness of God. 1 Today, we’ll continue and finish Part I of the book. You can refer back to the table of contents to see where we’re headed after this. For now, we’ll focus on chapters 3-5 and round out Wright’s view of Paul’s world.

Athene and Her Owl: The Wisdom of The Greeks

Here, Wright turns from first century Judaism to first century Greek philosophy. The early Christians had obvious religious ties, but Wright notes three things they did that were more commonly associated with philosophy:

First, they presented a case for a different order of reality, a divine reality which cut across the normal assumptions. They told stories about a creator God and the world, stories which had points of intersection with things that the pagans said about god(s) and the world but which started and finished in different places and included necessary but unprecedented elements in the middle. Second, they argued for, and themselves modelled, a particular way of life, a way which would before long be a cause of remark, sometimes curious and sometimes hostile, among their neighbours. Third, they constructed and maintained communities which ignored the normal ties of kinship, local or geographical identity, or language—not to mention gender or class. (202)

Given this, Wright will spend this chapter placing Paul on the map of first century philosophers. To do this, he will sketch a brief history of Greek philosophy. He starts with pre-Socratics, moves through Plato and Aristotle, and then concludes with two schools of thought. Those schools are the Stoics and the Epicureans.

Wright then makes the key point of the chapter:

Here is perhaps the most important thing in this chapter for today’s readers of Paul to take to heart. Whereas the default mode of most modern westerners is some kind of Epicureanism, the default mode for many of Paul’s hearers was some kind of Stoicism. Observing the differences between the two, particularly at the level of assumptions, is therefore vital if we are to ‘hear’ Paul as many of his first hearers might have done. If, when someone says the word ‘god’, we think at once of a distant, detached divinity—as most modern westerners, being implicitly Epicureans or at least Deists, are likely to do—we are unlikely to be able imaginatively to inhabit the world of many in Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus and elsewhere for whom the word ‘god’ might reasonably be expected to denote the divinity which indwelt, through its fiery physical presence, all things, all people, the whole cosmos. (213)

With this in mind, Wright focuses on four leading Stoic thinkers: Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. He then compares the Cynics and Skeptics before sketching what he considers a basic first century philosophical worldview.

Wright closes the chapter showing a typical Jewish response to Greek philosophy via the Wisdom of Solomon. In conclusion he says.

When we ask, therefore, what has happened in the Wisdom of Solomon to the traditional topics of logic, physics and ethics, the answer must be that they are all present, but in a strikingly transformed mode. The underlying ‘logic’, the means whereby the writer apparently claims to know what can be said, is not simply the combination of accurate sense-impressions and clear reasoning. It is the scriptures of Israel, and particularly the narratives of the exodus and the monarchy. The ‘physics’, the account of the world’s creation and constitution, is a fresh reading of Genesis, with sophia filling in the picture. The ‘ethics’ is both a fresh statement of the Stoic development of Aristotle’s system of virtues and a fresh reading of the biblical tradition of ‘righteousness’. Athene’s owl has peered into the darkness and come back to report what he has seen; but, at the same time, the birds which hovered overhead to protect the wandering Israelites have told their own story. (243)

A Cock For Asclepius: “Religion” and “Culture” in Paul’s World

Wright now turns his attention to the wider world of first century religious and cultural practices. Wright initially shied away from treating “religion” as a separate chapter, but ultimately decided, “Hey, why not?” (he gives a more extended reason, p. 251).

After his all too brief survey of the religious terrain, Wright says,

This extremely brief summary of complex matters is, again, not merely of antiquarian interest. It is vital if we are to sense the flavour of life in a Roman environment; and much of Paul’s most important work was carried out in a Roman environment, albeit overlaid on a Greek base and with plenty of other imported material coming in alongside. Though we must address such questions properly much later, a moment’s thought will make it clear that Paul, in founding a ‘church’ in Corinth or Philippi or elsewhere, was not setting up a new ‘religion’ in any of the kind of senses we have been exploring. He seems to have had no interest in a sacred calendar, and indeed at one point has harsh words for those who do. He never suggests that one should sacrifice animals, whether to eat them or to inspect their entrails. He never indicates that one ought to pay attention to thunderstorms, or to the flight of particular birds. The sacred texts he interprets are of a very different order to the Sibylline Books. He does not attempt to establish anything remotely corresponding to the priesthoods of either Greece or Rome. (273)

While religion might not be the best category for analyzing what Paul was doing, “it is certainly a key and basic element in what his contemporaries will have seen him doing and heard him saying. And with ‘religion’, in all of these complex senses, we are dealing with what today we might call ‘the fabric of society’, the things which held people together and gave shape and meaning to their personal and corporate life (274).”

In his concluding reflections, Wright says,

The main thing to emerge for our purposes from this short survey is that what Cicero and others referred to loosely with the word religio penetrated more or less every area of life. From the home, with its hearth and household gods, right up to great affairs of state, noble works of art and culture, and the most important public buildings and civic ceremonies, ‘religion’ was everywhere, because the gods were everywhere. Paul, as ‘apostle to the gentiles’, believed himself to be sent by the one God of Israel into this world of many gods. (274)

Worth noting as well, is the Jewish response:

It is as well known today as it was in the ancient world that the Jews would have nothing, or next to nothing, to do with all this range of ‘religion’. They denied the existence of the pagan divinities. They regarded pagan worship, offered to cult objects, as ‘idolatry’ in the full biblical sense. They believed that pagan life was a distorted version of the genuine humanness to which the one God had called Israel and would, in principle, want to call the whole world. They did their best to remain detached and separate from the whole thing. (276)

While a short chapter, it does help to give a feel for the way religion permeated every day life in the ancient world. Christianity certainly fits into this religious territory in Paul’s account, but it is not merely a religion, and it is noticeably different than the pagan approach (similar though it may be in some respects).

The Eagle Has Landed: Rome and The Challenge of Empire

Wright closes out this section by moving to politics. In a way though, this is an extension of the religious discussion. Setting context, Wright says,

By the time Paul was born, the empire of Augustus Caesar stretched from one sea to another—the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean to the English Channel—and from the river Euphrates to the ends of the known world, the far western outposts of Spain and France. There, of course, lay the problem for the devout Jew: that was more or less the extent of empire which the Psalmist had promised to the Messiah. Whether many Romans knew or cared we may doubt. Rome’s military adventures had not been undertaken in obedience to such ancient visions. It had acquired its foreign territories piecemeal. One conquest led to another and, with tax and treasure flowing in to the centre, it became advantageous to annex the next country, and then the next, first as allies, then as buffer zones, then as clients, and finally as a new piece of straightforwardly ‘Roman’ territory. Rome brought ‘peace’ to the world, at the usual price: submit or die. (284)

From here, Wright sketches a brief history of Roman emperors, starting just after Julius Caesar, on to Augustus, and ending with Vespasian. With a feel for how the empire was established (or at least how it solidified around the turn of BC to AD), Wright then turns his eye to the rhetoric this empire employed. To clarify, he says,

It was not by military force alone that Augustus consolidated his power, or that his successors maintained it. It has been shown in great detail that from the beginning the empire used every available means in art, architecture, literature and culture in general—everything from tiny coins to the rebuilding of entire city centres—to communicate to the Roman people near and far the message that Augustus’s rise to power was the great new moment for which Rome, and indeed the whole world, had been waiting. This is what I mean, in this broad sense and in the present context, by ‘rhetoric.’ (294)

Key to his analysis of the Roman empire’s rhetoric is how the empire constructed a narrative in which it was the culmination of where the story was going. This then leads to a discussion of the “religion” of empire, or more commonly, the imperial cult. From here, Wright then traces how the emperor was gradually “divinized.”

Concerning this and other Roman perspectives on deities, Wright says,

The Jewish objection to the entire Roman view of the gods was not simply about monotheism (though that was of course the basis of the standard critique of idolatry), nor even about election (their belief that they, rather than the Romans or anybody else, were the chosen people of the one true God). It was about eschatology: about their belief that the one God had determined on a divine justice that would be done, and would be seen to be done, in a way that Roman imperial justice somehow never quite managed. Rome’s claim to have brought the world into a new age of justice and peace flew, on eagle’s wings, in the face of the ancient Jewish belief that these things would finally be brought to birth through the establishment of a new kingdom, the one spoken of in the Psalms, in Isaiah, in Daniel. Thus, though their resistance to empire drew on the ancient critique of idolatry, the sense that Israel’s God would overthrow the pagan rule and establish his own proper kingdom in its place led the Jewish people to articulate their resistance in terms of eschatology. Sooner or later, the eagle would meet its match. (342-343)

Wright then concludes the chapter and the book as a whole with a typical rhetorical flourish of his own:

The birds that had hovered over Israel all those years had seen the story through. Instead of the wise owls of Athens, a descendant of Solomon had come who would see in the dark and bring hidden truth to light. Instead of the sacrificial cock offered to Asclepius, a sacrifice had occurred which, upstaging even the ancient cult and priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, would bring healing at every level. Instead of the eagle with its talons and claws, Jesus summoned people to a different kind of empire: peacemaking, mercy, humility and a passion for genuine and restorative justice. Saul of Tarsus, born and bred a Pharisee in a world shaped by the wisdom of Greece, the religion of the east, and the empire of Rome, came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, and that this Jesus had called him, Saul, to take the ‘good news’ of his death, resurrection and universal lordship into the world of wisdom, religion and empire. That transformative vocation, articulated through the worldview which it provided and the theology which it produced, is the subject of the rest of this book. Earlier three birds on a tree; now only the one. (346-347)

Notes:

  1. Thanks again to Fortress Press for the review copy!

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One of my favorite book series is New Studies in Biblical Theology. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but I’ll say it again (and probably again). This summer I actually read quite a few volumes in the series that were either new or that I hadn’t gotten around to before now. One of those in the new category is Brian Rosner’s Paul and The Law: Keeping The Commandments of God. I read it during a beach weekend, because that’s what I do, and as usual, was not disappointed.

Though most scholars come to a study like this via Romans or Galatians, Rosner comes via 1 Corinthians and Paul’s ethics and Jewish background (13). His goal is to “bring some neglected evidence to the discussion and to defend some proposals that sharpen and build on the work of others (13).” His main focus is on “what Paul does with the law, especially for questions of conduct,” rather than on what Paul says about the law.

Chapter 1 open by noting many of the attendant puzzles related to Paul and the law. A key verse for the study is introduced (1 Corinthians 7:19) and terms are defined. The New Perspective on Paul enters into the discussion. As Rosner wraps up, he summarizes his basic outlook and maps out the way ahead:

In his letters Paul undertakes a polemical rereading of the Law of Moses, which involves not only a repudiation and rejection of the law as ‘law covenant (chapters 2 and 3) and its replacement by other things (chapter 4), but also a reappropriation of the law ‘as prophecy’ (with reference to the gospel; chapter 5) and ‘as wisdom’ (for Christian living; chapter 6). This construal finds support not only in what Paul says about the law, but also in what he does not say and in what he does with the law. And it highlights the value of the law for preaching the gospel and for Christian ethics (43-44).

This gives you a general idea of the ground covered in Rosner. However, one of the strengths of this book is Rosner’s closing summaries/paraphrases in each chapter. I’ll highlight of couple of these to give you more of a feel for the kinds of conclusions Rosner makes.

First off, in chapter 2, Rosner explains that Christian are no longer under the law as “law covenant.” He closes the chapter “in Paul’s own words” (a summary and paraphrase):

Unlike Jews, believers in Christ are not under the law, nor are they in the law or from the law. They are not imprisoned and guarded under the law, nor are they subject to the law as to a disciplinarian. Those who are under the law are under a curse and under sin. Even though the law promises life to those who keep it, it is evident that no one keeps the law. Consequently, no one recieves life through the law. The law used as law is for the lawless. Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances (81).

Further along these line, Rosner concludes chapter 3 with this summary:

Paul never says, as he does of Jews, that believers in Christ rely on the law, boast about the law, know God’s will through the law, are educated in the law, have light, knowledge and truth because of the law, do, observe and keep the law, on occasion transgress the law, or possess the law as letter or a written code, as a book, as decrees, or as commandments. Paul also never says, as he does of Jews, that Christians learn the law, walk according to the law, and expect good fruit and good works to flow from obedience to the law (109).

Rather than relying on the law or interacting with it in the ways for Jews delineated above, Christians rely on Christ. Rosner explains this in more detail in chapter 4. In his conclusion he contrasts more fully: “Believers in Christ do not rely on the law, but on Christ; do not boast in the law, but in God through Christ; do not find God’s will through the law, but in apostolic instruction, wisdom and gospel; are not instructed by the law, but by the gospel; and are not obliged to obey the law, but rather must obey apostolic instruction (134).”

With this in mind, Rosner goes on to explain that the law (speaking as Paul), “was written for us Christians and is part of the prophetic writings which disclose my gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ, which was a mystery kept secret for long ages, and is now made known to the Gentiles to bring about the obedience of faith (157-158).” Further, “the law was written for us Christian to teach us how to live. It was written for our instruction and the events it records were also written down to instruct us. In fact, all of the law is useful for moral teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (205).”

The final chapter of the book ties everything together and Rosner repeats all the concluding paraphrases in one place back to back. In that sense, you could read the final 2 pages of the book and get a clear snapshot of what Rosner is arguing (if you’re not satisifed by my presentation of the same material so far).

The result, to me, is a very helpful work explaining in an accessible way, how Paul uses the law in his writings, and so how it is applicable to Christians of the first as well as the twenty first century. Rosner is attentive to questions raised by the New Perspective. But at the same time, he is more or less charting his own way forward. This isn’t to say that his view is without precedent. Rather, he is not simply repeating Old Perspective positions. Neither is he following New Perspective trajectories uncritically. Instead, he is wrestling with the text from his unique perspective and coming to what I think are exegetically sound conclusions. If you are serious about understanding Paul or are interested in the theological question of how the law fits in the Christian life, this is a book you can’t miss.


Brian S. Rosner, Paul and The Law: Keeping The Commandments of God(New Studies in Biblical Theology). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2013. 249 pp. Paperback, $24.00

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Just a week ago, Mike Cosper’s book The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth released. Over at Christ and Pop Culture, it’s part of the rotating bundle given away to members. You can read my write up to get a 30,000 ft. overview and join Christ and Pop Culture to get the book for free.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to use Cosper’s book as a launching point for discussion. In some ways, this is a book I wish I had written. Most of his main ideas I wrote about in my Th.M thesis. As it stood though, the thesis was a work in theory with no actual exposition of how it plays out in actual movies and TV shows. Cosper’s book on the other hand is mostly exposition with sparing, but when it appears, substantive interaction with other literature on the topic.

I realized after graduating that if I wanted to convert my book into something more accessible, it needed to be more focused on actual examples in movies and TV shows that people (for the most part) actually watch. I had plans to do this, but no discipline to devote to it, and inevitably, there was always something else I’d rather work on.

Luckily for all of us, Cosper had the time and the discipline and the result is an excellent read on the topic.

As the subtitle of this blog post indicates, Cosper’s introduction unpacks the way our world is full of stories. Specifically, we see this in the world of TV and movies. Considering the draw both of these forms of entertainment have, there is probably something more to stories than mere enjoyment. Cosper says, “In what follows, I intend to explore our addiction to these stories. In particular, I want to look at their common threads, and I want to explore why we keep telling them, over and over again. I believe we’re watching because TV and movies are both echoing and forming our desires, and I want to delve into what those desires really are (23).”

He then says, “I believe the gospel has given us a framework for the whole story of history. I want to explore the way our ordinary, everyday stories intersect with the bigger story that God is telling, and I want investigate what these stories reveal about being human, being fallen, and longing for redemption (23).” Ultimately then Cosper will be “less interested in debating the merits of watching content” than “in understanding what drives it (24).” Cosper wants to get to the heart of the stories we tell through TV and movies. He says that “the motivation for our stories is deeply connected with the gospel, and by thinking about that connection, we can more deeply appreciate both (24).”

I couldn’t agree more, and in fact, I might go a bit farther. You could make a case that the pervasiveness of stories and the draw of TV and movies provides a strong apologetic for the Christian worldview. It doesn’t necessarily “prove” it, but as we’ll see next week, given the arc of most stories, it is a piece of data that fits more comfortably within a Christian view of the world. This is a bit of transcendental reasoning (different than a transcendental argument), asking what would need to be true for our obsession with stories to make sense. Cosper is probing why this is and does so in a way that connects it to the gospel. I would take the same path and say that it also provides a strong argument the gospel being true. There is a “fittedness” that emerges between a world obsessed with stories and the Christian belief in a story-telling God who made humans in his image. People have an almost innate gospel longing and if they are not confronted with the Christian gospel, will find a substitute elsewhere.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but next week we’ll look a bit more at the first two chapters of Cosper’s book. On the one hand, stories tend to be “gospel-shaped.” On the other hand, many TV shows and movies are full of “objectionable content.” In immersing ourselves in these stories, how can we reflect wisely on the content both on the surface and what lies beneath? That’s what we’ll look at next week. In the meantime, join Christ and Pop Culture, pick up a free copy, and read this book for yourself!

I failed to mention in my reflections on the end of summer that I got to see one of my favorite bands play live a few weeks back. To give you a feel for it, here they are playing three songs. (via Scale the Summit – Audiotree Live from Audiotree Live on Vimeo.)

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(via Lifehacker)

 

I’m not particularly a big fan of Heidegger, but this is a good introduction to one of his major ideas.

For a while, I’ve been thinking about doing a series on book reviewing. It’s something I’ve been known to do in semi-prolific proportions. It’s also something that my interest and capacity for is waning.

Book reviewing was a way of keeping my free time under guardians and managers until the date of resuming school. Since the fullness of time is at hand, it’s time to set aside what is essentially hobby. Throughout the fall, I’ll still be reviewing books on pretty much a weekly basis. But, come January and Ph.D studies, I don’t imagine that will be the case.

Before getting there though, I wanted to pass on the insights I’ve gained in being an active book reviewer for the past few years. Think of this as a way of kind of “reviewing book reviewing.” If you’ve seen the show on Comedy Central called Review, this is kind of like that (minus most of the mayhem though).

If you’re looking to get started or just do what you like to do better, this series is for you. I can’t say I’ll cover everything, and much of what I might say could be found elsewhere. For that reason, I’m going to focus more on my experience and what I learned, rather than best practices for reviewing books (which are widely available).

If you think of it triperspectivally, which is my preferred mode, you could roughly outline the series this way:

Normative

Under the normative perspective, I would talk about the norms for reading and reviewing well. This would includes topics like:

  • How to Read a Book (well)
  • How to Interact With a Book
  • How to Organize Your Review

There may be more, but you can see how to some extent, there won’t be much I say here that you couldn’t find in another reviewers archive or in a full length book.

Situational

Here, the focus is more on the context of reviewing itself. A key consideration is how to get review books. Rather than a single post (which I think I’ve done in the past). I’m going to go publisher by publisher, focusing mainly on the ones I’ve worked with:

  • Baker Books
  • Baker Academic
  • Brazos Press
  • Crossway
  • Eerdmans
  • Fortress Press
  • IVP Academic
  • Kregel
  • Moody
  • New Growth Press
  • P&R Publishing
  • Thomas Nelson
  • Wipf & Stock (includes Cascade, Pickwick)
  • Zondervan

There are certainly more publishers out there you can connect with, but these are the primary ones that I have worked with. I’ll explain what the publisher is about, how I got connected, and you can see what I’ve reviewed from them.

Also considered under this perspective is cross-posting your reviews to sites like Amazon and Goodreads. I’ll explain what I do, and talk about reviewing for other outlets beyond your own blog or website.

Existential

In this final perspective, the focus is on what I do as a reviewer, what I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made, etc. This is the part of the series that will be most unique. You can probably find the information in the other perspectives elsewhere around the web. You may find other people who have had similar experiences to me in reviewing books, but hopefully what I’ve learned in the past few years doing this regularly will be helpful to you. If nothing else, at this point, it is the main reason for doing this series in the first place.

Given all this, and the ability of a triperspectival analysis to start from any perspective, where do you think I should start? I’ll go off comments here and Twitter and decide what to start with next week. Until then…

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A long time ago, in a blog post far, far away, I mentioned I would do a review series on N. T. Wright’s Paul and The Faithfulness of God. 1 I went back and forth about whether to actually go through with it over the summer. But, as I was reading it, and finally finished it last week, I’m now ready to review. I thought about still just doing a concise review, but I think it’ll be too concise if that’s all I do.

Today, we’ll start, and you can refer back to the table of contents to see where we’re headed. We’ll get our feet wet with the first two chapters in the first part of the book. The focus is on establishing a context for Paul’s world. Much of the ground is retreading and expanding on Wright’s exposition of the New Testament world in the first volume in this series, The New Testament and The People of God (or when you’ve been reading Wright too long, NTPG).

Return of The Runaway?

Interestingly, Wright decides to set his opening context by an extended look at Philemon. He compares Paul’s letter to similar letters written by Pliny. This comparison leads Wright to conclude:

[T]he heart of this difference between Pliny and Paul is a difference of master. Two roads have here diverged. Something has happened, at the heart of Rome’s empire, that has made all the difference, not only to the social world but also to the world of power within which that society lived. Paul the Jew, whose controlling story had always included the narrative whereby the living God overthrew the tyrant of Egypt and freed his slave-people, had come to believe that this great story had reached its God-ordained climax in the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, who according to multiple ancient traditions would be the true Lord of the entire world. In being faithful to his people, God had been faithful to the whole creation. Paul lived under the authority of this ‘lord’, this ‘Messiah’, and devoted himself to making that authority effective in the lives of the communities that had come to share that same faith. Because, however, this ‘Messiah’ and ‘lord’ was the crucified and risen Jesus, this ‘authority’ itself had been radically redefined. Because of Jesus, Paul understood everything differently—God, the world, God’s people, God’s future, and in and through it all God’s faithfulness. It is that world of difference, intersecting with the world of Pliny but radically transforming it, that the present book now aims to explore (22).

Wright then digs further into Philemon in order to introduce the broad contours of Paul’s worldview and its similarities and differences with other worldviews in the first century. Wright notes, ““The study of Paul’s worldview leads to a striking, dramatic conclusion: this worldview not only requires a particulartheologyto sustain it, but also requires thattheologyitself play a new role, integrated with the worldview itself. (30, italics original)” This more or less sets the trajectory for the book which will do the historical background research to sketch out Paul’s worldview (parts I & II), then underlying theology (part III), and how that impacts Paul’s aims in his context (part IV).

Since he is dealing with the interface of history and theology, Wright reassures readers, “This book is part of a project in which I have tried to avoid collapsing either into the other, have tried to avoid history becoming a slave of theology or vice versa. The fact that I have been accused of failure in both directions indicates to me that I may be getting the balance somewhere near right, though presumably not completely (67).”

In wrapping up this chapter, Wright summarizes his purpose in writing:

The argument of the present book is that when we use the worldview method I have set out above, and thus bring a larger ‘thick description’ of Paul and his mindset into play alongside and as a way in to a fresh analysis of his central theological concepts, we find a fresh coherence. More specifically, we find that we can understand the deep and organic links between the history of Paul, and of his letters and his churches, and the theology which he articulated in those letters. We will not need to collapse the one into the other, whether theology into history, as with some of the sociologists, allowing the slave to come back and dictate his own terms, reducing Philemon to a mere puppet in his own house, or history into theology, as with some of the preachers and guardians of orthodoxy, allowing the slave back as long as he’s bound hand and foot and told to mind his manners in future. And, just as Paul’s way to a reconciliation between master and servant was through a complete identification with them both, reaching out either hand to embrace them so that they were to be united in him, with anything owing in either direction put down to his account, so the way of reconciliation between history and theology, between Christian Origins and the Question of God, comes to rest in this volume on Paul as the announcer and embodier of God as the faithful one, faithful to creation and faithful to covenant, the God whose faithfulness came to life and walked and talked in Palestine and died on a Roman cross to reconcile God and the world. The cross, indeed, will be central to our project here, both structurally and thematically, and part of the underlying and implicit proposal will be that Paul’s understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death, while having of course other and better known highlights than that which we find in Philemon, may help us wrestle too with the question of reconciliation between the two elements of our split world (70-71).

Like Birds Hovering Overhead: The Faithfulness of the God of Israel

To begin sketching Paul’s worldview, Wright starts with his Jewish context. Importantly, he notes:

This chapter needs to adjust, perhaps even to correct, the balance in Part III of The New Testament and the People of God, which was designed as the equivalent introduction for this book as well as for Jesus and the Victory of God. Because I had Jesus particularly in focus at that time, and because I was heavily concerned then with the Jewish context for understanding Paul, I concentrated almost all that section on the Jewish world of the first century, giving particular attention in chapter 7 to the Pharisees and the movements of revolt, which remain extremely important in the present volume, and then to the elements of Israel’s worldview (story, symbol and praxis) in chapter 8, finishing with the two chapters, which remain foundational for the present volume, on Israel’s beliefs and hopes (chapters 9 and 10). The point of writing those chapters there was to avoid having to do so here, so I shall not repeat them, but refer the reader to them as part of the necessary preliminary work for the present book (77).

Then, frustratingly, he says, “In my mind’s eye I see the whole of NTPG Part III as though they were physically part of this book, perhaps as a kind of microdot within the running head for every page, and I encourage readers to do the same (77).” So, while this is a 1500 page book, you need to go back and read his other 400+ page book to have context. Not really, having read both this summer, it was helpful to be able to recall much of NTPG while reading PFG.

As far as the topic of this chapter goes, Wright says.

I hope in particular to bring out the way in which the faithfulness of Israel’s God functions as a theme throughout so much of the period. This was particularly so, I suggest, for the Pharisees, generating and sustaining a complex but essentially single narrative, the long and often strange story of God’s faithfulness which would—surely, they believed, it would!—work out finally in deliverance for Israel and justice and glory in the wider world. ‘Like birds hovering overhead,’ wrote Isaiah, ‘so yhwh of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.’ The echoes of Deuteronomy 32, a vital chapter in this great story, are clear, and picked up too at various points in the Psalter. We should be prepared to hear, underneath echoes such as these, the soft, slow beat of hidden wings, brooding over the dark waters to bring creation itself to birth (77-78).

The bulk of the chapter then is an exposition of the Pharisees. Additionally, Wright looks at the praxis that was most important to them (Torah), as well as the supreme symbol in their worldview (the Temple). This latter point is where Wright expands most on previous work:

The point of the Temple—this is where I want to develop considerably further what was said in the earlier volumes—is that it was where heaven and earth met. It was the place where Israel’s God, yhwh, had long ago promised to put his name, to make his glory present. The Temple, and before it the wilderness tabernacle, were thus heirs, within the biblical narrative, to moments like Jacob’s vision, the discovery that a particular spot on earth could intersect with, and be the gateway into, heaven itself (96).

All the other symbols of ancient Israel and the second-Temple Jewish world gathered around this majestic, potent building, and from it they took their meaning and power. This was where the great narratives clustered, too, the stories upon which the Jewish people had already been living for centuries before Saul of Tarsus came along, narratives that had developed fresh resonances in the years immediately before his day and would, through his agency, develop significantly new ones as he told them around the world in a radically reworked form (and, he would say, as he worked on constructing the new ‘building’ around the world). These are stories about Israel’s God, about his name and his glory; stories about who this God is in himself and his actions, stories about his power and his faithfulness, about his powerful wings hovering over his people to keep them safe. They are Temple-stories because they are God-and-Israel stories, and vice versa (100).

Helpfully, Wright points to the work of G. K. Beale and John Walton on the significance of the Temple in the Jewish worldview.

Wright spends the rest of the chapter examining the idea of Israel living in a “continuous story.” This leads to rearticulating a popular theme in his writing: Israel remains in exile during the first century, awaiting deliverance. To support his case, Wright traces how the story of the people of God was retold through Scripture, the Second Temple literature, and the literature post AD 70. He then circles back to reinforce his case for Israel’s mindset during the first century to be one of exile.

Wright then details the worldview, theology, aims, and beliefs of first century Pharisees. The short version is present in his conclusion:

The worldview of a first-century Pharisee has thus come into focus. Living somewhere on the spectrum between the extreme and possibly violent zeal of the ardent Shammaite and the extreme and possibly flexible caution of the ardent Hillelite, the Pharisee was passionately concerned about the ancestral traditions, particularly the law of Moses and the development of that into oral law, and about the importance of keeping this double Torah not simply because it was required, or in order to earn the divine favour, but because a renewed keeping of the law with all one’s heart and soul was one of the biblically stated conditions (as in Deuteronomy 30) for the great renewal, the eschaton and all that it would mean. It was what constituted the appropriate and faithful response to the faithfulness of Israel’s God, invoking the protection of the divine bird hovering over Jerusalem. Personal piety, and personal hope, were firmly held within the ongoing story of the life and hope of Israel as a whole. The controlling stories, fleshed out in symbol and praxis, gave the essential body to the theological soul of monotheism, election and eschatology (195-196).

To move through the different concentric circles: the Pharisaic worldview was about the whole business of being human; of being a Jewish human; of living in a Jewish community; of living in a threatened Jewish community; of living with wisdom, integrity and hope in a threatened Jewish community; of living with zeal for Torah, the covenant and above all Israel’s faithful God within a threatened Jewish community (196).

Hopefully this gives you a feel for the first two chapters. Next week, we’ll run through the next three in this part of Wright’s book.

Notes:

  1. Thanks again to Fortress Press for the review copy!

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Stephen Westerholm opens Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme saying, “Those of us brought up, not simply on the letters of Paul, but on a distinctive way of reading those letters, do well to engage with those who read Paul differently (vii).” He then explains that his short work (which is under 100 pp.) will engage with scholars who are asking fresh questions when it come to Paul and justification.

When I think of people obsessed with “freshness” when it comes to Paul, I think immediately of N. T. Wright, who uses the word roughly once every 10 pp. in Paul and The Faithfulness of God. While Westerholm doesn’t confine himself to interacting with Wright, he is definitely a scholar on his radar.

While this book is new, much of the material is not. Westerholm aims to update and make more accessible earlier work he has done (viii). In particular, he is drawing on two key journal articles and a conference paper.

Chapter 1 explores the difficulties that come with bringing Paul into our modern context. Krister Stendahl is the scholar whose fresh questions have provoked controversy here. Chapter 2 turns to the “Jewishness” of Paul’s doctrine of justification and E. P. Sanders’ work figures prominently.  Chapter 3 turns to questions of how much Luther’s understanding of justification might be read back into Paul’s. Heikki Raisanen is the one asking questions here and the Finnish/Luthern school of theology is the result. Chapter 4 moves to the king of freshness himself, N. T. Wright. Specifically, Westerholm is probing Wright’s definition of righteousness as “covenant faithfulness.” This chapter alone is about a quarter of the book, and stands at the heart of Westerholm’s study.

After wrestling with Wright, Westerholm moves on to investigate the role of the works of the law and comes in contact with James Dunn’s work on the subject. Chapter 6 takes on Douglas Campbell’s massive work The Deliverance of God, which itself questions Western theology’s “obsession” with what Campbell calls “justification theory.” Westerholm offers brief pushback before wrapping up with a concluding chapter which summarizes his concerns and points “in a nutshell.”

Overall, this is a valuable little book. One weakness might be that I wish it were longer and containted more sustained interactions. However, that isn’t really Westerholm’s aim. If accessibility is the goal (and for Westerholm, it is), then this book hits the mark. For people who are not familiar with the major names asking significant questions about how we understand Paul, this is an excellent little primer. Even for people who are, this is a thought provoking read in which a scholar demonstrates the willingness and ability to listen to different scholarly accounts of Paul and then thoughtfully and gracefully interact with them. We would do well to have more works in the vein.


Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, November, 2013. 112 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

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Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy!

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Labor Day is in its twilight, which means summer is officially over. Technically, there are three more weeks. Less technically, this is now the third week of the school year, which by most standards means summer is long gone.

Geographically, I live in Florida, so summer is more of a state of mind that never really goes away. I mean, I’ll be wearing shorts and flip flops on days off for at least 3, maybe 4 more months, and then its Christmas.

All of this is a convoluted way of re-entering into regular blogging, thus ending my summer off. I usually take a month off, but I decided to make it 3 this year. There were several reasons for this. I needed break and I didn’t feel like blogging constitute the main ones. In addition, I had a fairly massive researcher project which took up any conceptual space I had for blogging. 1 In the end, I thought it best to just wait until I felt like blogging again, and well, here we are.

Since I haven’t had too much to say, I thought I’d give you a rundown of the summer. We’ll go month by month.

June

I had high hopes for June, but for some reason also decide to take a month off coffee after mildly abusing it all through May (8 shots a morning to be exact). All went well for the first few days and then I started having withdrawal symptoms. Mainly I felt really weird (i.e. dead inside) and had no motivation to do anything. One thing I didn’t feel was tired, but I just didn’t feel like doing anything (which was a problem given the aforementioned research project). I recanted giving up coffee and tried to get back to work.

In the midst of all this, my wife’s twin sister and husband came to visit and we had some quality family time (including a trip to Sea World). I made it back to a Rays game for the first time in 10 years, and also despite my defensive driving skills, got into a car accident. It was low impact, but also in the pouring rain. Not my fault, thankfully, but I needed some body work done. I surprised myself with how un-stressed I was through the entire deal. Not the best way to end the month, but then again, June wasn’t the best month.

July

Unlike June, July was much more what I envisioned for a summer break. I establish a bit of a routine and flow with the research project, made it back to another Rays game, and did some very spiritually formative reading.

Mid-month, I turned 30, and Ali threw me, what I thought would be a family dinner, but turned into a surprise party, which included my parents down from Knoxville. The next day, we got away for a beach weekend on the Gulf Coast and managed to not get incredibly sunburned.

By the end of the month, I was starting to feel energized for the fall, which is good because I had teacher orientation. My car finally got its body work done, and I had my second rental car experience. At the end of orientation, Ali and I went back to the beach for an anniversary weekend. We had originally planned on taking a stay-cation (which is more exciting when you already live in Orlando), but decided to just take a long weekend and sit around the beach. It was glorious.

August

Technically, the beach weekend overlaps into August since our anniversary is on the first, but because of our departure date, it was equal parts July and August. I had been frustrated at the beginning of the week because my car was not ready for our trip like the body shop had promised. So instead, we took Ali’s Sentra. The last time we had taken Ali’s car on a trip was when I totaled my first Camry in 2009. We were picking up a new one in Tennessee during our Christmas visit.

Ironically then, this turned out to be the farewell trip for Ali’s car since she totaled it two days after we got back. She was thankfully already braking before impact and wasn’t hurt at all. It was unfortunately for our insurance rates later this fall, her fault. More importantly, we were able to replace the car in under a week and now, hopefully done with car issues for a few months/years 2

Mid-August I would have started Ph.D studies at Southern, but because the orientation for that was the same week as orientation at the school I teach at, I deferred to January. It is only mildly disappointing and instead mostly a relief. I would have taken on too much and run myself into the ground otherwise. Now, I can get a flow going with classes I teach before adding in a class I’ll take.

As far as the rest of August goes, school has gone well in the opening weeks. I am enjoying it more so than this time last year. I’m finding myself enjoying teaching music more and more and have several new students for the fall. September-October are I think my favorite months, so for the moment at least, optimism is running pretty high. Football is basically a bonus at this point. But oh, how great a bonus it is!

Notes:

  1. If you’re curious, and you’re probably are, my summer job was creating book summaries of N. T. Wright’s Christian Origins and The Question of God, which effectively condensed the 3700+ page series into about 800-900 pages of money quotes that chart his argument. I think I’ve read enough Wright for the time being.
  2. I failed to mention earlier my car also had $800 worth of repairs that had to be done unrelated to my accident. At least my battery that died was under warranty.