book response: Four Views on Paul from Zondervan (2012)

The multiple views books that Christian publishing houses are putting out lately, are very helpful to the church. They show how disagreeing believers (and an unbeliever in this book) can amicably discuss their differences, while affirming what they keep in common. This new book from Zondervan, Four views on the Apostle Paul, edited by Michael Bird, includes a Reformed Baptist, a Catholic, a post-new-perspective theologian, and a Jewish theologian.

I came to this topic fairly naive, so it was good that the Baptist, Thomas Schreiner, wrote the opening essay, because I was familiar with this baseline. I even own his commentary on Romans. The responses from the other authors tantalized me to read their own essays.

The second essay by Luke Timothy Johnson, a Catholic, was also very good. I'm becoming a "both/and" guy as I age and mellow out, so I didn't see anything that Johnson's Catholic perspective threatened me. Johnson is also a "both/and" guy, and says this is a Roman Catholic perspective, so he sees Schreiner's tree, but points to the rest of the forest of metaphors that Paul uses to describe God's plan for humanity.
The change that God effects in the world is a reality greater than any single discourse can capture ... In diplomatic language, the condition of distance from God is expressed in terms of alienation ... In economic language, the condition of distance from God is expressed in terms of slavery ... In forensic language, God is the righteous judge ... In cultic language, the human condition of separation from God is expressed by sin ... In kinship language, humans are potential heirs of God ... No single metaphor is the most important or governs the others . Paul uses them rather as roughly equivalent symbolic modes for expressing a reality that cannot be fully communicated by any of them . Indeed, Paul mixes the metaphors, so that the language from one logically distinct set finds a place within another (see, e .g ., Rom 5:1 – 8). 
That would preach. Schreiner and Johnson try to use the full scope of Paul's letters, even the disputed ones, to help the reader grasp Paul's priorities and theology. But then I start to get disappointed. It was bizarre to me that in his critique essay, Douglas Campbell, the post-new-perspectivist, accuses Johnson of slipping into Melancthon-ism, implying that Johnson, the Catholic, was falling into Lutheran theology.

However, I'm very interested in the New Perspective on Paul. Campbell tries to move beyond the New Perspective and focuses intensely on Romans 5-8. As Johnson and Schreiner point out, it's hard to capture the themes of Paul, if one only focuses on a part of one letter. Hence I was disappointed in the scope of Campbell's exegesis. He also referred to Karl Barth frequently. This behavior made me even more eager to attempt to read Barth, but I was also confused how Campbell could be post E.P. Sanders, the primary new perspectivist, yet refer to a theologian before Sanders? Doesn't that make him pre-new-perspective. Finally, after reading his essay, I felt like I hadn't learned anything. In his response, Schreiner doesn't even start with Campbell's essay, but with his universalism, which is not discussed in his essay. Johnson also seems perplexed in how to respond. He writes, "Professor Douglas Campbell’s essay is at once highly idiosyncratic and thoroughly conventional." Finally, Mark D. Nanos doesn't feel that Campbell does any better than the New Perspectivists in addressing Jewish concerns.

Mark Nanos' essay was elucidating. He points to all the ways that Paul retains his Jewish identity. But he seems to stress that point in the face of contrary evidence either in Paul's writings or the other New Testament writings. One example is his understanding of the occasion for Christ's execution, "Jesus was executed for being perceived to represent a threat to Roman order, likely because of fears of an uprising in the making." The Jewish gospel writers, John and Matthew are pretty clear, that it was the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem who were threatened, and both Roman leaders, Pilate and Herod, found no case in Rome's eyes, but granted an execution to keep the Jewish crowd placated. It's an ugly story, and it's been historically used against Jews in Christian pogroms, but those are the data from the New Testament writers. Schreiner and Johnson respond with many other examples of Paul's breaking of Torah for the sake of Gentile believers.

None of this is to say that I didn't learn from Nanos or Campbell. I wasn't persuaded, but I still learned a bigger view of Paul from this book.

I received a free review copy in PDF through NetGalley.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Popular Posts