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Grace for Sinners
5 Stars Out Of 5
Loved This Four Views
July 30, 2012
Grace for Sinners
I really enjoyed this four views. It's the first of the series I've read but it won't be the last. I wasn't sure at first glance if it was a book on the historical Paul or his theology. It ended up about the later which was a perfect fit because I had already been reading in that area of theology.
The four contributors were Thomas R. Schreiner, Luke Timothy Johnson, Douglas A. Campbell, & Mark D. Nanos. Each was commissioned to answer four main questions:
What did Paul think about salvation?
What was Paul's view of the significance of Christ?
What is the best framework for describing Paul's theological perspective?
What was Paul's vision for the churches?
Schreiner approached these questions from a reformed Baptist perspective, Luke Timothy Johnson from a Roman Catholic perspective, Douglas A. Campbell from a post new perspective, & Nanos from a Jewish perspective (a simplification of positions but it gives you an idea).
I sympathized most with Schreiner's position but also found much to be commended in Nanos's chapter as well. We have lost some of the Jewishness of Paul. Ironically, Nanos rejects the NPP. It seems the NPP supporters have stepped out the hot pile with one foot and into the steaming leftovers with the other (moving the historical focus from legalism to a tacit racism). Nanos also strongly rejects Schreiner's position because of some of the historical anti-seminism found in its proponents. While sympathetic to that point, I would have liked a softer blow. If Paul had actually been against Judaism, it doesn't follow that against necessarily implies racist or hate. For instance, I am against Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness, Roman Catholics, and Liberal "Protestants" but I do not wish them harm and would die for their free practice of religion. I would love to have Schreiner and Nanos sit down and have a serious back forth in regards to their positions. Nanos's counter-point to Schreiner seemed distracted by previous interactions.
We need more research and study in the field of Paul's distinctive Jewishness. Dr. Tom Holland has already rung this bell loudly in his Contours of Pauline Theology (read my review). I would argue that Paul was not anti-Judaism but he may have been combative against a deformity in it. For instance, I am a Christian and am decidedly for the spread of Christianity but also frequently speak out against those who claim the name but who are false teachers. We must place Christianity in that context. It's in the same family tree of Judaism and therefore we must be decidedly for Judaism during Jesus's time. Jesus was a good Jew who fulfilled the perfect law of God. Nanos makes some helpful points like reminding us that when we talk about law we should talk about the teaching about loving God and neighbor. His arguments, however, falls short when trying to prove that the law was in full effect for Paul and his fellow Jews. Schreiner's commentary was quite constructive in this regard.
On the other hand, I found it surprising that I agreed with a good bit of what Johnson said; more so than with Campbell. It's ironic that on many principles Catholics are closer to conservative Protestantism than the liberals are. I found Campbell's sections the least compelling. He seemed content to ride the hobby horse all the way into the barn. He vehemently rejects the "Lutheran" understand of salvation but doesn't do the perspective justice in my opinion. He also rejects the conclusion of the NPP (hurray) but accepts the foundations of those conclusion (boo). Johnson rightly suggests in his counter point that in that case one should also question the foundation. His chapter was based solely on Romans 5-8 (beloved chapters) but hard to develop a theology on three chapters of what Paul said. He also rejects a large amount of Paul's writing. And in response to Paul's teaching in Timothy about women (brought up by Johnson in discussion of the household codes) Campbell simply dismisses the letters as not from Paul. He does this while also making unsupported claims like "Junia is an apostle" (no mention of the large amount of linguistic research that says otherwise) and "Phoebe is a patroness" (which I'm not sure what being a patron has to do with the topic at all). As an example, he says,
At this point it seems that we simply have to admit that Paul's admonition to slaves and women in terms of hierarchical Greco-Roman categories are inconsistent with central Christian truths that he spends much of his time advocating elsewhere. Consequently these texts should be reinterpretted and redeployed (p. 104).
Statements like these give me pause. It would be hard to arrive at a holistic theology of Paul when you miss the baby in the bathwater in these texts.
I loved this book. I love the study of Pauline theology. This book had the perfect mixture of perspectives which were compelling and instructive in the current dialogue. If you're interested in Pauline theology but don't have the nerve to start the real heavy lifting, Four Views will give you just enough to get into the conversation without delving too much into the technical side.