Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Reaction: Paul and the Faithfulness of God

I am calling this a book reaction, not a book review because this won't be a proper review. I don't have the time or energy to write a proper review of Wright's mammoth monograph on Paul. A proper review would talk many, many blog posts (see Witherington, Ben who, at the time I began writing this was on post #24). However, after investing much time and energy working my way through Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and given the importance of the book, I decided to share some very brief thoughts.

Why should you read Paul and the Faithfulness of God? First, if for no other reason, you should because it completes a lifetime of engagement with Paul by one of this generation's leading scholars. What Wright has to say matters and it is the most thorough treatment he (or perhaps anyone else) will ever write. Second, methodlogically Wright is approaching Paul in exactly the right way, by understanding him as a Jew living in the Roman empire. That may seem like an obvious starting point but for far too many it's just that, a starting point. Wright's analysis consistently keeps the framework in mind. The result is a very rich, contextual understanding of Paul.

Two themes in particular stand out in Wright's presentation of Paul that I believe are absolutely central. Messiahship and the people of God. That Jesus was the Messiah through whom God ws redeeming the world was the bedrock of all strands of early Christianity, and Paul is no different. Wright spends a good bit of time fleshing out what that meant for Paul. It was refreshing to see this made a central focus as I feel it has been too marginalized overall in Pauline studies. However, I am not completely convinced by some aspect of Wright's presentation, specifically the way he tied Messiahship to Jesus embodying the returning, faithful Yahweh. It does, though, tie together the themes of Jesus' divinity with Messiahship in an interesting way. As for the people of God, Wright understands that this was the whole point. This is why Paul wrote. It wasn't about a private spirituality, it was about creating one united people regaurdless of ethnicity, gender, or class. Wright understands all that Paul wrote as seeking to achieve this goal. It draws out the practical nature of the epistles and prevents one from seeing portions as dogmatic treatises. This is a welcome move on the part of Wright, and many other modern scholars.

Like many others, I do have to offer a bit of a complaint at the length of the book. I felt like better editing could have chopped it down by 100 pages or so. There were too many digressions on the state of scholarship and at times, some unhelpful repetition. Also, if you're going to exceed 1000 pages you need some very, very strong structure in place to keep your readers tracking. Douglas Campbell did this splendidly in The Deliverance of God. While there was strong macro structuring, Wright needed to put more micro structuring place. The ordering of the discussion on Romans 9-11 made his argument hard to follow, for me at least.

Even with that said, I still strongly encourage you to take the time and read Paul and the Faithfulness of God. It is a splendid book that I think gets a lot more right than it gets wrong, and even when you question his interpretive decisions, Wright will open up Paul so you can see him from a new angle.