Rediscover and Recover Paul: a book review

I previously reviewed David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards’ Rediscovering Jesus  (IVP Academic, 2015) That book was an evocative and whimsical look at both biblical images of Jesus in the New Testament and later cultural portrayals of Jesus (e.g. Gnostic Jesus, Jesus in Islam, Mormon Jesus, the cinematic Jesus, and American Jesus, etc).

5191However, that book was not Capes, Reeves and Richard’s first collaboration. Way back in 2007 they published Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology I did not have the privilege of reading the first edition, but there is now a second edition (Nov 2017), which has been expanded to include recent Pauline research, and new material for the “So What?” and “What’s More?” sections (I’ll explain what these are below). This is a non-technical, introductory textbook which examines the life and thought of the Apostle Paul.

Capes is the associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton, Reeves is the dean and biblical studies professor at the Court Redford College of Theology and Ministry, and Randolph is provost and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.  In addition to their collaboration, each has penned monographs on Paul (Capes’s The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel, forthcoming from Baker Academic; Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul, IVP Academic, 2011; and Randolph’s Paul Behaving Badly, IVP 2015). 

Each of the book’s twelve chapters includes two types of text boxes. The “So What?” discusses why the topic being discussed (e.g. an aspect of Paul’s life, theology or interpretation of his letters) should matter to us. The “What’s More” sections provide supplementary information to aid our rediscovery of Paul. Additionally, each chapter (except for the last one), closes with suggestions for further reading, and there is a Pauline studies glossary and bibliography at the back of the book.

Chapter 1 describes Paul’s thought world—his Jewish Diaspora, Mediterranean Greco-Roman context and his understanding and his use of Greek Rhetoric. Chapter 2 delves deeper into Paul’s biography and his ‘Christophany’ as described in Acts and Galatians. Chapter 3 discusses Paul’s letter writing (i.e. his format, literary devices and writing process). Chapters 4 through 9 provide brief overviews of each of Paul’s letters. Chapter 10 describes the influences on, and influence of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Chapter 11 explores Paul’s literary legacy and the journey his writings took toward canonization. Chapter 12, concludes the book with reflections on how Paul has been read through church history and what contemporary issues he peculiarly speaks to.

Because this is an introductory textbook, Capes, Randolph and Richards do not break a lot of new ground. However, they give you an overview of Pauline studies from a scholarly, confessional perspective. That doesn’t mean they don’t engage critical scholarship though they tend to favor a more traditional and New Perspective sympathetic approach to Pauline research (though they will critique both traditional and New Perspective approaches gently along the way)

One of the places where it may matter is in terms of Pauline authorship. They begin their survey of Paul’s letters with the uncontested books: Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans before turning to more contested Prison letters (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians) and pastorals (Timothy and Titus). (Philemon is also clearly Pauline, but discussed with the later Prison letters because of its relationship to Colossians). However, Capes, Reeves, and Randolph argue, along traditional lines, that Paul is indeed the author of all the books in the New Testament which bear his name. They account for the stylistic and grammatical differences between the various books by the occasional nature of each letter, the communal process of ancient letter writing and Paul’s use of secretaries for preparing each of his letters (103-105). They note:

Apollonarius’s secretaries clearly accounted for the considerable stylistic differences in his letters. Scholars of Cicero indicate that Cicero’s letters varied considerably in vocabulary and style. In fact, some letters are stylistically more similar to the letters of others than to his own. Since secretaries often caused minor differences in the letters of other writers, we should allow this for Paul’s letters. Letters may vary because the secreatries varied. (106).

They review some of the arguments against Pauline authorship in their discussion of the Prison and pastoral letters, as it relates to each of the letters, but they maintain Pauline authorship in each case.

Critics of Paul malign him as chauvinist, sexist, homophobic and judgmental. Capes, Reeves and Randolph note that “Caricaturing Jesus as loving and Paul as judgmental is incredibly misleading because they are so distorted: for example, more than anyone else, Jesus is the one who preached about hell. Paul never mentions it” (402). They note Paul’s opposition to homosexuality but note the differences between Ancient Rome’s sexual practices and our own (and that Paul doesn’t signal same-sex practice out in particular but lists it alongside other sins, like gossiping). They contextualize Paul’s comments about women. This book doesn’t answer any of these questions to my satisfaction, but the authors take care to read Paul well and point at some of the inherent issues in interpreting the text.

In general, this is a pretty solid introduction to the writing and thought of Paul, appropriate for college undergrads. It leaves off the more technical discussions and summarizes the contours of debates. The surveys of the letters may also be useful for those who are preaching or teaching through one of Paul’s epistles and would like a birds-eye-view of the letter and its theology. Unfortunately, at 462 pages, this book is likely to scare off the general reader, though it is certainly accessible enough.

It is unsurprising that I liked Rediscovering Jesus more than Rediscovering Paul. After all, if I had to choose between those two, it would be Jesus every time. Still, while this book lacks some of the whimsy of their Jesus volume, this book does a great job of describing Paul’s thought and impact. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Listening to Jesus in the Upper Room: a book review

I don’t always agree with D.A. Carson. His brand of Reformed Evangelical with a Gospel Coalition, complementarian comb-over puts me at odds with some of his conclusions; however I always appreciate the thoroughness and attention he brings to the biblical text. His Exegetical Fallacies has kept me from some fuzzy hermeneutics, and when I am in the market for a new, new testament commentary, I always check his New Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic) which catalogues the strengths of the various commentaries for each book of the New Testament. Where I appreciate Carson most is as a Bible commentator. He has written (or edited) some incisive commentaries and studies. His John Commentary (in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, Eerdmans) is usually my first stop when I am studying or preaching from that gospel.

So when I got my 9780801075902hand on The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exegetical Exposition of John 14-17I was excited to see Carson’s trademark attentive exegesis, but I was also curious how he would handle Jesus’ so-called ‘high priestly’ prayer for Christian unity. I feel like Carson’s evangelical brad stresses truth over unity and I was curious as what he may say here and whether or not I would demur from it.

For the most part I found this, as expected, to be a pretty solid engagement with the biblical text. I puzzled a little bit with who Carson’s intended audience was. He notes in his preface, “A need exists for both academic and popular approaches [to scripture]: but this volume belongs to the latter camp” (9). And indeed this a non-academic, non-technical commentary in that there are no long strings of Koine Greek or technical djargon. But if it is a ‘non-academic’ text, it also seems to be an unpopular one. Carson, does lay aside the technical discussion, without quite descending to the level of popular. So, for example, in commenting on Jesus’ phrase in John 14:2, “I’m going there to prepare a place for you,” he writes:

The underlying Greek text precedes these words with a causal “for”: that is, “In my Father’s house are many rooms (the next words, “if not I would have told you” are parenthetical); for I am going to prepare a place for you. The “are” in the first line, as often the case in John’s Gospel, is proleptic (anticipatory) (26).

Carson’s comments here assume a working knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax. This is not exactly popular, even if it lacks some technical percision. However, it does give you the sense of how closely Carson reads the text, and tries to make inferences based on the words on the page. This is the sort of evangelical interpretation I applaud most, and found much that I resonated with and it gives a great deal of what Carson says a rootedness. He isn’t just spouting off opinions, he is engaging with scripture and trying to interpret it faithfully. This is good stuff.

So what of the high priestly prayer and what it says about unity? How does Carson handle that passage? Well, he eschews both those who are ecumenical at the expense of Christian truth and those who think ecumenism is evil (and thus ignore Jesus’ prayer all together). He posits that in our current era, not everything in modern Christendom is really Christian (232), or at the very least, there are competing definitions of what qualifies as Christian. Therefore, he posits the unity envisioned is a unity centered on the person Jesus Christ and our connection to him. He writes:

Whoever cites John 17 to justify a unity that embraces believers and apostate, disciple and renegade, regenerate and unregenerate, abuses this passage. Such ecumenism has its roots not in Scripture but in a misguided (if well-intentioned) notions of what New Testament Christianity is all about.

On the other hand, the things that tie together true believers are far more significant than the things that divide them. The divisive things are not necessarily unimportant: sometimes they are points of faith or practice that have long-range effects on the church for good or ill, reflecting perhaps some major inconsistency or misapprehension concerning the truth. Nevertheless the things that tie us together are of even more fundamental importance. Regardless of denominational affiliation, there ought to be among Christ’s people a sincere kinship, mutual love, a common commitment, a deep desire to learn from one another and to come, if at all possible , to a shared understanding of the truth on any point . Such unity ought to be so transparent and compelling that others are attracted t it. To such biblical ecumenism (if I may so label it ) there is no proper objection. Indeed, it is mandated by the Final Prayer of the Lord Jesus himself (233).

I really appreciate this vision of Christ-centered unity, centered around Jesus Christ and regard Carson and his Gospel Coalition friends as sisters and brothers and Christ and am grateful for some of the ways they bear witness to God’s work in the world. Nevertheless, I’m also conscious of ways they draw lines and fail to recognize the legitimacy of faith of some of my Christian friends because of different doctrinal or social concerns. But I appreciate Carson’s words and desire to lean into Christ’s words.

In the end, this is a pretty solid exegetical exposition. Not too technical, but technical enough that the reader that has done at least a little ground work will find it more fruitful. I give this four stars (really 3 and change, but I’m going to round-up because I appreciate a lot about this). –

Notice of material connection: Baker Books sent me a copy of this in exchange for my honest review. They didn’t tell me what to say or ask for a positive review, but an honest one.


Imitating God in Christ: a book review

Champions of social-justice and sellers of Christian-kitsch (WWJD?) commend to us the imitation of Christ. Some conservative theologians are suspicious that a call to imitate Jesus undercuts the uniqueness of what Christ infact did and what only he can do. Yet the imitation of God is a  major theme throughout the Bible. Jason Hood, scholar-in-residence and director of Christ College Residency Program at Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis, has written a book which speaks to the ‘latitudinal left,’ the ‘muddled middle’ and the ‘resistant right, urging the recovery of imitation as an important biblical and theological theme.

In Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern, Hood gives us a biblical theology of imitation. What did Paul teach everywhere and in every church? Paul taught everywhere his ‘ways in Christ’ and urged others to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16-17).  But the imitation of God does not begin with Paul or with Christ’s coming. Hood starts his study in the Old Testament examining the ways we are to imitate God (part one). He then explores the ways we imitate Christ (part two) and His saints (part three). In the final section, Hood explores the implications of imitation for today and a look at how Christians in the past have tried to live out the theme.

So what does it mean to imitate God? Hood argues that it is not mere mimicry.  Our imitation is hedged by God’s otherness. There are some things that only God can do and we better not try to copy. His ways are not our ways. Nevertheless the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to imitate the character of God in our participation in His mission. Hood argues that one of the implications of our image bearing is that we are to reflect God in our person. We are given the status of royal imitators  so that we can reflect God to our world(23). Our imitation of God comes  through the status we are given (and Israel was given) as children and servants of God.  Yet our striving to be like God in our character, means we also do not imitate him in ways which would  undermine and usurp His authority in our lives. He is God and we are not.

I think this is part of what makes Hood’s study so refreshing. He  delineates the ways we are called to imitate God, but he is careful to set this in a theological framework that acknowledges God’s ‘otherness.’ Yes we imitate, reflect, and ‘be holy as God is Holy’ (Lev. 11: 44-5; 19:2) but we cannot imitate God in status, in power, or in every action. Our ‘imitation of God’ is a thoughtful outworking of what it means for us to be like God–to treat others and our world the way God would have them treated.

When Hood discusses the imitation of Christ this comes into sharp focus.  Jesus is more than our substitutionary redeemer (though he is that!). He is also our model and moral exemplar. He is the firstborn of the New Humanity and we are called to be like him and pattern our lives after his example of self sacrifice. Thus we  do not grab at power or seek to shore up status. Like Christ we are to humbly give our lives in service to others (Phil. 2:5-11). The cross shapes our life as we seek to walk in His ways.  And in seeking to imitate Christ in this way, we also engage in God’s mission in our unique context. It is imitation but it is also creative engagement with a broken world. Hood writes:

The Messiah’s suffering did not provide bread and  education for Africa’s poor, leadership training for Latin American churches, evangelists for pagan North America, companionship for the rejected or families for the orphans and the lonely. Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s great Word to us,  but they did not do the hard work of translating the Bible into ten thousand languages.  The church’s suffering and self-sacrifice, with a million crosses after the cross,  meet these needs and  more as we imitate the  infinitely greater sacrifice and suffering of Jesus (135).

And so Christ provides the pattern for us to follow but our ‘imitation’ leads us to lay down our lives in uniqueways.

Of course if we are to be imitators of God, it follows that our lives will become an example for others to follow. Hood explores the pattern in reference to both the New and Old Testaments.  Of course Paul emphasizes this theme when he says, “Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).”  Yet Paul and Jesus are not the only exemplars commended to us in Holy Scripture.  We  are given the stories of various saints (in both testaments)  and we are to learn from their example.

This may be controversial in some circles. As Hood observes a number of leading confessional scholars (i.e. Noth, Greidandus, Willimon, Goldingay, Horton)  would see the moral examples of Old Testament character as hermeneutically suspect. After all the Hebrew Scriptures are to point us to God’s character and the coming redemption in Christ. Reading the lives of the saints for applicable moral principles sounds like moralism to many Christian scholars. Instead they say we should keep the focus on what the passage tells us about God and Christ and not make the Bible people into heroes.

Hood counters that this sets up a false dichotomy. The New Testament itself commends the example of Old Testament saints when it has us mimic the faith of Abraham or the prayers of Elijah. Yes we should read the Bible with an eye to where Christ is revealed and  evidence of God’s character. But we should also take note of praiseworthy aspects of God’s people found in the Bible’s pages and seek to emulate their character and actions as well (176-180).

Hood argues that the theme of imitation is important for the Latitudinal Left, the Muddled Middle, and the Reluctant Right.  Those on the Latitudinal Left exhort us to imitate Christ but sometimes  short-shrift doctrinal orthodoxy in the process. Hood urges them to set imitation within the bounds of Biblical revelation and to attend to the ways Christ’s work  was unique.  The Muddled Middle commend imitation of Christ and discipleship, but trivialize it by failing to explicate what imitation of Christ actually looks like. Those on the Reluctant Right look askance at these other two groups for failing to emphasize the gospel and what Christ did for us on our behalf. As a result they tend to emphasize God’s otherness and the uniqueness of Christ’s work and downplay the theme of imitation. Theologically, Hood is closest to those on the Right. He too is concerned that we are Biblical, that we are rooted in the gospel of Grace; however he urges those on the right to not forget the theme of imitation (which runs through the whole Bible).  His historical examples of church fathers and Reformers show that it is possible to care both about doctrinal truth and commend the imitation of God in Christ.

I really enjoyed this book.  Hood thoughtfully delves into the theme of the imitation of God. I read this book because as a minister, I’m interested in discipleship and helping people be transformed into the image of God. Hood provides a biblically rooted approach and I appreciated a lot of what he said here. I also felt he pushed me to consider how we are to imitate the saints. I, especially biblical saints  have been suspicious of sermons which exhort us to follow examples of Bible characters. Especially when those sermons do not then go one to proclaim God’s work in the text. I am grateful for Hood’s challenge and corrective to learn from God’s people  (in the Bible) how to be more like God by emulating the praiseworthy aspects of their character. While moralism is a danger if we make this the whole telos of the text, there should be room in our hermeneutic for this.

I give this book ★★★★★. Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Charting Paul’s Life and Ministry: a book review

This is the second book in the Kregel Charts of the Bible series I have reviewed for my blog.  The previous volume focused on a particular book (Hebrews).  Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul explores what we know of Paul in Acts and his Epistles and delves into his theology. Because this book doesn’t focus on one New Testament book, it does not have the focus that Bateman’s Hebrews charts did; however Lars Kierspel does a great job of providing an overview of Paul. In 111 charts, Kierspel organizes and presents information about Paul’s Greco-Roman context, information about his life and ministry, the purpose and content of various letters, and the theological themes developed throughout the Pauline corpus.

The charts are organized under four headings. “Paul’s Background and Context” discusses Paul’s first century context (charts 1-9). In this section, Kierspel summarizes pertinent information about Roman political and social life, Greco-Roman religion, and first century Judaism and how these contexts inform Paul’s life. In Part 2, “Paul’s Life & Ministry,” Kierspel looks at Paul’s life, his various missionary journeys, the cities he visited and the men and women he interacted with (charts 1-34).  Included in this section are charts illustrating Paul’s miracles, prayers and speeches, as well as comparisons between the portrait of Paul in Acts versus the Epistles.  Part three (charts 35-77), “Paul’s Letters,” examines the epistles and records information on Pauline authorship, his literary sources and structure, OT and intertestamental allusions, Pauline vocabulary, and provides ‘snapshots’ of each letter. The final section, “Paul’s Theological Concepts,” traces various themes through Paul’s teaching (78-111).  These include theological concepts (i.e. Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, etc.) as well as Paul’s teaching on ethics, virtue and vice, men and women, and slavery. The final two charts summarize modern Jewish views of Paul and compare and contrast old and “new perspectives” on Paul.

I like the concept of these chart books for several reasons. Most of the information in these books can be found in good commentaries, but charts make the information available at a quick glance. They are a good pedagogical-aid for teachers and a good study-tool for the rest of us. When I am studying a book of the Bible, I find charts and tables useful tools for organizing information and tracing concepts through a book.  These charts will be useful to anyone who wants to get a deeper grasp of Pauline theology.  Of course there are limitations to this format  Not everything about Paul is charted and I thought there could be more exploration of contemporary theology than Kierspel does here, but these are charts and so are by necessity brief. Mostly this volume is just great at parsing historical and exegetical data, meaning regardless of  your theological perspective, whether it be old or new, wrong or Wright, you will find this book a helpful resource.

Some of my personal favorite charts include:

  • Parallels between Acts and the Pauline Corpus (11)
  • Differences between Acts and the Pauline Corpus (12)
  • All Women Mentioned By and Around Paul (22)
  • Paul’s Prayers (27)
  • Hapa Legomena in Paul’s Letters (43)
  • Key Words in Romans (54)
  • Metaphors of Salvation (86)
  • Participation with Christ (87)
  • Virtues in Paul’s Letters (100)


I give this book four stars and commend it to you as a helpful resource for understanding Paul’s theology.


Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.