Paul’s Last Days: a book review

Scholars debate the center of Paul’s theology. Protestant Reformers saw ‘Justification by faith’ as their hermeneutical key. The Tubingen theory (from F.C. Baur et al.) posited a dialectic between Paul’s message of  ‘justification by faith’ with Peter’s ‘justification by faith plus the works of the Torah.’ A Third hypothesis reads a shift in Paul–from Judaism to Hellenistic religion. A fourth possibility is that Paul’s theology is ‘Jewish eschatology but in a revised form’ (14-16). This is the position that C. Marvin Pate argues for in Apostle of the Last Days: the Life, Letters and Theology of Paul-. 

There have been varying eschatological constructs for understanding the New Testament (Jesus and Paul). “Consistent Eschatology” argues for a wholly futurist understanding of ‘last days.’ At the other extreme, a “Realized Eschatology” argues that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. A mediating position, is “Inaugurated Eschatology.” This view acknowledges both that Jesus’ mission and life announced the Kingdom, but it has not come in its fullness. It is now, but not yet. Pate argues that this best describes the Apostle Paul’s apocolypticism (19).

However the genesis of Pate’s approach is his observation of a clash of eschatologies between Paul and his opponents.  Apostle of the Last Days examines the Pauline epistles and the issues that Paul addressed, While Paul had an ‘inaugurated eschatology’ with Jesus’ death and resurrection at the center, his opponents clung to diverse, eschatological hopes. The Imperial cult, Hellenistic religion and Jewish Merkabah Mysticism (sometimes in a Christian variety) had different  versions of a  realized eschatology. Non-Christian, non-merkbah Judaism had a consistent eschatology, which awaited God’s future (political) deliverance. The Christian Judaizers had an inaugurated eschatology, but by giving weight to the Mosaic tradition they downplayed Jesus’ significance.

In part one of this book, Pate walks through each of the epistles and shows how Paul answered each of these opponents and the way he expressed his own eschatological hope. Part two examines Paul’s theology in systematic categories with an eye towards how Paul’s eschatology shapes his thinking about God.

This is a good book. Pate’s eschatological read of Paul (and his opponents) illuminates his epistles. Paul’s Christological hope was grounded in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and Paul awaited a future reality where Christ returns to put the world to rights. So there is a lot that is fruitful here. Pate walks through the entire Pauline corpus. I found I didn’t always agree with his handling of individual passages and was occasionally bothered by a supercessionist tone which described ‘the Old Testament’ as ‘works righteousness’ and faith and Jesus as the gift of grace. There is a greater continuity between testaments than Pate allows. God’s choice of Israel was not rooted in merit, but in Divine pleasure. Yet  I appreciated his analysis.

Eschatology is a word which many of us are wary of. Certainly there has been an unhealthy fascination with what Christ return will look like (and who ‘the beast’ is). Nevertheless I appreciate Pate’s description of Paul’s eschatological hope. This book contributes to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Paul’s gospel. Anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of the Pauline Epistles will benefit from Pate’s walk-through. I give this book four stars.

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

Reading Paul: a book review

The apostle Paul is baffling to many. Who hasn’t puzzled over what Paul meant in Romans 9-11?  John Harvey, Professor of New Testament  and Dean of  the Seminary & School of Ministry at Columbia International University, has written a short volume to help us understand Paul’s epistles. Interpreting the Pauline Letters:  An Exegetical Handbook,  takes students, seminarians and pastors through Paul’s letters, highlighting pertinent background information and helping us get from ‘exegesis to exposition.’

Harvey’s eight chapters walk us through the whole process of exegesis of these letters. The first three chapters give a general overview.  In chapter one, Harvey provides background on the ‘genre’ and structure of Paul’s letters. Chapter two gives a bird’s eye view of the historical context for each of the epistles.  In chapter three he examines themes in Paul’s theology (organized with reference to Paul’s own vocabulary rather than imposing a structure from systematic theology).

In chapter four and five, Harvey unfolds the steps for his exegetical approach. The first step to proper interpretation is textual criticism and translation (chapter four). This helps us establish what the text says and what it means. As we begin the work of interpreting the text, we will need to look at the passage historically, literary and theologically (chapter five) Each of these spheres informs our understanding of the text.  Historical analysis helps us understand the social context of Paul and his original audience. Literary Analysis illuminates structural and generic elements, as well as gets us to pay attention to rhetorical features and syntax. Finally, theological analysis helps us articulate how this passage makes sense in relationship to the Bible’s wider themes (the analogy of scripture)  and doctrine (analogy of faith)(140-1).

Chapter six and seven discuss how to communicate the message of the passages we are exegeting. Chapter six describes how to move from the ‘big idea’ in the passage to how to relate it to a contemporary context. Chapter seven gives two case studies of how this approach works from ‘text to sermon.’ The final chapter  provides a list of resources and commentaries for understanding Paul’s letters.

This is a constructive guide and Harvey’s exegetical steps correspond well to the approach I learned in seminary.  I found this text simple to understand, and I thought he did a good job of describing the elements of good exegesis.  I  really like his three lenses on the text: history, literature, and theology. Harvey demonstrates the importance of understanding history, and literature for exegesis and highlights aspects of ‘theological analysis, especially as it relates to Paul (i.e. the Old Testament use in the New).

For me, a book on interpretation of the Bible is only ‘good,’ if I feel like it is worth putting into practice. The next time I am preaching from Paul’s letters, I will refer back to this book. I especially found helpful, Harvey’s succinct background on Greek and Jewish Epistles and how Paul’s letters fit the pattern (and where they are unique).  I think his exegetical approach is spot on; however I felt like he could have explored more in-depth  what theological analysis entails (i.e. what weight do we ascribe to patristic sources or historical theology?).

That small criticism aside, this is an introductory book on Pauline exegesis and does not attempt to untwist every issue in interpreting Paul’s letters.  What it does is give a framework for us to dig deeper into the text ourselves. I give this book four stars and recommend it for pastors and students alike.

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

The Missional Apostle: a book review

When Robert Plummer and John Mark Terry started gathering contributors for Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours, two figures loomed large in their collective imagination. The first was Paul of Tarsus whose mission and writings helped shape the early Christian movement. The other figure was Roland Allen, the 20th Century Anglican missionary to China. One Hundred years ago Allen wrote  Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (1912). Allen had been a missionary to China and critiqued the missionary culture of his day for being too closely linked to imperialism. From a fresh reading of Paul’s mission, Allen emphasized church planting, indigenous leadership of national churches, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours edited by Robert L. Plummer & John Mark Terry

Published on the centennial of  Allen’s original publication,  Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours provides a detailed reading of Paul’s Missionary activity and build on Allen’s insights for a contemporary context. While various contributors critique Allen’s work in several respects,  generally they all see Allen’s book as justly influential and seek to carry some of his emphases forward.

The book divides into two sections: part one focuses on Paul’s message  while part two focuses on the implications of Paul’s mission for today. These sections were written by two complementary sets of scholars. Part one is written by Biblical scholars; part two is composed by missiologists, church planters and practitioners.  Thus while each author tries to suggest what the implications of their topic are  for today, the second section is more practical and the first section remains more theological.

In Part 1, Michael Bird sketches the cultural and historic milieu of Paul’s mission, placing it in context. Eckhard Schnabel examines what  we know of Paul’s missionary journeys. Robert Plummer discusses the nature of Pauls gospel (especially in reference to 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Benjamin Merkle ‘s and Christoph Stenschke‘s chapters explore Paul’s ecclesiology and the nature of his mission for the life of the church. Don Howell explores Paul’s theology of suffering while Craig Keener looks at Paul’s understanding of Spiritual warfare.  Each of these authors presents their topic in conversation with Allen’s work.

In Part 2, David Hesselgrave and Michael Pocock flesh out Paul’s missional strategy and discuss its value for today, John Mark Terry explore Allen’s reading of Paul’s mission and the implications for the indigenous church, Ed Stetzer and Lizette Beard write about Paul’s emphasis on church planting. M. David Sills  discusses contextualization and Chuck Lawless explores Paul’s ongoing  emphasis on leadership development in the churches he planted.

Finally J.D. Payne has a postscript on the legacy of Allen’s work and its abiding influence 100 years after its original publication.

This collection of essays provides a good introduction to Roland Allen and his influence on missiology.  Aspects of Allen’s work are critiqued in these pages (see especially Hesselgrave’s chapter), but each of the authors displays deep admiration for Allen and follow his summons to conduct missions in the Spirit of Paul’s mission.

As with all multi-author works, some essays are stronger than others and there is a certain amount of topical overlap between chapters. However each chapter stands on its own merit. Too much of the modern missional literature is rootless and lacks Biblical grounding. These authors (and Roland Allen) call us to see Paul’s mission as integral to proper missional theology and praxis. I am inclined to think they are right and would recommend this book to a broad range of pastors, church planters.

Thank you to IVP for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.