Which Paul?

My friend Mike Bird is the editor of a new book called The Apostle Paul, one of the more important Counterpoints books produced by Zondervan. What makes the Counterpoints series so helpful is that readers are given four committed authors who interact with one another, sometimes at razor’s edge because what they wrote in their chp matters so much to them. I don’t think Zondervan has ever produced a volume with four such different viewpoints as this new book on Paul.

My big question: If you listed the problems Paul was facing and seeking to resolve, what would your top three be?

Tom Schreiner provides a Reformed reading of Paul (though I’d call it a Calvinist Baptist reading), Luke Timothy Johnson a Catholic reading, Douglas Campbell a post new perspective reading, and Mark Nanos a Jewish reading. Well, I’m not sure you could come up with four more jarring angles on Paul — so I commend Mike Bird for the volume. However, I must add a point: students and pastors need a New Perspective chapter, and I’m aware that Mike thinks Pauline studies have moved beyond the new perspective. Perhaps so — well, yes, it has — but that none of these scholars can be understood in academic context without understanding what has occurred to Paul as a result of the new perspective, and here I’m thinking of Sanders, Dunn, and then Wright. OK, on to the volume.

Tom Schreiner’s reading is as predictable as the soterian gospel is clear and as the legacy of the Reformation is well-known. So “predictable” is not an insult or a criticism; it is a truism. Here are Schreiner’s conclusions about Paul’s theology, and remember (as it will make a difference in the rest of this book) that Bird set out the major areas that each author was supposed (but didn’t always) discuss, but Schreiner followed directions:

1. Paul’s framework is salvation-history: that is, the Old Testament message and prophetic shape came to its completion in Jesus. That is, Paul’s theology was formed by the Old Testament. [Luke Johnson picks on this; not all of Paul’s letters are so easily described.] Schreiner sees new exodus, new covenant and new creation. But the eschatological fulfillment is one of inaugurated, not completely realized, eschatology: there is a tension between the now and the not yet.

2. Jesus Christ is central in Pauline theology. He is the Son of God and the Davidic Messiah, though the fundamental emphasis of Schreiner is that Jesus is the divine Savior.

3. Paul’s view of salvation begins with humans as sinners and under the judgment and wrath of God.  “Paul’s answer is that humans beings need to be saved from sin and form the judgment and wrath of God on the last day” (27). Most of this chp flows from this central conclusion [and Douglas Campbell’s response is a robust rejection of this theme as central to Paul’s theology; instead of wrath, the central theme of Paul is God’s love and grace], though other observations are made as well. Including that a passage like Romans 2 means real obedience, but it is an obedience created by the Holy Spirit; grace is paramount in Paul and it is a “stunning gift” (32); one metaphor won’t capture Paul’s theology of salvation; penal substitutionary atonement is central in Pauline thought; the faith of Christ debate is about our faith in Christ [Johnson disagrees as it is not one or the other but both].

4. Paul’s understanding of the church: Schreiner is driven here by his discussion of salvation so that the church becomes those who are saved, and he doesn’t get much beyond this. In this it is clear to me that Schreiner is less “Reformed” and more “Calvinist Baptist” for his ecclesiology section is too incomplete, focusing as it does on true Israel and the temple of God and Body (with a good healthy, appreciated dose of unity, though I don’t know what means for Tom ecclesially), not enough on sacraments, elders/deacons, spiritual gifts, worship, instruction, etc..

My biggest problem with this chp can be simply put: this is all about Galatians and Romans, and insufficiently about Colossians and Ephesians and the Pastoral; in other words, it’s about soteriology.  As such, there’s not enough on the central issue that drove Paul’s whole theology: a mission shaped by forming a theology that prepared a way for Gentiles to enter into the one People of God without having to become Jews.

I don’t know what to say about Nanos’ nasty response to Schreiner; it got too personal for me. He’s miffed that Tom dismissed his views when Schreiner wrote his commentary on Galatians. Nanos’ views, though, will be treated when that chp comes up.

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  • Johnny

    I really like the Counterpoints series and have this one in my Amazon wish list. I am a layperson and these books are where I gain my primary insight into varying schools of theology. I, too, am disappointed that they have elected to skip over the New Perspective because I don’t understand it very well. Still, can’t wait to see it. Thanks for your take!

  • phil_style

    Sudents and pastors need a New Perspective chapter, and I’m aware that Mike thinks Pauline studies have moved beyond the new perspective. Perhaps so — well, yes, it ha

    I agree with you Scot. The reason being, that the implications of the NPP still have not really made their way down to the majority of the laypeople in churches. I still regularly come across misconceptions about Judaism based on ignorance of modern scholarship and the perpetuation of this rather outdated notion that Judaism was primarily about works- (law)-based salvation.

  • Where’s the Lutheran view? 🙁

    Book looks good though.

  • scotmcknight

    Arni, no one equates Luther and Calvin, but the overlap is sufficient to see in Schreiner an evangelical Reformed view that overlaps with Luther.

  • James Rednour

    I agree with Johnny. I’ve read a few summaries of NPP but I am still unclear about the view? Can anyone suggest a good book for a non-scholar?

  • phil_style

    @James (#5),

    This is a quick, internet style summar of NPP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqZYbcvANhM
    A quick run through of some of the history of the development of NPP.
    I hope it helps.

    There are plenty of videos from people critical of NPP online too. But it’s always best I think to start with those who are credited with the scholastic movements, not those who react to it.

  • SCP

    I completely agree with Scot as well. I’ve been in evangelical churches and lived in the bible-belt my whole life (Southern Indiana, Alton Illinois and currently Southeast Missouri) and had never heard of NPP until 2009. In fact, I was a pk but never heard of NPP until the age of 30, and that was only because I decided to return to bible college in 2008. Even then, NPP was not something that was discussed per se, and the only reason I became exposed to it was because I happened across the Paul Page and NT Gateway. Of course from there I was opened up to a whole new world of theology that I never knew existed, “Thank you God.”
    Anyway, here I am 3 years down the line, and I still don’t know anyone personally in my area who knows about NPP. There was one person in college who I discussed it with often; in fact, he was the President of the bible college I attended, and he exposed me to such writers as EP Sanders, Dunn, Wright and etc, something for which I am extremely grateful. There has to be a way of bringing this stuff to the masses!
    BTW Scot, just finished The King Jesus Gospel–so awesome. Thanks so much.

  • Luke Allison

    James # 5

    Check this out: http://www.thepaulpage.com/

    Should be everything you need to get started. This is seriously the most fruitful and exciting topic in biblical studies for me outside of Jesus. he he.

  • Scott,
    So glad you are commenting on this book, and eagerly await your comments on my view. I respect that you do not like my tone in comments on Schreiner’s essay, and I knew it was risky to be so clear and so clearly object to his methods, and yet often very nasty things are said in very polite ways, which is what I find so common in the things said about Judaism through Paul, exemplified in Schreiner’s work. I did try not to be nasty, for what it is worth, or too personal. But I do want to say that it is not that he dismissing or ignores my views that I objected to in my comments (although I do). I wrote what I did to show the reader “why” he does so brazenly, which not only says something about how he operates, but also how he assumes that his reader of a Zondervan commentary thinks–since this is a Zondervan book. Thus I wanted to raise awareness of an issue that influences a priori all the other little and big points and makes them somewhat useless to argue about if alternatives are dismissed on ideological grounds. I do discuss a few of his views too, but decided that this one was most important based on my assumptions of the reader as informed by his assumptions of the reader, if that makes sense. I wanted to provoke to think about being open to the arguments themselves, which are based on Scripture readings too, the same Scriptures, so that it is obvious that their meaning is not self-evident to the dialogue partner and thus should be engaged, not dismissed. I am genuinely sorry if I offended you or any reader–that is so counter-productive and not what I hope to do.
    Thanks, Mark

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks for taking notice of this Mark; I think I understand what you were doing — it was a rhetorical takedown about method. Furthermore, Tom’s writing at times reflects a world where he doesn’t seem to need to consider other viewpoints and assumes or states what he thinks is obvious when it isn’t obvious to others.

    Having said that, I would really like to have seen you interact with Tom’s stuff on the four topics under discussion in the book, and in particular, I’d like to see you take on Tom’s view of the “framework” and what Paul means by “salvation.” On both of those, not to mention “church,” your Jewish perspective differs from his considerably.

  • Matt Edwards

    Problem #1: How does Jesus fit into salvation history? Saul had been convinced that Jesus was a heretic, but on the road to Damascus he had a theophany. He then wrestled with who Jesus was in light of monotheism and the election of Israel.

    Problem #2: How do we explain the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles?

    Problem #3: If Jesus is the Messiah, why did the Jewish people reject him? Why did they continue to reject Paul’s gospel and ministry?

  • Jeff Martin

    I think Dr. Luke Johnson’s comments on Schreiner’s chapter say it best. Though I wish Johnson’s comments about Schreiner’s chapter was in his own chapter. But if one reads Johnson’s chapter and Schreiner’s chapter and Johnson’s review of it, I believe this is the best part of the book, and overall Johnson’s arguments win the day

    I truly believe the key to interpreting much of what Paul is saying is based off of what he said in Romans 7:10 where the Law promised something it could not deliver – life! Lev. 18:5. Blame it on lack of revelation, but I think it is better to state that Lev 18:5 was a promise that was not doable. ala Martyn.

  • James Rednour

    Thanks Phil and Luke. I’ll look into these for starters. I know Tom Wright is associated with NPP to some extent (whether he espouses it or not, I don’t know). Has he written a treatment on it somewhere?

  • James Rednour

    Never mind. I see that Wright is referenced on the page Luke referenced. Thanks a lot!

  • Dana Ames

    Wright does “espouse” it, but because the NPP is so variegated, one has to interact with individual authors. The thing they all have in common is that they are considering Paul’s 1st century Jewishness as a starting place for his thought and understanding.

    Wright’s particular NPP view is found throughout his works. For a more concentrated treatment see:
    “Climax of the Covenant” or his NIB commentary on Romans. Very technical.
    For less technical but still with quite a few footnotes, see “Paul In Fresh Perspective” or “What Saint Paul Really Said”.
    For popular level, see his commentaries on individual books in the “For Everyone” series, esp Romans (2 small books) and Galatians (with Thessalonians).

    Or you can wait for his next “big books” to be published next year (Christian Origins series), which will be 3 scholarly volumes on Paul; he tried to put all of his 40 years’ study of Paul in one, but it wouldn’t fit 🙂


  • Scot: I am a “general reader” not a trained Bible student. I read Wright’s NP book, Justification, and the discussion of Romans chapter 2 in there is compelling and life changing, and I don’t see how the points in that discussion relating to the importance of our works can be disputed. How is it that scholarship has now moved beyond NP? I don’t understand that.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot (and all),
    Here is one example of what has been typical of my conversations with Reformed folks. I was talking to a Doctorate student of Schreiner who wants to guard and preserve a high view of Scripture and show where others in the church have strayed from biblically correct doctrine. Two examples we spoke about was this issue that promotes the soterian gospel through Romans and Galatians and Penal Substitionary atonement. I challenged both of these ideas from what I considered a wholistic reading of Scripture. Why Galatians and Romans over Colossians and Ephesians and why the PS model over other images used by Scripture in regards to the atonement? The answers (1) the clear (Reformed) reading of Scripture; (2) the gospel of Jesus is more reflected in Romans and Galatians than Paul’s other writings (really?); and Isaiah somehow is the central foundation for PS in the OT for why it now needs to be the central focus of the atonement in the NT.

    All these theological and interpretive moves are done in the name of a high view of Scripture. Yet from my persepective, this kind of pitting or priviledging certain texts of scripture over others texts diminishes and undermines the holistic canon of Scripture. When I try to point this out, somehow the one who questions Reformed hermeneutics is somehow now the one under suspicion for even raising the questions. Can’t we all do better than this?

  • Jason

    Response to CGC #17


    You commented: ‘ Yet from my persepective, this kind of pitting or priviledging certain texts of scripture over others texts diminishes and undermines the holistic canon of Scripture.’

    We actually all have a ‘canon within the canon’ which controls how we read other texts. Even the ancient Jews and Paul did. Paul prioritized Gen 15.6 over Gen 22 which contrasts with his Jewish contemporaries. Hab 2.4 carried more weight than Lev 18.5. He had to make a remarkable interpretation of Deut 30 in order to account for it (Rom 10).

    The issue at stake, then, is not whether the Reformed guys are ‘pitting or priviledging certain texts’ but whether they or you have chosen the right texts as the lens for the rest of scripture.

  • CGC

    Hi Jason,
    So are you saying that the Reformed “canon in a canon” is a right one? How do you adjudicate between competing interpretations?

  • Jason

    Hello CGC,

    I’m not saying that the reformed ‘canon within the canon’ is right (or wrong). I was just responding to your claim that the reformed interpreters are ‘pitting or priviledging certain texts’ over others and that your view is superior because it does not. My point is, simply, that we all do it, and it would just be nice if we were honest about it.

    As for your second question: I don’t think there is an easy answer, and any attempt to answer it here would take us even further off topic then the comments are already heading.

  • CGC

    Hi Jason,
    The problem is Reformed theology as well as Protestant theology has shifted the focus away from Christology onto soteriology. EO’s and RC’s have rightly criticized Protestant theology’s shift that takes Christianity in several different directions or deficiencies that become very problematic from a church history’s perspective as well as biblical exegesis. It’s like Christians give lip service to Christ as the center of Scripture where now it is JF (justification by faith) or some particular atonement theory. I would also differ with Reformed theology’s focus on the individual relationship with God rather than belonging to God’s community. Ecclesiology in Scripture is now morphed into soteriology

    I still remember N. T. Wright coming from more of the Reformed tradition (and being honest about it and self-critical) saying what would have happened if we got our ecclesiology from Colossians and Ephesians rather than Romans and Galatians? What theological turns and shapes would have happened to the church today? Would the focus be on intellectual assent in how some have responded to Romans or the more polemical kind of Christianity from Galatians? It does not have to be this way but it is what many us have seen nevertheless. And some Reformed folks don’t even notice the subtle difference that one is justified by faith not by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus.

    So yes, there is a kind of selectivity we all face but it seems like you may not be understanding my dismay when people say that all Scripture is God’s Word and then intentionally relativize whole sections of Scripture (even books) in the name of biblical faithfulness. Or inadvertently do as Luther did (in practice if not in doctrine) of some portions of Scripture just don’t really count from one NT book to even another NT book.

    I remember a grace covenant group that told me that only Paul’s letters applied to the church today and the gospels, Acts, and any other letter not by Paul did not apply to today. They could reply, “Well, everybody has to be selective or priviledges some scripture over others” as if we all are doing the same thing (which is like comparing apples to oranges as if they are the same thing). It’s one thing to have a blindspot that may be challenged later. It’s quite another to dogmatize the blindspot as “the correct” reading of Scripture.