1,600 Pages of Awesome

My morning reading.

Yesterday, I received in the mail the magisterial doorstop of a book: NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I’ve only read the first section, but I already love it. Many fans consider this book Wright’s magnum opus, but it’s actually part of a many-book series that he says he hopes to continue. Nevertheless, this is the book that Wright will be remembered for.

In the preface, he says that he’s really been working on this book his entire life, since his parents gave him a Bible at age five and he read the book of Philemon first. He admits that he didn’t work on this book from ages 5 to 15, but he says he’s been working on it ever since.

Even so, one of his first admissions is that he doesn’t cover everything, he doesn’t interact with every other point of view:

We are long past the time when one could read, or even skim-read, ‘everything.’ As in many other fields, so with biblical scholarship, one has to choose certain conversation partners, and that is what I’ve done in this book.”

In that same paragraph, he tells the story of a worker who was helping him move a couple years ago, and the man remarked about how many books Wright had, “All those books, all on the one subject!” Reading this from Wright, at the beginning of a 1,600-age, uber-comprehensive book, is a relief to me as the books on atonement stack up on my desk. In my forthcoming 250-page book on that doctrine, I will surely be far less comprehensive that Wright has been on Paul, but, as he says, comprehensiveness is no longer possible.

Wright does us the kindness of summarizing his thesis at the beginning of the book:

“Paul developed something we can appropriately call his ‘theology,’ a radical mutation in the core beliefs of his Jewish world, because only so could he sustain what we can appropriately call the ‘worldview’ which he held himself and which he longed for his churches to hold as well.”

He goes on from there to briefly mention Paul’s innovation: theology, a category that was relatively unknown in the ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds. And Wright’s own unique contribution to modern Pauline scholarship: that Paul’s Greco-Roman context (hellenized philosophy and Roman citizenship) was as important to the development of his theology as his Judaism.

This latter thrust in Wright’s book is one that very much excites me, as the classical world has been a focus of my study and interest since youth.

It will take me many months to work through Paul and the Faithfulness of God, but I will do so with great anticipation for the arguments that Wright develops. Personally, I’m over my Paulophobia, an illness that has afflicted me and many of my friends for years. I’m ready to embrace Paul and all that he offers, and I think Wright’s book will help me do that.

To learn more about this book, be sure to check out the Patheos Book Club, where it’s featured this month. And see Scot McKnight’s blog for a series of thoughtful posts as he works through the book (Scot, please start using tags!!!). Jonathan Merritt has a short interview with Wright about the book (and John Piper).

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  • Larry Barber

    It’s telling that they’re coming out with a 2 volume edition, so you can carry it around without throwing out your back.

  • tanyam

    So glad for this recommendation.
    I’m wondering if Wright keeps defending modern “traditional” readings of Romans 1, or, if he really did spend some time on the Greco-Roman roots of that discussion. Because the book is 30 years old, many people don’t remember John Boswell’s impressive work, but “Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance” got all the awards it deserved, and is still a great read. (And also works well as a doorstop.)

  • Aaron

    I’m hoping there’s a Kindle edition on the way.

    • It is frustrating that the Kindle edition wasn’t released at the same time. I have grown so accustom to my electronic books that I can barely go to print for my reading anymore.

      To accompany the reading of this new Wright book would be the comments on the Amazon page. Very lively and thought provoking indeed.

  • I love NT Wright; his writings have helped me immensely in many ways. So glad to read this from you!

  • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

    I like Wright’s earlier gospel-centered volumes and can’t wait to read this. Also like that it has you re-engaging Paul. I think Paul was an 8, Tony. 😉

  • First indicator for me to know it has been released. I am glad u r reading it.:)

  • John W. Morehead

    Thanks for this positive discussion. I’m still digesting Wright’s work on the historical Jesus and the resurrection. Now I’ll have to add his work on the “new perspective on Paul” to my list. I was especially pleased to see the positive tone of your thoughts, in distinction to the unfortunately negative responses of some Evangelicals going so far as to label this work heresy. I hope Protestants will overcome their Reformation hangover, and be able to step back and critically reflect on their assumptions on Paul.