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).