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The Drama of Ephesians (Tim Gombis)

The Drama of Ephesians (Tim Gombis) May 27, 2011

On several different occasions, I have heard N.T. Wright lament that because the book of Ephesians has been considered “pseudonymous” by academia at large, it has become seriously neglected and its theological power ignored. I believe that Wright would be encouraged by Tim Gombis’ new book The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (IVP, 2010).

Here are Gombis’ opening words: “This book presents Ephesians as a drama, a gospel script that invites performances by communities of God’s people.” (p. 9).

Gombis covers a few key ideas or themes. One of them, reading Ephesians as drama, is mentioned right away. Also, he takes interest in the identity and theology of the “powers” that are defeated. Gombis draws out a key motif from Ephesians of power in weakness, or cruciformity (a term, I presume, Gombis inherited from Mike Gorman). In his own words: “God subverts human triumphalism in that he wins by losing” (p. 12). And, drawing together cruciformity, drama of God’s people, and the battle with the powers, he looks at God as the “divine warrior” in Ephesians.

Gombis on drama: “”Ephesians is not a doctrinal treatise in the scholastic sense of that term. It is, rather, a drama in which Paul portrays the powerful, reality-altering, cosmos-transforming acts of God in Christ to redeem God’s world and save God’s people for the glory of his  name” (p. 15).

Following from this drama-reading, Gombis talks about “improvisation” of churches as they re-enact the broader narrative theologically. This reminds me of the work of Sam Wells on this subject, and also the “drama”-and-ethics view of Vanhoozer and Wright. I think this is a healthy approach to theological interpretation and Gombis works it out very well.

Richard Bauckham once described the book of Revelation as trying “to purge and refurbish the Christian imagination.” Gombis works Ephesians similarly. He describes a common perspective where many believe “this world is all there is and that reality is fully and completely constituted by what I can see from this earthly perspective” (p. 23). Alternatively, “Ephesians functions to jerk us out of this conviction and to expand the horizons of our imagination so that we envision reality from the perspective that Jesus Christ rules this world and longs for us to enjoy his redemptive reign” (p. 23).

The book is neither a monograph nor a commentary. It is more of a theological guidepost. I appreciate Gombis’ penetrating knowledge of not only Ephesians, but also Biblical theology, his attention to method and hermeneutics, but also his ability to communicate clearly to a layperson audience (as the book seems to have this target). This would work especially well for upper-level undergraduate, though I have tossed around the idea of using it for a seminary course.

I know this makes me a sucker, but I immediately wanted to read it because it was endorsed by two of my favorite scholars: Mike Gorman and Scot McKnight. They were actually well-chosen because Gombis runs parallel to both their tracks of scholarship and teaching.

Beyond simply giving an exposition of Ephesians, Gombis’ book should gain wider appeal because his work is representative of a newer way to read Biblical texts theologically, ethically, and communally. He would make a GREAT Methodist!

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