FS for Matera, Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul (Review)

FS for Matera, Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul (Review) August 19, 2013

A good while back, in 2012, I received a copy of the book Unity and Diversity in the Gospels and Paul: Essays in Honor of Frank J. Matera (SBL), edited by Christopher W. Skinner and Kelly R. Iverson (front matter and introduction is offered free here). I have a special place in my heart for Matera, since he is one of a small group of scholars who has dedicated time to studying New Testament ethics. This volume, though, attempts to range the whole span of his research interests. He has made excellent contributions in the areas of NT theology and, more recently, Pauline theology. For this FS, the list of contributors is a striking tribute in and of itself:

Francis Moloney

Jack Dean Kingsbury

John R Donahue

Paul Achtemeier

William S Kurz

John Meier

Michael Gorman

Andrew Das

Luke Timothy Johnson

Raymond Collins

This is just a sampling. There are several other contributors. I will not go through all the essays, but I will make mention of three that I found particularly noteworthy.

Donahue: “The Lure of Wealth: Does Mark Have a Social Gospel?” – Typically, Luke’s Gospel is the one associated with a concern for the poor and marginalized. However, Donahue argues in this essay that, while Mark does not have an explicit and full-blown anti-wealth emphasis, “the text offers seeds that can grow into reflection on the seduction and dangers of the quest for wealth that are so much a part of our modern society” (p. 92).

Achtemeier: “Jesus and the Human Condition in Mark’s Gospel: Divine Grace and the Shattering of Human Illusions.” Achtemeier passed away this year. Thus, it was especially meaningful to have this essay as one of his last, one that is quite energetic. This essay is more like a sermon than a scholarly work (that is a compliment). Achtemeier urges, “In the face of the incarnate Son of God, Mark makes clear, human pretensions are unmasked, sin is shown for the destructive force it is, and the impossibility of any recourse but grace is evident” (95). In his final days, Achtemeier preached the Gospel. He underscores Mark’s own argument that human striving ends in failure without God’s powerful grace.

What these failures, these shatterings of human illusions, have to tell us is that Mark’s Gospel is the story of the power of, and conquest by, God’s grace and not the story of human goodness and faithfulness. It is in the face of total human failure that Christ followed God’s mysterious way to become savior (p. 105).

Gorman: “Cruciformity According to Jesus and Paul.” The study of Paul’s ethics has blossomed in the last few decades (with special help from Mike Gorman), but the study of Jesus’ ethics has not made much headway. Gorman takes the study of NT ethics a healthy step forward by attempting to show “the congruity between the teachings of Jesus on cross-shaped discipleship and those of Paul” (178). Among many other arguments, Gorman shows connections between Mark 8 and Philippians, even hypothesizing some kind of dependence (see 184-186). After a very profitable set of historical and theological discussions, Gorman concludes: “Jesus and Paul agree that passion-shaped discipleship, or participatory cruciformity, consists of cross-shaped (1) witness to the gospel, (2) hospitality to the weak, and (3) power as loving service” (p. 200).  He closes out his essay with this provocatively attractive statement: “I would suggest that the entire Pauline corpus may be viewed as an interpretation of Jesus’ passion predictions-summonses in a new idiom, the idiom of Spirit-enabled participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection, an idiom with its roots in one of those passion predictions-summonses” (pp. 200-201).

This book should be in every theological library.

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