Alexandra Brown Critiques NT Wright’s Big Paul Book (Gupta)

brownaSince N.T. Wright’s new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, was released a short while back, there has been a flow of reviews, mostly positive with small criticisms or concerns. But we were bound to see more negative reviews with stronger pushback as Paulinists persevered to complete reading the book and found it wanting in various aspects. Alexandra Brown wrote a critical review recently for Christian Century. Some of you may know that Brown includes herself broadly within the “Paul and Apocalyptic” camp (Lou Martyn, de Boer, Kaesemann, Gaventa, Barclay, etc.) – a group that Wright has quite strong (negative) feelings about regarding how they read Paul. Consider Brown’s review a kind of rejoinder to Wright, part explanation, part pushback. I continue to lean in favor of Wright’s reading, but the clarifications that Brown offers, as well as the themes and key questions that drive her interest in the “apocalyptic Paul,” are worthy of our attention and some more re-thinking. All in all, a review well worth reading!

I quote below the last few lines of the review as a taste of Brown’s engagement. Fascinating stuff here.

What Wright gains, if one accepts his argument, is a kind of ecclesiological and ethical coherence: new Israel—that is, the church—is empowered only by faithful acceptance of Jesus as Messiah to move now into the restoration of justice and peace that God promised Israel, and through Israel to the nations. What is lost is ample evidence—particularly when Paul speaks of the cross, the cosmos, and ways of knowing—that Paul’s own transformation and the gospel he preached were both more radical and more far-reaching than Wright’s “freshly reworked” covenant allows.

Some New and Forthcoming Books on Paul (Gupta)

New and Recent

Paul and His Life-Transforming Theology: A Concise Introduction (Roger Mohrlang, Wipf & Stock, 2013), This is a thematic introduction, rather than a survey of his letters (though the appendix) does include brief summaries of his letters). Mohrlang’s work is very accessible to beginning students.

Paul: Windows on His Thought & His World (Maria Pascuzzi, Anselm Academic, 2014. Pascuzzi is quite interested in properly situating Paul in his socio-historical, religious, and political environment, and she does seem to be up-to-date on critical scholarship, though I don’t always agree with her reading of Paul in his world. Still, it may be worth considering as a textbook or a recommended book.

UnCorinthian Leadership: Thematic Reflections on 1 Corinthians (David I Starling, Cascade, 2014). Truth be told, most Christian leadership literature that tries to interact with the Bible is garbage. Thankfully Starling knows this and carefully reflects on 1 Corinthians with concern to challenge Christian leaders today. If I get a chance to teach another leadership course, I will definitely consider this work as a possible textbook. It would make for a good exercise for a pastoral team to read together.

Remembering Paul: Ancient and Modern Contests over the Image of the Apostle (Benjamin L. White, Oxford University Press, 2014). White looks at second-century attempts to develop a collective memory of Paul. I will do a full-scale review of this in due time.


At a slim 448 pages (!), Douglas A. Campbell is ready to present his latest offering called Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Eerdmans, coming Nov 2014). Doug promises to stir the pot with this work. I don’t doubt it!

Don’t forget, we are still promised N.T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress), though apparently we have to wait until March!

Speaking of Spring, I eagerly anticipate the release of Peter Oakes’ stellar new commentary on Galatians for Paideia (April 2015; Baker).

Lastly, I stumbled across this today: Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm are editors of a new book called Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (January 2015).

Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part 8; The Disobedient Son? (Skinner)

Book of LifeI am a few days behind (it’s been a busy eight days!) but this past week our class watched the 1998 Jesus film, The Book of Life. Prior to preparing for this class, I had not been exposed to this film. My colleague suggested that we watch it because it provides a much different angle than the other films we’ve been watching and discussing. Admittedly, this film is a little campy, the writing is mediocre, and the acting leaves a lot to be desired. There is also a hazy, purposeful disorientation in the cinematography, so this one was a little more difficult to watch–though it is shorter than most other Jesus films (66 minutes). Nevertheless the film raises questions that are important to certain Christian understandings of Jesus.

The film is set in New York City on the eve of the new millennium. Jesus, a handsome, well-coiffed, suit-wearing, white guy with a chiseled jaw has come to the Big Apple with “Magdalena” (played by British rocker, P.J. Harvey) to consummate the plan of God–APOCALYPSE! Specifically, he has come to open the Book of Life (which is playfully presented as an Apple laptop computer), and either save or damn all of humanity. Anyone who was around back in the late 90s remembers the various strands of Christian apocalyptic speculation, often accompanied by the idea that Jesus was going to return at midnight on January 1, 2000 (Eastern Standard Time of course, because the world supposedly revolves around the east coast of the US). A lot of that thinking is present in this film, though it was lost on our students, most of whom were not quite 10 years old during that period.

This film muses playfully with the idea that God intends to destroy the world and that this is the primary idea presented in the book of Revelation. The film assumes a somewhat unsophisticated acceptance of one narrow reading of Revelation alongside an equally narrow interpretation of Christian theology. Still, the film raises questions that are useful for helping students think about how Jesus is presented in various theological systems: Did Jesus have a human will? Could he have been “disobedient” to the Father? Was it possible for Jesus to be tempted or sin–questions that approach modern, mainly evangelical discussions of peccability v. impeccability. As you can imagine, some of our more traditional students thought the film was borderline blasphemous in that regard. We also planned to watch this movie during the same time the new Left Behind movie was released, for the very purpose of talking about apocalypticism in modern western Christianity. However, the new Nicholas Cage vehicle has been so universally panned that we decided it would not be useful to mention it.

Today we going to discuss Marcionism and the ways in which the film raised issues related to judgment of a vengeful God and the love of a gracious Jesus. Our fall break is next week, after which we will move on to Jesus of Montreal and then the Life of Brian.

Beatitudes as Speech-Acts? (Gupta)

I have the great honor of lecturing on the Sermon on the Mount later today. I love this material, not least because of the outstanding theological reflection from people like Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, Stott, and more recently scholars like Dale Allison, Charles Talbert, and Scot McKnight.

A thought popped in my head today about thinking about the beatitudes in terms of speech-act theory (transformative performative utterances). I had a hunch that I wasn’t the first person to come up with this idea (!). So, after a very short time nosing around, I noted that John Carroll’s relatively new Luke commentary picks up on this idea and develops it richly in view of Luke’s beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26). Here is an excerpt from Carroll:

The first two beatitudes, with their matching woes, later find parabolic enactment in 16:19-31: Lazarus and the rich man exemplify precisely the present situation, and its reversal after death, of which Jesus speaks here. It is not simply that Jesus redefines the meaning of life (and divine favor) in the present; the future will give substance to what only the imagination can perceive now. In fact, since in a sense Jesus’ words begin to create the reality of which they speak (i.e., they are performative speech acts; see Austin, Do Things with Words [sic]), the beatitudes already begin to enact the divine work of reversal to which Mary has pointed. If Jesus understands his mission from God to be the declaration of good news for the poor (4:18-19), the beatitudes show him doing just that. The woes reveal the corollary of that good news, for the status inversion of God’s reign means bad news for the wealthy and powerful (p. 150).

Bennema’s Encountering Jesus: Second Edition with Fortress (Gupta)

BenemmaSeveral years ago I reviewed for RBL Cor Bennema’s Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Paternoster, 2009). I thought that it was a helpful work, especially methodologically, and just needed filled out a bit. Cor does a great job in this second edition addressing concerns of reviewers and offering a stronger work overall.

One will notice two major elements of this edition – (1) Cor’s discussion is more detailed, which leads to a second edition almost double the size of the first; (2) this edition contains a study of Jesus as the main character (an omission in the first edition that I highlighted in my review, and apparently other reviewers pointed to this as well).

My blogger-comrade, Chris Skinner, happens to be highly knowledeable in Johannine studies and narrative criticism/characterization, and it was nice to see Cor interact significantly with Chris’s work. (While I am at it, I should mention Chris’ Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John which is very affordable).

Last word: I will confess that much biblical “scholarship” is really not all that useful for everyday Christians and I am highly selective about what I choose to emphasize with my students. But narrative criticism is definitely something every seminarian should learn in a thorough way in his or her education. The kind of thing Cor is doing here is very fruitful and can furnish preachers and teachers with major insights. I look forward to reading Cor’s work again in this new edition and kudos for publishing with Fortress.

RBL Reviews my Prepare, Succeed, Advance (Gupta)

Recently Review of Biblical Literature published a review of my 2011 book, Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Wipf & Stock). The reviewer was Michael Suh, a doctoral student at Emory.

Mike made a number of encouraging, positive comments, for which I am thankful. He also had some minor suggestions, which are all worthwhile considerations. He notes that American schools may require an interview with the candidate and that there is some prep work involved. I do not mention this, so hopefully there are resources online to give students some guidance in that area. Mike also offers the reminder that smaller projects (articles, reviews) should not get in the way of finishing the dissertation – he is right and he notes that that is implicit in my discussion. In my own experience, I tried to publish condensed versions of chapters or extraneous research from my dissertation that would not end up in the final text. These are ways to maximize efficiency, but each person must decide what is feasible for him or her. To be honest, sometimes I needed a distraction from slogging through with the dissertation, so a short article (even if it takes up a rabbit trial) was a welcome diversion. I wouldn’t recommend to others getting off-track, but it worked out fine for me.

Interestingly, my first article published was on 2 Thessalonians (JSNT) and it had nothing to do with my dissertation whatsoever. Now, 8 years after I wrote that article, I am writing two books (and maybe 3) on 1-2 Thessalonians. So, it was a distraction then, but happy now that I did it anyway!

Thanks again Mike for being a careful (and kind!) reviewer!