Video Resource: Gaventa’s “Lund Lecture 1″ on Salvation in Romans (Gupta)

Dr. Beverly Gaventa recently gave the “Lund Lecture” at Northpark on the subject of Romans. The official title of her lecture was: “What Part of the Word ‘All’ Don’t We Understand?” (This is Lecture 1; there is a second lecture on grace and ethics in Romans).

This lecture was essentially an articulation of her apocalyptic reading of Romans with an emphasis on divine agency in salvation. Gaventa criticizes approaches to Romans that are “transactional” (God does this, we do that). While it is an excellent lecture, deeply insightful from perhaps the US’s leading Pauline expert, I found myself in disagreement with her reading. She underscores that Paul does not talk about “repentance” (or forgiveness), one piece of evidence that his concern is more with deliverance than human cooperation. While I was viewing this lecture, I couldn’t help but think (1) just because the word “repentance” isn’t used doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there (Rom 12:1-2?), and (2) the volume of occurrences of “faith” (pistis) in Romans should attest to the “human agency” aspect that Gaventa feels is missing. (I was pleased that both my concerns were raised in the Q & A by participants).

This is part of an ongoing academic discussion on divine and human agency in Paul, and I am writing a book on this subject so I have a lot on my mind. But here is one reason I am unsatisfied with the terms of the discussion. Gaventa basically rejects a strong “human agency” component in Romans and puts the weight on the “divine agency” side (like 90/10). Any attempt at “balance” I would imagine would be rejected by Gaventa because it would come out to 50/50 and would return to the “transactional” idea. So far I am in agreement with her. But while I don’t like the 90/10 or the 50/50, I think we have to entertain the possibility that there is a kind of 100/100 going on here – sure the math doesn’t add up, but it would help account for how challenging this matter was even in the first century (in the age of the apostles). The problem with even a 100/100 approach is that it could simply seem like a 50/50 and the who does what question is re-introduced. Clearly we need a re-think. (I will give Gaventa kudos for being humble and willing to entertain other readings during the Q & A)

For what its worth, I think Grant Macaskill and Tom Wright are on the right track by not pitting a Salvation History/Covenantal view (which tends to sound transactional) against an apocalyptic view (which seems divine oriented in terms of agency). Somehow these are “cooperative” – and there is that dirty word again. Oh well, enough rambling. Here is the video. I am eagerly looking forward to Gaventa’s Romans commentary with WJK.



John Byron’s Story of God and 1-2 Thessalonians – Book Notice (Gupta)

This weekend I happily read through a good deal of John Byron’s new 1-2 Byron picThessalonians commentary for the Zondervan series called the “The Story of God” (ed. Scot McKnight). In some ways, this is the NIV Application Commentary series for a post-modern generation, and a new era of scholarship that is especially interested in narratives and worldview-story theology in Scripture.

Three things really impressed me with John’s commentary and are, hopefully, a hallmark of the series.

Byron book(1) Well-informed exegetical decisions – You can tell John did the hard work of hashing through complicated interpretive issues, but you barely see the debates in the text. But I found that John seems to be very current with Thessalonian-Correspondence scholarship. This kind of background heavy-lifting is often missing in popular commentaries.

(2) Excellent modern illustrations and examples from history. Where John places the emphasis in this commentary, rightly so, is on (for lack of a better word) application. What does this text mean for us today as we read it theologically? I don’t know how he researched all of this (examples from Justin Martyr to Luther to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Mother Teresa), but I imagine much of it was inspired by course reflections and discussions. Extremely valuable stuff here!

(3) Very personal. John doesn’t stand at a cool distance from the material, but is very frank and transparent about his own struggles in his life and how these texts have spoken to him. In that sense, he models the transparency Paul shows in 1 Thessalonians itself.

Do you need to make space on your shelf for yet another commentary? By my own count I own at least 20 commentaries on 1-2 Thessalonians, but if a student or layperson were to ask me what they might read on 1-2 Thessalonians for personal edification, I will gladly say “Byron” in the same sentence as Holmes, Gaventa, and Calvin (and yet unreleased Jeffrey Weima [BECNT] and Andy Johnson [THNT]; and Chrysostom, of course).


Congrats, John! (Also, I happen to agree with you on the apologetic nature of 1 Thess 2, nepios, and skeuos as “body” (not wife) in 4:4. By the way. So good job getting those “right”!)

Counting the Costs: On Pursuing Life in Academia (Skinner)

Sad AcademicThis morning I received my program book for the annual SBL/AAR meetings in San Diego. The last time the meetings were held in San Diego was 2007, which consequently was the last time I was there. I was just days away from defending my dissertation and I was in town for a job interview—a job I didn’t get, by the way. Anyway, thinking about my last time in San Diego got me thinking about my own journey in academia, and it occurred to me that it’s that season once again for so many hope-filled academics. It’s the season when grad students, ABDs, freshly-minted PhDs, and in some cases, those who’ve been on the job market for years, set about preparing (literally) dozens of documents for hiring committees; you know, those notorious committees that (1) may not ask for an interview—which is understandable; (2) may not even look at your materials—which is somewhat less understandable; and (3) in many cases, won’t even acknowledge that they’ve received your materials, let alone that the job you were hoping for has been filled—which is inexcusable. I have been on the receiving end of all three of these (non) responses in my career, and I feel your pain. (BTW, if you have time, check out this pretty spot-on indictment of how unethical the hiring practices in our profession can be for people in this very situation I’m describing.)

As readers of this blog know, I am fortunate to have a full-time job teaching in higher education and in my area of specialization. I am also fortunate to teach in a part of the country that allows me to be relatively close to my extended family. In many ways, it’s like I have found one of Wonka’s golden tickets. Those closest to me will tell you that I genuinely love what I do, and as I have grown in my teaching, I have also had relative success in publishing my research. Still I find it possible to be very cynical about life in academia. So much of this is related to my own experiences. With so many of my own students requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school at the moment—some with an eye on landing a job in academia—I felt the need to get real for a moment. I’m speaking to my students in this post, but I invite you to listen in, if you’re interested. (I apologize in advance if I come across as Debbie Downer.)

Life in academia is not for the faint of heart. It is a path fraught with rejection at every turn. Each stage of the process brings more opportunities for rejection. Some think the rejection stops after you’ve landed a job, but actually there are more opportunities to experience the sting of a brush-off. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the untold possibilities for rejection, as I see them:

(1) Applying to doctoral programs: This is the first test we must all pass. I know several people who were not admitted to any doctoral programs during their first trip through the process. At least one of them currently has a doctorate from one of the best schools in the world, a full-time teaching post, and a monograph that has just been released. This sort of rejection is not the end of the road. Just know that it’s a possibility. Fortunately, I was admitted to the doctoral program of my choice, but there were other schools that said “no” to me. I shudder to think what would have happened had they all said, “no.” I was a young seminary graduate with a wife and small child. It might have been easy to give up on the dream and turn toward something more “practical,” more “gainful.” Applying to doctoral programs was my first hint that life in academia, along with being a highly competitive profession, has the potential to be a soul-crushing enterprise. (If after reading this bit of honesty you still choose to move forward, you should see Nijay’s comprehensive work on this subject.)

(2) Applying for jobs: This is clearly the most soul-crushing process of them all. I was on the job market for three full years after earning my Ph.D. If I’m being honest, I was applying to jobs for at least two years before I finished. After losing my job in 2009—another story for another day—I spent an entire academic year living in a three-bedroom house with my wife, three kids, and my in-laws. (How’s that for soul-crushing?) During those three to five years, I probably put out 50-60 applications (and killed several baby sequoias in the process). I had a dozen or so interviews and several on campus visits before I finally got a job. In one instance, I was CERTAIN there was going to be an offer in a week. Eight weeks later I was informed via email (yes, that’s right, an EMAIL) that the search committee was cancelling the job due to lack of funding. Can anyone say, rejection? (Just in case you think I’m alone, you can also see some of the details of Nijay’s employment journey here.)

(3) Presenting your research: I try to attend several professional meetings every year, and I have not missed an SBL meeting since 2005. I have given several papers at SBL and elsewhere, but I have had numerous proposals grounded on the tarmac before they could ever take flight. For instance, for four straight years I put in a proposal to read a paper in the Johannine Literature section, and for four straight years my proposals were shot down. To make it worse, each of those proposed papers went on to be published somewhere, but I could not get the Johannine Literature group to give it a sniff. Finally, this year, for the first time I will read a paper in the Johannine Literature section.

(4) Publishing your research: After surviving the gauntlet of rejection presented by the previous three stages, you now have arrived at the part of academic life that continues to offer you various and sundry opportunities to experience soul-crushing rejection. This is the part of the job that no one tells you about. Especially if you are in a “publish-or-perish” institution, you will find yourself face-to-face with the realities of this sort of rejection. Just this week I got word that an article I wrote over two years ago was finally accepted for publication. I had previously sent the article to three different journals. In all three instances, one reviewer liked it and the other wasn’t sure. Practically, this means that each time I submitted said article, it was rejected. After re-working it three times in response to previous reviewers’ comments, I was finally able to get it into a form that two outside readers found acceptable. Thankfully, each rejection served to make the article better, but each time it was “back to the drawing board.”

All of this is to say nothing of the processes of applying for grants, external funding, sabbaticals, promotion, etc. Academia is a profession in which you consistently put your fate in someone else’s hands, without the promise of anything in return. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment….maybe a bunch of us are, but not everyone is going to be able to sustain such continued rejection and emerge unscathed. Sure, there are those anomalous individuals who get into every program to which they apply, earn the doctorate, get their dream job right out of the gate, and have everything they write accepted for presentation and/or publication. In my admittedly limited experience, however, those people are the rare exceptions rather than the rule.

To my current and former students I say: If, after all of this, you still want to go forward, I do understand. Life in academia is sometimes crazy, often beautiful, and always interesting, and I’m  not sure I would be this fulfilled doing anything else. Just be sure come in with your eyes open and continue to count the costs.

Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark Has Arrived! (Skinner)

Markan Character StudiesMy latest book, Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (co-edited with Matt Hauge) has just arrived in my campus inbox! It looks great and I’m thankful for the staff at Bloomsbury /T &T Clark who worked so diligently to get the book out before the professional meeting season in late November. So ends another two-year journey of nurturing a book from a vague idea into a fully gestated creation. Working on this book was a great experience. Contributors include: Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Matthew Ryan Hauge, Ira Brent Driggers, Joel F. Williams, Elizabeth Shively, Paul L. Danove, Susan Miller, Adam Winn, Cornelis Bennema, and myself.

See the full table of contents here. Get your copy today! (Or….wait until AAR/SBL and buy one at a significantly reduced rate.)

New Book: The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark (Skinner)

PICKWICK_TemplateAt the end of last week I received a package in the mail and I was thrilled to find inside a review copy of Gregg Morrison’s book, The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Markan Christology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014). Gregg and I were students at Catholic University between 2002 and 2007. During that time we sat in several seminars together and had the privilege (along with Kelly Iverson and Sherri Brown) of being Frank Moloney’s final doctoral students. Gregg is also a friend and I have been waiting for this book for some time. While I have not yet read the entire book, I remember the seminar paper that gave rise to the monograph and I’ve also heard Gregg give a paper on the subject. Gregg’s work is an engaging study in Markan Christology from a narrative perspective. Those interested in the Gospel of Mark need to put this one on the list!

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).