Getting Saved According to Talbert and Whitlark (Book Review)

Normally, I am not excited when I order a book and find out the essays have been previously published, but I am willing to make an exception for an excellent volume I recently read entitled Getting “Saved”: The Whole Story of Salvation in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2011), edited by Charles Talbert and Jason Whitlark. This book is unique in many regards, but it is basically a nice collection of scholarly essays by Charles Talbert and Jason Whitlark, with complementary contributions by A.E. Arterbury, C.A. Barbarick, S.J. Hafemann, and M.W. Martin. It appears, though, that Talbert is the real fountainhead of this project, Whitlark is his junior co-author, and the rest of the contributors strengthen their case.

So what is the case? Basically, it is a critical interaction with E.P. Sanders and his understanding of Paul’s pattern of religion. For many Paulinists, this is a rather tired and boring subject now – we’ve been over this issue again and again! However, two things are striking in this regard. First, one gets the sense that Charles Talbert has been working along a consistent trajectory of study for over a decade – a masterful achievement. Thus, this collection is valuable because it is coherent and cumulatively convincing. Secondly, the chapters cover most of the books of the NT, not just Paul, so this is an excellent examination of Talbert’s argument spread across the whole NT. This brings New Perspective issues to all parts of NT study.

OK, what is Talbert arguing? In the kick-off essay, “Paul, Judaism, and the Revisionists,” Talbert argues that Sanders generous view of “covenantal nomism” does not account for some strands of Judaism that was, in fact, legalistic. Following Gathercole and Eskola, Talbert sees the problem of “works of the law” as synergism that Paul was combatting. What Sanders was focused on was getting in and staying in. The key to Talbert’s critique is that religion is more than just club membership.

One’s participation in Christ results not only in forgiveness and deliverance, but also in enablement. What is it that enables Christians’ works after their entry into Christ? It is their empowerment by God. (p. 28).

Talbert states it again later in the essay

For Paul, grace and obedience are not successive stages in religious life but are bound together in each moment as root and fruit. For the apostle, obedience is not so much motivated by gratitude for past grace as empowered by an enabling God from moment to moment. (p. 34)

Many of the essays draw from an understanding that the new covenant promise of Jeremiah expected God to empower his people to live in the ways he outlined by virtue of the covenant. Thus, Talbert et al can refer to a kind of “new covenant piety” in the NT texts.

New covenant piety then coveys the notion that post-conversion faithfulness or obedience is grounded in God’s prior and ongoing empowerment of that faithfulness or obedience (4)

The contributions in this volume are all well-researched, fair, and mostly persuasive. This brings a proper depth and complexity to the “new covenant” relationship beyond covenantal nomism. If nothing else, I will keep my eye out for other books and essays by Talbert. He is one of the most cogent critics of the New Perspective and he has made me re-think much about grace, justification, and divine power in the New Testament.

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