Varia on NTW’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God #3 (Gupta)

NTW2I am doing a kind of random series on Tom Wright’s “big book on Paul,” Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Now we are into some meatier sections of the book, so instead of “varia” I will focus on one important chapter: “The Plot, The Plan, and the Storied Worldview” (chapter seven).

His argument and flow of thought in this chapter are, I think, quite clear. First, Paul seems to have had a worldview (since everybody does). Second, a worldview, so the best theorists have told us, is storied or narrative-in-shape. I am with Wright in that I cannot see how and why people find this so problematic. But Wright points to people like Francis Watson (see p. 462) who say that Paul was not a storyteller.

Wright properly rebuts (if he is getting Watson right) that his narrative-worldview is not explicit in his letters, but implicit. Here is Wright’s “Here I stand” dictum:

As with Geertz, Berger and Luckman, Petersen and the thousand writers who have made this and similar points (and with whom the real quarrel should take place if the dissenters want to pick one), I insist that it is possible in principle, and not actually difficult in practice, to discover within the larger worldview and mindset, to which we have remarkably good access, what implicit story Paul is telling, behind, above, underneath, in and through (whatever spatial metaphor you like) the particular things he says in this or that letter. Discerning this is not arcane, not dependent on some fancy French philosophy, not particularly difficult (466).

I think Wright has made his point well in this chapter, even if he comes across a bit defensive. I am especially appreciative of his point that we simply cannot and should not pit “salvation history” (i.e., narrative-focused) approaches to what some call “apocalyptic” (which some may think is anti-narrative). Wright is happy to call “apocalyptic” (if you like) that dimension of Paul’s theology that is radical and surprising, “but it must be retained within the larger historical framework which we are exploring. How that ‘works’ remains to be seen. How it does not work is by elevating ‘apocalyptic’ as an overarching principle and insisting a priori that it rules out all continuity, all sense of a larger narrative within which the story of Jesus the Messiah, the story of Paul himself and the story of the communities he founded, make the sense they do. That is to deJudaize the context before we begin…” (461).

This is a helpful chapter, but, as with much of the book it is highly responsive so it would make much less sense to readers who are not up-to-date with what has been going on in Pauline studies in the last three decades. I am afraid this book will be received as a kind of monograph series of 8 volumes (for eight long chapters) bound into one of highly detailed and specific arguments and responses, rather than a volume in his “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series that will teach the next generation of New Testament historian-theologians.

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