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.