A thoughtful conversation with two wonderful New Testament theologians, N.T. Wright and Richard Hays. I owe a debt in about equal measure to their two streams of scholarship. This discussion is entitled: “The Good News and the Good Life.” Enjoy!
I teased Michael Bird the other day that 2015 went by without a single new book from him. He pointed out that he would have several works released in 2016. Well, we are indeed starting to see new books from Mike. The first up is his brand new commentary on Romans in the Story of God series. Scot McKnight edits this series and he launched it with his own outstanding offering on The Sermon on the Mount. A few other volumes in the series have released in the last year or two, but Mike’s Romans commentary is the longest yet at 570+ pages. Four things in my mind make Mike a particularly excellent choice for this commentary. Firstly, he has spent many years digging deep into the central questions related to Paul’s theology (e.g., justification, righteousness, gospel, salvation). He knows the academic discussion with a breadth and depth that is hard to find in anyone else at the same tender young age!
Secondly, Mike thinks broadly and synthetically – he constantly tries to step back and see the forest of the way Paul thinks, even though he is adroit at analyzing the trees. Thirdly, he is passionate about ministry, discipleship, and Christian formation. Finally, he is entertaining to read – he actually makes reading a commentary fun. Imagine that!
Here is just a little “snippet” from his discussion of Romans 1:16-17
Romans 1:16: “The gospel manifests God’s death-defeating, love-forming, people-uniting, super-über-mega-grace power that results in ‘salvation.’ (page 41)
Romans 1:17: – “The righteousness of God signified the fidelity and justice of God’s character, the demonstration of his character as the judge of all the earth, and his faithfulness toward Israel in Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God, then, is the character of God embodied and enacted in his saving actions. It is a saving event that is comprehensive, and it involves vivification, justification, and transformation” (page 43)
I just got the commentary a few days ago, so I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, but based on what I have already read, I feel very confident that it will serve readers of Romans (even earnest lay-readers) very well. In fact, I plan to use this as a textbook next year for a Galatians & Romans course.
I did, upon getting the book, immediately turn to Romans 16 to see what Mike had to say about the greetings to women. I am delighted by his discussion and affirmation of women in ministry. He writes this:
I have to confess that it was a close reading of Romans 16:1-16 that led me to a complete turnaround on my views concerning the roles of women in the church. Various women are praised in Paul’s little greeting card for their service and labors. The fact that Junia is specifically identified as an apostle here is no small thing. Not only that, but it was reading about and reflecting on Phoebe–in particular her place in the Pauline circle, the reason why Paul chose her to deliver this letter, and imagining what subsequent role she might have played in the Roman churches ahead of Paul’s visit–that left me completely gob smacked and led me to affirm the role of women in the teaching ministries of the church (page 526)
I would like to blog through Mike’s commentary in the 2016 fall (Aug-Dec for Mike because it will be “spring” for him!), so further comments will wait till then.
For now, let me just say that this commentary is a sign of good things to come from the Story of God series (next week I will say something about Tremper Longman’s new Genesis commentary), and that I recommend pastors and laypeople put this on their reading and reference list.
[Sidenote: Amazon reviews of Mike’s commentary are pretty funny. He is criticized for not being a “proper” Romans scholar (whatever that means!), for being too theological and not exegetical enough (whatever that means!), for being contradictory (how dare he quote BOTH Luther AND Wright?) for being too “application-oriented” (in a laypeople commentary, imagine that?), and having controversial views (ok, that’s fair).]
When I was in seminary, the “New Perspective on Paul” was all the rage – you either loved it or hated it. I did some adjuncting at a seminary before starting my PhD and I taught a course on Paul. I taught mostly a “pro-NPP” perspective, and several students protested, threatening to have me fired (because I was promoting heresy). In response, I had to write a “position paper” for the faculty and the community to show that the NPP could be biblically supported. My adjunct work was saved, but only as one passing through the flames!
Part of the reason I went to Durham was to learn from the NPP greats, N.T. Wright (then Bishop of Durham) and James D.G. Dunn (retired, but graciously willing to meet with students). At Durham, there were also friendly critics of the NPP: John Barclay (now more and more vocal about his criticisms) and Francis Watson (wanting to move beyond the NPP). Many have hailed the current era one of “post-NPP” and some have decried the NPP as basically a social gospel that we can lay aside as not very theological.
It is Dunn’s work especially that I have tried to track very closely these last 15 years or so, and I think Dunn offers a very powerful reading of texts like Romans and Galatians. Thus, I am not willing to “give up” on the NPP, just because we are so very tired of talking about “works of the Law.”
In comes The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical and Missional Implications of the New Perspective (ed. Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica). This is an attempt to show that the NPP (its core ideas) is still a very strong interpretation of Paul and (as the title/subtitle suggest) has dynamic theological implications that help us better understand the Christian life. Contributors include McKnight, James Dunn, N.T. Wright, and Bruce Longenecker (and others too).
I found reading this book very energizing; the contributors help to bring Paul and his vision of mission, holiness, discipleship, and justice to life. I am already planning to use an essay or two for a seminar next year on Paul’s Theology.
Here is the endorsement I wrote for the book:
“‘Can these dry bones (of academic theories) live?’ This question–the ‘so what’ factor–is not asked often enough in academia. But this book commences with the ‘so what’ question in regard to the new perspective on Paul. In recent years, some have declared the new perspective to be passé at best and dead at worst. The contributors to this book make a cogent case not only that the new perspective is still a compelling reading of Paul in his context but also that it draws out a depth and vitality in his theology and spirituality that can guide the Christian life and the church’s life today.”