Simon Gathercole and Larry Hurtado have published very helpful reviews of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Gathercole’s review is at Reformation21, and Hurtado’s is on his blog where you can find the pre-publication version and links to earlier comments.

Gathercole focuses on the three key issues at the heart of Wright’s project: Monotheism, Election and Eschatology. The longest section is on election where Gathercole raises some sharp questions about Wright’s view of justification focusing particularly on Wright’s view of justification as event and his definition of righteousness as covenant membership. In his review Hurtado remarks on Wright’s view of Paul’s Christology, election and eschatology. He also raises questions about Wright’s presentation of Paul as a novel thinker and whether Wright has given sufficient attention to ‘how much Paul also drew upon, reflected and developed convictions and traditions of “those who were in Christ” before him (e.g., Rom. 16:7), those with whom, Paul insists, he shared basic beliefs and message (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1-11)’ (p.3).

One interesting feature of these two reviews is the differing opinions about the value of attempting to explain how Paul came to his Christological views. Note these comments, first from Gathercole and then Hurtado:

On the broader theme of the Christological reinterpretation of election, I had minor quibbles about some points. I am not as convinced as Wright is that we can easily identify the impulse which led Paul to come to the conclusions that he did. I wonder whether the combination of (a) the return to Zion motif, and (b) Wisdom theology, played such an important role in the development of Paul’s Christology (655). Indeed, one might wonder whether it is necessary (or for that matter, possible) to try to identify from Paul’s letters how he came to the Christology that he did. For Wright, such scepticism might I suppose appear to be an abdication of the historical task. But on the other hand, we know so little about the so-called “tunnel period” between c. 30-50 CE: we know what the Christology of Paul’s earliest letters looked like at the end of the tunnel, but before that, the outlook is dark, or at least rather gloomy. (Gathercole under Monotheism section)

In any case, for all his emphasis on Paul’s historical context, Wright’s aim really seems more to show that Paul’s beliefs form a coherently rounded theology than to address adequately how (in historical terms) Paul came to hold them. If, however, as Wright contends, Paul developed an unprecedented ‘mutation’ in ancient Jewish ‘monotheism’, it is surely all the more important to ask how this remarkable innovation arose. Certainly, Wright is correct to emphasise that Paul reflects a creative use of Jewish scriptures in developing/expressing his theology. But what in particular prompted and shaped this novel reading of these texts? Wright’s focus on Paul’s ideas is no doubt appropriate for a theology of Paul, but may leave some historical questions insufficiently addressed. (Hurtado, p.2)

Another interesting point is that both reviewers raise questions about Wright’s presentation of other views. Hurtado remarks, ‘In line with his previous publications, Wright also ridicules what he portrays as the view of some other scholars that Paul expected the dissolution of ‘the space-time universe’ (which may be another instance of caricature), and the undoubtedly widespread popular Christian notion that the future hope is to depart to a heavenly realm for existence as spirits/souls’ (p.2; his other instance of caricature is with Wright’s presentation of his view of the role of ‘divine/principal agent’ traditions in early Christology [p.1]). Gathercole comments on the second of Hurtado’s points:

Wright continues the emphasis here which he expounded at length in The Resurrection of the Son of God. I suppose my slight reservation lies in the presentation: the continuous polemic against a spiritualised heavenly eschatology becomes a little repetitive. Of course there are many people in the world who believe that our final destiny consists of our souls going to heaven when we die. Wright explicitly mentions American Evangelical Protestantism of the popular variety, at e.g. PFG, p.142 and n. 271. But such people are not the people who are going to read this book. In fact, ironically, the main scholarly target of Wright’s polemic against ‘going to heaven’ is someone who is about as far removed from popular American evangelicalism as one could imagine, namely Troels Engberg-Pedersen (pp.1399-1400). (in the section on Eschatology)

Both reviewers raise valid concerns about the way in which Wright has described these positions. I think the lack of specific examples of scholars who hold these views and detailed engagement with them is unfortunate particularly in light of Wright’s extensive engagement with Engberg-Pedersen, John Barclay and the apocalyptic circle associated with J. Louis Martyn.

These reviews give much more to think about and highlight issues that remain to be resolved in the study of Paul.

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