I’ve been processing some of John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift. He emphasizes incongruity in Paul but consistently goes to transformative aspects (like life from death, new creation, power) to demonstrate it. This seems as much the reality of the efficacy of grace, which he downplays in Paul (vis-a-vis Augustine). Thoughts?

It seems to me that he only allows for efficacy of grace to be perfected with regard to the will, such that efficacy is the issue at play when monergism is on the table, that is divine agency being the sole and sufficient cause (74). Why should Barclay only limit efficacy to will? It seems that other aspects of human experience are just as dependent upon the power of God’s work–not least in life from the dead.

Barclay’s discussion of judgment by works also seems to belie a theology of efficacy. Even though grace is incongruous from start to finish, “the transformative power of grace thus creates a fit” (569) or a form of “congruity”, though not fully perfected since it’s variable. So it seems to me that Barclay’s articulation of the incongruity of grace entails a form of efficacy of grace, which is not only based in the will as the basis of efficacy but the creation of life from the dead so believers can live (in obedience and be resurrected).

I’m thinking that since the ‘will’ was so important to the Augustine-Pelagius debate that efficacy then becomes tied to the will (for Barclay), but of course other aspects of efficacy were evident in Augustine, such as the role of sacraments and the ex opere operato issues. Of course, will is never totally out of the question, but I’m just not sure that it should always the focus in efficacy.

In short, does the perfection of the ‘efficacy’ of grace necessitate (or should be equated with) ‘irresistible grace’? Notwithstanding the connections between irresistible grace and perseverance, it seems that efficacy could just as well address either or both issues and not just focus on irresistible grace, as it seems Barclay does. I think this focus on perseverance comes out clearly in his disagreements with Brant Pitre in Perspectives on Paul, where Barclay rejects the distinction between an initial and final justification because the initial demands the final not based on human agency.

What thoughts might you have?


2016-08-18 10.45.56Check out the Eerdmans Fall 2016 catalog on page 25. They are reprinting a Mohr Siebeck volume this fall that is one of best books written on Paul that I’ve read. You may be thinking that it is the long awaited Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters, which is, I think, the best book on Paul and theosis out there. In case you haven’t read it or didn’t want to mortgage the house to buy the other version, I argue that Paul’s soteriology overlaps directly with later patristic ideas about theosis; however, with his distinctive emphasis on dying and rising with Christ (through the Spirit), christosis might be a better term to describe his theotic soteriology.

You’d, however, be wrong that it is the hottest reprint of 2016. That prize goes to a phenomenal collection of essays by John Barclay, Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews. I helped do some minor editing to pull the various essays together, and it was one of the best parts of my PhD days in Durham. While the essays have a general social-historical bent, they address a wide range of issues that will pay long term dividends. When John was picking out the essays, he made a salient point: he thought all the essays he wrote were worthy of being published once, but these are the ones he thought were worthy of being published twice. You will no doubt agree when you read it.

Francis Watson frames the basic difference between Paul and Judaism as one of distinct views of divine and human agency. He is clear that it is not simply divine grace vs poor form of Pelagianism. His reading has a payoff value when interpreting the notoriously difficult Romans 2.7-13, regarding those that pursue the good receiving life and those that do the law are justified. He argues:

Belief in judgment by works is indeed an integral part of Paul’s theology…[citing Rom 8.13, Gal 6.8, 5.21; Rom 2.9-10, etc.]…[The “good” that humans do] is grounded in God’s prior saving action, which establishes and enables an appropriately directed human agency. This is not “salvation by works” as commonly understood, that is as a salvation attained by unaided human effort. But nor is is “salvation by grace” as commonly understood, that is as a salvation in which the one who is saved stands in a purely passive relationship to the one who saves. Divine and human human agency do not conexist on the same plane, in such a way that more of one means less of the other. Rather, God’s prior grace works in and through the human agent, whose reoriented and free agency is itself the work of grace. (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles, rev. ed., 214)

I noticed that John Barclay makes a similar claims non-contrastive agency in his Paul and the Gift about Romans 2:

Eternal life is, for Paul, both an incongruous gift (6:23) and the fitting completion of a life of good work (2:6–7). (466, cf. 464–74)

Check out this nice interview of Dr. John Barclay on Paul and the Gift on Scot McKnight’s podcast Kingdom Roots. McKnight notes that Barclay’s book was his number 1 book for 2015.

The Department of Theology at Houston Baptist University is pleased to host a conference on “The Church and Early Christianity” on April 16-18, 2015. Our keynote speakers are

John Barclay (Durham University)

Everett Ferguson (Abilene Christian University)

Ben Witherington (Asbury Theological Seminary)

You can find out more details at hbu.edu/theologyconference.

Call for Papers: We are inviting papers representing a variety of approaches from scholars and graduate students in this area of study.  We are particularly interested in the development of early Christian communities within their wider theological and cultural contexts in the first two centuries. This includes theological reflections about ecclesiology as well as social relationships with Second Temple Jewish practices and institutions, relationships within early Christian communities, and the relationship of early Christian communities with the wider Greco-Roman culture. Participants will have 25-30 minutes to present papers (inclusive of Q&A). Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to Dr. Ben C. Blackwell at bblackwell@hbu.edu by February 15, 2015.