As we’re getting closer to SBL, I (Ben) know people are making plans for sessions to attend, so let me offer an option. As a part of my larger work on Paul to highlight how he brings together the topics of justification, life, and the Spirit, I’ve been working on tracing where the Reformation tradition separated them, so I’m presenting a paper on Luther and theosis. I know I’m an interloper on Luther, so I’m welcoming the opportunity to get some feedback. Do come join us.

Christian Theology and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Conference Room 2 (3rd Level) – Marriott Rivercenter (MRC)

Theme: Martin Luther as Interpreter of Scripture
This is the first of a four-year series on Christian theologians and their interpretation of the Bible. This session examines Martin Luther and his theological interpretation of a specific text or set of texts in the Old and New Testaments. The session is interested not only in Luther as a historical theologian but also for his role in constructive Christian theology today.

Arthur Sutherland, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding (5 min)

Claire Mathews McGinnis, Loyola University Maryland
Martin Luther on Exodus 7–11 (and Romans 9:6-13): the Hardening of the Heart (30 min)
Tyler Atkinson, Bethany College (Lindsborg, KS)
Solomon’s Political Body: Luther’s Lectures on Song of Songs and Contemporary Political Theology (30 min)
Ben C. Blackwell, Houston Baptist University
Luther and Galatians: Justification as Participation in the Life of God (30 min)
Gordon Campbell, Union Theological College (Northern Ireland)
“Christ is neither taught nor known in it”: some christological fallout of Martin Luther’s Prefaces to the Revelation of St. John (1522 & 1546). (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Great summary statement by Sanders about his view of Paul’s soteriology in Paul and Palestinian Judaism:

Pressed by opponents on on various sides, he [Paul] expounded the significance of the present state of the Christian life in such a way that the simple theology of future expectation and present possession of spiritual gifts was greatly deepened. We could do no better than guess by what chain of reasoning or under what history of religions influence Paul deepened the idea of the possession of the Spirit as a guarantee so that it became participation in on Spirit, or the idea of Christ’s death as cleansing former trespasses so that it became the means by which one participated in Christ’s death to the power of sin, but it is clear that he did so, and that herein lies the heart of his soteriology and Christology. (452-53)

Now that I’ve described the rationale for my in-progress book, Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology, I’m laying out below the goals and scope of my study:

Part 1: Historical Framework
To set the stage for a reevaluation of Paul’s theology of justification, I demonstrate how historical frameworks influence contemporary biblical interpretive models. In particular, I establish how Protestant readings of justification are reactionary against Catholic theology and therefore explicitly frame justification in light of Christology and faith to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit and love. Rather than being overly influenced by post-Enlightenment anthropological conceptions, I also show the need to incorporate more a more robust pre-modern understanding of the porous self, making explicit use of Charles Taylor’s work on the buffered and the porous self.

Part II: Reading Paul
In distinction to post-Reformation readings of justification which place Christ over the Spirit and faith over love, my exegetical analyses demonstrate that Paul intertwines the Spirit and Christ in his employment of justification language in key texts—namely, Galatians 2–4; 2 Corinthians 3–5; Romans 1–8. Thus, my reading of Paul shows the coherence of this doctrine with the transformative participation of believers in the triune God. After establishing the relationship of participation and justification through close readings of specific passages, I then treat a variety of participatory topics that relate to justification—namely, suffering/cruciformity, the community (adoption, covenant), and sanctification/ethics.

Part III: Theological Framework
To conclude the monograph, I explore a participatory reading of justification through the lens of the fifth century patristic theologian Cyril of Alexandria, showing that readers not limited by the later Protestant-Catholic categories offer a similar reading as my own. With this model in mind, I then provide an essay that explores justification in light of theosis, an important and growing topic of study arising from wider ecumenical discussions.

This monograph does not attempt to answer all the opposing positions regarding the topic of justification. Rather, it provides a focused and sustained reading of Paul that demonstrates how justification serves as one primary way that he develops his doctrine of a transformative participation in the triune God.

In my previous post, I described the rationale for my current project with Eerdmans–Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology–in light of wider theological concerns. In this post, I situate the rationale even more closely to the biblical studies context:

In contemporary biblical studies much discussion of justification just serves as a rehashing of “old” and “new” positions. These two perspectives have dominated, but the insistence on participation in Christ/God via Schweitzer and Sanders has served as a burr under the saddle. In fact, Wright places the relationship of participation and justification as a central theme of debate over the last century. (See N.T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, Part 1.) The roots of the debate, he says, go back to Luther’s justification-only view in contrast to Calvin’s placement of justification in the wider sphere of participation. (Wright’s categorization of Luther greatly simplifies and weakens Luther’s proposal about faith being uniting; however, later Lutheranism (through Melanchthon) could much more be open to Wright’s charge.) Pauline scholars in the Reformed tradition have repeatedly attempted to place justification within the sphere of participation; however, their claims are hindered due to their repetitive emphasis upon justification as primarily forensic, by means of imputation. (For example, see Constantine R. Campbell, Paul and Union with Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 388–405.) They, like Wright, set the debates about justification in post-Reformation terms, and therefore “status” issues are primary, whether status before God (as in traditional readings) or status within the community (as with New Perspective readings).

The old and new perspectives have been challenged by those we might call participationists: E.P. Sanders, Michael Gorman, Douglas Campbell. The problem is that these participationists have not provided a thoroughgoing study of justification in Paul. Influenced by Sanders discussion of Paul’s “participationist eschatology,” recent participationists—e.g., Michael Gorman and Douglas Campbell—have provided interesting readings of justification in Paul; however, neither provides a monograph length study of texts which substantiates a holistic reading. (Campbell, for example, has done better at critiquing other models than providing a positive reading of Paul of his own.) Accordingly, there remains a need for a theologically rich and exegetically sustained reading of justification in Paul that frames it within his wider theology of participation.

After reading my post about Luther and SBL, I had a couple of friends ask about my larger book project: Participating in the Righteousness of God: Justification in Pauline Theology. I should note that this new project is built on the foundation of my doctoral work, which is being republished by Eerdmans in about a couple of months: Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpeters (slightly updated from the WUNT edition, but much cheaper!).

As far as my Participating the Righteousness of God, here’s an abstract that clarifies where I’m headed:

In light of contemporary reassessments of justification which have arisen through ecumenical discussion as well as fresh approaches to biblical texts, this monograph creatively examines Paul’s theology of justification in relationship to the topic of participation in God. Explicitly engaging with post-Reformation and patristic concerns, I provide an exegetical analysis of Paul’s letters and argue that Paul’s view of justification ultimately entails participation in the life of God through Christ and the Spirit. I then integrate this reading with other Pauline theological loci and demonstrate its wider relevance through patristic exegesis and the doctrine of theosis.

Rationale for the Book (based on the wider context of scholarship and theology):

The doctrine of justification has come under a level of scrutiny and reconsideration among systematic theologians and biblical scholars not seen since the 16th century. Arising from wide-ranging ecumenical discussions, Protestant theologians are reassessing the role and meaning of justification due to engagement with alternative soteriological frameworks—both contemporary and historical. At the same time, biblical scholars are reassessing Paul’s teaching of justification within his first century context. The New Perspective has gained much ground, shifting the focus from justification as a status before God to one’s status among the Christian community. In addition, the topic of participation in God—sometimes styled as “being in Christ” or “union with Christ”—has been a repetitive theme in Pauline scholarship since the early 20th century due to the work of Albert Schweitzer and others. While the importance of the relationship of participation to Paul’s doctrine of justification is frequently affirmed, the nature of the relationship remains debated and only lightly explored.

While reassessment in the theological sphere has been more robust, the academic community is therefore waiting for a sustained and compelling reading of Paul’s letters that explains this connection between participation and justification. The time, then, is ripe to bring together discussions from historical theology and biblical studies to show that participatory concerns cohere with Paul’s letters themselves, and particularly with his doctrine of justification. Therefore, this monograph will provide an exegetically focused reading of Paul’s theology of justification in relation to participation themes, which at the same time fosters a conversation between post-Reformation perspectives and the Greek patristic tradition. E.g., Besides my work Christosis, few have picked up this task, though Richard Hays called for this very approach over a decade ago in his The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), xxxii.