Book Review: Paul and the Faithfulness of God

9780800626839.jpghTitle: Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Author: N.T. Wright

Bibliographic info: A gazillion pages

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the digital review copy!

First there was James Dunn’s Large (900 page) book on Paul, The Theology of the Apostle Paul. Then came along the larger book (1,400 pages) by Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God. Now we have the largest book on Paul from Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God coming in at 1,700 pages.

Many of us eagerly waited years for Wright’s magnum opus on Paul to be published. Seeing the length of it explains why we had to wait so long! (Interestingly, I remember reading somewhere that Paul and the Faithfulness of God would have been even longer, but Wright excised some material and turned it into the forthcoming companion volume, Paul and His Recent Interpreters). I received this book in about November last year and it has taken me this long to read through it (off and on of course). Since one can find plenty of lengthy reviews of this volume by performing a simple Google search, I will keep this one brief and just provide some random thoughts on it.

If you’ve read Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God, you can pretty much go ahead and skim read the first eight chapters (chapters 1-5 are “Paul and His World” and 6-8 are “The Mindset of the Apostle”), unless you really want to see Wright’s new insights and how he has refined his views over the years. Actually, on second thought, I would definitely recommend reading the first chapter where Wright discusses Philemon. He compares and contrasts Paul’s brief letter to Philemon with an epistle of Pliny that also discusses a slave, noting their superficial similarities, but pointing out the extraordinary degree of social realignment that has taken place in Paul’s mind due to the gospel. Wright also discusses Pauline sources in this first chapter and argues for Pauline authorship of Ephesians and Colossians.

Chapters 9-11 (“Paul’s Theology”) are the essential reading and chapters 12-16 (“Paul in History”) are also good reading, but just as chapters 9-11 of Romans are the heart of that epistle, so too chapters 9-11 are the heart of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Here Wright discusses Paul’s theology under three main topics: (1) The One God of Israel, (2) The People of God, and (3) God’s Future for the World.

After reading this volume the phrase “God’s covenant faithfulness” is permanently seared into my brain. This is obviously because God’s covenantal dealings with humanity play a key role in how Wright reads Paul. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel is the bedrock underlying everything Paul says, but Wright does make a compelling case at times (of course, though, God’s dealings with humanity in Abraham, Israel, etc., does have a role to play in Paul’s theology, but the question is to what degree does it undergird all of Paul’s thoughts and writings).

One aspect of this volume I enjoyed is Wright’s ability to turn a good phrase and his ability to succinctly summarize a complex issue into a nice one-liner. For instance, he says: “The post-Enlightenment world has squashed all options into the two boxes of a ‘Constantinian’ compromise and an ‘Anabaptist’ detachment.”

On the topic of election, I enjoyed how Wright’s emphasis isn’t on God choosing individuals in order to show his saving grace (while letting everyone else reap their just reward in hell). Instead, Wright sees election as being more about how those elected/chosen by God (e.g. Abraham, Israel) were elected in order to bring blessings to the world and getting the world on the right track.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book as I have most others of his I have read. There was plenty I agreed with and learned from, but also plenty I am on the fence about or disagree with to some degree (e.g. some of his views on the development of early Christology). This book was worth the wait and is, of course, Wright’s definitive treatment of his perspective on Paul.

One response

  1. Have you read much Emil Brunner or Peter Berger? I’m currently enamored of Brunner’s Man in Revolt, in which he makes responsibility key to what it means to be imago dei; he also connects love to responsibility. Berger, in A Far Glory, argues that one must choose to follow God, one cannot simply ride on a Christian boat as it were (my imagery). Putting the two together, there is a call from God to responsibility which must be chosen or rejected as an individual. God deals with individuals.

    This would be why covenants are so important: they are the etching in stone of choice. They are the seed of faith (a word responded to—Rom 10:17). Anyhow, I’m not a theologian or anything, I just like this stuff. 🙂

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