Wednesday, November 06, 2013

N.T. Wright asked to give succinct "shorthand" for his 1,700 Pages on Paul

Jonathan Merritt asks  N.T. Wright to give "shorthand" for  his  2 volumes, 1700 pages on Paul  ("the most comprehensive published work on Paul in the history of Christianity"):
JM: Is it possible to give shorthand to the new way of reading Paul you’ve explored in this book? How would you describe your approach to Paul succinctly?

NTW: I offer a holistic reading of Paul in which the different emphases many have seen, between ‘juristic’ or ‘lawcourt’ thought and ‘participationist’ or ‘incorporative’ thought, are reconciled; in which what some call ‘apocalyptic’ and what some call ‘salvation history’ are brought together in a larger framework of a new-covenant theology; in which Paul’s Jewish, Greek and Roman backgrounds are all taken fully into account. Paul emerges as a three-dimensional figure, passionate about the very Jewish message of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, and aware that in announcing this message he was engaging with the philosophy, religion and imperial dreams of his day.

In particular, Paul emerges as the one who invented what we now call ‘Christian theology’ – prayerful, scripture-fueled meditation on God, God’s people and God’s purposes – to meet the particular need: a community which had to be united and holy but which lacked the Jewish cultural symbols that had helped the Jews with their version of this vocation. “Theology” as Paul was doing it, and more importantly was teaching his churches to do it, was the way to corporate and individual human and Christian maturity and to sustaining the church in its life and witness.

JM: And how do you anticipate that this historical and theological study of Paul will reframe Christian theologies of salvation, justification, and law?NTW: The main point is that most second-temple Jews weren’t discussing “salvation” and “justification” in anything like the way later Christians did. They were anxious about how Israel’s God was going to unveil his long-awaited covenant purposes, returning in person to deliver Israel from subservience to pagans and to launch “the age to come”. That, for them, was “salvation”; and “justification”, not that they discussed it much, was about how you could tell in the present who God would vindicate in the future. Their debates focused on how all that would happen, and what they should be doing in the meantime.

I have shown how Paul’s teaching on justification, the law, etc. is best understood as the radical reworking of these debates around the new fixed point: that Israel’s God had returned in the person of Israel’s Messiah and that, in his crucifixion and resurrection, he had not only launched but had also redefined the “age to come”–right in the middle of ongoing and contested history. For Paul, this sovereign, saving act of the creator and covenant God was then being implemented through the work of the Spirit and in the announcement of the “gospel” in the pagan world. We only “get” what he means by “justification” and “salvation” when we put it all in this larger context. Nothing of value is lost thereby from older traditions (though some cherished formulations, themselves unbiblical, will need to be revised in the light of what Paul actually said); but much, much is gained, particularly the large and utterly coherent vision of his whole thought and work.... Full interview:  Link

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