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N. T. Wright: Paul and His Recent Interpreters and The Paul Debate, reviewed by Amos Yong

If PRI in effect sets up and complements the argument of PFG (even as it supplements the accounts provided by and within the larger Christian Origins series), then PD documents the conversation channeled by PFG. Within a year of the latter’s appearance, published reviews had begun to appear (sixteen are identified in the appendix of PD), and it is to questions posed by reviewers that PD responds. Specifically, five clusters of concerns are engaged in the book’s five chapters: 1) Paul’s worldview and its coherence vis-à-vis that of first century Judaism; 2) Paul’s christology; 3) on the notion of apocalyptic in relationship to Paul; 4) Paul’s soteriology, in particularly his theology of justification; and 5) on theological methodology, Paul’s and ours. PD provides Wright with the opportunity to clarify PFG in the wake of critical questions, although those familiar with other debates about Paul that Wright has been involved in even prior to the appearance of PFG – for instance, the disputes about justification (see, e.g., Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, IVP, 2009) – will come away also better informed about such controversies.

There is thus a sense in which PRI tells us what we can and will find in PFG and why, while PD tells us what some readers of PFG think they have found, and sets out to clarify or correct what it is that they should have found. The former presents Wright more as a cartographer and a guide to Pauline studies while the latter unveils him as an apologist; both, however, include Wright the historian, exegete, and theologian, albeit refracted through different dialogical voices and perspectives.

Readers of Pneuma Review will benefit from PRI’s mapping of important developments in Pauline scholarship and from PD’s concise summaries of key aspects of Wright’s reading of Paul. Those less informed will come away with greater perspective both about the compelling nature of Wright’s understanding of the New Testament and about why some might be uncomfortable with at least aspects these proposals. Part of the worry might be that Paul as apocalyptic theologian in the hands of Wright is less about a dispensational understanding of the end of history and the world that many pentecostal and charismatic believers are used to, but Wright’s treatment forces reconsideration of how the New Testament message can be comprehended otherwise when properly illuminated in its ancient context. More precisely, as at least some of the contributors to Janet Meyer Everts and Jeffrey S. Lamp, eds., Pentecostal Theology and the Theological Vision of N. T. Wright: A Conversation (Cleveland, Tenn.: CPT Press, 2015), have shown, it may just be the case that readings such as suggested by Wright actually are more amenable to Spirit-empowered Christian faithfulness for the present age than that promulgated by our more other-worldly pentecostal ancestors. So if pentecostal and charismatic pastors and leaders want a more biblical framework for life in Christ and in the Spirit, then they can do no better than be invited to reconsider the familiarity of the Bible’s message, even if this is mediated through alternate lenses like those forged by Wright. What he has done is shine a new light on the pages of scripture and it is to his credit that he has done so as a person of faith, not as a skeptic or deconstructionist. Hence those who pick up the book after Wright are afforded the opportunity to ask perhaps fresh questions of the sacred text that our more traditioned readings might obscure. And in the end, if the journey of and toward a more Spirit-filled life will need to be evermore so scripturally informed, then we who yearn for such will have pastor-scholars like Tom Wright to thank, even if we might not agree with him on every point.

Reviewed by Amos Yong


Paul and His Recent Interpreters: Preview | Publisher’s page

The Paul Debate: Publisher’s page | Review by Scott Lencke

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2016

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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