Paul: Fresh Perspectives: Fresh approach to Paul from a well-known scholar

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And, happily, we know the One who built the stage, the One who is the playwright, and as an improvising troupe, are infused with the Spirit of the Star of the show. In Christ, we become the actors in the unfinished drama, getting in on the action, being Biblically-inspired creators of the next act in this Divine Drama of cosmic redemption. They cannot go and look up the right answers. Nor can they simply imitate the kinds of things that their particular character did in the early acts.

Cosmic redemption? Yes, of course! The whole creation is groaning, says Romans 8, awaiting for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to be so redeemed that it, too, finds release. We are a Christian bookstore with sections on the arts, engineering, sexuality, science, economics, and politics. For Lewis is was a homesickness. For Wright, these deep down longings are colored by our contemporary anxiety about the nature of our times, after , amidst family breakdown, sexual confusion, terrorism, economic collapse, and, yes, global warming.

Joy to the World, indeed! This book is very, very important, and at the heart of the whole project of N. Q Founder Gabe Lyons, you may recall, has a recent book about the younger generation of post-evangelicals who want to make a difference in the world, grounded as they are in this multi-chapter, one Biblical story, of God in Christ redeeming creation.

It strikes me as rather Wrightian. This new generation gets it, leaving culture wars behind, wanting to be creators and contributors, not just critics. They want to be people of hope.

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What a surprise it can be —hope! Wright, Bible scholar and pastor, helps us get at all that, our public duties and our daily devotion, the way Biblical faith sets us into the world, for the sake of the world, calling us to a Christ-centered life, full for hope for this being-redeemed creation. Wright helps remind us that this earthy and multi-faceted way of describing the faith which I am only paraphrasing and summarizing is, indeed, the best, most Biblically-faithful, interpretation of Christian belief and living. It is a version of faith and discipleship that is deeply traditional and yet revolutionary; an approach that is timeless and so very timely; a way to lean into the faith that is orthodox and catholic and yet not stuffy or denominational.

Neither the progressives nor the traditionalists, in his view, have the wherewithal to turn around the crisis of contemporary faith. A third, fresh way is needed. Or at least I think so. He is sometimes criticized by liberals for being too evangelical and traditional on a number of issues, including sexual ethics but is severely criticized by some who claim to be the most Biblical for his willingness to create some new ways of saying things; he offers some rather innovative theological positions, especially around how Jesus brings righteousness to us, and how that is parsed in his understanding of justification.

This has caused some painful controversy, especially on this side of the pond. Some of his best admirers even, have wondered if he has overstated things just a bit.

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See, for instance, James K. Anyway, Wright is mixing it up in various quarters, bringing all kinds of folks into conversation. Also, there is this energetic passion, rooted in good scholarship, that appeals to very many who want something other than the chattty pablum so common in contemporary religious publishing. We hope our friends and fans follow his work, collect his books, spread the word about his perspective, and thoughtfully engage his call to this sort of faithful Christian living in these days.

If you find you disagree with some parts of some books, welcome to the club. He is too important and too right about too much to dismiss or ignore. I know that I, for one, have much to learn, and want to receive his important contribution. At the risk of redundancy, allow me to say it another way.

He is a Bible scholar who sees the central, unifying role of Christ in the whole of Scriptures, and sees the announcement and establishment of the reign of God as the heart of His gospel. He stands on the rock of Christ, as revealed in the Bible, and does so in innovative and exciting ways, inviting us all to consider how our various church and theological traditions have obscured the real role of Jesus, and the nature of the gospels, and the implications of the inauguration of the Kingdom.

There is no doubt that he is, indeed, an important scholar who has done the heavy lifting in studying historical documents most of us have never even heard of! His prayerful study is daily done in the Hebrew and Greek. He reads classic stuff—from Josephus to Ben F. Meyer, say—and is in routine conversation with other scholars, like, just for instance, Kenneth Bailey and Richard Hays. He debates those who mock or deconstruct the resurrection, takes on the likes of John Piper in complex discussions about the details of salvation and justification, and yet rarely gets stuck in in-house, obscure arcania with those who want to argue all day without truly serving the church or the world.

Paul: In Fresh Perspective

He wants us to serve the church and the world. You can see why we appreciate him so, and why his work gives us encouragement to keep on trying to sell books as we do. With authors like this, doing books like this, we have to keep going! Reading matters. We carried the very first book he published in the states, years ago, before he was famous.

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You may know that person is Brian Walsh. Which he did, eventually with the able collaboration of his wife, Sylvia. That Wright and I both have a blurb on the back is one of the great joys of my literary life, such as it is! Quite an honor for Brian, and a notable hint at their relationship.

N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul by Ligon Duncan

Wright became one of the most recognizable serious scholars of religion on the planet, an occasional thorn in the side of both liberals and conservatives, a scholar who worked in the academic guilds and served the church. Agree with him or not on all details, his publishing career is imminent, his work greatly honored.

He is given accolades even by those with serious disagreements.

The last time I was with N. Wright selling books for a lecture he gave on character formation, based on the splendid After You Believe , with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City he had just co me back from a several day forum on his work held at Wheaton College. We had a little chat about what he had just experienced with our mutual friends Sylvia Keesmaat. Sykvia got her PhD under Wright, and is footnoted in a few of his books, and participated in his installation when he became Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, along with her husband, Brian Walsh.

They were on a panel offering friendly critique of Wright at this several day event.

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Their main contribution was two fold: firstly, they asked, first in a playful way, and then in an almost brusk manner, if any of this detailed Biblical study really mattered to anyone outside a small circle of interested friends? They opened their talk with a friend playing the old Phil Ochs song about this exact matter — does those whose lives are deeply hurting ever get noticed?

Do we care about others, or just our own agendas and interests? Does anybody else care about this conversation?

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They complimented Wright for his call to societal renewal and for his work doing Kingdom theology that generated a commitment to mercy and justice. Is he pressing that enough? Is there energy for action at the heart of his otherwise excellent work? It was a tough question, perhaps a bit awkward to ask publicly, but they are good friends. For someone like myself coming to this world with a largely blank slate, there are definitely positives about starting with this book.

Wright gives a good overview of the consensus opinions on Paul and his writings. His explanation of the Jewish and Greek ideas driving Paul, along with his exploration of impact of the Roman Empire on Paul's thoughts and expressions, are thought-provoking. I suspect there's little new there for people with previous knowledge of the topic, but I also suspect the average Christian in the pew would learn a great deal about the context of Paul's writing by reading this book.

His discussion of the topic of justification is exceptionally intriguing to me. The question turns largely on the meaning of the phrase pistis Christou. Does it mean "faith in Christ," as modern translations suggest with near unanimity? Or does it mean "the faithfulness of Christ" as Wright and apparently many other believe?

I don't know the answer to that question, nor do I think understanding the phrase as "the faithfulness of Christ" would necessarily negate the traditional Protestant understanding of justification. I do think it would give the idea more nuance and depth than is generally seen among evangelicals.

It is frankly astounding to me that this sort of debate on first principles is happening within New Testament scholarship while causing hardly a ripple in the Christian community at large. Wright's explanation of Paul's thought and ministry as a redefinition of Judaic principles into a more universal approach is an interesting one.

It seems to place Paul more holistically into the world in which he lived than some other interpretations of Paul as merely a political radical or, alternatively, some sort of anti-Semitic religious reformer. Wright spends a good bit of time arguing against views of Paul I've personally never heard expounded. This can be frustrating at times, as it seems to me unlikely that he's actually presenting the strongest of his opponents' arguments.

I assume this because he occasionally lapses into straw man arguments when dealing with questions I do understand. For example, regarding the apparent dispute between the teachings of Jesus and Paul regarding the Law, he writes, "I would respectfully suggest that only someone completely divorced from the real life of actual church communities could suppose that once something definitive had been said by a recognized authority there would from that moment on be no further disputes or puzzles on the subject.