4 Views on the Apostle Paul – Book Review

In this book, four views are offered in this topic of Paul: Reformed (by Thomas R. Schreiner), Catholic (by Luke Timothy Johnson), Post-New Perspective (by Douglas A. Campbell), and Jewish (by Mark D. Nanos).

As a Protestant, I am familiar with the Reformed view. So I was eager to read the others, especially the post-new perspective and Jewish. Upon reading them through, the Catholic view become one of my favorites.

The Reformed view argues that justification “is God’s free gift and is not based on human works or righteousness.” Though many, it seems, in the Reformed tradition hold this belief so dear that good works is not an aim in their Christian living. So it was refreshing to also read, “good works are not optional; they are necessary to receive eternal life”. In addition, Christ is the center, the foundation, to Paul’s theology, his soteriology and ecclesiology.

The Catholic view would like to go around the faith vs works of the law, since it isn’t the center of Paul’s though in his correspondence to the church in Corinth and Thessalonica. Instead, a probable center, at least what the Catholic views as main for Paul is the resurrection of Christ, and Jesus is the Lord who will restore all things. Another part not really mentioned by the others is the work of the Spirit. “The Spirit appears as a medium that serves to connect subjects who would otherwise seem impossibly distant: the Spirit links an executed Messiah as risen Lord both to God and to humans”.

The third view, Post-New Perspective, focus’s much of the content on Romans, chapters 5-8. Jesus is the better alternative to life. “Christ’s being and narrative are determinative for all humanity – and for the entire cosmos – dominating the being and narrative of Adam.” Christ saves the Law doesn’t. Following the Torah is falling back into the “tragic story of Adam”. “A fundamental datum of Paul’s gospel is that God will judge the world”. The anti-narrative of Christ and his salvation is death and destruction.

The last view is Jewish. He argues that salvation is by grace and our response is good works. There shouldn’t be a binary between faith and good works, for good works is the expression of faith. It’s a false dichotomy to think that Paul was against rules because he did not support the law among the Gentiles. However, “the majority of time in Paul’s letters is focused on instructions about what to do and not do, including severe warning for failure to comply, which could be labeled ‘laws,’ if fair play is observed.” And how one practices or follows these rules will determine their reward, or punishment. It is “the intentions of the heart as known only to oneself and to God will be judged”. “The topic of proselyte conversion is also central to understanding Paul’s contrast between justification ‘by faith’ and ‘works of law’.” For Paul, rites of initiation didn’t justify a person, it was their faith, that is, by their expression through righteous living.

In conclusion, God used Jesus to save both Jews and Gentiles. By the grace of God people are saved through faith, from a deadly, ungodly, Adamic story to a redemptive, liberating, and Christian story. And salvation from damnation is maintained through a continued expressed faith in Jesus.

This is a good book to pick up if you’re interested to know more about Paul from a few other perspectives. I wish there was more content and wished the contributing authors shared more about Paul’s vision and model of the church. In addition to this book, I’d pick up a NPP book to supplement it since these authors referred to a view that wasn’t shared in this book.


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