Book Review: Douglas Campbell, Paul: An Apostle’s Journey

Campbell, Douglas A. Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. 219 pp. $25, pb.  Link to Eerdmans

At slightly less than 200 pages of text, Campbell’s new introduction to the life and thought of the Apostle Paul is written with the layperson in mind. There are no long discussions of the New Perspective on Paul nor does Campbell engage in highly technical language in the book. Only rarely does he engage the Greek text. The book uses endnotes (fourteen pages) making for a smooth reading experience. Campbell includes a number of personal insights which draw the ancient text forward to contemporary issues. For example, he concludes his first chapter on Corinth with a section entitled “the take-home from Corinth.” Chapters conclude with a series of questions designed for group discussions or perhaps even short writing prompts for papers.

As he does in detail in Framing Paul (Eerdmans, 2014), Campbell tells the story of Paul’s life based on the Epistles first, and then uses the book of Acts. Since there are so many questions surrounding the authorship and genre of Acts, many scholars consider the story of Paul in Acts to be a hagiography written to support the unity of the early church and highlight the successes of the Pauline mission. For example, Campbell suggests Paul’s visit to Athens is intentionally modeled after Socrates, a wise man who was unjustly arrested and executed. Although Campbell thinks Acts is “99 percent accurate” (p. 5), he still argues a sound historical methodology should use the authentic letters of Paul to “frame” the contours of Paul’s life before turning to the book of Acts.

Framing Paul’s story with the Epistles rather than Acts results in two detailed periods in Paul’s life. First, the events around the time of his conversion are clear from the epistles, especially Galatians, from A.D. 31-41. Second, the events of A.D. 49-52 are very detailed based on the Corinthian letters and Paul’s anxious comments at the end of Romans concerning his plans to return to Jerusalem with the collection. Acts is the only source for Paul’s life after this time (his arrest in Jerusalem, house arrest in Caesarea, journey to Rome and house arrest in Rome). For the most part, this “last journey” (Acts 20-28) is the subject of the final chapter of the book.

But this book is more than the story of Paul’s missionary journeys. Campbell suggests Paul makes a theological journey as well. Clearly his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus changed his thinking considerably, but as he encountered new challenges as the apostle to the Gentiles Paul was forced to think and rethink how the Gospel challenges the culture of the first century. For example, Campbell has two chapters on the Corinthian church: “Culture Wars at Corinth” and “Navigating Sex and Gender.”

Both of these chapters concern how the Gospel ought to change the way Corinthian Gentiles think about common cultural practices. Campbell offers a list of fourteen problems in the Corinthian church which more or less form the outline to 1 Corinthians. The problems boil down to a basic failure of Christians to relate to one another with kindness, beginning with the leaders of the church who were engaged in bitter competition with one another. What is more, the Corinthian church struggle with what Campbell calls “Christian intellectualism” as well as “sexual intellectualism” (100, 104). He discusses the difficult “silencing of women” passage in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 by suggesting the Corinthian women were loosening their hair and acting like devotees of Dionysus (110). Paul does not intend to silence all women in this passage, only those who are behaving inappropriately in the congregation.

The second part of the book covers several theological topics. Campbell deals with “enemies” of Paul, the covenant vs. contract, the status of Israel, and eschatology. The title of the chapter on Paul’s view of the future for Israel is entitled “God wins” and deals in part with the difficult text in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved.” He points out Paul’s argument is based on the Old Testament motif of the remnant; God never lets go of Israel.

What is more, God is a covenantal God who always faithful to his promises. Therefore, “all Israel will be saved” means just that. It is a kind of “Pauline universalism” based on the character of God. Campbell says “the covenant is unbreakable, and ultimately enwraps us all in the gracious purpose of God that was established with us through his son before the foundation of the world” (169). The following few paragraphs unpack tentatively a sort of universalism, “I expect everyone to be raised in glory, although some more shamefacedly than others.” In an end note, Campbell points out his view here is not far from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. Intriguing, but I suspect this controversial conclusion will draw attention away from the rest of the book.

Conclusion:  Campbell’s book is a pleasure to read. His presentation of the basic ideas of Paul’s thought are clear and he draws conclusions which will resonate with the contemporary reader. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the book is its brevity; some topics worthy of a chapter are dispatched in a few pages. This new introduction to Paul ought to serve well for both undergraduate and graduate level classes as well as any interested layperson who wants to understand the life and teaching of the Apostle Paul.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Is Ephesians “Anti-Imperial”?

I read an article by Denny Burk in JETS a few years ago which was a decent summary of anti-Imperial readings of Paul, although I think that he has lumped N. T. Wright along with Richard Horsely and Hal Taussig. To me, Wright is not doing the same sort of work as Horsely, even though there are some similarities.  Both make the same sorts of observations concerning Paul’s alleged use of imperial language, but Horsely and Taussig take the issue much further than Wright by applying Paul’s anti-Imperialism to the imperialism of the United States.

SpartacusFirst I will lay out the basics of anti-Imperial readings of Paul and then I will make a few observations about why this is an important issue for reading Ephesians.

The increased interest in the impact of the Imperial cult in Asia Minor in the first century has driven anti-imperial readings of Paul.  In the first century, Caesar was described as Lord (κύριος) and god in art and coinage.  Since he was the one who brought peace (εἰρήνη) into the world, the emperor should be thought of as the savior (σωτήρ)  of the world.  News of the Emperor was announced as “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον).  This imperial propaganda was pervasive and could not be avoided, although most people in the first century would have simply accepted the equation of “Caesar as God” and moved on with life.

Paul preached the good news that Jesus was the Lord and savior of the world, the one who brings peace.  For those of us with Christian ears, these words are all quite familiar .  But to anyone who heard them in the first century Roman world they were just as familiar, but applied to Caesar, not Jesus!  By calling Jesus Lord, it is argued, Paul is setting up an implicit anti-Roman narrative.  Once words like gospel, Lord, savior, and peace are taken as anti-imperial, then other less common Pauline concepts are seen through this lens, such as the language used for the return of Christ in 1 Thess 4:13-18.

For the most part, the implications of these anti-Imperial readings of Paul for reading Ephesians is to confirm the non-Pauline nature of the book.  It is thought that Ephesians lacks the anti-Imperialism of Romans or other certain Pauline letters, This is evidence of a later, more pro-imperial writer.  This is a major factor for Crossan and Reed in their In Search of Paul.  Ephesians is not considered to be Pauline because of the reversal of the egalitarianism evident in Romans and Galatians.

But as Wright says early on in his Paul: A Fresh Perspective, “The argument recently advanced (in North America particularly) that Ephesians and Colossians are secondary because they move away from confrontation with the Empire to collaboration with it is frankly absurd.”  The reason for this “absurdity” is that Ephesians is just as anti-Imperial (according to Wright) as Romans 13 or any other certain Pauline text.  In fact, if there is actually an anti-empire subtext in the choice of terms Paul uses to describe Jesus and his mission, the Ephesians ought to be considered right at the heart of Pauline anti-Imperialism.   I suspect the section on submission of wives drives Ephesians out of the Pauline corpus for most of the anti-Imperialist scholars.

What elements of Ephesians might be considered “anti-imperialist”?   What benefit is there in reading Ephesians 1-2 in this way?

Bibliography:  

Burk, Denny.  “Is Paul’s Gospel Counterimperial? Evaluating The Prospects Of The Fresh Perspective” For Evangelical Theology,” JETS 51 (2009): 309-338.

Jesus Christ Has Defeated the Powers of Darkness – Ephesians 1:20-23

After spending some time reading in the so-called anti-Imperial texts in Paul, I would suggest that Paul does in fact envision the eventual destruction of the Roman Empire.  But Paul does not encourage the sorts of anti-government protests and social actions people in the West would recognize.  The reason Paul is anti-Empire is because in reality Rome has already fallen and God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus.

I do not think that Paul is coded his letters with subtle anti-imperial language.  He is in fact drawing upon the well-known (and not particularly subtle) language drawn from the Hebrew Bible, especially as it was translated in the Septuagint. Jesus is Lord, but not because Paul is encoding an anti-imperial message by using words with subversive meanings The Greek word κύριος was already used in the LXX to refer to the Lord, God of Israel.  By calling Jesus “our Lord” in Ephesians 1:2 Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Lord of the Hebrew Bible.

As such, he evokes the image of Jesus as the God of the Bible, but especially in apocalyptic literature. In most apocalyptic literature, the people of God are an oppressed minority looking forward to the time when God will break into history with some sort of decisive victory of his enemies. The people of God can have confidence that their oppression is going to be reversed in the near future. God will vindicate them, reward them for their suffering and punish the oppressors.  For most of apocalyptic, the evil empire can be safely ignored since the time of its final judgment is near.

Does Paul think the Roman government can be safely ignored?  This seems to be the case since Rome has already been defeated!  God decreed long ago that the coming Son of Man would destroy the power of the kingdoms of men and establish the rule of the Ancient of Days. With the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the power of the empire has already been broken.

The “son of man” language comes from Daniel 7:14, but I would include the image of the statue from Daniel 2 as well.  The greatest of the kingdoms of men will be destroyed and turned to dust when God rises to defend his people.  The grand conclusion to the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is that God will restore his people to Zion by dealing justly with the kingdoms of this world.  Paul says that this apocalyptic event in many ways happened when Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God.

If this is on target, Paul describes the death of Jesus as victory of apocalyptic proportions! Are there other hints of Paul’s apocalyptic worldview in Ephesians?

Are We Alienated from God? – Colossians 1:21

In Colossians 1:21 Paul declares humans are all alienated (ἀπαλλοτριόω) from God. This verb could be translated as estranged. In English, estranged can mean a simple separation, as in the phrase “a man and his estranged wife…” This doesn’t mean the one of the marriage partners are in the wrong. It means the couple has marital problems and they are no longer living together. Similarly, the relationship humans have with God before we are saved. We are “separated,” we have left God are living a life which is anti-God in every way we can. This is the same thing Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20 in far more detail (see All Ungodliness and Unrighteousness and The Foolishness of Idolatry). In fact, we are not only alienated from God, we are his enemies!

EnslavedPaul uses this phrase in Ephesians 2:12 and 4:18 to describe the the human condition before faith in Jesus. The Gentiles were not just ignorant of God, they were darkened and hardened in their minds against God (Romans 1:18-32). Paul chose his words carefully here  in order to highlight the rebelliousness of humans: “still more forcibly the persistence of the state of things” (BDF 352, a perfect passive participle). At one time, we were persistently and wholeheartedly “As such they did not serve God; rather, they were enmeshed in idolatry and slavery to sin.” (O’Brian, Colossians, 66).

Before coming to faith in Jesus Christ as savior, all humans are “enemies of God.” This is a state of hostile towards an enemy. Think of the (many) countries who consider America an enemy: They are committed to harassing us at every turn, and they want to harm us as best they can. That is the way that we were before we were saved, we hated God, and didn’t want to have anything to do with Him. We were estranged, and we hated the one we were alienated from. We had walked out of the relationship ourselves, and we were the ones who turned our backs on God.

Before before coming to faith in Jesus Christ as savior, all humans are in a state of hatred. But God did not hate us, in fact, he still loved us with an intense self-sacrificing love that was very patient. it was God who did something to reconcile that relationship, and God alone.

Both of these conditions is a result of our “evil behavior.” Obviously this could refer to paganism, the lifestyle out of which the Colossians were saved.  “These phrases denote the actions of the unbelieving world, which belong to the ways of darkness rather than the ways of light, and which ultimately lead to death.” (O’Brien, Colossians, 67).

Is this true of all unsaved people? Were we really “enemies of God” before Christ? We are enemies of God because we are a part of the human race, although not all of us are playing the role of “enemy insurgent.” Just as when Iraq was at war with America, all Iraqis are technically the enemy; not all Iraqis are actively attacking American interests. Some are more active enemies than others, but all are enemies by definition.

Does this accurately describe the human condition? What about humans who go objectively good things in the world?

The Image of the Invisible God (Colossians 1:15-20)

Colossians 1:15-20 appear to have been an early Christian hymn.  There is evidence this was poetry, perhaps pre-dating Paul and well known to the congregation.  Paul uses material like this in other contexts (Phil 2:5-9, for example).  It is likely Paul is drawing on a well-known “statement of faith” passed along to the church as part of their education in who Jesus was and is, then drawing some implications from this hymn which are specific to the problem at hand – a group within the church which has some misunderstandings about who Jesus is.

ColossiansWhy use a hymn to relate theology?  One possibility is that it is a call back to the foundational understanding of Jesus they received through Epaphras (and hence through Paul).  A second possibility is this hymn may have been used and adapted by the false teachers in the Colossian community.  We know that in the first century Jews were beginning to speculate seriously about wisdom and were developing the idea of an incarnate Wisdom through whom all things were created. It is possible the false teachers were poking around in the nature of wisdom. Paul says by means of this hymn that if they want real wisdom, they ought to look to Jesus not their own philosophy.

Paul begins by identifying Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (1:15).  The word εἰκών is usually translated “image” as in the image an emperor’s head on a coin (BAGD).  It is an exact duplicate that is integrally a part of the original. By saying that Christ is in the image of God, he affirms that he is an accurate picture of what God is, and in fact, he is God.  L&N 58.35, “that which has the same form as something else.” This is the word chosen by the LXX to translate the Hebrew µl,x{{, in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:3, and 9:6. In Genesis, it is humans who are the image of the invisible God, in the sense that we are God’s representatives in this world; the Law makes it clear no other image of God is to be made.

The word ἀόρατος, “invisible,” is used only five times in the New Testament. In every case it refers to some quality of God, although here in Col 1:16 it refers to the (unseen) spirit world.   The use of this word for the spirit world is somewhat common. “Rulers both visible and invisible” appears in Ignatius’s To the Smyrnaeans 6.1, for example.

God as “invisible” is both a Jewish and a Greek idea.  In the Hebrew Bible God is never to be represented as an idol or an image, and although there is a great deal of representation of the gods in Greco-Roman paganism, Plato and other philosophers (Stoics, for example), believed in a real god who was invisible, immovable, and totally transcendent.

“To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.” (F. F. Bruce “Colossian Problems: Part 2: The ‘Christ Hymn’ of Colossians 1:15–20” BSac 141 (1984): 101). Romans 1:20 refers to God’s “invisible qualities.” This is said not to separate Christ and God into two separate categories, but to show that they are part and parcel of the same being, which we refer to as the Godhead, one invisible, the other visible.

Paul seems to be claiming a great deal about Jesus in this verse. What is the theological at stake in this line? Or perhaps to think in about it in another way, what is the Colossian church questioning about Jesus that prompts Paul to respond with this rather audacious claim about Jesus?

 

 

What was the Problem in Colossians?

One of the main issues we need to sort out for understanding the letter to the Colossians is the nature of the false teaching which was causing problems in the church.  Paul clearing thinks that it is important enough to write a letter to a church which he did not found in order to correct the problem.  Paul says that members of the church are being help captive to this inadequate theology, which he calls a philosophy and an empty deceit (Col 2:8).

Burn the HereticJames D. G. Dunn suggested that the problem in Colossae was the same as in Galatians and other early Pauline epistles – Jews were arguing that the gentile Christians were not really “saved” since they did not keep the ceremonial law of the Jews, especially Sabbaths and food laws.  This is the “normal” Jewish critique of Gentile Christianity.  While this adequately accounts for the Jewish aspect of the Colossian heresy, there is nothing in Galatians which leads to the conclusion that worship of angels or visions were part of the Judaizer’s agenda.

Fred Francis has argued that the Colossian church was influenced by the merkabah mysticism of early Judaism.  This mystical form of Judaism stressed visions of heaven and the throne room of God.  This sort of vision is found in the Enoch literature and likely does date to the pre-Christian era.  A potential problem for this view is that most of the merkabah-type literature we know about is found in Judea, not Asia Minor.

In his presidential address at the 2011 ETS conference, Clint Arnold suggested that the false teaching in Colossae was related to the type of Jewish exorcisms we find in the sons of Sceva (Acts 19).  In that passage these Jewish exorcists attempt to cast out a demon in the name of Jesus, but are soundly beaten by the demon possessed man.  Arnold discussed parallels in the Testament of Solomon, which is more or less a manual on how to diagnose a demon possession.  If the demon’s name could be discovered, then the appropriate angel may be invoked to bind that demon and free the person from oppression.

I thought that Arnold did a good job supporting his claims, and it is a connection which ought to be obvious for anyone who reads the Testament of Solomon.  He illustrated his point with several images of magical amulets found in Asia Minor which invoke angelic names as magic charms and occasionally depict Solomon as conquering demonic powers.   While Arnold did not take it this far, it is possible that a Jewish mystic / exorcist came to faith in Jesus as savior, but failed to move away from his esoteric practices to deal with demon possession or other illness.  Like the Corinthians, some  individuals in the Corinthian church were continuing to believe and practice in ways which were not compatible with their new faith.  Instead if visits to the Temples, as in Corinth, these believers were clinging to their esoteric knowledge which they believed controlled demons and illness.  For Paul, this is an inadequate view since Jesus created these spiritual powers (Col 1:15-20) and has already rendered them powerless.

Thinking of the Colossian heresy in these terms provides another level of application which may be overlooked.  For new believers in the non-western world, it is difficult to leave certain culturally accepted folk beliefs because they seem to “work.”  But there are ways in which believers in the west fail to “take every thought captive” to Jesus (2 Cor 10:5)

Bibliography:

J. D. G. Dunn, “The Colossian Philosophy:  A Confident Jewish Apologia,”  Biblica 76 (1995): 153-81.
Fred Francis, “Humility and Angel Worship in Col 2:18”, in Conflict at Colossae, 163-95.

Book Preview: Douglas Campbell, Paul: An Apostle’s Journey (Eerdmans, 2018)

Eerdmans recently sent me an uncorrected advanced copy of Douglas Campbell’s Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. The book will not be released until January 2018, so consider this a sneak peek at what I think will be a popular textbook for a Pauline Literature or Pauline Theology class at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

Campbell, Paul, an apostle's journeyAt slightly less than 200 pages book is brief and it is written with the layperson in mind. There are no long, drawn out discussions of the New Perspective on Paul or highly technical theological language in the book, nor does Campbell engage the Greek text except on rare occasions. The book uses endnotes, which I do not like, but they do make the book read much more smoothly. The book has a number of personal insights which draw the ancient text forward to contemporary issues. Chapters conclude with a series of questions designed for group discussions or perhaps even short writing prompts for papers.

As he does in detail in Framing Paul (Eerdmans, 2014), Campbell tells the story of Paul’s life based on the Epistles first, and then uses the book of Acts. Since there are so many questions surrounding the authorship and genre of Acts, many scholars consider the story of Paul in Acts to be a hagiography written to support the unity of the early church and highlight the successes of the Pauline mission. For example, Campbell suggests Paul’s visit to Athens is intentionally modeled after Socrates, a wise man who was unjustly arrested and executed. Although Campbell things Acts is “99 percent accurate” (p. 5), he still argues a sound historical methodology should use the authentic letters of Paul to “frame” the contours of Paul’s life before turning to the book of Acts.

Framing Paul’s story with the Epistles rather than Acts results in two detailed periods in Paul’s life. First, the events around the time of his conversion are clear from the epistles, especially Galatians, from A.D. 31-41. Second, the events of A.D. 49-52 are very detailed based on the Corinthian letters and Paul’s anxious comments at the end of Romans concerning his plans to return to Jerusalem with the collection. Acts is the only source for Paul’s life after this time (his arrest in Jerusalem, house arrest in Caesarea, journey to Rome and house arrest in Rome). For the most part, this “last journey” (Acts 20-28) is the subject of the final chapter of the book.

This book is more than the story of Paul’s missionary journeys. Campbell suggests Paul makes a theological journey as well. Clearly his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus changed his thinking considerably, but as he encountered new challenges as the apostle to the Gentiles Paul was forced to think and rethink how the Gospel challenges the culture of the first century. For example, Campbell has two chapters on the Corinthian church: “Culture Wars at Corinth” and “Navigating Sex and Gender.” Both of these chapters concern how the Gospel ought to change the way Corinthian Gentiles think about common cultural practices.

The second part of the book covers several theological topics. Campbell deals with “enemies” of Paul, the covenant vs. contract, the status of Israel, and eschatology. The title of the chapter on Paul’s view of the future for Israel is entitled “God wins” and deals in part with the difficult text in Romans 11 that “all Israel will be saved.” He points out Paul’s argument is based on the Old Testament motif of the remnant, God never lets go of Israel. What is more, God is a covenantal God who always faithful to his promises. Therefore, “all Israel will be saved” means just that. It is a kind of “Pauline universalism” based on the character of God. Campbell says “the covenant is unbreakable, and ultimately enwraps us all in the gracious purpose of God that was established with us through his son before the foundation of the world” (169). The following few paragraphs unpack tentatively a sort of universalism, “I expect everyone to be raised in glory, although some more shamefacedly than others.” In an endnote, Campbell points out his view here is not far from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. Intriguing, but I suspect this controversial conclusion will draw attention away from the rest of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing the final form of this introduction to the life of Paul.

 

 

Book Review: Andy Johnson, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary

Johnson, Andy. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 349 pp. Pb; $25. Link to Eerdmans

Andy Johnson’s new contribution in the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans on the two letters to the Thessalonians represents a theological interpretation of Scripture which is intentionally missional. As Johnson explains in his introduction, his goal in the commentary is to focus on elements of the text “most useful for facilitating the continuing formation of the church in its proper identity as a missional community” (2).

Thessalonians, Commentary, EerdmansThe second goal of this commentary is to read the Thessalonian correspondence as part of the canon of Scripture. This means placing these letters into the overall story of the whole Bible and the mission of God to undo humanity’s rebellion. Although he does not use the phrase, his overview in the introduction is the familiar “drama of redemption” which drives most writing which self-identifies as theological interpretation of Scripture.

As with most of the New Testament commentaries in this series, Johnson employs a post-biblical creed as a clarifying lens for “bringing 1 and 2 Thessalonians into focus (2). In the case of this commentary, Johnson uses the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, but he also recognizes his place in the broader Wesleyan tradition as well as his openness to being instructed by other Christian traditions. There are occasional theological readings of the text which are informed by Johnson’s Wesleyanism.

With respect to authorship and date, Johnson briefly surveys the state of the question and recognizes there is some merit to the arguments for non-Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, but he remains unconvinced (7). But from a canonical perspective, it matters very little if Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians or not since the origin of the letters is of lesser importance to theological interpretations than canonical status. He provides several pages of excellent context drawn from Acts 16-18 and following the lead of Kavin Rowe’s The World Upside Down. Although this a brief overview, it is sufficient to enable Johnson to set these two letters in a proper historical and sociological context.

In the body of the commentary Johnson works through the books in larger sections, commenting on some details of the text but falling short of a detailed exegetical commentary. This is to be expected give his stated goal to write a commentary serving the mission of the church. Greek appears in the body of the commentary with transliteration and Johnson does comment occasionally on grammar, syntax and rhetorical features. This makes for a very readable commentary which will be useful for a pastor or teacher as they prepare to preach or teach Thessalonians in a church context.

Since this is a canonical commentary, Johnson pays close attention to intertextual echoes of the Hebrew Bible, although there are a few places where he hears an echo which Paul may not have explicitly intended. For example, commenting on several texts which may illuminate Paul’s understanding of the Man of Lawlessness, Johnson suggests allusions to Ezekiel 28:1-9 as the “most instructive text in this Old Testament trajectory” even if this was not an intentional allusion by Paul (289). This way of using the Old Testament to illuminate the New is not intertextuality (as it is usually defined), but more like an older hermeneutic where Scripture is the best commentary on Scripture. Although I think Johnson is certainly on the right track to draw attention to the arrogant actions of Adam in the Garden and the paradigmatic arrogant rulers in Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 and the claims of these rules to be divine (as well as possible allusions to Daniel 11 and Antiochus IV Epiphanes), I would prefer to see an argument Paul had this trajectory in mind when he described the Man of Lawlessness, especially in the light of where that trajectory may lead the interpreter who is trying to draw out implications for contemporary application.

One of the primary features of a Two Horizons commentary is a lengthy section on the theological implications of the commentary. Johnson’s reflections on 1 and 2 Thessalonians begin with a section on holiness. Holiness is Spirit-enabled and derived from the triune Godhead. It is “intensely personal but necessarily corporate, public and missional” (255). In these two letters holiness is fidelity to God and “cruciform living” (following Michael Gorman, but also influence Gorman’s recent Becoming the Gospel). This section focuses on cruciform living, love of enemies and peacemaking. This section reflects Johnson’s previous articles on holiness and sanctification in the Journal of Theological Interpretation.

Since eschatology is one key area for the theology of the Thessalonian letters, Johnson devotes a long section to the unique issues raised in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 2. He highlights three types of eschatology in the letters. First, the Parousia is described as representatives of a city going out to meet a victorious king and escorting him into their city. Related to this image is the second, the Parousia as eschatological warfare. Here Paul stands on the foundation of Isaiah. Third, the Parousia is a judgment theophany, especially in 2 Thessalonians 2. God demonstrates his “ferocious love” which restores shalom. But Johnson argues Paul stops short of describing “conscious everlasting torment in Hell” (269). Perhaps this is a theological observation driven by theological commitments, but it is a fact Paul does not describe what sort of judgment awaits the Man of Lawlessness other than his utter judgment.

Johnson devotes a few pages to Dispensational interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Although he does admit Dispensationalism is a kind of theological interpretation of Scripture as practiced in this commentary, he is equally clear the theological suppositions of Dispensationalism are wrong. Perhaps this is a problem with the idea the popular theological interpretation method, since (potentially) any “rule of faith” could be applied to a text as a theological lens. For example, Johnson is a Wesleyan and he consciously interprets the Thessalonian letters as a Wesleyan. Someone could approach Thessalonians with a Lutheran or Anglican set of assumptions and find some slightly different nuances in their interpretation.

But why should any given theological structure be discounted a priori? It seems as though any theological lens is possible even if it is not the preference of a particular scholar. Johnson dismisses Dispensationalism as a theological lens because it does not “square with Scripture,” but someone might equally dismiss his more Wesleyan views expressed in this commentary for the same reasons.

Although Johnson is fair towards Dispensationalist readings of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, his argument is blunted by his used of dated scholarship, or non-scholarship. He cites the Scofield Reference Bible and Hal Lindsey frequently and occasionally the brief commentary on 1 Thessalonians by Constable in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, a single volume New Testament commentary produced by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary. At best this use of popular level and dated material makes his critique of Dispensationalism appear to be a straw man argument. There are many books and articles which better treat 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 from a dispensational perspective than these.

Conclusion. These criticisms aside, Johnson achieves his goal to provide a Spirit driven commentary which is dominated by the redemptive mission of God. The commentary is a fine example the state of Theological Interpretation of Scripture and will be a useful commentary for pastors and teachers as the work to apply these two early letters of Paul to contemporary mission of the Church.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Michael J. Buckley, What Do You Seek?

Buckley, Michael J. What Do You Seek? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 158 pages; pb. $18.00   Link to Eerdmans

This short monograph collects fourteen short meditations on questions asked by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Many of these questions are recognized as programmatic in the Gospel of John. For example, Buckley draws his title for the book from the first question Jesus asks in the book. In In John 1:35-38, the first words Jesus speaks in the book asks two disciples following him, “What do you seek?” The Gospel of John returns to this theme frequently as people seek something from Jesus (healing, living water, bread from heaven, etc.) In his final question in the Gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Peter do you love me?” (John 21:15-16). Jesus’s question demands a response just as the whole Gospel of John demands a response from its readers.

Buckley’s short reflections on the text focus on the challenge issued by Jesus’s questions. For example, his comments on Jesus’s question to Peter in 21:15-16 concern forgiveness. He devotes two chapters to questions asked in the passion narrative, “what shall I say, save me from this hour?” and “shall I not drink this cup?”) On occasion the meditation ranges far from the original intention, such as in John 2:3-4, when the wedding runs out of wine Jesus asks his mother, “What has this to do with us?” Buckley uses this question to address concern for the suffering and responding to those in need. Perhaps, but Jesus used the opportunity to reveal something about himself by providing wine at a wedding. When Jesus asks his disciples “how can we buy bread” (John 6:5), he reveals something about himself as “bread from heaven,” but Buckley develops an application from the text about the unpredictability of the power of God and our weakness in service. Since this book is devotional reading, these applications are inspiring and challenging even if they seem tertiary to the text.

The book is rich in allusions to classic literature (many citations of T. S. Eliot, Dostoyevsky), philosophy and especially classical of western spirituality (St. John of the Cross, Cardinal Newman) and a few nods to modern scholarship (Bultmann, Barth, and Raymond Brown). Buckley reflects his Roman Catholic background (pp 34-24, for example) but this is not at all distracting.

Readers will be challenged by Jesus’s questions and Buckley’s thoughts on these questions.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Book Review: Leslie T. Hardin, The Spirituality of Paul

Hardin, Leslie T. The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 192 pp. Hb; $16.99. Link to Kregel

Leslie Hardin is a contributor to the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care and wrote The Spirituality of Jesus for Kregel (2009). Like his previous book Hardin does not write a book on practice spiritual disciplines, but rather a series of short reflections on what Paul thinks is key to spirituality. Although this is not a “how to” guide for spiritual life, readers will be encouraged as they reflect on what Paul says about these topics. For Hardin, Pauline spirituality is a “practical partnership with the Spirit,” an expression of the Spirit of God already at work in the life of the believer (17).

Spirituality of Paul, HardinIn the introductory chapter, Hardin discusses Paul’s sometimes controversial commands to “imitate me.” Hardin expresses a common frustration with Paul’s somewhat arrogant view that he is worthy of imitation, especially in matters of spiritual discipline. After all, Paul seems opinionated and angry, perhaps even demanding of his congregations. Why imitate Paul, when Peter and John are original disciples of Jesus? In fact, why imitate Paul when we ought to be imitating Jesus? Like Randolph and O’Brien recent Paul Behaving Badly, Hardin wants to read Paul’s letters in order to answer some of these objections while focusing on the “shape” of Paul’s spirituality.

Hardin discusses ten themes in Paul: Scripture, prayer, disciple-making, proclamation, worship, holiness, spiritual gifts, edification and suffering. Some of these are certainly within the sphere of spirituality, but several are in the category of imitation. Disciple-making, for example, is not usually included in a list of spiritual disciplines. However, as Hardin explains, Paul’s missionary method intentionally sought out individuals to develop into disciples who were told to go and find others to disciple. This process of discipleship hands down tradition from Jesus to Paul, to Paul’s disciples and then to their disciples. Hardin’s discussion of spiritual gifts is good and approaches a potentially contentious issue with wisdom, but it does not always speak to the topic of “spirituality in Paul.”

Hardin discusses the shape of Pauline spirituality in his final chapter. First, Paul was faithful to Scripture. According to Hardin, Paul saw Scripture as a tutor leading to godliness through Christ. Second, Paul was an imitator of Jesus (1 Cor 1:11). Although he encouraged his disciples to imitate him, his eyes were fixed on Jesus. This is not a lame “year of living like Jesus,” but rather living out the lifestyle of Jesus in a way which impacts the world. Third, living life as an imitator of Jesus is, for Paul, a life of freedom. Hardin is clear imitating Jesus is not living exactly like Jesus in every single detail, but embracing the freed from guilt one has as a child of God. Fourth, imitating Paul as he imitates Jesus should result in glorifying Jesus. Paul sees glorifying Jesus as the goal of everything Paul says in his letters. Fifth, Paul’s spirituality is committed to unity. It is undeniable Paul desires his churches to be unified both in doctrine and practice. Finally, Hardin points out the basis of any talk of the spiritual of Paul is his emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few things missing in the book. For example, Hardin has consciously avoided interacting with any of the classics of spiritual discipline. Although the focus on Paul might have limit the use of some of these classics, I would have expected some interaction with Rodney Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul (InterVarsity, 2011). It is also remarkable (or refreshing depending on your perspective) that a book on the spiritual of Paul does not use the work cruciform. In fact, there are only one or two citations of Michael Gorman in this book. Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel is likely too recent to have had an influence on Hardin, but certainly his previous books merit more than a brief citation (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009).

Conclusion. Despite this reservations, Spiritual of Paul is a good introduction to the several key areas of discipleship in the Pauline letters. Hardin’s style is inviting and will be appreciated by both layperson and scholar. The book would be ideal for a small group Bible study.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.