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An Introduction By Michael Bird to the "Four Views on the Apostle Paul"
When I entered my MDiv program back in August, 2007, a fellow student friend of mine introduced me to a facinating conversation that had been boiling unbeknownced to me for decades: the New Perspective on Paul.
Back then I wish I would have had a helpful book edited by Michael F. Bird to help me navigate this important conversation, called Four Views on the Apostle Paul.
The excerpt below from Bird's introduction should paint for you a good picture of the delightful engagment you'll find inside:
Evidently, Paul was a controversial figure. He prompted vehement opposition from Jewish Christians, violent reaction from his Judean compatriots, and even criminal punishment from Greco-Roman authorities. You do not get beaten, flogged, imprisoned, and stoned without saying and doing things that are deemed controversial, offensive, and even subversive.
Beyond the image of Paul the controversialist, we must remember that Paul was responsible for shaping the early church in a significant way. His key theological motif, that the Gentiles are saved by faith without adopting the Jewish way of life, won the day. Though he was put to death by a Roman emperor, Roman emperors eventually came to revere his letters as sacred Scripture. Despite the fact that he was a Jewish Christian, he provided the framework that would later be used to separate “Christianity” from “Judaism.” While his letters were occasional and even ad hoc, they came to form the basis of Christian theology. It is not too much to say that Paul—the man, the mission, and the martyr—was arguably the single, most driving intellectual force in the early church, second only to Jesus. Church leaders in the subsequent centuries, both orthodox and heretical, took inspiration and impetus from Paul. Indeed, it seems that spiritual renewal and theological reformation, from Augustine to Martin Luther to Karl Barth, have been largely driven by a fresh discovery (or recovery) of Paul for their day.
These topics are controversial and thereby provide ample opportunity for the contributors to exposit their own distinctive understanding of Paul. These are questions where diversity, debate, and disagreement emerge precisely over what Paul taught in these areas. It is here that readers have the opportunity to learn and assess each essay as to how it properly accounts for the life and letters of the apostle Paul. Now obviously the contributors do not disagree over everything, and common ground was reached in some areas, but one does see the diverse ways in which Paul has been understood and appropriated. Readers are invited to listen and learn from the exchange as these scholars lock horns over Paul. Thankfully, the exchange, controversial and critical as is to be expected, has been undertaken with a spirit of generosity and charity that Paul himself would approve of.
In the attempt to get beyond the mass of debate that is Pauline studies, in both its historical and current forms, the modest aim of this volume is to contrast four competing perspectives on the apostle. In particular these contributors look at what Paul “meant” and what he continues to “mean” for contemporary audiences. To that end, assembled in this volume is a creative cast of Pauline scholars, well acquainted with Paul’s writings and the vast scholarly literature that surrounds him, who will set forth their own perspectives on Paul. The aim is for each contributor to set forth his own portrait of Paul and then to have them engage with one another critically in a series of responses. (pg. 9-10)
The cast of four views has been carefully selected to represent the broad swath of Evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Jewish views of Paul, including: Tom Schreiner, a Reformed Baptist; Luke Timothy Johnson, a former Benedictine monk and priest; Douglas A. Campbell, from Duke University; and Mark D. Nanos, a Jewish scholar.
While diverse in their portrayal of Paul, each of these commentators have one thing in common: "they all agree that Paul matters," says Bird. "He matters immensely for the history of Christianity. He matters for relations between Jews and Christians.
He matters for the faith of individual Christians and for the church corporately. It is our hope that from this exchange, readers will learn more
about Paul and learn more about what Paul means to other interpretive
communities too." (pg. 16-17)
Worthy goals, indeed.
PS—Speaking of Michael Bird, our aussie friend has a new book launching in October called Evangelical Theology. Using the gospel as a theological leitmotif, Bird gives the evangelical community an authentically evangelical theology from his perspective as a biblical scholar. The book is sure to delight as he presents this theology as the drama of gospelizing—of performing and living out the gospel in the theater of Christian life.
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