This book was edited by Michael F. Bird who blogs at Euangelion. The four contributors to this book are: Thomas R. Schreiner representing a Reformed Baptist perspective; Luke Timothy Johnson representing a Catholic Perspective; Douglas A. Campbell representing a mainline Protestant post-New Perspective on Paul; and Mark D. Nanos representing a Jewish perspective.
Here’s a quick summary of Bird’s comments in the front and back of the book:
Perhaps you’re wondering why you would want to read a book with four different viewpoints on Paul. Bird does a good job of answering that with two comments: “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.” (pg.9) Which makes Bird’s second comment all the more important for why you would want to read a book containing four different perspectives on Paul, “Paul’s letters have been quoted in endless theological fights, denominational splits, and mutual denunciations – all by people who claim that they hold to the proper interpretation of the true Paul.” (pg. 10) Because Paul is so vital to understanding the New Testament, but also so diversly understood Bird has gathered four perspectives on Paul together. Each of the authors of these perspectives in their chapters and responses to one another will be answering four key questions;
- What did Paul think about salvation?
- What was Paul’s view of the significance of Christ?
- What is the best framework for describing Paul’s theological perspective?
- What was Paul’s vision for the churches?
It is easy to see that these four authors don’t agree with each other in their answer to these questions, but “…they all agree that Paul matters. 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.” (pgs.16-17)
Bird has done a fine job of bringing together a group of authors who are not shy about their disagreements. At the end one is not left with a superficial wrap up statement regarding the unifying themes of these authors. They have very real, standing differences between one another (Schreiner and Campbell perhaps have the most dissonance between one another).
But they do have some basic agreements (ironically, their differences shine especially within their agreements) :
- Everyone agreed that Paul sees a form of salvation as intimately bound up with what God did in Jesus Christ.
- On the matter of differences shining especially within their agreements see Bird’s summary of the four authors viewpoints on Paul’s form of salvation, “From my perspective, what we find here are different ways of construing salvation, based on whether salvation is about rectification of believing individuals (Schreiner), the preference for rennovative and restorative metaphors for salvation over forensic ones (Johnson), the attempt to prosecute a christocentric and even trinitarian view of salvation (Campbell), or else a saving act that incorporates non-Jews into a a Jewish story of salvation (Nanos).” (pgs. 211-212)
- Everyone agreed that Jesus is close to the center of Paul’s mission and message.
- Everyone approached Paul’s letters with, or with a view to, a certain framework (admittedly Campbell’s coverage of Paul’s letters was smaller than others).
- Everyone endeavored to demonstrate Paul at least had a vision for the churches.
Bird’s edited volume, “Four Views on the Apostle Paul,” is worth picking up (its Amazon price is very fair at $12.23.) Readers will be attracted to it for different reasons. I personally was attracted to it because I wanted to see how Douglas Campbell and Thomas Schreiner would critique one another, and if their critique would remain civil. In my opinion it was civil-ish as long as one doesn’t mind being called a “Melanchthonian” or a “hyper-Calvinist.” (Good to know scholars aren’t above resorting to name calling). I also wanted to see how Bird would address the diverse ways people read Paul. Unfortunately his editorial comments in the front and back were short, but fortunately he has shared in other places his perspective on Paul and how scholars are reading him today (Click here for his Post-New Perspective on Paul article).