Book Review: The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life

NT scholars advocating for the new perspective on Paul join with editors Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life—a collection of essays published by Baker Academic. Despite expectations, the book’s focus is not another New Perspective vs. Old Perspective work; instead, the all star team of NT scholars analyzes the apostle’s writings and, through a new perspective lens, exposing any implications for Christian Life. As the editors write in the introduction—“Sometimes an old-perspective reading of Paul can simply get “stuck” with the implications and aspects of individual salvation or chase the whole of Paul’s thought through what is often called the ordo salutis…it seems that a new-perspective reading of Paul offes a fresh and a rich approach as one grapples with the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Christian Life” (p. xiii).

The volume’s strength comes from various aspects argued throughout the essays; albeit for the Christian life as is displayed by Paul—ecclesiology, missiology, Pneumatology, Christology, soteriology, ethicality, ad sanctification. Contributions include:

1. The Christian Life from the Perspective of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (James Dunn)
2. The New Perspective and the Christian Life in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Lynn Cohick)
3. Faith, Works, and Worship: Torah Observance in Paul’s Theological Perspective (Bruce W. Longenecker)
4. The New Perspective and the Christian Life: Solus Spiritus (Patrick Mitchel)
5. Participation in the New-Creation People of God in Christ by the Spirit (Timothy Gombis)
6. The New Perspective and the Christian Life: The Ecclesial Life (Scot McKnight)
7. A Symphonic Melody: Wesleyan-Holiness Theology Meets New-Perspective Paul (Leach)
8. Paul and Missional Hermeneutics (N. T. Wright)

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book as a whole, there were two essays that stood out to me, starting first with Dunn’s—The Christian Life from the Perspective of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Dunn dissects Paul’s focus on the Spirit in the Christian life and both the weight and the authority invested in Galatians. Dunn’s argument is directed to the Paul’s conversion, and it’s inclusion in the letter (Gal. 1:13-17), giving special attention the words pistis, “faith” (p. 6), and pneuma, “spirit” (p. 10). His conclusion, then, is that works are not marks of the spirit, but both “faith” and the gift of “the spirit” are essential to the Christian Life. My critique, which is hardly such, regards the essay’s limited length when held in light of Dunn’s corpus of work. This does not affect the current essay, because I really did enjoy his argument which was well written. Be that as it may, I can’t imagine many would purchase this book unaware of the extensive work Dunn has contributed to the new perspective. Like I said earlier, his essay was excellent, but just as the footnotes pointing to his other writing’s indicate, there is not much here one wouldn’t get from Dunn’s larger publications.

The other essay that stood out (for a very different reason) was Gombis’s—Participation in the New-Creation People of God in Christ by the Spirit, which explores ecclesiological implications from Paul’s theology. Gombis was one of my NT Exegesis professors; reading his essay invoked nostalgia, which I was not expecting. Specifically, his emphasis on the community right out the gate—“the focus of Paul’s reflection on the Christian life is the church, the new-creation people of God made up of individuals in community… Paul does not conceive of individuals living the Christian life in isolation from the community” (104)—which was central to several of our class discussions. Gombis sets the stage by prefacing his argument with the framework from which his argument will unfold; he situates the Christian life within the narrative of Scripture. Starting first with Israel (104), following with the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (108) and the Baptism into Christ by the Spirit (110), and finishing with participation in the new-creation people of God for the Christian life (112).

As one would expect with most essay collections, the quality tends to vary from essay to essay. However, I think this would be an excellent resource for any with little to no familiarity on the new perspective. It would also make an excellent book discussion resource. I give it a thumbs up.

You can buy this book by clicking here if you are interested.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Baker for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed above are my own.

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