Review: Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Wright, N. (2013). Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Vol. 4, p. 1696). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

In this highly anticipated addition to the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, N.T. Wright has provided a masterful conclusion to his work on the person of Paul and his theological construct. Paul and the Faithfulness of God (PFG) is everything one could ask for from a lifetime of study from a renowned New Testament scholar. Just by looking at these two volumes one can see, physically, that trudging through the mind of Paul is going to be no easy task. At a whopping 1,696 pages, these books pack a heavy dose of the thought of perhaps the greatest mind Christianity has produced (meaning Paul of course). If the size and weight of these volumes isn’t enough to intimidate, the chiastic mapping laid down from the outset will surely have one wishing their eagerness hadn’t gotten the best of them.

Wright begins PFG by assuming that the reader has read his preliminary research laid out in previous volumes of this series. I have a friend who has read them so a 30,000 foot flyover worked a little to my advantage as I began to dive into this ocean of learning. Wright, an advocate on the New Perspective on Paul, lays out his method of a via media between  New Testament Theology and New Testament History by creating a, “dialogue between the two, aiming always at practical as well as theoretical synthesis.”  The out working of this synthesis is painted with precise brush strokes, often repeating the same stroke more than once. With these brush strokes Wright paints a picture of Paul and his context that few can create.

In these two volumes we find much of what was to be expected of N.T. Wright; A discussion of justification in the mind of Paul, the covenant promises of God to Abraham, and his focus on the story of Israel in exile. These themes have been on the mind and in the books of Wright for quite some time now and have been engaged by far superior critics than myself. What I read in these pages is a deepened understanding Wright has of the context of Paul and the thinking behind his conversion from Judaism to the apostle to the Gentiles, a story often told through various volumes of his works. It’s hard not to appreciate what Wright has done through these two volumes and through this series as a whole for the study of Paul and for the future of what these volumes have contributed to furthering the study of this man.

If you’re thinking about placing these books on your shelf make sure you know what you’re getting into first by perusing some of Wright’s older works. The effort put it may not yield to some readers an output they are hoping for. The output we do get from Wright is confusing in various spots, repeated often, and linguistically challenging in others. I can only gain from what Wright has done here but I’m not sure that the gain matched the end result I was looking for. These two volumes left me with a sense of, “what am I doing reading these volumes?” I’m sure other’s will see the value to be had in these volumes, as for me, I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding Paul than I was before and maybe that’s because I couldn’t decipher much of what Wright was getting at.

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