Monday 16 March 2015

reviewing Wright

A few choice moments from John M.G. Barclay's review of N.T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Freely available here

“Wright develops his claim that Paul’s theology constitutes an unspoken but persistent challenge to the claims of Caesar, such that Paul saw all the ‘powers’ of the cosmos ‘coming together and doing their worst precisely in and through Rome itself’ (1311). Paul of course never says this, and the thesis requires that Paul left unspoken in all of his letters his real analysis of the world.”

“A crucial move, on which ‘a good deal hangs’ (775) is the claim that Paul reads the election of Abraham/Israel as designed to undo Adam’s sin and its effects (784), to deal with evil (907), in short, to save or to rescue the world (814, 839, etc.). This hypothesis is advanced by a reading of Genesis, where parallels between the creation story and the story of Abraham are taken to suggest that Abraham is called to undo Adamic sin, a reading which Wright confesses is unsupported by most commentators on Genesis (785n27). The assertion that this reasoning is evidenced in Second Temple Judaism is unconvincing: apart from a citation from Genesis Rabbah (794), a text written many centuries after Paul, Wright produces no Jewish texts which suggest anything like the claim that Israel was the means by which God would rescue the world. And, crucially, there is nothing in Paul to substantiate this claim… a central load bearing pillar in Wright’s edifice looks dangerously weak.”

“Wright’s reading of the justification of the ungodly (4:5) as the justification of the Gentiles (despite the immediate context in Rom 4:1-8, the backdrop of 3:10-20 and the parallel in 5:6) reflects a persistent failure to grapple with the radicality of Paul’s gospel of the unconditioned gift. A wholistic reading of Romans 4 reveals that Paul tells the story of Abraham not only to show that the Abrahamic family includes Gentiles but also that its origin is incongruous grace.” [NB this is new reading of Rom 4 that Wright's been offering since 2013. More to follow on this...]

“Those who know the Reformers and their writings will wince at some of the generalisations (to put it generously) articulated here.”

"According to Wright, Lutherans tend to say ‘that God has cut off the Israel-plan and done something completely different’ (499). Reformation thought is divided: ‘is the law a good thing (Calvin) or a bad thing (Luther)?’ (514). This is so crude, and so misleading with regard to Luther, that one wonders what level of readership Wright expects."