Review of Paul: in Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright has had the privilege of holding multiple lectures in well-known university settings throughout his life time; one of the many schools which he has had the privilege in attending is Cambridge University, and it is upon one of those visits, during a lecture he held, that this particular book is based upon. During the time of the lecture—and subsequently that which is held in the book—the author N.T. Wright, embarks on a journey into the mind of Paul, in hopes of shedding light on his letters. Through the assumption that much of the study of Paul’s writings has been limited to either a narrative approach, rhetorical approach or a doctrinal approach, Wright will provide a “fresh perspective” to his writings; a stance which stems from a thematic approach to the news which Paul so fervently preached and wrote about.
Much of the research done in the realm of investigating Pauline thought and theology can be seen as rather limiting, even in the face of great discoveries made. Interest points have moved from a largely doctrinal perspective, to Paul himself, then to one predominantly focused on (new perspective), and now to one which takes into account his place in the three main worlds of Paul’s time (a fourth can be added when his identity in Christ the Messiah is factored, 6). There has been a recurring trend throughout Pauline studies; as soon as an individual, or a group of individuals discover a new layer to Paul and his writings it is then accepted as the one and only way of viewing Paul and his writings, but that is completely unnecessary. In engaging and understanding that which is of Pauline scholarship, and ultimately Paul, the approach that is an absolute must is one that leaves all possible avenues as a viable option. Metaphorically, like the scaling of a mountain, many paths are available as a way to the crest of the mountain; where these paths differ is in the terrain covered and the sights in which one encounters along the way, which are path specific (3). Paul lived first and foremost in the world of Second-Temple Judaism (in which his belief and spiritual identity took root and continued to flourish), which was highly permeated by Hellenistic philosophy and rhetoric, which was then under the impact of the Roman Empire. With a grasp of the different cultures that Paul lived in—and in a sense lived within him—the themes with which he fashioned his writings become more apparent, and consequentially shed light on his theology; a theology which is influenced by his belief that creation and covenant play a two-fold part in sustainability, Covenant resolves that which creation has skewed and creation is needed to level out the shortcomings of the covenant (24), ultimately leading to Christ the Messiah and his unveiling.
The fact that for the most part people stick to what is widely accepted is in no way an understatement of the issue addressed in full, as pertains to this book. As stated above, but in a more metaphorical manner, the premise is that Paul has been placed in a glass box and has been viewed from only one of the few walls which encase him. It is through the use of the many different perspectives (or walls in keeping with the above metaphor) that Paul, as who he really was and how he presents himself to be, can be witnessed. The arguments brought up in support to the thesis, come in the form of an application of this “fresh” approach to Paul which the book intends to establish. Therefore, in my opinion the arguments used not only uphold the thesis, but they are the embodiment of his thesis. Instead of simply stating and viewing Paul from a single lens (either in the perspective of the “old” and doctrinal based format or the “new” and narrative based format), Wright uses his proposition of the three different worlds Paul lived in to draw from his writing themes underlying each world. For from his Jewish sphere of influence, Paul draws not only an ideology of creation and covenant coexisting in terms of mutual fulfillment, but he also pursues an ideal of a Savior and his abrupt (from man’s stand point) unveiling, which can be seen as God “breaking into history” (51). As a matter of fact, the consistency of Wright’s arguments can be seen in the matter that this “breaking in to history” is in fact the consummation of creation and covenant; a fulfillment which is explicitly written and preached.
These points are beyond a doubt ideals that are useful and substantiated within our current era; I would even venture to state that the points marked within this book would not be viable in any other century than in the present century we find ourselves in, because it is in this century that we find a need for us to “reappropriate his gospel” in light of the many paradigm shifts we are implicitly influenced by (172).
All in all, I do believe that this book does lay way for further research into the field of interpreting Paul and his writings, but its weaknesses may trump its strengths. Although I view his work in this book to hold to his thesis in the form of consistency I believe that its circulatory nature can lead to much confusion. The strength is that it is internally supported and the first point strengthens the last point and vice versa, but that is also it’s down fall. I, for one, find it confusing and partially redundant and unorganized; even though the point of the book was to show the multiplicity of perspectives towards understanding Paul, too much information was packaged into the chapters. Therefore, slightly stealing away from the main idea and its supporting arguments, and repositioning the emphasis towards the information itself, rather than the central point the information was to accomplish. Rather than emphasize diversity in Pauline study alone, it gave to much weight to the auxiliary information (such as the actual themes that influenced Paul’s theology).