Book Review: Galatians and Christian Theology

Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N.T. Wright, and John Frederick, eds. Galatians and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014, 400 pp.; Kindle edition $22.99. Amazon Kindle Version Here.

jpegGalatians and Christian Theology is the published volume of the plenary speakers among others from the St Andrews Galatians and Christian Theology Conference hosted in 2012. This is the third volume produced from similar conferences: The first being Hebrews and Christian Theology published in 2009 and the second Genesis and Christian Theology published in 2012. (The 2003 conference on John and Christian Theology did not result in a publication.)

The volume is composed of twenty-three essays, organized around three themes. The first theme, as one might expect, is “Justification.” Within this section of the volume are ten essays by heavy hitters such as N.T. Wright, Mark Elliott, Scott Hafemann, among others. The second section, comprised of seven essays, is organized around the topic, “Gospel.” Finally, the third section of the book, containing six essays, concentrates on “Ethics.”

The editors note that the conference was not organized around these three themes. Rather, the natural interactions that took place among the plenary speakers, as well as the essays that were selected for inclusion within the volume, coalesced in a manner that was not altogether characteristic of previous conferences. It seemed, to the editors, as if the geographical and inter-disciplinary divide that separated the scholars was bridged, providing ample opportunities for fruitful engagement. Accordingly, the essays seemed to fall naturally into the system of categorization imposed upon the volume by the editors and by Jim Kenney of Baker Academic.

The compositional arrangement of the essays in this volume is noticeable. That is to say, it is clear that the editors and those at Baker Academic strove to maintain as much continuity between essays as was feasible. N.T. Wright, in his contribution, puts forth the thesis that Paul’s use of the term Χριστός (Christ) maintains explicit reference to Jesus’ role as Messiah. As such, the essay includes statistics regarding Paul’s normal usage of the term and its saturation within Galatians. Furthermore, the expectations of a Messiah and the relationship of those themes to Galatians are assessed. The subsequent essay written by Matthew V. Novenson entitled “Paul’s Former Occupation in Ioudaismos” analyzes the recent trend in understanding the term Ioudaismos not as the Jewish religion, but as derived from ἰουδαΐζω (to compel Gentiles to judaize). Thus, not only have these essays been organized in the section “Justification,” but they also have been placed next to one another as they both engage in lexical analysis as a means of making their theological argument.

This organizing tendency is apparent throughout the volume. Timothy Wengert’s essay “Martin Luther on Galatians 3:6–14” addresses not only Luther’s awareness of a view akin to NPP, but his intentional disagreement with and departure from such a view. Haefmann’s essay “Yaein” takes Wengert’s assessment of Luther, affirming some parts that should still be accepted as valid today and discarding others that, in his view, have been discounted in light of the findings of modern research.

It is clear from these and many other instances of thematic continuities (e.g. Darren O. Sumner’s “Karl Barth and ‘The Fullness of Time’ ” and Scott R. Swain’s ” ‘Heirs through God’ “) that the editors have admirably and artfully woven the conference essays into a volume that possesses great continuity despite the fact that the conference was not intentionally organized with that aim.

Nevertheless, the categories, as I believe the editors would admit, are both artificial and, to a certain extent, misleading. The underlying hermeneutical grids through which a large portion of the essayists wrote concerned themselves either with participationistic or apocalyptic readings of Galatians. Those who read the book in light of a participationist hermeneutic, for example, sought to wed the themes of justification and ethics in a manner that they saw lacking in traditional readings of the book. As such, the essays within the category of “Justification” or “Ethics” could have just as easily been placed within “Ethics” or “Justification” respectively. Such authors may very well view this as a commendation of their work. After all, it is their contention that Paul’s view of justification cannot be separated from his expectation that Christians will live in a manner that belies the reality that they are “in Christ.”

One other minor note to mention is the fact that the editors’ commendable work providing as much continuity between the essays as possible created a bit of difficulty for the reader. At times, I did not know when the essay I was reading would carry on the previous discussion, a similar discussion, or begin an entirely new but related line of inquiry. This is less a criticism of the work as a whole, and more of a warning to other readers to not be so easily lulled into the expectation that Galatians and Christian Theology is one seamless work.

In sum, this volume is a fantastic read for those both interested in exploring the current issues surrounding Galatians as well as scholars already embroiled in the discussion. Though, as the editors write, “There were occasional moments where the theological atmosphere felt too much for the average exegete, and where perhaps theologians felt overly constrained by the need to stay close to the six chapters of Galatians,” I encourage readers of a theological, exegetical, or ethical bent to pick this volume up and benefit from a large swatch of essays that will surely challenge and refine their understanding of Galatians.

Note: Thanks to Baker Academic for providing a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions of the work.

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One Response to Book Review: Galatians and Christian Theology

  1. Pingback: BA Books & Authors on the Web – December 12, 2014

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