Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ

04.01.01 | Denver Journal, New Testament, Craig L. Blomberg | by Thomas R. Schreiner

    A review of Thomas Schreiner's, "Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.

    Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ. Downers Grove and Leicester: IVP, 2001. 504 pp. $29.95. ISBN 0-8308-2651-3.

    Tom Schreiner, Professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is well-known for his works on Paul and the Law, interpreting Paul, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Romans and numerous articles on gender roles in Paul. He is thus ably equipped to write this new, evangelical theology of Paul's letters.

    As over against other prominent conservative theologies of Paul (e.g., Ridderbos, Witherington or Dunn), Schreiner liberally incorporates material from the so-called deutero-Pauline writings and cites secondary literature only lightly. Nevertheless he is fully abreast of Pauline scholarship and interacts with exegetical options with which he differs for the most important controversies. He has attempted to rethink the categories and structures of Paul's thought, not merely imitating the sequence of one epistle (esp. Romans) or typical systematic theologies. Most all the topics one would expect to appear do so, but not necessarily where one might predict they would appear. And key topics for Paul, often given short shrift elsewhere, are helpfully discussed: mission, suffering, gender roles and ministry, and social issues more generally.

    Schreiner begins by presenting his case for the center of Paul's thought as the glory of God in Christ; hence, the book's subtitle. Because Paul was first of all commissioned as a missionary, and especially one to the Gentiles, Schreiner treats that topic second. Paul's goal was not merely to plant churches but to provide for their ongoing nurture and to bring to fruition the mystery of the gospel, which is the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church via faith in Christ rather than Torah observance.

    Suffering plays a key, though paradoxical role in the furtherance of Paul's mission, so Schreiner treats it next. The metaphor of a parade of P.O.W.s, which Paul can call a triumphant procession, lies at the heart of this paradox. Paul's cryptic "filling up of Christ's afflictions" (Col. 1:24) "is the pathway by which the gospel is 'fulfilled' in the lives of Gentiles" (p. 102).

    At this point, Schreiner's structure becomes more typical. Paul's mission is needed precisely because of human sin, which is foremost the rejection of the supremacy of God and his Lordship. As in his previous work, Schreiner forcefully restates Reformation (and esp. Calvinist) emphases as over against the so-called new perspective on Paul. Good works offered in an attempt to merit salvation, leading to boastful pride, are at the heart of humanity's plight. Frequently Schreiner laments the "either-or" approaches of the new perspective, as Sanders, Dunn and others too quickly abandon these themes. But one wonders if Schreiner is not equally guilty of an unnecessary bifurcation. He acknowledges that a concern over ethnocentrism or nationalism should accompany the classic Protestant concerns over legalism; it is not obvious why one should not add Sanders' covenantal nomism into the mix as well.

    After unpacking the power and effects of sin, Schreiner turns to the person of Jesus Christ, particularly as second Adam, image of God, seed of Abraham and Lord, with special reference to Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 (including a response to the universalism that some see taught in both texts). En route appears a good treatment of believers being "in Christ," which "oscillates between the ideas of manner, locality and instrumentality" (p. 158). In the context of Christ's headship over humanity, kephale is demonstrated to reflect primarily the concept of authority; even when it means "source" the idea of authority provides the necessary backdrop.. Finally, Schreiner tackles head on the thorny problems of Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13, concluding that Jesus' deity is taught in both passages.

    Turning to the issue of salvation, Schreiner confesses to having been converted, particularly by D. A. Carson, from his earlier view of justification as transformative to a forensic understanding. Again, especially in light of Galatians 2:20 in the context of vv. 15-21, it is difficult to see why we should have to choose--both seem clearly taught (as he concedes both K�semann and Stuhlmacher champion). More persuasively, he defends afresh interpreting the frequent references to pistis Iesou (or Christou) as objective genitives ("faith in Jesus [or Christ]") rather than subjective ones ("the faith demonstrated by Jesus"), as so many have recently promoted.

    Schreiner recognizes that sanctification, his first topic under the theme of divine, transforming grace, like justification, begins at the moment of conversion. He then moves the reader through helpful and sound explications of reconciliation, salvation, redemption, triumph over evil powers and propitiation. He deliberately leaves election for the end of this chapter, since it is a doctrine we understand only retrospectively in our Christian lives. Nevertheless, he defends a classic, Calvinist double predestinarian approach, without advancing the debate any further carried on in earlier writings with Bill Klein and me and our corporate election and single predestination views, respectively. Still, Schreiner is no hyper-Calvinist; he stresses the intimate association between God's election and his love and the need for human response. Faith is not a work precisely because by definition it is fundamentally receptive and thus accords with grace.

    A good balance of the "already" and the "not yet" permeates Schreiner's exposition of the struggle involved in living the Christian life. Here he summarizes his very centrist position with respect to perseverance and assurance recently articulated in detail in his co-authored work (with Ardel Caneday), entitled The Race Set Before Us (IVP, 2001). At this one point, classic Calvinists will probably not think him Calvinist enough, but I find his exegesis particularly convincing at just this point and worth considering how it might be applied consistently across his whole theological system.

    The life of love in the Spirit shows that faith does not preclude good works; indeed they are the necessary product of a genuine transformed, Spirit-indwelt person. Schreiner's ecclesiology correctly insists that recognizing the church as the new Israel does not preclude a distinctive future for ethnic Israel (or vice-versa). Unity is Paul's overarching theme in his treatment of the church, for which spiritual gifts are given. He recognizes the dangers and errors of various charismatic interpretations of Paul, though one wonders if in so doing he has not swung the pendulum too far away from what Paul would have considered a balanced use of the charismata. In light of 1 Corinthians 1:7, for example, it is difficult to imagine Paul agreeing that any of the spiritual gifts would cease (Schreiner thinks apostleship and prophecy have done so) prior to Christ's return. Related to this, it is not clear that Schreiner has felt the full force of the case for these two gifts (not the inspired roles of writers of Scripture), like all the other gifts, referring to imperfect, human outworkings of the Spirit's guidance, in this case, in missionary and preaching ministries, respectively (on which, see especially Hill, Forbes, Gillespie and Thiselton).

    Under ordinances, Schreiner persuasively defends believer's baptism and a symbolic interpretation of the Lord's Supper as Paul's views. Congregational church polity is equally carefully sketched out, including a limited hierarchical view that reserves the office of pastor-elder-overseer for men. But all other positions and roles are open to women as well. Under the "social world of the new community," Schreiner explains why slavery is not a completely parallel issue; 1 Corinthians 7:21b in particular, translated as promoting freedom, offers perhaps the key difference. He goes on to accurately exegete the entire chapter in some detail as a major portion of his treatment of singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage. A particularly welcome subsection (not usually found in Pauline theologies) is on Paul's concern to help the needy. The tricky problems of Romans 13 and their implications for citizens and governments are also masterfully handled.

    "The hope of God's people" forms Schreiner's headline for eschatology, in which he centers on the important points--the fact of Christ's return and the judgment of saved and lost that it initiates. More tentatively, but correctly in my opinion, he shows that there is little room for pretribulationism in the classic texts sometimes thought to teach it. A brief epilogue concludes the volume, followed by helpful indexes but no bibliography.

    In so wide-ranging a survey, there will be inevitable points of disagreement with almost any reviewer. In addition to items I have already mentioned, I would question the idea that the "pedagogue" of Galatians 3:24 has only a temporal function; the text explicitly says he (standing for the Law) was "to lead us to Christ." My reading of Romans 2 leads me to doubt that "righteous Gentiles apart from the gospel do not appear on Paul's radar" (p. 140). I don't find limited atonement taught in 2 Corinthians 5:14, as Schreiner seems to. I find nothing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 to make me restrict its application to church leaders. The claim that "Every church has some members who are true believers and some who only appear to be believers" (p. 289) is something no mortal can know, though the larger the church the more likely it may be the case. Accusing Walter Wink of dismissing all the supernatural element in Paul's references to the "powers" is, I think, to misread him, though I agree that his views are not entirely satisfactory. I doubt that ancient Corinth was unable or unwilling to differentiate, at least in principle, between primarily religious and primarily social meals in their temple, especially in view of the work of Fisk, Willis and Thiselton. And the majority of studies in the last fifteen years or so have defended the equation of the incestuous offender in 1 Corinthians 5 and the repentant man of 2 Corinthians 2, contra Schreiner's claim regarding the majority view (p. 397).

    But these disagreements prove exceedingly minor in comparison to the wealth of exegetical detail I find both accurate and helpful. Will Schreiner's work replace the other "standard" Pauline theologies? Probably not, precisely because of the introductory level at which it is written and the lack of detailed interaction with scholarship. But these two very features will also commend the volume as an outstanding textbook for upper-division college or introductory-level seminary courses, and it is that goal that was foremost in Schreiner's mind anyway, as his introduction explains. What is more, in the space saved by lack of detailed documentation of and interaction with the secondary literature, most of the key verses and passages of Paul's writing themselves are printed in full, making it largely unnecessary to keep turning to the Bible in order to understand what Schreiner (or Paul!) is talking about. In our age of widespread biblical illiteracy, this will be a welcome feature for students indeed.

    Craig L. Blomberg
    Professor of New Testament
    Denver Seminary, Denver, CO

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