Continuing to look at the New Perspectives on Paul movement, having recently looked at John Piper’s response to Tom Wright, this is then Wright’s response to Piper. The book divides into 2 (almost equal) parts. The first part is Wright’s more direct response to Piper’s book, combined with a restatement and clarification of some points, though these will be familiar to readers who have followed the same route that I did (What Saint Paul Really Said -> Paul: Fresh Perspectives – > The Future of Justification). The second half is an exegesis on the key sections in Paul’s writing relating to the theme of justification.
As the publishers chose to publish in the name of ‘Tom’ rather than ‘N.T.’ one might expect this to be at the more “everyday” level, more akin to Simply Christian or Surprised by Hope than his work on the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. Don’t let this lull you into a sense that there isn’t much to think through. Wright’s argument needs a great deal of care and attention in order to follow it. Indeed, one of his criticisms of Piper and other critics is that they have cherry-picked their objections, failing to see the bigger picture. There are flashes in the first half of some of Wright’s exasperation which some have taken to be slightly less than gracious. I must admit that I have some sympathy with this view, as the introduction comes across as though this was a book that Wright was compelled to write, which interrupted his schedule.
I must confess that I found the 2nd half of the book much tougher than the first. This is where Wright goes into detail on the key passages relating to justification in Galatians and Romans, with an interlude looking at Philippians, Corinthians and Ephesians. The trouble stems from the fact that Wright doesn’t include any of the texts he is talking about. So one is compelled to read this book in one hand and a bible in the other. Even then, the large sweeps Wright takes encapsulates large chunks of text at a time. While Wright is keen to show the “big picture” I couldn’t help but get a little bit lost along the way. Speaking to others about the book, it appears several ‘gave up’ at this point though I would strongly encourage anyone who has done so to try again.
One of the great treats of the book is that at several places, Wright echoes Paul’s writing style (especially his rhetorical questions) with the likes of, “What shall we say to these things?” or, “Where then is boasting in human traditions (including those of the Reformation)?” before going on to answer these questions himself. Having followed, chronologically by publication, some of the New Perspective writings, I’m not sure how accessible this book might be to those who haven’t followed the same path. There are certainly a lot of riches to be discovered, though I would recommend tracing the journey that resulted in arriving here. But for anyone who wants to understand the background, the debate and the interpretations that are important to the New Perspective, then this would have to be core reading.
[As an endnote, I ought to state that the day before I finished reading this, a commenter on this blog pointed my attention to the fact that the release of Wright’s magnum opus on Paul has finally been announced. Though I write about it a little around 18 months ago, little has been made public knowledge since then. Though the date has not been made more specific than “the autumn” we do now know that there will be 3 volumes. There is the book Wright intended to write, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, a review of recent Pauline scholarship, Paul and his Recent Interpreters, and a collection of Wright’s other writings on Paul (which may include extracts of the current book being reviewed). I look forward to it immensely.]