Author Archive | Stephen Barkley

The Apostle Paul | Stanley E. Porter

The cover of Porter's The Apostle PaulMy first exposure to Paul’s life, thought, and letters came in my second year of Bible College when I was assigned F. F. Bruce’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free for a Pauline Literature class. One could view Stanley E. Porter’s Apostle Paul as a necessary update to Bruce’s work (xi). Porter begins with Paul’s background and reconstructs a chronology of his life and writing before analyzing the thirteen Pauline letters.

Porter is a specialist in the Greek language—a strength that shines through on almost every page. His knowledge of Greek allows him to situate Paul’s writing within broader Greek cultural norms, shining light on various details of Paul’s letters.

Particularly interesting was Porter’s section on pseudonymity. It is frequently argued that some of Paul’s letters are pseudonymous (written by someone other than Paul). Porter forces the reader to confront the implications of this view. First, it is fundamentally deceitful. The church from the start viewed the thirteen letters as Pauline which led to their canonical status. To believe that someone other than Paul wrote in the apostle’s name means the other person wrote deceptively. Second, there is the issue of double-pseudonymity. If you believe someone other than Paul wrote the letter, then the recipient is also in question, adding another layer of confusion. Porter repeatedly emphasizes textual evidence (or the lack thereof) over speculation and questionable hypotheses. The problem of pseudonymity, “combined with the evidence available, points to the Pauline letters being actually authentic” (168).

The New Perspective on Paul (led chiefly in various forms by Sanders, Dunn, and Wright) is another major area of debate in Pauline theology. Porter holds the traditional view against the New Perspective. For Porter, the New Perspective is not supported by Jewish evidence. Furthermore, the New Perspective misunderstands Paul’s use of language, especially the way that Paul understands “law.”

A major strength of this book is Porter’s balanced handling of the evidence for every Pauline question and debate. While he is never shy about stating his preferred option, the reader has unprejudiced evidence at hand to pursue a different reading.

I suspect The Apostle Paul will inspire a new generation of Pauline students to dig deep into the thirteen letters that bear his name.


Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought, and Letters. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's PentecostalismWalter J. Hollenweger (1927-1916), an ordained minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, book-ended his academic career with large works on pentecostalism. His ten volume (!) doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was condensed then translated into The Pentecostals—a highly readable and insightful book on the origins of the global Pentecostal movement.

Pentecostalism is more than an update to The Pentecostals. In his earlier work he privileged history over theology. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is “a thoroughly theological book” (92) in which he traces the diverse roots of global pentecostalism. Hollwenweger identifies five theological roots which have fed the movement we see today:

  1. The Black Oral Root. While in the West today, “Pentecostalism is fast developing into an evangelical middle class religion” (19), things were different in the beginning. Hollenweger shows how pentecostalism is thriving in Africa, even if sects like the Kimbanguists of Zaïre make Western theologians nervous!
  2. The Catholic Root. Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Wesley brothers, who were in turn influenced by Roman Catholicism. Hollenweger traces the uneasy but definable influence of Roman Catholic theology on the pentecostal movement.
  3. The Evangelical Root. In this slim section, Hollenweger follows “the traces of Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification through the American Holiness movement” (181). His discussion of the relationship between pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (ch. 15) is particularly insightful.
  4. The Critical Root. In this disproportionately large section of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger reviews the numerous critical issues which pentecostals are beginning to face. Fortunately, pentecostals can no longer be described as “anti-intellectual, evangelical-fundamentalist and anti-ecumenical” (van der Laan in Hollenweger 201)! Pentecostal scholarship has started to rigorously address broader theological issues such as liberation theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and post-colonial missions. From my perspective studying at McMaster Divinity College, the two decades of pentecostal/charismatic scholarship that followed the publication of Pentecostalism have added immensely to all the areas which Hollenweger surveys.
  5. The Ecumenical Root. This is Hollenweger’s wheelhouse. In both of his books on pentecostalism he repeatedly laments pentecostal disengagement with the ecumenical movement. In Pentecostalism he is cautiously optimistic that pentecostals are now engaging with the universal body of Christ as expressed by the World Council of Churches.

In Pentecostalism, the “elder statesman of Penteecostal studies” (Cox), shows the astounding breadth of global pentecostalism. Though technically an outsider, Hollenweger handles the diverse issues of this massive movement with critical sensitivity. I only wish he had a chance to update his work one last time before his passing.


Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Spirit Hermeneutics | Craig S. Keener

The cover of Keener's Spirit HermeneuticsEveryone has a hermeneutic lens through which they view the world—whether they realize it or not. For every academic who examines their hermeneutics with rigor (i.e. Gadamer, Thiessen), there’s that sweet soul in the congregation ‘claiming’ Jeremiah 29:11 for herself.

In Spirit Hermeneutics, charismatic New Testament scholar Craig Keener examines what a healthy pentecostal hermeneutic might entail. His conclusion is encouraging. The sceptical cessationism of twentieth-century Western christianity has given way to a hermeneutic that values God’s current active role in interpretation.

Keener thoughtfully covers a number of key topics. He emphasizes the role of global pentecostalism in reading scripture. Majority world views are just as valuable as Western views. He values careful exegesis (as his four volume commentary on Acts amply demonstrates), yet emphasizes boldly emphasizes the value of lay devotional reading.

For devotion and for church edification, . . . exegesis occurs within the believing community. Acts 15:28 does suggest the value of truly Spirit-led community understandings. (277)

When I ordered Spirit Hermeneutics, I expected to read a scholarly approach to pentecostal hermeneutics. What surprised me was the personal elements of this work. Keener adds autobiographical details which do more than illustrate his approach—they inspire the reader to challenge their presuppositions and to engage scripture afresh.


Keener, Craig S. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

First and Second Samuel | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's First and Second SamuelThe books of Samuel describe a critical shift in the life of Israel.

When the book begins, Israel had suffered through a series of increasingly impotent judges. The loose confederation of tribes increasingly wandered from God and did what seemed right in their own eyes. Into this world Hannah struggled and conceived a child—Samuel. When the book ends, Israel is a monarchy under the rule of King David, the second of two Kings Samuel anointed.

Here is the critical shift: Israel has gone from being a nation under YHWH to a nation under human kings.

Brueggemann’s commentary is excellent. He presents a close reading of the story of Samuel, Saul, and David with an eye for detail. All the political nuances which might escape the casual reader of scripture are brought to the forefront for consideration.

In Brueggemann’s reading, the heroes and villains of scripture are no one-sided caricatures. They are complicated, as human beings always are. David is no mere Sunday School hero—he is at the same time politically shrewd and spiritually attuned. He is human, warts and all.

The Interpretation commentary series is not overly technical. I would encourage any thoughtful Christian with a love for scripture to pick up this gem and read it alongside the text.


Brueggemann, Walter.  First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

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