Archive | The Theology of the Apostle Paul

The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn

James Dunn has spent over four decades with Paul on his mind. He’s produced commentaries on his letters and been one of the pioneers of the New Perspective on Paul. When you read The Theology of Paul the Apostle, his experience and knowledge of the topic comes through on every lucid page.

Theologies of Paul are difficult precisely because all of Paul’s letters were occasional. Even so, Romans was written at a time in his life where he was finishing up a major section of his missionary work and preparing to embark on another journey. This letter is the most systematic of his letters, so Dunn used it as a template to explore his thought. Galatians and Corinthians also make frequent appearances as his major concepts are fleshed out.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I have spent a lot of time digesting this book. I’ve benefited immensely by summarizing each of the 25 chapters. Here are some of the key areas I’ve benefited from while interacting with this book:

New Perspective. I always had a bit of a fuzzy understanding of what the whole New Perspective on Paul actually meant. Now that I’ve read one of the leaders in the New Perspective discuss Paul’s relationship with Judaism in detail, it’s starting to become clearer.

Salvation. I love how Dunn divides the topic of salvation up into two: the beginning and the process of salvation. Naming it “the process of salvation” instead of sanctification clarifies Paul’s understanding of “being saved.” It also makes more sense of the eschatological tension (more on that later). The other element that struck me was the sheer number of metaphors Paul used to describe salvation. Having been trained up with forensics on the brain, this chapter really expanded my thinking.

Anthropology. Hearing Paul’s use of sōma, sarx, nous, kardia, psyche, and pneuma described so precisely does a lot to combat the Trichotomist sandwich that has been a staple of the Western church.

Paul and Jesus. I had never really considered why Paul quoted Jesus’ life and teaching so rarely until I read Dun’s explanation. Dunn not only presented the problem clearly, he provided logical explanations. Dunn’s exploration of all the areas where Paul’s teaching echoes Jesus was also helpful.

Eschatological Tension. Aside from the New Perspective, the emphasis on the eschatological tension is the biggest important concept in this Theology. The fact that we’re living in the already/not yet has implications in every area of theology—implications that Dunn spells out in detail. This eschatological tension if a very useful framework for understanding many of Paul’s more confusing concepts.

I could go on. These were the five most important areas for my theological growth, but I’m sure it will speak to you in different ways. I couldn’t recommend a serious theology book more enthusiastically to any student, pastor, or thoughtful Christian.

 

The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§25)

The end. Phew. In once sense I’m relieved that this epic study of Paul is finished. On the other hand, I suspect I’ll have to pick up another book by Dunn shortly. His formula of scholarship + passion + lucid writing is perfect. Here in the last chapter we’re going to wrap up the study and consider the whole of Paul’s theology one last time.

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The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§24)

I remember sitting in Pastoral Theology classes back in Bible College. The professor would offer a case study of a situation that was far from black-and-white, and we naive students would offer a solid answer. I learned then that the application of principles is a complex art. Now that we’ve studied Paul’s ethical principles, it’s time to get to the case studies.

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The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§23)

We’re closing in on the end. There are only two sections left before the epilogue. In these chapters (Motivating principles & Ethics in practice), I suspect we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty about how Paul’s theology should influence our day-to-day lives. As a preacher (not to mention a Christian), I suspect this to be among the most important elements of Paul’s theology. So without further ado …

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The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§22)

I’m almost 37 years old. I probably started taking communion around age 13. My tradition celebrates the Eucharist monthly. That means, allowing for the odd skipped first Sunday of the month, I’ve participated in communion about 250 times. And I have to say (not just because I’m a minister) that each time is still meaningful.

I just finished reading Victor Shepherd’s Interpreting Martin Luther which included a solid chapter on the Eucharist. Now that’ I’m primed with ancient Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Zwinglian views, it’s time to hear what (Dunn says) Paul had to say about the matter.

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The Theology of the Apostle Paul | James D. G. Dunn (§20)

We now turn the corner from the question of Israel to Paul’s broader understanding of the church. Funny coincidence: I just finished reading the papers from the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference on the works of N. T. Wright. In a tantalizing foretaste of his big book on Paul, Wright questions why so many Pauline theologians leave ecclesiology to a chapter at the end of the book. It looks like Wright is starting his Paul book with Philemon!

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The Theology of the Apostle Paul | James D. G. Dunn (§19)

Ah, the moment I’ve been waiting for. The question I’ve never been able to understand: now that the Gentile mission has flourished, what about the Jewish people? This question is exacerbated by the prophetic fervor that has gripped my tradition ever since Israel became a political player on the world scene. I’m excited to how Dunn synthesizes Paul’s view of his own people.

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