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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion

Profiles

Publication details for Professor John Barclay

Barclay, J.M.G. (2015). Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Scottish Journal of Theology 68(02): 235-243.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

N T Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, 4 (London: SPCK, 2013), pp. 1712. £65.00
This book, the latest in Wright's series on ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’, is a daunting phenomenon: over 1500 pages, packaged in two volumes, containing (I reckon) more than 800,000 words. Building on his earlier publications, and referring across to companion volumes – not even this gigantic text is self-sufficient – Wright here advances in full the synthetic vision of Paul's theology which he has developed and promoted over more than thirty years. The scale reflects his ambition: to integrate all the motifs in Pauline theology within a single large-scale schema; to elucidate its Jewish roots and its points of interaction with Graeco-Roman philosophy, religion and politics; to engage in most of the recent debates on Pauline theology; and to defend and advance his own distinctive theories on justification, covenant and the Messiahship of Jesus, against critics who have lined up against him on several sides. The structure and size of the project create considerable repetition. Many topics are opened, postponed for several hundred pages, then discussed and then later reprised, while the reader is liable to be wearied by a prose style which often seems excessively baggy. Wright strives to keep our attention with arresting metaphors, engaging illustrations and a knock-about lecture-hall style, but the latter is often tetchy in its criticism of others, and descends too often to caricature. Indeed, the standard of intellectual engagement with contrary opinions is often disappointing, and hardly improved by grand generalisations about ‘Enlightenment frameworks’ and ‘postmodern moralism’. It is only rarely that this large work engages in detailed exegesis (close engagement with texts, in debate with a range of exegetical options): the opening discussion of Philemon, the focused study of Galatians 6:16 and the close analysis of Romans 9–11 (the highlight of this work) are among the exceptions. Of course one cannot advance a thesis of such breadth without sacrificing some depth in textual debate, but the effect is to lessen considerably the persuasiveness of the whole.