Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book review: Galatians and Christian Theology

A brief (again, brief by Book Review Geek standards) book review of Galatians and Christian Theology, Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick, editors (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), for NetGalley:

In this volume of papers from the University of St Andrews' fourth triennial Scripture & Theology conference (2012), the editors rightly note that getting the papers in a conference volume to "talk" to one another -- to convey to the reading audience something of the conversations that took place at the conference itself -- is a work in progress, but one in which they're improving. Many of the papers in this book are splendid examples of what it should look like when biblical studies and theology go hand in hand; many also reference and/or riff on one another, in richly integrated ways. That doesn't mean that the result is always easy to read: some of the papers are highly technical in their approach to biblical studies, theology, or both, so the audience likeliest to benefit from them will probably be at the level of graduate studies or above. But those who choose to invest (financially, intellectually, and even spiritually) in this book will find that it substantially reshapes their thinking about Paul's letter to the Galatians, as it has done with mine.

The volume is divided into three parts -- Justification, Gospel, and Ethics -- but even these divisions are more for convenience than rigid categorization, as many of their constituents participate in more than one category. To note just a few of (what I found to be) the book's highlights: first, having read co-editor Tom Wright's recent two-volume book on Paul, I was amused that he managed to fit several of his most vital points from that book into just (!) forty pages here, as when he repeats his incisive conclusion that "messiahship, like image-bearing humanness itself, was all along a category designed, as it were, for God's own use" (39). I also enjoyed John Barclay's studied description of Paul as living "in a face-to-face society where self-advertisement, rivalry, and public competition were a perpetual cause of tension," to which he responded with "a vision of communal life where the destructive features of this agonistic culture can be both recognized and effectively repulsed" (305). And the collective treatment of complex topics in Galatians (not just the principal headings of justification, gospel, and ethics, but also apocalyptic, for example) is highly nuanced, if (perhaps inevitably) repetitive at times. One caveat for Kobo users: I'm not sure whether the problem was with this book or on Kobo's end, but I found that the annotations I made in the text were randomly re-organized (i.e., not by date, position in book, or any other criteria that I could see), and some annotations were dropped completely. Perhaps this won't be a problem for other e-readers -- and it certainly won't be for those who will benefit from reading this excellent new book the old-fashioned way!

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