I doubt that I will write a full-length review of Michael Bird’s edited volume Four Views on the Apostle Paul, but I will make some remarks on it here and there as I read through it. In the book, the first “view” on Paul is the “reformed reading” by Tom Schreiner. In commenting on Paul’s view of salvation, Schreiner says this:
How can God command people to keep his law and to repent and believe when they are utterly unable to do so? Our first task is to explain Paul, even if his worldview is foreign to ours. We must beware of conforming him to our worldview and of only accepting what seems civilized and sensible to us. Paul teaches that people should refrain from sin even if they are unable to do so as sons and daughters of Adam. According to Paul, moral responsibility must not be tied to moral inability. This too is part of the scandal of the gospel (p. 31, underline mine).
Schreiner is making an anthropological point in this passage, but I want to highlight his view of scripture which no doubt informs his interpretation. Schreiner’s method of reading Paul on this point has wider implications for how we read scripture as a whole. Schreiner argues that the goal of interpretation is to hear Paul’s voice, even when his voice grates against what we think he ought to be saying. We may have certain assumptions about fairness, justice, and human responsibility. But we cannot let those presumptions trump the very words of scripture as we read them on the page. In the end, our own notions must give way to the authority of scripture, even if it means surrendering something we have held as axiomatic up to that point.
This is very difficult for all of us, but it is nevertheless the task of biblical interpretation. The Bible must have its say, and we cannot shirk the conflict by creatively bending the author’s words to confirm what we already believe. This is a common temptation, but we must pray against it and flee from it at all costs.
I believe there is a great divide that separates biblical interpreters. And the divide is not between Calvinsts/Arminians, Dispensationalists/Covenantalists, or premillenialists/amillenialists. The watershed is between those who are willing to let the text have its say and those who are not. In other words, the real divide is between those who view God’s word as the ultimate authority—with every other opinion (including our own) being subject to it—and those who do not.
Buy this book here.