John Barclay has written a hard-hitting review of N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. If you know anything about the interactions between Barclay and Wright over the last several years, you will not be surprised that Barclay comes down pretty hard on Wright. Barclay concludes:
The stimulus offered by this book will be lessened, and perhaps cancelled, by its persistently shrill and overheated rhetoric.
Ouch. Like I said; it’s a tough review. Read the rest here.
(HT: Patrick Schreiner)
My take is that although Wright promotes the so-called “new perspective on Paul” he does not go far enough, so that he returns to the Protestant even Anglican camp. So I see him as asking better questions and groping towards better answers but not really accepting the inferences when they “stray too far” from the previously accepted interpretations. Jesus and all the early disciples including Paul were Jews to the end of their lives, not only that, they followed Torah and if one thinks they did not, then that means one is misunderstanding Torah, or Jesus, etc. or both. Such misunderstandings are pervasive and come in many flavors.
Don, Paul, in being all things to all men, certainly did not follow the Torah as a Jew. In fact his face to face challenge of Peter had to do with Peter’s willingness to let go of the Torah until the Judaizers showed up.
The Judaizers said to not associate with gentiles. Written Torah does not say this, but the so-called Oral Torah (orally taught human traditions of the Pharisees now found in the Mishnah written down in 2nd century) does say this; per Jesus one is not to follow a human tradition when it negates Scripture.
I agree that Barclay offers some fairly helpful critiques of the anti-imperial thesis that has become central to Wright’s work. Even so, it’s worth bearing in mind that Barclay employs hermeneutical methods that are widely rejected by American evangelicals. In particular, Barclay’s hermeneutical methodology is fairly inconsistent with the “instruction book” approach to Paul that’s promoted by American evangelicals. Thus, most evangelical critiques of Wright tend to derive from the fact that he’s framing the Pauline corpus within a particular historical context, which thereby limits its direct applicability to 21st Century social issues (e.g., gender roles, same-sex marriage, etc.). In contrast, Barclay accepts Wright’s basic hermeneutical methodology; he simply believes that Wright is wrong on what the relevant historical context is.
Yes, Barclay’s proposed view of Paul is a bit more consistent with the grace-centered Paul of American evangelicalism. Even so, Barclay’s approach lends no substantial credence to our more popular hermeneutical methods. In fact, Barclay’s critiques rest squarely on the kind of historical criticism that American evangelicals typically criticize as undermining the Bible’s authority.
So, I tend to agree that Barclay is correct on many of his critiques of Wright. But it’s not just a matter of his being right. Barclay, in my view, is right for the right reasons. In contrast, Wright’s American evangelical critics are right, but for reasons more akin to why the blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
I read the review until my eyes glazed over. Can someone tell me what Barclay said? Put another way, what did Wright write and why is it wrong? Did I sniff anti-covenantism in the review? Or does Wright disagree with every past understanding of Pauline thought? I wish Bill Lane was with us still. He could make even my simple mind understand the debate.
Funny, IMO Wright’s rhetorical flourishes are part of the seasoning that makes his writing so fun to read! That’s not to say that he doesn’t engage in over interpretation at times, as he surely does, esp. when he and others try to bring the subjective genitive into harmony with Lutheranism. That strikes me as too clever by half.