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Two New IVP Books on Paul

Last month IVP Academic released two new books on Pauline soteriology, and since this is one of my perennial favorite topics, I couldn’t wait to dig into both. I’ve just started them, but I wanted to highlight them now especially for those looking for winter break reading and/or last-minute Christmas gifts. This description is overly simplistic and not entirely true, but these two books are in some ways foils of each other, and I wonder if they were intentionally released in close proximity for this reason. No matter where you stand on Paul, it’s good to periodically read and engage with arguments and insights from the other camp. As such, both of the following books are good reading regardless of your perspective on Paul (pun intended).

Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, ed. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 280 pp. $28.00

RefPaulFrom the title and editor names alone, the Reformed/Lutheran persuasion of the book jumps out immediately. But while many of the contributing authors belong to these theological camps and several teach at their flagship seminaries, there are also surprises (such as the presence of John Barclay) that indicate at once that Reformation Readings of Paul is not a polemic for the “old perspective.” Instead, it’s an attempt to invite the Reformers into the discussion on their exegesis and theology of Paul. While the enduring question of the past 40 or so years in Pauline studies has been whether the Reformers read Paul correctly (although the question seems settled in the academy with the prevailing view a resounding “no”), this book challenges us to see whether we’ve read the Reformers correctly. As editor Linenbaugh writes in the introduction,

While contemporary writing on Paul is littered with references to the “Lutheran Paul” or the Paul of the Reformation,” what is equally conspicuous is the absence of detailed engagement with the exegesis and theology of the Reformers.

(p. 13)

Reformation Readings of Paul pairs together historical theologians and Pauline scholars to examine how certain Reformers treated certain parts of the Pauline corpus: David Fink and John Barclay on Luther/Galatians, Robert Kolb and Mark Seifrid on Melanchthon/Romans, Brian Lugioyo and Wesley Hill on Bucer/Ephesians, Michael Allen and Dane Ortland on Calvin/Corinthians, and Ashley Null and Jonathan Linebaugh on Cranmer and the corpus Paulinum. The first essay in each pair is descriptive and tends to set up the historical context and provide background to the Reformer as an exegete. It also gives a glimpse of how the Reformer exegeted the text – his tools and interlocutors, his structuring of the epistle and its argument, as well as his broad theological conclusions.  The second essay is evaluative and builds on the first. The Pauline scholar curates a conversation between the Pauline text(s) and their interpretation, interacting with the reading of the Reformers. Problems and questions are noted and recent challenges to the Reformer’s reading are addressed, both what he got right and what he got wrong.

Gerald Bray’s concluding essay paints a picture of the factors that shaped the Reformers, from the Patristic tradition to the Renaissance to the medieval university to the theological crisis of the Reformation. Bray draws many connections between the developed medieval system and Second Temple Judaism, noting that while premodern Christians knew nothing about it, the medieval church came remarkably close to replicating it. “Advocates of the ‘new perspective’ on Paul who criticize Luther for failing to understand the spiritual nature of Second Temple Judaism do not show that they realize this, and so they fail to grasp just how much Luther’s background resembled that of Saul the Pharisee” (272).

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

A. Chadwick Thornhill. The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 288 pp. $35.00

chosenIt’s immediately apparent that this book is from an alternate viewpoint than the first, and this is confirmed just a few pages into the book in the first chapter. Thornhill notes that while he has some critiques of Sanders’s view, he is largely in agreement with Sanders’s covenantal nomism as a correction of the traditional view of how one “got saved” in early Judaism. The lack of attention paid to election in the NPP is part of what prompted Thornhill’s study in The Chosen People, which explores “how Jewish authors spoke of election and how this background knowledge relates to Paul” (16).

The Chosen People had its genesis in Dr. Thornhill’s PhD dissertation at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Leo Percer, with Dr. Gary Yates and Dr. Michael Heiser as readers. With social, historical, and literary sensitivity, Thornhill examines relevant Qumran, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal texts to elucidate the thought world of late Second Temple Judaism in relation to election. Thornhill finds that election in both late Second Temple literature and Paul was largely a collective reality; in the rare instances in which individuals were in view, soteriological standing was not in view, but rather, their character or representation of the group. Election in both groups of texts was also corporate, conditional, and remnant-oriented. Furthermore, both simultaneously emphasize divine initiative and human responsibility. Probably most controversial will be Thornhill’s re-reading of Romans 8:26-11:36, a pillar text for the traditional Reformed understanding of election. Rather than predestination of the individual believer to salvation, for him Romans 9 is about Gentile inclusion in the people of Israel.

Among Jews of the period, the concept of election came to signify the “true Israel” or “remnant,” meaning those Israelites who remained faithful to the covenant. For Paul the terminology takes on quite the same meaning. In referring to those who have trusted in Jesus as “elect” or “chosen” or “called,” Paul claims that it is those who have been united with God’s Messiah who are actually in right standing with God. Torah-faithfulness apart from obedience to the good news of God expressed through Jesus has become useless. For Paul, obedience to God comes only through identification with Jesus. Thus Jesus’ own faithfulness both grounds the faithfulness of the believer and brings God’s declaration of “rightness” to them.

(p. 257)


For more detail on this book, check out Ben Witherington’s interview with the author (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon


Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Simon Gathercole)

Simon Gathercole. Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. 128 pp. $19.99.

Defending SubstitutionDefending Substitution is the latest volume in Baker Academic’s Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology series. Sponsored by Acadia Divinity College and in conjunction with its Hayward Lectureship, this series is designed to offer brief, accessible volumes that present the cutting edge of academic biblical and theological scholarship in a form amenable to the nonspecialist. In Defending Substitution, Simon Gathercole offers a brief and accessible overview of the most prominent objections to substititionary atonement and provides a brief but robust positive defense of the the doctrine.

Gathercole begins in the introduction by setting forth his modest aim of arguing that “Christ’s death for our sins, in our place, instead of us, is in fact a vital ingredient in the biblical (in the present discussion, Pauline) understanding of the atonement. It should be emphasized, however, that the argument here does nothing to undermine the importance of representation and participation. Rather, the point is that substitution can happily coexist with them” (14). He also briefly defines substitutionary atonement and clarifies what he will and will not address in this short volume. Specifically, the focus is narrowly on substitution as Christ’s death instead of us, in our place and not on related issues such as representation, propitiation, and satisfaction. Gathercole concludes the introduction by briefly addressing some common theological, philosophical, logical, and exegetical objections to substitution. It is exegetical objections that are the focus of this study.

In chapter 1 Gathercole addresses three prominent cases against substitution: the Tübingen understanding of representative “place-taking,” interchange in Christ, and apocalyptic deliverance. He notes the strengths of each of these positions but also points out their difficulties and weaknesses. Gathercole points out their common weakness of downplaying the importance of individual sins/transgressions. The next two chapters make a positive case for substitution, with chapter 2 focusing on 1 Corinthians 15:3 and chapter 3 focusing on Romans 5:6-8. Chapter 2 first makes a case for the central importance of Christ’s death “for our sins” in Paul, then examines the influence of Isaiah 53 on 1 Corinthians 15:3, next draws attention to the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death in 1 Corinthians 15:3, and finally looks at 1 Corinthians 15:3 as a test case for whether the Tubingen view of representative “place-taking” works. Next an excursus is devoted to responding to the objection of why Christians still die if atonement is substitutionary. Gathercole notes four elements or “kinds” of deaths (literal deaths of believers, metaphorical deaths of believers, deaths of nonbeliever, death of Christ) that need to be seen in the background in order to see how this objection is not valid.

In the final chapter, Gathercole mines the classical literature of antiquity to show that “Paul’s language about Jesus dying ‘for us’ echoes very closely the language used frequently in non-Christian literature to describe substitutionary or vicarious deaths” (85). The upshot is that “Jesus’s death is both similar and different: it is comphrehensible to a gentile as a substitutionary death like other, more familiar cases, but it is also a shocking instance of it” (86). He notes examples of conjugal love (Acelstis), friendship (Phintias and Damon), and family members (Philonides). In comparison of these classical examples with what Paul wrote in Romans 5, the point of commonality is that there is a death of one person for another. The difference is that in the case of Christ the death is for an enemy, not a spouse or friend or family member.

Defending Substitution is an excellent introduction to some of the scholarly debate surrounding the atonement and provides a brief and accessible exegetical defense of substitutionary atonement through two Pauline texts. It’s a great book for laity with academic interest in soteriology as well as beginning Bible college or seminary students. Given its intended audience and intentionally limited scope, there’s really nothing to criticize in this book.

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon


Book Review – Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (Robert Peterson)

Robert A. Peterson. Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 464 pp. $35.00.

Salvation Applied by the Spirit

Union with Christ was integral in the soteriology of the Reformers, and especially that of Calvin. As Marcus Peter Johnson notes in One With Christ, “when Calvin wrote of being united to Christ, he meant that believers are personally joined to the living, incarnate, crucified, resurrected Jesus…this union with Christ, which Calvin described in strikingly graphic and intimate terms, constituted for him the very essence of salvation. To be saved by Christ, Calvin kept insisting, means to be included in the person of Christ. That is what salvation is” (Johnson 12, emphasis original). And it wasn’t just a heady doctrine, either; for the Reformers, union with Christ had multifaceted implications for the life of the believer and the life of the Church. Many, myself included, can attest to a fundamental change in personal spirituality as well as approach to life and ministry upon discovering and plunging the depths of the doctrine of union with Christ. I’ve therefore been delighted by the steady stream of excellent books on the topic in recent years (e.g. R. Letham, J. Billings, M. Johnson, C. Campbell, G. Macaskill, etc), many written from a Reformed perspective. Naturally, I was very eager to read the latest offering from Robert Peterson, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ.


Book Review – Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views (Andrew David Naselli & Mark A. Snoeberger ed.)

Andrew David Naselli and Mark A. Snoeberger, ed. Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement: 3 Views. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015. 256 pp. $24.99.

AtonementI don’t usually gravitate toward multiview books, but what solidified Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement in my mind as a book I needed to read was a comment made in passing by my friend Lindsay Kennedy about how he always likes to engage with the best arguments of opposing positions. I have been a convinced 5-point Calvinist for a long time, and I’ve read many of the significant tomes defending Reformed soteriology (e.g From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, Salvation by Grace, etc.); but I couldn’t remember ever reading a good academic defense of Arminian soteriology. Because this issue is one of the most controversial intra-Evangelical theological debates and one in which both sides are prone to caricature the other, at the very least Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement helps us see that each of the three views espoused in this book is exegetically and theologically tenable and that this is an in-house, family debate amongst genuine believers who all affirm the essential tenet of penal substitutionary atonement.


Book Review – Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Matthew Barrett)

Matthew Barrett. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. xxix+388 pp. $24.99.

monMonergistic versus synergistic regeneration is perhaps the key distinction between Calvinist and Arminian soteriology. Not only that, but the glory of God is very much at stake in this debate – it’s not just theoretical and academic. While monergistic regeneration (alternatively known as “effectual calling” or “irresistible grace”) is, in the words of B. B. Warfield, “the hinge of Calvinistic soteriology,” this doctrine seems to be significantly in the shadows of predestination/election in contemporary literature. I was therefore very eager to read Matthew Barrett’s book Salvation by Grace, an entire lengthy book dedicated to monergism. This book is an abridged version of Barrett’s doctoral dissertation completed at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Thomas Schreiner. The full dissertation is sold by P&R as an ebook entitled Reclaiming Mongergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration.


The thesis of this project will argue that the biblical view is that God’s saving grace is monergistic – meaning that God acts alone to effectually call and monergistically regenerate the depraved sinner from death to new life – and therefore effectual calling and regeneration causally precede conversion in the ordo salutis, thereby ensuring that all of the glory in salvation belongs to God not man. Stated negatively, God’s grace is not synergistic – meaning that God cooperates with man, giving man the final, determining power to either accept or resist God’s grace – which would result in an ordo salutis where regeneration is causally conditioned upon man’s free will in conversion and, in the Calvinist’s opinion, would rob God of all the glory in salvation.



Book Review – From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, ed. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 704 pp. $50.00.

fhAs the doctrines of grace (more commonly known as the “five points of Calvinism”) are being discovered, embraced, and cherished by scores of YRRs (or neo-Puritans, neo-Calvinists, neo-Dortians, or whatever your preferred designation/stripe), they are still generally disliked (and often misunderstood) by a majority of Christians. And perhaps all the other four doctrines combined don’t cause as much trouble as the middle petal – “limited atonement.” This no doubt has at least a little to do with the misleading designation, and as the subtext of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her implies and several of the contributors explicitly state, perhaps it’s time to call this flower (or at least the middle petal) by another name.

Long before its release this book was anticipated to become the definitive resource on definite atonement, and now, almost a year after its release, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is living up to the hype. Boasting a veritable who’s who of contributors (e.g. Haykin, Trueman, Motyer, Schreiner, MacLeod, Letham, Piper, etc.), this volume consists of 23 chapters in four parts addressing definite atonement from the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.

By beginning with church history, we recognize that all contemporary reading of the Bible on the atonement is historically located. We are not hostages to past interpretations, nor do we need to pretend there is such a thing as tabula rasa (blank slate) exegesis. By carefully attending to Scripture, we seek to submit ourselves to what God has said. By moving from exegesis to theology, we claim that the diverse biblical parts demand the patient work of synthesis to portray the theological whole. By concluding with pastoral practice, we aim to show the implications of the Bible’s teaching for the church’s ministry and mission. So while the discipline of doctrinal thinking is never less than the ordering of all that the Bible has to say on a given subject, it is also much more.

(Gibson & Gibson, 38)


Book Review: Justification and the Gospel (R. Michael Allen)

R. Michael Allen. Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. 208 pp. $21.99.

Allen JustificationIs justification by faith alone the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae? For as long as I can remember as a Christian, I’ve passionately espoused this classic Protestant affirmation. Yet it is one that seems to be increasingly unpopular, both in the academy and in the pew. Not only is the centrality of justification being contested, but the very definition of the doctrine itself is being (and has been for the past few decades) hotly debated and sometimes revised.

Alongside works reframing/revising the doctrine of justification, responses to these renderings abound. Most responses maintain their respective dichotomies (e.g. arguing for justification as opposed to participation, pistis Christou as referring to faith in Christ rather than faith of Christ, anthropological approach to Paul’s theology as opposed to christological, etc.). Furthermore, ecumenists and exegetes have dominated the debates, with systematic theologians playing a marginal role. In Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies, R. Michael Allen offers a fresh, alternative approach to the topic of justification sola fide.


Book Review – By Faith, Not by Sight (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, 2d. Ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013. 160 pp. $14.99.

By Faith, Not By SightPauline studies have in recent decades been dominated by the so-called New Perspective(s) on Paul. “In view of reservations and denials that have accompanied the emergence of the New Perspective and are resulting in a diminished interest in the question of the ordo salutis in Paul, it seems appropriate to test these reservations and denials by examining his theology, especially his soteriology, in terms of this question and the issues it raises (p. 4).” Although this state of affairs is what prompted Gaffin to write this monograph, his primary concern here is not to evaluate or interact in detail with the NPP or its advocates. Rather, the NPP will remain in the background, coming into view only as it facilitates his positive presentation of aspects of Paul’s theology, primarily his soteriology.

Originally given as four lectures for the annual School of Theology of Oak Hill Theological College in London, this book subsequently went out of print (cheapest used copy on Amazon currently sells for $99.99!). After reading an advanced electronic review copy of the second edition, I am delighted that it will be released on November 6, 2013. For those who have read the first edition, in the preface to this second edition Gaffin notes that the revisions herein are not extensive, though occasionally they are substantive. In a number of places he has rewritten to enhance clarity, particularly in light of criticisms of the first edition. At several points he has addressed specific criticisms. Finally, a few footnotes have been added, as well as an author/subject index.