N. T. Wright. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Fortress Press, 2005.
If this book were written by just about anyone but N.T. Wright, I would praise it to the skies as a clear, accessible, but substantial introduction to the Apostle Paul’s thought. The author puts Paul theology in the context of 21st century discussions about empire and Paul’s Judaism in a way that draws on the insights of these discussions without coming across as faddish. The Christian faith community both in Paul’s context and ours is taken as the locus for deliberations on Paul’s thought–an emphasis much to be welcomed.
Yet, since it is N.T. Wright that wrote this book, one feels a bit disappointed. Wright promised years ago that the next volume in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series would be on Paul’s thought. He ended up devoting his energies to a volume of Jesus’ resurrection instead. How many more of these massive, magisterial tomes does Wright have left in him?
If Paul: In Fresh Perspective is a volume meant to tide us over for the main course, I am willing to be patient. It’s quite good for what it is, a popular-level (in the sense of being accessible to a general, non-specialist audience of thoughtful Christians) summary of some of the latest thinking about Paul’s thought. And we should appreciate this effort–even as it joins numerous other similar books in the field.
However, Wright is uniquely situated to give us more, something few other contemporary writers (if any) could–an epoch-defining treatment of Christianity’s most important theological writer that takes his historical and theological context into account and is also engaged with present-day concerns.
Wright has gained his current stature because of his unique combination of an engaging writing style, extraordinarily clear thinking, sympathy to theological and social currents in our contemporary world that highlight the need to read the Bible as a resource for present-day discipleship, and an unmatched engagement with just about any scholarly literature that matters.
If one is interested in Paul, this book is as good a place to begin in understanding the Apostle as any basic-level book I know of. And let’s hope the main dish will arrive in due course.