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writing things down…

Insufficiently Theological

I’ve been slowly making my way through Douglas Harink’s Paul among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology beyond Christendom and Modernity (Brazos, 2003)—slowly, not because I am digesting it deeply, but because I have little time for reading these days and so I can only get at the book in fits and starts.

Harink writes well and clearly. And, his project is impressive, crossing disciplinary boundaries easily. He is able to address issues with both the traditional and the new perspectives on Paul. The criticisms of the traditional perspective are well worn. Harink’s criticism of the New Perspective, on the other hand, is fresh because he does not march out the old soldiers from the traditional view. Instead, he writes things like the following:

Such, I believe, is one of the persistent shortcomings of some of the work from the “new perspective on Paul.” E. P. Sanders, J. D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, and others often borrow from the repertoire of historical, sociological, and religious studies to name the terms of Paul’s theological concerns. It is supposed that he is wrestling with questions about the conditions for “getting in and staying in” a certain religious group (i.e., the covenant people of God); or with group “boundary markers” which distinguish and separate groups from one another, but which in Christ are eradicated, making all groups into one; or with “inclusion” and “exclusion,” that is, the difference between “Jewish ethnic nationalism” which is by definition “exclusive” and the new message of God’s gracious “acceptance” of all in Jesus Christ and which is therefore “inclusive.” Without denying the element of truth in these and similar construals, they are insufficiently apocalyptic/theological. They miss the crucial point that in Galatians Paul is concerned to affirm “the singularity of the gospel”—that God’s relationship to and purpose for the nations and all creation is exclusively determined by and through God’s cosmic-eschatological-healing in teh cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

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