Paul: In Fresh Perspective
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70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
This book grew out of a series of lectures that Dr. Wright gave on the apostle Paul. He begins with a brief overview of the Roman and Jewish and Greek and Christian worlds in which he lived. He follows this up with a chapter on how Paul's understanding of creation and covenant informs his work on the Christ hymn in Colossians 1 as well as the first 11 chapters of Romans. He underscores how Paul redefines God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 and Genesis 15 as to include Gentiles today, forming one people of God with Israel. He shows how Paul's exposition of the gospel in Romans is a working out of his understanding of the Abrahamic covenant.

There is also a helpful chapter where Wright shows how Paul is underscoring that Christ is the true emperor of the world, and that it is His empire that we belong to, not the empire of Nero.

Wright goes on to talk about the concepts of Messiah and apocalyptic. He contends that apocalyptic in Paul refers to the revelation or uncovering of the mysteries of God in Christ. He disagrees with Kasemann and others who see apocalyptic as a term simply describing the end time.

In part two of this book, Wright discusses how Paul reimagines the Jewish Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Ephesians 4:4-5 and in Philippians 2, and how this was expressed later on in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

He also shows how the concept of the people of God has been reworked by Paul to include both Gentiles and Jews. There is also a section where Paul reimagines God's future as being all in all and ruling forever in Christ. He rejects the dispensational model of Jesus coming back to rapture us into heaven where we will forever live with God. He points out how the image of the parousia is that of a people leaving the city to meet their king, and then escorting him back into the city. Therefore, we will meet Jesus in the air and then accompany Him back to the earth.

I thought I was going to disagree at first with Dr. Wright about justification in Paul. But he shows how God declares the sinner to be righteous in Christ when he responds to the call of God and accepts Christ and the gospel (Romans 8:29-30).

I think that this is a very solid outline of Paul's theology. Like Ben Witherington, Wright believes that Paul's thought world is part of the matrix of God's story of creation and covenant and redemption as found in key OT texts such as Genesis 1-3, Psalm 19, Isaiah and Joel. The book is academic, but very readable, and the informed layperson will enjoy it.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2006
This book is not actually another stab at the "New Perspective" issues on the part of Wright; rather, it is a type of condensed culmination of Wright's work up to this point. However, for those who have not read any of N.T. Wright's works, I would not recommend beginning here.

This book is actually a "tweaked" compilation of Wright's Hulsean Lectures presented at Cambridge University. Wright declares that he revised the lectures a bit for book form, and added chapters to complete the overall thought of the lectures. What is more, Wright, through out this book responds to his critics on certain points. But, the main thrust of this book seems to be a general overview of Wright's work up to this point.

Wright reviews Paul's historical setting in first century, second Temple Judaism, then Wright moves into a discussion of creation and covenant and how these play an important role in Paul's epistles and what Paul is attempting to communicate to his audience regarding Jesus' claims (especially the act of the resurrection). It is actually in this section where Wright, point by point, book and verses by book and verses, details Paul's letters in light of certain Old Testament narratives and God's work in the world to set creation right in the covenant made wit Abraham and the Jewish people.

From these two chapters Wright moves into a discussion of the Messiah (of course, Jesus) and Paul's apocalyptic language and how these things are vital in Paul's covenant theology and their steady progress of historical fulfillment, as Wright declares. Then Wright finishes up this part of the book with the actual gospel and the Roman empire/rule. This, of course, as Wright points out, is the context within which Paul is working and writing. This entire first section, Wright uses to set the groundwork for the environment, thinking, politics, etc. within which Paul is working and writing.

The final section of the book, Wright takes the first section and details why Paul is saying the things he is saying in his epistles. The first section is quite important to understanding the second part. Thus, the book works in a type of systematic exegetical fashion. Once again, Wright intention in this book is not to rehash old "New Perspective" arguments, or attempt to respond to his critics within the context of the "New Perspective" (although he does so on occasion). Rather, Wright, it seems, in this work is laying out on the table, in a nice systematic fashion, his life's work on Paul and Paul's epistles.

The reason I say that this is not a good book to begin with for those who have never read Wright, is the fact that Wright assumes in most of this work that his reader understands the issues he has been dealing with for 30 plus years, and so he does not always simplistic develop his way to his point. Often times Wright simply comes out and begins to discuss certain issues without setting the stage for the reader, assuming the reader has at least a basic understanding of what is going on.

That being said, however, this is a nice overview of Wright's work regarding Paul, and it is new and improved in certain areas, where when you read (for those who have read Wright's previous works) where Wright has improved, changed, and reworked his thinking a bit on certain issues to a higher level.

One of my more favorite chapters in this book is seven, titled "Reimagining God's Future." In this chapter, Wright details Paul's eschatology, especially in light of the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit. These issues Wright has discussed in previous works, but as collectively and succinctly as I think he has done in this work. The chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Overall this is a great addition to my library, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in New Testament studies or those interested in N.T. Wright's work.
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98 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2006
N T Wright has a great writing style that is lucid, insightful and informative. Scholar and student both, can read his books and not be overwhelmed by technical jargon and vocabulary. He brings his great insight into Paul to light in this book that everyone who will attempt to get a grasp on Paul will need to start here (after the Bible of course).
Wright begins by discussing the three worlds of Paul, which were Jewish (this one was foundational), Roman, and Greek. Wright shows how that Paul works out the fulfillment of Israel in Jesus and that being true Israel means that one has put their hope and faith in Jesus and not the Law or Temple. Wright carries this thread throughout his discussion on Paul.
The book has two parts. Part one is themes and they include Creation and Covenant, Messiah and Apocalyptic, Gospel and Empire. Part two is structures and the structures he sees are entitled rethinking God, reworking God's people, reimagining God's future, and then the conclusion, which he has called Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church.
In Creation and Covenant Wright works out the idea that God created man, man then got himself in a mess through the fall and then God acts to restore his creation through covenant. Abraham and his seed were give the vocation of restoring what Adam had lost by being light to the world. The problem, as Wright so rightly points out, was that the solution (Abraham or Israel) became part of the problem, precisely because the Law was not equipped to change humanity. In the end Jew and Gentile stand unrestored and sinful and in need of redemption.
In the section Messiah and Apocalyptic, Wright shows that Jesus as Israel's true representative has accomplished for humanity what the nation of Israel had failed to accomplished. For Paul the plan of God for Israel had been unveiled and Jesus was the plan all along. God had vindicated the Messiah (Israel's true representative) by resurrecting him from the dead.
The message of Gospel and empire was the proclamation that Israel's Messiah has become Lord of the world. The message is a threat to Caesar, because Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.
In the second part of the book under Structures Wright speaks of rethinking God and particularly monotheism in light of the person of Jesus. Wright maintains the traditional orthodox view of the divinity of Jesus (nothing to fear here despite what some have said about Wright on this subject), but he holds this in tension with Jewish monotheism. In this same section Wright holds that Paul does not proof text when quoting scripture (the Old Testament), as Sanders suggests, but that Paul takes the full context of the passage into consideration and Wright insists that Paul's message holds continuity with the overall narrative of Israel. I am suggesting the Wright is right on this and that Wright has effectively torn down not only the old liberal or moderate views on this, but the conservative views from the old perspective as well.
In the section on Reworking God's People Wright covers the topic of election. He does not speak of election here in the old Calvinistic perspective, but that God has elected Jesus as Israel's true representative and that they that are in the Messiah are therefore in the elect. If you miss what Wright is saying here then you will miss what is perhaps his biggest contribution and that is that God's people are constituted around faith in Jesus and not circumcision, the Torah, Land, or Temple. He suggests that Paul has reworked God's people around the Messiah and the Spirit. In other words it is no longer the Temple made by hands that the Spirit or presence of God dwells but now in the Temple of believers in the Messiah (Jesus) and it is no longer the Torah that guides the life of Israel, but the Spirit that is to be walked in and the its members are to be led by.
In the section reimagining God's future Wright sees Paul's central point being; God has done in Jesus in the middle of time what normal Jewish expectations thought would happen at the end of time. Jesus has fulfilled the promises of Abraham and David and has brought to an end Jewish eschatological expectations at the cross, resurrections and negatively in 70 AD at the destruction of the Temple. Now an Israel has been reconstituted, humanity has been redeemed and now the future of all of creation is in process as the gospel is preached and the Church or new Israel models the new humanity to the world through living in the Spirit.
The book concludes with a final chapter on Jesus, Paul and the task of the Church. There is much to be interested in that Wright says here, but what I found interesting was his discussion of how Paul sees his own vocation as being the instrument of living out the vocation of light of the world that began in Jesus, but was being lived out in Paul as he carried the message to the Gentiles. It seems that Wright sees the role of the Church (the new Israel) as still being the same as it was for Paul. The task of the Church is to carry the message that exile has ended, a new and true humanity has been constituted, Jesus is Lord and is to be worshipped against all of the other claims of worship in this world.
What does this book mean? In my opinion it means that much of the current preaching from the so-called Christian Zionist perspective is false. This has not been Wrights push, but he accomplishes pointing the way out of the error of this message. It also puts to rest the Old Perspective. Wright points out and deals with justification as God vindicating the people who have put faith in Jesus as Messiah. Justification for Wright is not how to get to heaven, but is the declaration that the whoever answers the call to put faith in Jesus, that one God has and will vindicate. Wright does such a good job here that it is dificult to see how the old perspective can be revived. His case is too good to be ignored. If you are interested in getting at the heart of the gospel message in Paul and in Jesus then get this book.

Questions or comments contact me at darrengjohnson38@yahoo.com
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 4, 2009
Before I comment directly on N. T. Wright's book Paul: In Fresh Perspective, let me give an abbreviated theological travelogue. I grew up in South America; my parents were conservative evangelical missionaries. From birth through high school I was thoroughly indoctrinated in a dispensational, premillenial, Pietistic view of the Bible and the Christian life. In Bible school I took my first course in systematic theology. Before long I was a committed adherent of Reformed (covenantal, Calvinistic, amillenial) theology. That commitment still holds firm over 40 years later.

A little over 10 years ago (about 30 years after philosophy grad school), I began reading philosophy again, especially Christian philosophers. I reread Etienne Gilson, Josef Pieper, and some of the scholastic philosophers; I also began reading G. K. Chesterton, James V. Schall, Peter Kreeft, Simone Weil, Jaroslav Pelikan, and other nonevangelical authors. I subscribed to the journal First Things. I also began reading the early church fathers. Throughout this time, I continued reading more traditional authors from the Reformed tradition, but my intellectual data bank was acquiring some significant diversity.

About 5 years ago, Kenneth E. Bailey (Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, The Cross and the Prodigal, etc.) spoke at a conference hosted by our church. That experience led me to read a number of Christian books that illumined the Jewish background of Jesus and the New Testament writers (The Gospel according to Moses by Athol Dickson, Our Father Abraham by Marvin R. Wilson, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin) and then to several books from a solely Jewish perspective (God in Search of Man and Man Is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel). Meanwhile, I read a number of books and journal articles about the effects of postmodern thought on Christian thinking and Christian ministry.

A question began nagging at my mind: If some recent Christian scholars have been influenced by postmodernism, what effect did modernism have on the Reformers? Some evangelical authors are concerned that Christianity may be hijacked by postmodernism, but is it possible that to some extent the Reformers were prisoners of modernism?

No one helped me answer those questions. In fact, no one was even asking them. Then I encountered N. T. Wright. I began reading The New Testament and the People of God a few months ago. He asks and discusses issues that none of my favorite Reformed authors even noticed. When I took a break from that longer book to read Wright's Paul: In Fresh Perspective, I devoured it in a few days.

Perhaps if I'd encountered N. T. Wright 15 years ago, I would have written him off as a threat to Protestant orthodoxy, if not an outright heretic. But I'm not the same person I was then. Though I still hold to most elements of Reformed doctrine, my eyes are open a bit wider now. Wright's treatment of Paul's theology is reasoned and reasonable. He takes no unwarranted liberties with the text. His historical approach is revealing and satisfying. His inferences from his textual studies are not outlandish. The book sheds light on passages that had been puzzling or problematic to me. I highly recommend this book!

Let me close with another personal detour. When I was attending a Christian (read fundamentalist Protestant) elementary school, the teacher presented a church history chart. The accompanying text indicated that "true" Christian teaching left the church right around the time of Augustine and didn't return till Martin Luther! All those "Catholic" years had nothing to contribute to Christian doctrine or practice. I hesitate to say this, but some of the more shrill evangelical responses to N. T. Wright remind me of that chart.

The Protestant Reformation did not "recover" the teachings of Jesus. The early Reformers were well acquainted with the history and teachings of the church. They did not jettison it all and start over; rather, they built on that foundation, keeping some elements and reconfiguring others, as they developed new ways of interacting with the Scriptures, tradition, and Christian doctrine. The Reformation was a necessary and beneficial development in the history of the church, and it enabled a highly appropriate response to and interaction with the thinkers of the day, who were distancing themselves more and more from Christian presuppositions. Its systematic and rationalistic approach, resulting in the construction of impressive theological edifices, was very effective in Christian development and spiritual growth. The Reformers were children of their time, and their work not only addressed the needs of their time but also proved effective for several centuries. But did the Reformation cover all the necessary bases? Did it provide the last word on Christian doctrine?

Our trust is in God and in his Son Jesus the Messiah, not in a particular system of doctrine devised by Augustine or Aquinas or Luther or Calvin or Wesley or anyone else. I think that in order to keep our focus on "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3, NIV), we need to see Reformed doctrine (or any other theological construct) as less authoritative than are the Old and New Testaments. How do we do this in today's culture? N. T. Wright may point us to some of the answers.
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87 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2006
Going inside the mind of Paul. This is what N.T. Wright has attempted to do. He has attempted to "think Paul's thoughts after him.(inside cover)" He has done this by drawing on his knowledge and experience of Pauline literature as well as examining Paul in his Jewish Roots. His goal is to "constantly be stirred up to fresh glimpses of God's ways and purposes with the world and with us strange human creatures (inside cover)." Before I shall humbly attempt to interact with the argument of Wright's book, I want to make two preliminary observations.

The first observation (really concession) is that I tend to hesitate and balk when I hear that some scholar or pastor has "fresh insights" into a passage of Scripture. It has seemed, that alot of the times, that a "fresh insight" is really just bad theology. Or, it is a personal position or bias that an individual holds to, and now has "found" in a certain text or certain author. I am not suggesting, per se, that this is what Wright is doing here. But my default (and I will be willing to admit, maybe a faulty default) is to reason that we have had the Scriptures for 2000 years; to study, examine, ponder and research, and that today any "fresh insights" or "new persepctives" is to be dealt with and examined with a great deal of caution.

My second observation (it too is really a concession) is that I had a extrememly hard time reading Wright. I struggled greatly in attempting to understand his argument and reasoning. I struggled at times following his flow of thought. To be frank, I feel that this was probably mostly in part because Wright was writing at a scholarly level at which I am simply not at yet. I will admit that. But yet, at the same time, I feel that in his attempt to write about what I would consider deep and subjective ideas, he failed to present it in such a way that was clear and convincing. There were numerous times where I had to read a paragraph three and four times to try and understand his point. Part of this, I feel, was simply Wright's style of writing. For example, take the following sentence found on page 52, "Among the mysteries which apocalyptic characteristically reveals, through whichever device, is the plan of God, sometimes in terms of lengthy accounts, actual or symbols, of the history of the world or of Israel, usually reaching or about to reach a climax in the time when the book is being written."

I had to read and reread that sentence numerous times in an attempt to simply understand what Wright was attempting to say. In my opinion, this is just a poorly worded sentence. It was confusing and unclear, and I found myself feeling this way countless times throughout the book. Now, I realize the purpose of this critique is to interact with the premise and argument of the author, and not necessarily analyze his writing style. However, I have found it extremely difficult to interact with his argument BECAUSE OF his writing style. You cannot have an interaction or discussion if half of the party cannot follow the argument or reasoning of the other party. This being the case, I will however, as inadequate as I feel, attempt to briefly interact with Wright below.

Wright suggests that there are three themes that run as a thread through Paul; Creation and Covenant, Messiah and Apocalyptic, and Gospel and Empire. He spends the first half of his book exploring these themes and how they show up in Paul. The second half of the book then he suggest that we need now, "new lenses" with which to see Paul and his theology.

He argues that the God of Israel, the creator, "has acted decisively to fulfil the covenant promises and so to renew both covenant and creation (p.34)." I was with Wright to this point and agreed with him. But it was on the next point, and following, that I quickly got lost.

Concerning Messiah and Apocalyptic, Wright contends that in the thoughts of Paul, "dependent on similar frameworks of thought within second-Temple Judaism, within which covenant and apocalyptic, freshly understood, are mutually reinforcing rather than mutually antithetical (p.42)." If I understand Wright right, he is claiming that in the mind of Paul, God has always been commited to his covenant, and even though it may not appear so now, in the end God will reveal His faithfulness and righteousness to all of creation. To this point (if I have interpreted Wright correctly) I too agree.

And concerning his final theme, Gospel and Empire, he suggests that for Paul, at every point, it is as simple as "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not." I feel like I am severely missing substance here, but again, at this point, I was thoroughly lost in Wright.

I apologize for my lack of scholarly insights and dialogue concerning this review. I am fully aware that it is lacking.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2008
Granted, many people have rather passionate feelings about the new perspective on Paul, but let me say two things about that concerning this book. First of all, if you really want to know what Wright thinks about the new perspective issues, read this book and do not rely on the portrayal given by some of his opponents. Secondly, even if your mind is made up about the new perspective (or at least Wright's own take on it) you are in luck because most of this book is about other things.

For me reading Paul in Fresh Perspective brought forth a lot of now obvious Pauline themes that I had not previously focused on, and more importantly it really grounded Paul in the context of Israel and his Jewish heritage in very valuable way.

Wright brings out over and over how Paul, in almost any chapter and certainly every epistle, goes back to the story and beliefs of Israel, and then points to their fulfillment in Christ. From the Messianic themes in Paul, to his understanding of Salvation-history, to the contrast between Jesus as Lord and Caesar, all these things helped me see Paul in a deeper way. For all we use (or overuse) Paul as Protestants, we can not afford to let ourselves assume that we have him all figured out and works like this help as see him afresh

newwaystheology.[...]
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2008
In Paul in Fresh Perspective, N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham (in England), sets out to place the writing, thought, and ministry of Paul in his first century context of Judaism, Imperial Rome, and Greek culture of the Eastern Mediterranean. Wright takes us on a fascinating journey into what the mind of Paul might have been like and how the particular challenges of ministering in his three-fold world affected his writings and the early church, finishing with suggestions for how we can work out Paul's methods in making Jesus' message understandable to our own world. It is highly readable and yet so scholarly that it references many unfamiliar ideas and authors. I foresee buying more books to get a better picture of the many subjects that hover around the edges of Wright's thesis. So, if you are book geek like me who loves bibliographies you will like this book.

This is book is controversial in that it espouses a different take on "justification by faith" than the traditional Protestant line as espoused by the Reformers and many theologians over the past 500 years. Wright understands justification as not about how people become Christians, "but about how one could tell in the present, who God's true people were..." (p. 159). This is an assertion he makes often in this book, and he does spend time building a case for it, but his proof is not convincing. It warrants a whole book of its own with not only biblical/theological foundation, but lots of textual support which is beyond the scope of this little book. All that said, Wright's perspective definitely warrants more study of both those who oppose this teaching and other writings of Wright, because the implications for redefining justification are enormous.

So, read this to get your feet wet in a debate that is raging through scholarly circles and pastors gatherings around the world as well as a glimpse into the Jewish roots of Christianity. As you read pray for discernment and use your bible b/c of the importance of the debate and its outcome.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
As a serious student of the apostle Paul, I have been reluctant to rethink key Pauline concepts like justification, soteriology, and especially Paul's view of Jesus Christ. But, N. T. Wright makes a convincing case for doing just that. He simply asks that we set aside our theological commitments and try to understand Paul in terms of his own context. That much any honest exegete ought to be willing to do. In this book I find Wright engaging and suggestive. He invites the reader to reread Paul along with him. In the end I think Wright's reconstruction of Pauline theology is relevant to modern needs. The church now would be well-advised to take up the challenge Wright offers and see if Paul's presentation of the gospel does not offer much-needed answers to our brokenness. I still find Wright's exegesis forced in places. But it is always helpful to be challenged to re-consider the meaning of familiar texts. That Wright does better than anyone I have read recently. Paul: In Fresh Perspective
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2007
Readers should not be confused. Despite its slim appearance, this is not another accessible _Tom_ Wright work. Published under his academic moniker, this is in many ways an updating of _The Climax Of The Covenant_ and _What St. Paul Really Said_ with an up to date survey of contemporary Paul scholarship, and the introduction of some compelling thematic approaches to reading Paul's work.

The book was adapted from two series of lectures, and reading it I often suspected it would have more impact for those attending those lectures who were more easily able to raise questions and debate among themselves the answers. In places the book can be overly dense for the amateur reader as it skims through technical arguments. But it is by no means out of reach to those of us who don't read theology full time. While it doesn't have the immediate application that Wright's more populist works do, with its sparse length and careful use of themic metaphors, _Paul: In Fresh Perspective_ is a quick and satisfying way to get up to speed with Wright's latest thinking in this area.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2006
N T (Tom) Wright is the Bishop of Durham. He has been a Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities, Dean Of Lichfield Cathedral, and Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey. He is a worthy member of both the Academy and the Church.

He has written at a popular level, e g the For Everyone series on the books of the New Testament, and at an academic level, e g The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God in a projected series of five volumes on `Christian Origins and the Question of God.' In addition he was the author of the commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans in The New Interpreter's Bible.

The present book is based on the Hulsean Lectures of 2004 at Cambridge University. It is dedicated to one of the saints of New Testament Studies, C F D Moule. In this book Dr Wright summarises his view of the Apostle Paul in the coming fourth volume of his series on `Christian Origins and the Question of God.' In so doing he expands his earlier work on Paul including What St Paul Really Said (Lion, 1997).

Part 1 develops `Themes': Paul's World, Paul's Legacy; Creation and Covenant; Messiah and Apocalyptic; Gospel and Empire. Part 2 looks at `Structures': Rethinking God; Reworking God's People; Reimagining God's Future;Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church.

Dr Wright is a person who sees the big picture. He challenges lesser thinkers who are concerned with mere details. His Paul is living and vibrant in a dangerous and threatening environment. His Paul is not seen from the perspective of limited understandings of theology, christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

Mind you, I have to say that I have questions to ask and gaps to fill. Is Dr Wright's big picture all or only partly right? What does the righteousness of God mean? How do we interpret justification by faith? What does the parousia of Christ mean? How do we interpret the second coming? I could go on. However, it's worth the while to read and reread this book. It takes me out of my comfort zone in which I am inclined to think that I have understood Paul when I have simply weighed up introductory issues and constructed outlines of the letters.
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