Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Parts 3 and 4 (Book 2) by NT Wright

Looking back on it, I had to train for this book like a climber has to train for Mt. Rainier. I've read and listened to Wright's other books and lectures (including the first three in this series), but I'm happy to announce I didn't fall into a crevasse or anything. There's no way that a few sentences here can really express what I got out of these 1519 pages (or 50 hours of reading), but I have a few scattered thoughts upon completion:

-- Wright's intention to describe theology as a narrative rather than propositions is parallel to what I try to do in science. I learned a lot from him in how to disagree and argue with a broad range of other academics. Whatever you think of his conclusions, theology is stronger for Wright's arguments, and I think science can be stronger if similar narrative arguments are made in it (it also helps that I think those arguments are essentially right). Therefore I wrote a book.

-- The decision to lop off a lot of the arguments and put them into a separate book (Interpreters) is much appreciated. That said, there were several places where I drifted along because I just don't have a dog in that fight, or I already know where my "dog" sits. These amount to maybe 100 pages at most. In other books that would bog the book down. In this one it's 5% of the book so the point may be insignificant.

-- What I appreciate most is how Wright integrates history into the narrative and insists that we need to use the historical categories, not modern ones, to understand Paul's train of thought. And things that before I thought were intrusions or leaps of intuition turn out to be much more solid and make perfect sense in the light of the history. He did this for Jesus in Book 2, and now he does it for Paul in Book 4. Paul makes sense in new ways for me.

-- Wright writes well. Allusions to Pride and Prejudice and Midsummer Night's Dream play major roles in particular chapters, and he is a master of the biblical allusion (big surprise there). At the end he brings in Walter Benjamin, a philosopher friend of Hannah Arendt's I have never heard of but intend to find out more.

-- Wright's pastoral care is also integrated into the book. This is not just about the mind, but it is about practice and the entire life. So, if you care to train, this mountain is worth climbing. Excuse me while I decompress.

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