Do Paul’s Letters Have a Narrative Substructure? A Review of “Narrative Dynamics in Paul”

narrative dynamics in paulIn 1980, J.C. Beker declared in Paul the Apostle that, “Paul is a man of the proposition, the argument and the dialogue, not a man of the parable or story” (p.352). At the time, he was far from the only one who took that as an assumed position. A few short years after those words were written, though, the winds of change began to blow.

Over the last few decades, significant parts of Pauline scholarship have drawn enthusiastically from the field of literary theory, resulting in an increased amount of attention being given to the evocative ways in which Paul’s language engages with and alludes to earlier biblical narratives, among other things.  Continue reading

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Slow and Steady Growth: A Review of Alan Kreider’s “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church”

patient ferment

On the first page of Alan Kreider’s new book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, he asks readers to pause and consider a sometimes overlooked question, “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were so supported by the empire and aristocracy?”

Kreider, a Harvard-trained professor emeritus at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, has spent much his career studying early Christianity. In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, he draws together this lifetime of work into a readable yet detailed study the early Church’s growth, looking especially at the period before Constantine’s reign (p.4). Continue reading

New Creation in John’s Gospel

st mary's episcopal church

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of the Frescoes in West Jefferson, NC. Author’s photo.

New creation. It’s one of Paul’s more vivid ways of describing what has come about because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection from the grave. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he told them, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17 NRSV). 

In one of N.T. Wright’s books on Pauline theology, he argues that for Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection not only marked the decisive defeat of sin and death, but also accomplished nothing less than the launching of God’s long-awaited renewal of creation (2009, pp.34-38). Now of course, emphasizing new creation in Paul doesn’t necessarily entail minimizing justification or other important Pauline doctrines. Instead, the task is to integrate them. The same man who declared that Christ personally “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 NRSV) was also able to step back and, considering the accomplishments of Christ on a larger scale, write, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 NRSV). 

Investigating the myriad of ways in which new creation fits into the larger whole of Pauline theology would be intriguing, but we are going to dwell this time on a slightly different, and maybe more interesting topic: is new creation a New Testament theme or merely a Pauline one? In order to begin developing something of an answer to this question, we are going to spend most of our time in the Gospel of John, a poetic and vivid text that at first blush bears little resemblance to Paul and his letters. Continue reading