Reading normally seems like a pretty private affair, something one does late into the night after everyone else has finally fallen asleep, or in order to better pass the time on a train. While it’s not that hard to find people (rightly) arguing for the importance of thoughtful reading habits when it comes to becoming more deeply rooted theologically on a personal level, it seems more unusual to find it regarded as something with significant implications for community life.
In his new book, Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith acknowledges this fact, but nevertheless develops a compelling case for why reading can (and should) play an important part in helping local church communities discern wisely how to take part in God’s work in the world (p.20). Near the beginning of the book, Smith makes clear one of his main points: when the practice of reading is done well, it can do much to help local churches and their surrounding neighborhoods flourish. He clarifies what he means by adding that:
The term flourishing comes from roots that mean “flower”‘ to flourish is to bloom, to emerge into the full glory for which God has created us… Thus in these pages we will explore the sort of reading that moves us toward flourishing in our churches, our neighborhoods and the world at large. (p.21).
Last time, we began our series of posts exploring Galatians and Christian Theology by looking at N.T. Wright’s colorful entry on the prominence of Jesus’ messiahship in Galatians. This time, we are turning a few pages farther on into the book and working through John Barclay’s “Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth.”
Barclay completed both his undergraduate and doctoral studies at Cambridge and has taught at Durham University since 2003. He’s received quite a bit of attention recently thanks to the long-awaited publication of his book, Paul and the Gift, a systematic and multi-faceted consideration of Paul’s theology of grace. So, maybe it’s timely that we can get a taste of Barclay’s overall project by paying attention to his perspective on the intersection of theology and ethics in Galatians.
While most interpreters have come to agree that the warnings, exhortations, and ethical guidelines given by Paul in Galatians 5-6 are in one way or another integral to the meaning of the letter as a whole, Barclay notes that there is no corresponding consensus regarding exactly how these chapters are related to the ones preceding them (p.306). Finding a satisfying way of dealing with this issue is complicated since “any reading of these verses depends on a reading of the rest of the letter—and vice versa” (p.307). His general approach is to give a fresh consideration of Galatians as a whole, focusing especially on the social implications of the unconditioned nature of God’s gift in Christ (which he often refers to as the “Christ-gift”). Continue reading