Monday, March 27, 2017

One of the great theological mysteries

It is pretty uncontroversial to say something like this: the greatest theological mystery is the Trinity. But on the basis of this book review, I wonder if equal or close equal in mystery is the question of salvation.

Recently here I raised some questions about the Epistle to the Romans and what its central concern is. A good debate ensued. Critical to all debates on Romans (and Galatians) is the question of God's grace, our salvation, becoming right with God and continuing to live in a right relationship with God. In those posts I touched on the debate engendered by the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP).

As that debate rages on in scholarship (and also in approaches preachers are taking to preaching Pauline epistles), it is obvious that the opportunity is ripe for some kind of bridging between the NPP and the "old perspective". John Barclay's recent book Paul and the Gift is the best candidate I know of to be that bridge.

Accordingly, I encourage you to read the review by Tim Foster (who teaches Down Under at Ridley College, Melbourne).

Not only does he question whether this book is "that bridge", he also lays out beautifully and simply the complex thesis which Barclay advances.

And as he does so, Foster sets out the great theological dilemma of understanding salvation by grace. What does grace expect of us after we are saved (or, if you like, as we are being saved)?

Fascinatingly, the answer involves compliments to Calvinism ...


Father Ron said...

Dear Peter; as far as 'salvation' is concerned, I love the story about the Anglican Bishop who, when confronted by a wet-eared Pentecostal youth on a train with the question: "Bishop, are you saved?" replied thus:

Brother, I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved!"

He obviously had a reasonable approach to the understanding of salvation, 'en Christo'. I believe salvation is open to all who look for it. I experience it every time I receive the Eucharist.

Jean said...

We are not saved by works but grace, but the resulting faith and works resulting from faith are so inevitably entwined one can not claim to have one without the other?

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron and Jean
You are both right!

BrianR said...

Well, as Michael Green tells that story (in 'The Meaning of Salvation), it was a Salvation Army girl speaking to Westcott who answered with an enquiry about which Greek verbal form she meant. Clever if true - but a bit 'de haut en bas', something the English ruling class have specialised in. Today I don't imagine many English bishops know that much Greek; their training today seems to be more in 'management' and 'communication'. Perhaps Westcott's modern equivalent would reply: 'Saved? From what?'

I heard John Barclay speak on his thesis a couple of years ago as a riposte to Dunn and Wright. Is Paul as complex and mysterious as the past 40 years have made him out to be? He did not write to philosophers nor to people who had spent their lives studying Second Temple and rabbinic writings - most of which hadn't yet been written when he was alive! :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, Peter, we do need some studies that bring the NPP and the new apocalypticism to common terms, both with their respective critics, and with each other. That is, we need three or four bridges.

Readers interested in this sort of thing may also want to read Colin Miller's 2010 Duke dissertation The Practice of the Body of Christ: Human Agency in Pauline Theology After MacIntyre. Miller's bridge spans the exegetical water between Douglas Campbell's apocalyptic gospel and Stanley Hauerwas's virtue ethics. As its construction was supervised, not only by Campbell and Hauerwas, but also by Richard Hays, we are not surprised that its pauline waves also break upon the pilings of John Barclay's NPP bridge.

Both Barclay and Miller have essayed semantic explorations of key terms in St Paul's thought and our own. But where Barclay has grasped the *grace* end of the stick, Miller has taken hold of the *works* end of it. Like Luther and the NPP, the apocalypticism of Campbell, Gaventa, et al seem to expect little of what Barclay calls *circularity*, good works returned for the original gift. But Miller shows that when the usual epistles are read with that low expectation, exegesis of St Paul's references to human agency are badly distorted. While the apostle was not quite an Aristotelian virtue ethicist like Alasdair MacIntyre, his references to agency are far closer to Aristotle than to modern notions.

Why should we care? Because, in Miller's words, "...apocalyptic interpretations of Paul need a thicker ecclesiology in order to avoid coming up short in considering agency. An ethic of virtue moves us beyond such problematics by giving us a coherent account of the formation of a genuine agent that takes her place within the context of corporate ecclesial practices." For not a few Anglicans, a virtue ethic could make the difference between a merely aesthetic appreciation of the liturgy and more intentional use of the means of grace to live cruciform lives.

Anonymous said...


Of course, apocalypticists are not the only ones who struggle with an ecclesiology thinner than St Paul's. Notwithstanding Barclay's compliments for Calvin over against Luther, one wonders whether Miller has not inadvertently located precisely the deficit that has hindered Reformed ecclesiology, but not Lutheran ecclesiology. For upstream of the difference in circularity that Barclay finds between Luther and Calvin is their notorious disagreement on the law. While their differences should not be exaggerated, the immutability of the law has a transcendence with respect to the plan of salvation in Calvin that we do not easily find in Luther. To hasty readers of the former-- and careful readers of many of his followers-- an enthusiasm for the law per se can seem to reduce redeemed human agency to compliance with it.

This notion that right action is the performance of an invariant code is precisely what separated modern ethics from an ancient horizon inhabited by Aristotle and St Paul in which character confronting circumstances counted for far more. An ecclesiology that merely proposes due administration of a code will not easily account for the way the practise of the Church forms souls with a cruciform character under providence. And again and again that practise seems to be precisely what St Paul is talking about when he points to the cross as formative for the souls and ethos of his young congregations. Legalism is not love of the law-- Psalm 119!-- but too little love of the soulful life to which the cross points.

Put another way, if St Irenaeus of Lyon could say that the glory of God is a man fully alive, this is because he could also say that the law was a preparation for grace, but not that the life of the Christian is merely that of somewhat better compliance with it. Rather, St Irenaeus is, along with SS Athanasius and Cyril, one of the patristic pioneers inspiring the Protestant revival of *union with Christ* and *theosis* as master metaphors of sanctification (eg Richard Gaffin, Tomas Mannermaa, Grant Macaskill, et al) that complements the ecumenical revival of *Body of Christ* as the master metaphor of ecclesiology (eg Thomas F. Torrance, Pius XII, Vatican II).

On one of your OPs last week-- if +++ Justin were to invite centripetal Protestants to join Anglicans in restating the centre of our faith for the C21, we might expect the complementarity of the grace of *union with Christ* with the work of the *Body of Christ* to be a part of that centre. What relevance that may have to That Topic etc will have to wait for another season.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Listening to the Rieger Organ of St Marylebone on CD, and reading your two part comment Bowman, instilled in me a quiet chuckle at its conclusion. Why?! Well; Brian started it off ... Coz EMBG was/is both a real Greek scholar and someone well able to communicate the Gospel to many walks of life. And then coz you canvassed well just how highly educated Paul most probably was - with all those Classical references. No mere simplistic Gospel for him! And coz I was dipping into NTW’s recent Paul and his recent Interpreters recently, only to discover that Campbell (in his view) was not really using much of Jewish Apocalyptic after all in his actual exegesis of Paul! And then finally, I have to agree that we moderns read Paul far too individualistically: everything depends upon both incorporation into and union with Christ, the One in whom the fulness of deity dwells and fills “all things”; but only in as much as he brings to fulfillment what the economy (expressed in both OT Promise and Torah, which may only find their synthesis in due Wisdom/Wisdom’s due Performance - I suggest) is all about. I.e. once more, there is nothing simplistic about this massively expansive view of what God is up to in Christ ala Paul. For of course Righteousness is about Character—God’s and God’s People’s—so that nothing less than the Glory that shines on the Face of THE Image may be concretely reflected by all those together who have the Torah written within: collective contemplation + collective praxis, perichoretically enveloped. Hence the chuckle ...