Today my friend Tim Bertolet pointed me to a post by Mike Bird over at Euangelion which announced that N. T. Wright's long-awaited fourth installment of his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God, will be published later this year jointly by SPCK and Fortress—presumably just in time for the annual SBL convention in November.
This is, to put it mildly, great news, "the biggest publishing event in biblical studies in 2013," in Bird's estimation. When Wright launched his series in 1992 with the hermeneutical and historical tour de force entitled The New Testament and the People of God, Richard Hays enthusiastically opined that the breathtaking scope of Wright's project could only be compared with that of the great Marburg New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann. But, whereas Bultmann was a very liberal, de-mythologizing Lutheran existentialist, Wright is an orthodox, evangelical-friendly Anglican whose career has been equally spent serving the academy (McGill, Oxford, St. Andrews) and the church (Dean of Lichfield, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, Bishop of Durham). And subsequent installments of his Christian Origins series have not disappointed. His 1997 Jesus and the Victory of God was the perfect antidote to the specious theories about the historical Jesus then making their rounds from the likes of Dom Crossan and Robert W. Funk, and it remains, along with Dale Allison's Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Baker, 2010), one of the best guides to Historical Jesus research on the market. Volume 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003), remains among the best and most thorough (740 pages!) studies of the historicity and theological significance of Jesus' resurrection ever published.
Now he tackles Paul. And, for Professor Tom, this means that his career has come full circle, having written his D.Phil. thesis at Oxford (under the august George Bradford Caird) on Romans, entitled "Romans and the People of God" (1980). As I was researching my own dissertation on Galatians and Paul's teaching on justification, no works proved more influential to my thought than Wright's 1978 Tyndale lecture, "The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith," and his 1991 collection of essays, The Climax of the Covenant. Ah, but it is in these works that Wright's advocacy of a form of the so-called "New Perspective on Paul" first became evident. As a result, despite his status as the foremost—or at least most respected— "conservative" biblical scholar in the world, he has become increasingly controversial in American evangelical circles, and for some confessional Reformed types he consequently occupies the position of the bête noire of Pauline studies (I will have more to say on this in a forthcoming post). Nevertheless, it is Wright's disciplined use of the historical method, combined with a relentless effort to situate the New Testament's gospel message within the parameters of the ongoing, unfinished biblical story of Israel, that has set Wright apart from his peers. As with all great biblical scholars, Wright's value lies less in his giving reliable, safe answers as in his uncanny ability to ask the proper questions and shine light on obscure bits of information that help us look at issues in fresh, compelling ways. As for me, one whose primary research interests have always centered on Paul, I can surely say that Wright's new Paul and the Faithfulness of God will take pride of place, along with Herman Ridderbos's classic Paul: An Outline of His Theology (1975) and Jimmy Dunn's more recent The Theology of Paul the Apostle (1997), on my shelf of most often-consulted tomes. May God grant him the strength to complete his work in a timely fashion and his people the willingness to ponder what he has to say.