Book Review – Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter

Galatians and Christian Theology The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians has served as a basis for some intense discussion among scholars and even laymen throughout the centuries since it was penned. Covering important theological topics such as justification, the gospel, law, and grace, it is quite important that a proper understanding of such topics exist and how they should be applied to the Christian life. A collection of essays from the St Andrews Galatians and Christian Theology Conference hosted in 2012, Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter is a collection of plenary discussions provided at that conference.

This is not a book one can read through quickly. Each essay is very scholarly and explores each subject with a great deal of information. I would submit that unless one is familiar with the body of scholarship surrounding the various topics addressed in these essays, the material can be quite overwhelming. With that said, those who take the time to read this book will find they will have a much deeper understanding of the current conversation surrounding this important Pauline epistle.

The book is divided into three parts with a total of twenty-three essays. While conference itself was not specifically divided along the three themes of justification, gospel, and ethics, the conversation and engagement between those who presented at the conference seemed to naturally fall along those lines and thus the essays in this book are aligned along those themes to try and capture that flow of thought.

It is evident that Martin Luther’s commentary and thoughts on Galatians continue to highly impact the overall discussion. Luther’s writings form the discussion of at least three of the essays in this book and rightfully so. I also appreciated the essay on the discussion of Galatians in the early church as it provides a valuable snapshot of how the early church leaders approached and applied the theology of Paul’s letter. Many times tracing the flow of thought in church history can be quite valuable in assessing how various doctrines have been understood and applied and the issue of how to best understand and approach the theological statements in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is no different in that regard.

I also appreciated the discussion by Volker Rabens in his essay on the indicative and imperative model of ethics in Galatians. This is a highly important concept to grasp and I found the provision of criticisms of this model followed by well thought out and biblically astute responses to those criticisms to be a valuable way of outlining the importance of understanding the indicative and imperative model as revealed in Galatians. As noted by Rabens, “As believers let the Spirit draw them into transforming and empowering relationships with God and the community of faith and then live according to the values set forth in Paul’s gospel, the depth of their relationship to God and others will increase.”

As noted earlier, this is a collection of essays that will challenge the reader into a deeper understanding of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. While not an easy read, it is nevertheless well worth the time and effort. There is much information to come back to for further study and the footnotes along in each essay certainly provided even more food for thought. I recommend this book for anyone interested in digging even deeper into Galatians and understanding both the historical and current scholarly commentary surrounding Galatians. The reader may certainly not agree (or understand for that matter) all that is discussed in this collection of essays; however, I found the discussion to be informative and important.

This book is available for purchase from Baker Academic by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Baker Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review – Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul

Defending Substitution As Christians, we believe that the death of Jesus on the cross accomplished something, namely dealing with the sin and death problem that has faced all of humanity since Adam’s fall in the Garden. With that said, what exactly was accomplished, for whom, when, and how it all plays out has been a source of debate among biblical scholars. Some aver substitutionary atonement while others support a more representative approach to Christ’s sacrifice. Professor Simon Gathercole in his helpful book Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul unpacks a difficult theological subject in an effort to demonstrate the validity from a biblical perspective of substitutionary atonement.

The focus of this book is not to provide an in-depth or exhaustive discussion of this topic not to interact with every single argument present over the years in favor of or in opposition to substitutionary atonement. Conversely, the purpose is to provide a definition of substitutionary atonement, to show its importance in particular in two key Pauline passages, to interact with some representative criticisms and alternative viewpoints, with again the underlying purpose being to show that substitutionary atonement is an essential and vital element for grasping what Christ did for us.

Gathercole provides valuable interaction with three specific alternative viewpoints to what Christ did, namely the Tubingen View, Hooker’s Interchange View, and finally the Apocalyptic Deliverance View. I found the discussion of these views to be quite valuable and Gathercole does a great job of noting their respective positions as well as their merits. It was interesting to note that portions of these views are valid; however as Gathercole aptly summarizes, “they adopt a particular view of the atonement in Paul, and this theory tends to take on the role of a dominant or all-encompassing explanation.” Those dominant explanations seem to focus on sin collectively while failing to interact with the reality that Paul does deal with specific sins in relation to the atonement.

Chapters 2 and 3 provide some excellent theological reading as Gathercole interacts with two key Pauline passages – 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Romans 5:6-8. He keys in on some specific portions of both passages that speak of Christ doing something for us. This is by definition an act of substitution, the action of one on behalf of another. The discussion provided by Gathercole on the examples from classical literature that reveal the concept of a friend willingly dying for another was quite interesting. What this discussion reveals is more than the fact that substitution was an act understood prior to and during the time of Paul. The real point of importance Gathercole drives home is the fact Christ did far more than what was demonstrated in classical literature. Unlike those examples, “Christ’s death creates a friendship where there had been enmity” meaning even though we showed ourselves not to be friends of God, even though we have failed our marriage vows, and even though we have rejected relationship with God, Christ dies for us. Such love was unknown in the classical literature examples, thus revealing the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice, one of love for those who were an enemy of God.

Written in an easy to read lecture style that is accessible to both scholars and laymen, this book is an important read. While Gathercole does not engage every minute detail of substitutionary atonement, that is not his intention. He set out to show that substitutionary atonement is indeed taught by Paul and forms an important element of the Pauline discussion on this topic. To some degree, substitutionary atonement can co-exist with representation and other perspectives; however, there can be no doubt that substitutionary atonement is aptly defended by Gathercole in this book and rightly so. I highly recommend this book as a valuable resource. It will prove to be a relatively quick read but it will also be a text the reader will refer to in future studies of substitutionary atonement.

This book is available for purchase from Baker Academic by clicking here.

I received this book for free I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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