Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review of Paul as Missionary

Paul as Missionary: Identity,Activity, Theology, and Practice. Edited by Trevor J. Burke and Brian S. Rosner. Library of New Testament Studies 420.  London: T&T Clark, 2011, xi+276 pp., $130.00, hardcover.

Trevor J. Burke, Professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute, and Brian S. Rosner, Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Ethics at Moore Theological College, contend that while Paul’s missionary activity has been the focus of scholarly attention, this focus is normally directed towards Acts. This collection of essays looks at what Paul thought about his own missionary activity and identity. Part 1, which focuses on Paul’s identity, begins with Seyoon Kim’s essay on Paul as an eschatological herald. Kim argues that Paul sees himself as one who fulfills the eschatological pilgrimage texts in his gentile mission; the Jerusalem collection is the most explicit expression of this identity. James Thompson lays out points of contact between Acts and Paul’s letters with regard to Paul’s missionary identity. However, he concludes that focusing primarily on the letters brings out Paul’s distinct pastoral concern with the spiritual growth and development of his congregations. James Thompson’s essay argues that Paul’s mission involves continual pastoral care. Though the term pastor is not used to describe Paul’s identity, his activities and his concern for the transformation of the Christ-followers suggest that Paul could be described as a missionary pastor. James Miller’s essay on Paul and ethnicity contends that the binary categories of continuity and discontinuity do not fully account for Paul’s complex and situationally-specific approach to ethnicity. He claims that Paul did not leave his Jewish ethnic identity in the past once he was in Christ; rather, the various comments about his Jewish identity reflect the normal negotiation and contextualization that contemporary ethnicity studies indicate are part of the identity-forming process. Richard Gibson contends that Paul, in Rom 15:16, presents himself as a Levitical priest as described in Isa 61:6. This understanding clarifies Paul’s role as subordinate to the Servant-Christ, even as he seeks to extend the Servant’s mission through the agency of the same Spirit (cf. Isa 49:6; 61:6; Rom 15:8-21).
Part 2 covers Paul’s missionary activity. It begins with Beverly Roberts Gaventa resituating Paul’s missionary activity within God’s mission. She brings to the fore the agency of others within the Christ-movement and concludes that God’s own mission of rescuing the new humanity from the power of Sin and Death must be accounted for. Daniel Hays provides a third ethnicity reading of Paul’s activity. He argues that Paul sought to form a new ethnicity for those in Christ, an identity that replaces existing ethnic identities. This, Hays contends, allows for unity within the Christ-movement. Ayodeji Adewuya’s contribution looks at the centrality of suffering in Paul’s theology and mission. Building on the rhetoric of 2 Corinthians, Adewuya sees Paul’s sufferings re-deployed in the text for the benefit the Corinthians. Paul Barnett argues that Paul’s use of the phrase “righteousness of God” coheres quite closely with Jesus’ teaching on the “kingdom of God.” This provides a conceptual bridge between Paul and Jesus, in that both of these phrases were “grace-based and ritual-free” (p. 111).
Part 3 discusses Paul’s mission theology, beginning with Arland Hultgren’s contention that Paul’s Christophany at his commissioning accounts for much of Paul’s gentile mission. The content of this revelation includes the following elements: (1) Jesus is the universal messiah who moves beyond the law of Moses; (2) Jesus of Nazareth is the same as the risen Christ, the one who was known to minister to those not Torah-observant. While some of latter could have come from his pre-apostolic past, Hultgren concludes that the eschatological pilgrimage texts did come from that experience and serve as a key to Paul’s vocation as an apostle to the gentiles. Karl Olav Sandnes argues that 1 Cor 9:19-23 is an example of Paul’s asymmetrical approach to accommodation in the context of seeking to win Jews and gentiles. His adaptability applies, however, only to sub-identities (e.g., gender, ethnicity, culture) and not to what he viewed as one’s primary identity—being in Christ. Trevor Burke contends that the work of the Spirit is central to Paul’s mission and that the Spirit’s agency is often overlooked by scholars. Burke surveys 1 Thessalonians to show the way the Spirit functioned by empowering, converting, energizing, sanctifying, instructing, and directing the worship life of the community. Burke concludes that Paul’s mission activity cannot be fully understood without an appropriate appreciation for the work of the Spirit within his communities. Brian Rosner maintains that the glory of God is central to Paul’s mission theology. This is often a discounted subject among scholars, but building on Romans 15 and its use of Isaiah 66, Rosner views the glory of God as the final aim in Paul’s missionary endeavors. Stanley Porter outlines a key aspect of Paul’s highly contextualized missionary theology—the message of reconciliation. It serves as the basis for Christian proclamation in 2 Cor 5:18-21 and provides its essential component in Rom 5:8-11. Roy Ciampa navigates the difficulties of distilling Paul’s theology of the gospel and describes it thus: “God has acted and is acting through Christ’s life, death, resurrection/exaltation and present reign as Lord over all creation to set all things right to the glory of his name” (p. 190). This message is central to Paul’s missionary identity and allows for contextualization among diverse gentile audiences.
Part 4 discusses Paul’s missionary practice. It begins with William S. Campbell’s essay that argues that universalism and particularism are both present in Paul’s missionary practice. In fact, the coordination of the two is central to his vision and activity. Thus, Paul is not seen as one who seeks to obliterate Jewish identity. In Christ, Jews relate to God as Jews, and gentiles relate to God as gentiles, although they are not included in God’s covenant, which remains with Israel (p. 202 n. 25). James Ware contends that Paul’s gospel was one of resurrection, and that he expected the Philippians to be involved in an active mission of holding forth the word of life (Phil 2:15-16). Steven Walton argues that Paul’s differing financial dealings with the Philippians and the Corinthians are examples of the way he sought to revise existing patronage structures. Michael Barram asks whether Paul expected the Corinthians to be involved in mission. He suggests that Paul’s missonal goal for the Corinthians was to live with a “salvific intentionality” (p. 243). Randolph Richards discusses the misunderstandings of cultural translation in Paul’s original mission (1 Cor 5:9-13) and suggests that many contemporary western readings of Paul have likewise misread him because of their frames of reference.
Burke and Rosner have done both Pauline and missiological studies a great service in gathering these essays. Additional instructive essay(s) might have considered in a more overt manner the material remains as a context for Paul’s mission. This is only a slight criticism; Burke and Rosner themselves note the need to include more (p. 6); however, these would have provided a more concrete context for Paul and his mission.  Nevertheless, Burke and Rosner provide a nuanced and even-handed reading of Paul, with the essays by Miller, Sandnes, and Campbell deserving special attention for moving forward the traditional understanding of Paul’s approach to missional formation. This collection is recommended for missions, intercultural, and Pauline theology courses and is accessible to upper-level undergraduates and seminary students

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