April 25, 2009

Stephen Westerholm, Preface to the Study of Paul

Pauline scholar Stephen Westerholm, author of the spectacular Perspectives Old and New on Paul, has also written this great little introduction to the study of Paul. Organized as a conceptual tour of Romans, Westerholm seeks to acquaint his readers with Paul's worldview. He contends that coming to terms with Paul means first grasping his "particular vision of reality," his worldview, which is then more fully developed and nuanced as one investigates deeper into Paul's "theology."

And this well-written little book accomplishes its aims admirably, and then some, I would say. Westerholm succeeds in contrasting modern assumptions about "the nature and terms of human existence" (1) with those views that underpin and are played out in Paul's writings. Topics such as law, freedom, and the nature of the cosmos are helpfully discussed to bring out common modern assumptions and illuminate Paul's own perspective.

This book truly is an introduction, in the best sense, and would prove a very good place to start a study on Paul and his thought. It also carries out the task of a good introduction in giving a remarkably concise and readable overview of the important contours of Paul's theology. Especially illuminating are the discussion of the interplay of sin, the Mosaic law, and Israel and the new situation brought about by Christ.

His chapter on Romans 9–11 is easily worth the price of the book, and the four-page discussion, "The Role of God in History," is easily one of the best summaries and statements I have ever read on God's knowledge, providence, election, and interaction with humanity. He defends a traditional view of God's foreknowledge, the necessity of election and God's capacity to "harden," while also maintaining that God certainly does not predetermine all human activities and choices, and furthermore that there is no divine role in the origin of sin. He also asserts that while some have drawn the further implication of a double predestination of some to salvation and some to damnation, Westerhom asserts that such an conclusion need not be drawn, and that in fact Paul often warns that those who are "called" may prove faithless and be lost and that the "call" can be resisted.

I highly recommend this great little book, and I am greatful to pauline scholar James Aageson, one of my professors at Concordia College in Moorhead, who pointed me toward this book back in my college days. Rereading it has been a treat.

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