June 26, 2009

Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle

Mark Reasoner's Romans in Full Circle (Westminster John Knox, 2005) is a brief but very helpful survey of historical approaches to Paul's most theological letter. He chooses twelve loci from the letter (heavily weighted to the first eleven chapters, since that is where most of the attention has historically been paid). For each locus, he sets up briefly the issues at hand, and then proceeds to lay out a selective but informative history of interpretation focusing on some of the major interpreters throughout history. He always starts with Origen, and then proceeds through major developments, usually hitting on Augustine, Abelard, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and Post-Barthian and Narrative approaches (and occasionally mentioning Pelagius and Erasmus, among others, as they are pertinent). This survey usually shows how major interpretations developed, where they changed, and what bearing they have on other loci.

Reasoner's premise is that Romans interpretation is moving in a "full circle" from Origen, who focused especially on the relation of Jew and Gentile in the letter, through Augustine and the focus on the individual, through Luther and a focus on Justification, through Barth and a focus on God and his righteousness, and back through the new perspective and narrative approaches to the relation of Romans to Israel's story and the role that the relation of Jew and Gentile plays in the structure of Paul's argument.

This attention to the original setting, he asserts, is leading readers back toward Origen. He concludes, "These approaches include reading both Christ's faithfulness and faithfulness in Christ as in view in Romans 3, a willingness to discus the universal scope of Christ's obedience at the end of Romans 5, reading the ego of Romans 7 as someone who is not fully in Christ, insisting on a human will whose free choices have real consequences in the order of salvation . . ., viewing ethnic Israel as God's chosen people (Romans 9-11), and reading 13:1-7 with deconstructive strategies that emphasize how believers must not always be subject to the government" (145).

Though he doesn't explicitly set out to evaluate or contextualize the "new perspective," I think Reasoner's survey shows how many parts of the "new" perspective are in fact quite old, giving pause to the oft-leveled criticism that the new perspective is taken with "novelty." Like I mentioned, this book doesn't set out to advocate or criticize the new perspective, but it does provide some important material for the debate.

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