October 20, 2009

Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence

I have no intention of doing this important work justice in this short review, so instead, let me give a few words of appreciation. This nearly encyclopedic book encapsulates what must have been years of research and months of careful exegesis. The first three-fourths of the book consists of a passage-by-passage look at every mention and allusion to the Holy Spirit in Paul's letters. Each passage is exegeted with care, always with an eye to its context and its place in the larger argument of the letter. I had intended to only skim these chapters of exegesis, dipping in at what seemed to be important points, but kept finding myself absorbed in Fee's writing, and though I didn't read it in its entirety, I have no doubt it would repay careful study. The book then closes with a section of synthesis in which Fee brings together the fruits of his research.

The conclusions, like the exegesis they follow, are too extensive to summarize here, other than to say that Fee makes a very convincing case for the importance of the Holy Spirit to Paul's thinking, as well as to Paul's very life. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who is interested in Paul's life and letters or in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Fee also has, by nature of his own Pentecostal background, a keen eye to how this doctrine has been understood or misunderstood in contemporary formulations and church practices, and this book provides a well-grounded corrective to many distortions. If you're even considering this book, don't think twice. It is not to be missed.

Frank Thielman, The Law and the New Testament

Frank Thielman is a Pauline scholar at Beeson Divinity School. In addition to his very readable commentary on Philippians in the NIVAC series, which I enjoyed studying through, he has written a number of books focusing on Paul's understanding of the law. This book broadens that focus out to include a survey of the relationship between the law and the New Testament, especially as it is envisioned in the five major streams of the NT that directly take up the question: Paul, Matthew, John, Hebrews, and Luke-Acts. Thielman deals with each author in turn, looking at their distinctive approaches to the law, with a focus on areas of both continuity and discontinuity. In the final chapter, he draws these streams together by both looking at how they differ in emphasis but also how they hold essential elements in common. He summarizes his comparison of the five authors by placing them in three categories:

1. Paul and Matthew stand together in their interest in the ethical use of the Mosaic Law.
2. John and the author of Hebrews stand together in their symbolic use of the law.
3. Luke stands by himself in his use of the law not only in ethical and symbolic ways but also to construct the story of Gods saving purposes. (168)

He also highlights three basic issues that are common ground among the five authors:

1. The Mosaic law no longer regulates the lives of God's people.
2. A new "law" has taken its place.
3. the Mosaic law remains valid, but in a new way. (176)

His final sentence sums up his study well, "Continuity is present, but the gospel is something new" (182).

Thielman's study of the law is well written, and provides a very clear introduction to this area. He is careful to look at each author in his own right, looking at the major arguments of the various letters and then highlighting how the issues surrounding the law fit into this larger picture. His chapter on Paul was especially well done, and is a very helpful study that illuminates these major components of the letters to the Romans and Galatians. This was a worthwile read, and I'm glad to have it on my shelf for future reference. It is clearly a textbook, but is no worse for that fact.