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Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ

I read Schreiner’s Pauline theology (Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ – A Pauline Theology) over the course of six months, so this is going to be less detailed and more interested in the broader picture than some of my reviews.

An overview: Pauline theology at its best

In the last couple years, I’ve started tackling theology aimed at a more “academic” level and audience, as opposed to the popular-level theology I had typically read before that. This has been helpful to me as I’ve been more actively involved in teaching, especially in the last year or so. However, I’m still just getting going – something that only becomes more apparent as I read more. The sheer number of footnotes in Schreiner’s book boggles the mind; and truth be told this book wasn’t nearly as heavily footnoted as others. There is, as a wise man once wrote, no end to the writing of books, and therefore to the reading thereof as well.

Cover image: Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ

For the young theology student, this can be a bit daunting in some ways. There are always more books being added to my wish list (not to mention the piles accumulating in my home), and they’re increasingly challenging in terms of length and style. They therefore require a great deal more time and mental investment to really benefit from reading.

However, good books pay dividends that far outweigh the time necessary to digest them well. This one fits into that category. I tackled it with pencil in hand, and it received quite a few underlines and no few comments in the margins. Schreiner has a great grasp on Paul’s theology and indeed of the great themes of the New Testament, but he has also has a way with words that I found eminently pleasant. He has a way of taking a concept and repeating it half a dozen different ways in the space of half a page. Ordinarily, this sort of repetition would simply grate, but Schreiner’s grasp of English is good enough that instead it serves to hammer the point home more effectively. Ofttimes, he stated points I’ve believed for years, but clearly and succinctly and provocatively. He thereby drove the truth home; he encouraged my faith. That’s no small thing in an academic exploration of Paul’s theology, with the myriad points of controversy that have sprung up over the Pauline corpus in the past two centuries.

As for weak points, there are only a few. First, he treats a few topics with more brevity than I could wish. At under 600 pages, this volume still has plenty of room for expansion. Second, Schreiner does not seem to fully grasp the Covenant argument for paedobaptism. While I’m a credobaptist myself, I recognize that he gives short shrift to the paedobaptist position, and in a form most covenant theologians would neither recognize nor own. (Non-academic readers confused by these terms, see footnote 1.) This is a perennial problem among Baptist theologians, and I find it unfortunate indeed. Finally, I found it interesting that he interacted almost entirely with only modern authors; there is nary a mention of anyone before the 19th century, and not many mentions of anyone before the last fifty years. This is a strength, too; Schreiner is clearly aiming to engage the modern treatments of Paul, and I think he succeeds admirably. However, I would be fascinated to see him write another book that treated Pauline theology historically.

That’s a short list of weak points, and rightly so; this was an excellent book. It is well worth your time… if, like me, you’re (a) interested in academic theology, (b) pursuing ministry opportunities, or (c) both. On the other hand, this isn’t a book I’d really recommend for most of the people in the community group I lead. It’s dense, if well written, and long. It’s academic in tone, though not stuffy; and Schreiner of necessity heads off to cover fairly esoteric topics. In other words, it would bore Jaimie out of her mind, and she probably wouldn’t get a lot out of it – not for lack of ability, but for lack of interest.

On serious theology, and academic theology, and you

This highlights a point I’ve been chewing on for a couple years: the difference between robust theology and academic theology. Everyone should have the former, while the latter is more for those who want to teach. (And those who want to teach do need to study; more on this in a moment.) For the vast majority of believers, this book would be a waste of their time. There are, as I noted just a few paragraphs ago, far more books than any of us could read in a lifetime, and people really ought to read the things that are most profitable for them.

That means serious theology, to be sure, and much of what passes for Christian non-fiction is anything but serious. The need for serious theology in the life of the believer does not demand reading these sorts of academic tomes, though. It means getting down with books packed with truth – not just little “life application” books, and especially not the self-help tripe dressed up in Christian garb, but really good explorations of what Scripture teaches. (It also means reading good fiction – a post for another time.)

Teachers, however, have a higher responsibility. We need to know the Scriptures deeply, and we need to unerstand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that we can help others grow without stumbling into error by dint of our own ignorance. If, as James says, we are subject to a stricter judgment, then we need to take heed to our teaching, and that means taking heed of our learning as well. It means dedicating ourselves to studying broadly and deeply. Most men in pastoral ministry will not have time to be experts on any theological topic at the academic level, of course; but being conversant in academic theology is helpful on many levels.

First, it works to sharpen the mind, which in turn helps us in our own studies. Second, it helps us grasp Scripture’s teaching more clearly and effectively. Third, it helps us deal with controversial or erroneous teaching that will impact our churches one way or another. (Every heresy that begins in academia touches the local church eventually; the question is when and how, not if.) Fourth, it provides us with a base of knowledge and a pool of resources to turn to when others come with hard questions.

Conclusion: worth the investment

Schreiner’s book was good for me. It will be helpful as I lead our small group over the next six to seven months. It will be helpful background as I work on other academic studies at Southeastern next year. It will be there in the back of my mind in whatever ministerial roles God entrusts to me in the years after. And, for most of you, it is probably not worth reading. Instead, go get Jesus + Nothing = Everything, or Don’t Waste Your Life or any number of other popular but serious theological books that will challenge your faith and stir you up to love and good worsk, but not leave you bored.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in ministry, or just love academic theology, pick this one up and give it a go. Schreiner does a great job tracing out Paul’s theology, and he does so in a way that will be pastorally helpful as well as personally encouraging. You will come away more full of the same passion that motivated Paul: God’s glory in Jesus Christ, proclaimed to the nations.

1 Credobaptism is the view that only professing believers should be baptized, while paedobaptism is the view the the children of believing parents also ought to be baptized.

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