Review: Perspectives on Paul

Perspectives on Paul: Five Views, Edited by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: Presents five perspectives on the ministry and message of Paul: the Catholic, traditional Protestant, the “New Perspective” pioneered by E.P. Sanders, the Paul within Judaism perspective, and the Gift perspective.

Beginning with the work of E. P. Sanders and those who followed him, there has been an explosion of Pauline scholarship, often some version of “perspective” on Paul. The editors of this volume offer a brief overview of the recent scholarship in introducing the five perspectives in this volume:

  1. The Roman Catholic Perspective. Brad Pitre, affirming the New Perspective contribution to understanding Second Temple Judaism’s covenantal nomism, contends that the Catholic view of faith and works has strong resonances with the New Perspective, which for him is not that new.
  2. The Protestant Perspective. A. Andrew Das sets forth the traditional Protestant perspective on justification by grace alone with works as a response to being saved. He also recognizes that the New Perspective gives the lie to stereotypic faith vs. work caricatures.
  3. The New Perspective. James D. G. Dunn offers a restatement of the New Perspective, valuable because it may be one of the last pieces of writing from this scholar before his death in June of 2020, particularly affirming Paul’s theology of justification that crossed cultural boundaries.
  4. Paul within Judaism. This perspective, discussed by Magnus Zetterholm, takes the Second Temple Judaism of Paul further and insists that Paul never left Judaism or its practices, while teaching non-Jews to live consistently with Judaism while respecting their Gentile identity.
  5. The Gift Perspective. John Barclay contributes perhaps the newest perspective, one that sees the gift of Christ, his grace as making sense of the promises to Abraham, the experience of the Spirit, and the oneness of God.

Each of the contributors respond to others with a concluding response from each contributor. What is striking (perhaps apart from A. Andrew Das’ response to the Catholic perspective), was that this wasn’t one versus the others, but each in conversation with the others. It was striking the widely shared consensus on the New Perspective, particularly in its shattering of stereotypes of Judaism that lead to anti-Semitism. More clearly we see the Paul who is a product of second temple Judaism as well as apostle to the Gentiles. James D. G. Dunn candidly admitted his lack of reading of the early fathers in conversation with Brad Pitre. In addition to the irenic character of the conversation, one sensed a convergence of perspectives. Not that there was total agreement, particularly in the nuances. But one had the sense of scholars at different vantage points considering the same object, Paul, and gaining a fuller perspective from the perspectives of each.

This, to me, represented the best of theologians from different perspectives in conversation. In addition, between the editors’ introduction and the interactions around each perspective, this book is a good introduction to recent Pauline scholarship in a single volume, drawing upon the very best from each perspective. Dennis Edwards adds a concluding essay considering the pastoral relevance of the discussion. This is one of the very best “perspectives” books I’ve encountered.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Knowing and the Trinity

Knowing and the Trinity

Knowing and the TrinityVern Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: Puritan and Reformed, 2018.

Summary: How various triads of perspectives on both God and the world reflect the Triune God.

John Frame and Vern Poythress are Reformed theologians who have worked together in developing a multi-perspectival, more accurately, tri-perspectival approach to knowledge. This work by Poythress represents, perhaps, the most complete working out of these ideas.

Fundamentally, humans beings are limited to a particular perspective but divine revelation makes it possible to see truth from multiple perspectives. Both Frame and Poythress speak in terms of triads of perspectives which they believe are grounded in the Trinity. One triad on God’s Lordship, for example considers the perspectives of authority, control, and presence, relating to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Therefore the first part of this work considers what perspectives are and the types of perspectives that might be identified. Then Poythress moves on to a discussion of the Trinity. A couple of key truths in this discussion that will recur in the book is the coinherence of the Trinity, and the idea of analogy, and that analogies can reveal something both of God and the world because the world reflects or is an ectype of the character or archetype of God. Part three then turns to perspectives on reflections, Trinitarian analogies, ethics, Lordship, and office. In each of these a triad of perspectives are related that coinhere and relate to the persons of the Trinity.

After proposing a classification system for perspectives, Poythress then applies tri-perspectivalism to a variety of theological questions from transcendence and immanence to human responsibility. Each is grounded both in biblical texts and triads of perspectives relating to the Trinity. Part six then applies the nature of perspectives to our reasoning about God. Part seven shows how a few starting perspectives serve as the basis for deriving further perspectives in a grid-like structure of perspectives on perspectives. Appendices deal with a variety of other short subjects and applications pertaining to perspectives.

I find the basic idea of tri-perspectivalism intriguing, particularly in thinking about how the world and even our knowing may reflect the triune nature of God. I must confess however that the logical working out by Poythress can get confusing at times when he writes about perspectives on perspectives or triads within triads. The diagrams in the text are critical if one is to have any hope of keeping it all straight (alas, my e-galley version did not have these–a major barrier to understanding the architecture of tri-perspectival thought Poythress is erecting and very logically delineating). Throughout, he both derives triads of perspectives from prior triads, and recurs to earlier triads in applicative discussions.

Perhaps the best part of the work is that Poythress is devoting himself to the classic work of the theologian of thinking great thoughts about God rooted in God’s revelation of God’s self. While one encounters a good deal of close reasoning, it is quite apparent that for Poythress, God never remains an abstraction, with many chapters ending in a paean of praise for God in all of God’s glory.

This is a work to be studied slowly and carefully, pen and notebook in hand. Each chapter ends with a series of questions as well as key terms that may be found in a glossary at the end of the book. The questions force one to review chapter content and formulate one’s understanding of the material. This rigor of theological thinking may not be something all are given to, and not all will appreciate Poythress’s approach. But for those who give this the time it properly demands, they will be ushered into thinking deeply and long about the Triune God. One might well ask, particularly for those who lead and teach God’s people to know and follow the living God, whether or not this is essential work that cannot be neglected.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.