- Paperback: 180 pages
- Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (April 15 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0664255418
- ISBN-13: 978-0664255411
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 22.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 213 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #811,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Paul: An Introduction To His Thought Paperback – Apr 15 1994
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About the Author
C.K. Barrett is Emeritus Professor of Divinity, Durham University.
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Not just a terrific introduction, which implies a degree of generality and overview, Barrett's book is the product of a great mind, a robust faith, and a lifetime of preaching, teaching, and writing. Reading this book makes my hair bristle at the discovery of one new insight after another that only a
master like Barrett could pull together. I get the feeling that one disagrees with him at one's peril.
This is a great read!
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Barrett, working in the Evangelical-Critical tradition, begins with an overview of Paul’s life and the matters of authorship regarding the 13 writings traditionally linked to the Apostle’s pen. Barrett is convinced of 7, and interacts efficiently with the other writings in question. He then moves on to the controversies surrounding the Apostle’s ministry, primarily focusing on the theological difficulties faced in the Christian letters of Galatians, Corinthians, Philippians and Romans. In a brief 30+ pp., Barrett summarizes that all the controversies can be tied together into an inadequate Christology, namely, issues regarding who Christ is and what this Savior has done. If this is the only reading done in this book, the Christian will be supremely edified and fortified in the power of the one true Gospel, the good news of free grace, gifted in the Son of God for His people. The clarity of Justification by grace alone is held out with incredible clarity and given defense in each controversy, all which tie back to whether the “good news” is human efforts to please God, ascend to God, and bargain with God, as taught incessantly by the so-called “Judaizers”, versus the Gospel of free grace found only in Jesus Christ, opposed to works, and where “human credits have been transformed into debits” because of the reality of knowing Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:7-14). Barrett holds up high a “theology of grace” and a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of human effort” and a “theology of (human) glory”. His writing here is like drinking the coldest drink of water in the barren wilderness and heat of life.
Barrett then turns his attention to the “theology of Apostle Paul”, and quickly discusses a number of very Pauline categories for the Christian faith, all of which are very edifying and challenging. He helps his audience reorient themselves to the true “emphasis” of Paul’s apocalyptic mode of thinking – that the ‘Christ event’ has brought in a new age, a new reign, and invaded the decaying world with the new reality of the true King who is forming a new humanity, a new people. This emphasis, while not Paul’s all-encompassing focus, serves as a corrective in most evangelical circles today, where there is little mention of a theology of the “end times” that’s focused on the person of Christ, instead of some end of the world event. The event is Christ. Other categories Barrett engages are further explanations of Paul’s free grace offer of the Gospel as opposed to the Judaizers that continue to plague the church in every corner (Gal. 5:1-5).
Barrett ends his compact and impactful introduction of the Apostle with an engagement of the other letters which might not have been from the Apostle’s pen, but have been credited to his theology and thought, therefore within the Pauline tradition. Books such as Colossians, Acts, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, and the Pastorals. He then gives a brief sketch of Pauline theology at the time of his writing (mid 1990s).
This book is a must read for every Christian interested in what our tradition has taught, especially concerning the final things, law and covenant, righteousness and grace, and the life of the Apostle Paul. It will serve as both a corrective and refocusing of each believer on the truth of the Gospel, the freeness given to each by grace, and the liberating power of the love of God in Jesus Christ preached forth and heralded by the greatest of all Christian apostles and theologians, Paul of Tarsus.
A few caveats: Barrett, while no liberal himself, approaches the text from a critical standpoint. He is doubtful of Pauline authorship on the later epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thess., and the Pastorals). He tries to find tensions between the Paul of the Epistles and the Lukan Paul. I disagree with his conclusions, but I would rather he ask them than Bart Ehrman.
For Barrett Paul’s starting point is “Christ alone” (44). From this he draws several corollaries, most notably justification. Christ + anything is something other than the gospel.
While denying that Paul is a systematician (56), he gives us a wonderfully Pauline take on anthropology, with good discussions on “mind” and “spirit” (65). He has a nice section on the forensic nature of justification (92).
Barrett says Paul used the Abraham narrative as mere prooftexts against his opponents (30). I maintain, by contrast, that the Abrahamic narrative is central to Paul’s worldview. Barrett also says Paul downplayed any messianic notions to the Hebrewness of “Christos.” Instead, so Barrett reasons, Paul used “Kurios.” Methinks he sees disagreements where there are none. Paul had no problem with Christos and he saw the seed of David as the Lord of the World.
Barrett denies Pauline authorship of the Pastorals (158), but then seemingly gives reasons against his view. If the post-apostolic world was as anti-Pauline as he says (and I have no idea whether that is true or not; I’ll pretend that it is), then why would a later Pauline disciple claim to be Paul, since such a view would actually militate against his position?
It is good at points, but too critical to give a hearty recommendation.
This book should be read in conjunction with Paul's works and other study aids. A consistent manner of understanding the apostle is presented, and his conclusions are well considered.
Also read this in conjunction with N T Wright's "What St Paul really Said". Whilst Wright's book is a polemic against a wrong headed interpretation of Paul, it is also another excellent primer in Pauline thought written in an accessible manner. Curiously Wright does not refer to Barrett explicitly, which is a loss in the second work as the reading of both books together will reveal both the strengths and the weaknesses of both arguments.