Acceptance open to all

16 November 2012

Henry Wansbrough admires the fruit of close reading of Paul


The Paul of Surprises: His vision of the Christian life
Geoffrey Turner
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PAUL's teaching about Christian behaviour, the author says, is less about detailed commands and prohibitions than about the sort of person a Christian aims to be. So the chapters in this book are on Christian characteristics, such as humility, faithfulness, hope, love and unity, and finally life in Christ.

This is not a learned book. Nor does it propose any revolutionary thesis. It is solid, good theology, the fruit of attentive reading of Paul and of modern writings on Paul. There are no gimmicks, but simply assurance that Turner has really understood Paul's theology. Time and again there are useful little studies (e.g. on flesh, sin, speaking in tongues) that integrate the topics into Paul's thinking in general. The material is lightly handled, in an easy and colloquial style that makes attractive reading.

Perhaps my favourite chapter is on faithfulness, where Turner shows how Paul moves from Jewish righteousness, a reliance on the law, to a focus on the righteous- ness won by Christ. When the boundary-markers of the Jewish law are removed, acceptance is open for all.

The chapter on hope is an inspiring presentation of Christian hope in life after death, centred not so much on the individual's survival as on the creation of a whole new world in the resurrection of Christ. The final chapter explores the different Pauline uses of "in Christ", going gradually deeper into Christology, and finally into Paul's delicate balance to preserve both Jewish monotheism and the divine worship accorded to Jesus.

I am puzzled only by the title of the book. Is it a reference to Gerald Hughes's well-known volume, The God of Surprises? The whole accent is not on surprises in Paul, but on the Apostle's good sense and well-integrated point of view. As a rounded presentation of Paul's ethical teaching, it makes a valuable and accessible contribution.

Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth Abbey, Emeritus Master of St Benet's Hall, Oxford, and a member of ARCIC.


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